Happy  Holidays

Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 48, December 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 

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


Amtrak No. 20 - The Crescent

For NCI: Andy Tucker

While Amtrak appears to have recorded fine ridership numbers over the Thanksgiving holiday, trouble began brewing last week at its Beech Grove, Ind., shops. Amtrak train No. 20, the Crescent, is underway in Hattiesburg, Miss. On November 29 after being stopped by an empty coal train on the Canadian National and former Illinois Central tracks.

 

Full trains travel over Amtrak
for long Thanksgiving week

By Leo King
Editor

Early numbers following Thanksgiving week show Amtrak may have garnered record numbers over the holiday.

The carrier reported through its Employee Advisory it appeared to have set ridership and revenue records for Thanksgiving week, between November 23-30, according to preliminary information from its marketing and sales department.

Final figures for the month are being calculated, but preliminary estimates are that ridership was 10 percent greater than Thanksgiving 2002. Ticket revenue appears to have been 7 percent greater than last Thanksgiving as well.

As previously reported in these pages, the railroad added more trains and cars than ever before – 60,000 extra seats and 78 trains to meet passenger demand around the country. On the heaviest travel days, passengers flocked to Amtrak’s trains, selling out 87 trains in coach seats on Wednesday and another 103 on Sunday.

“During the week of Thanksgiving, ticket sales activity reached an all-time high of $30.9 million, exceeding the record of two years ago,” said Barbara Richardson, vice-president of Marketing and Sales.

The carrier stated, “Things went about as smoothly as can be expected, with no major problems between Wednesday and Sunday anywhere in the country. A few minor train delays were experienced, but most resulted from the extra time it took at stations to board the large number of passengers, especially at peak times.”

Officials credited the all-reserved service on the Northeast Corridor (Clockers and Keystones excepted) and on Pacific Surfliner trains in Southern California for smooth running.


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Beech Grove employees strike

Some 600 members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE) at Amtrak’s major maintenance facility in Beech Grove, Ind., walked off their jobs December 3 to protest the national rail service’s hiring of outside contractors to repair rail cars and tracks.

Amtrak and the unions went to court on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney is deciding the case, but had not issued a ruling by Saturday morning. Amtrak requested a temporary restraining order to force striking employees back to work.

McKinney heard arguments Thursday from Amtrak vs. the Transport Workers Union and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, which launched the strike Wednesday to protest Amtrak's hiring of outside contractors to repair tracks and cars.

Eleven other unions honored the strike, leading to the site’s 600 hourly workers staying home.

TWU and BMWE began striking at 6:00 a.m., and the other 11 unions at the sprawling facility honored the action by refusing to cross picket lines, the Indianapolis Star reported.

Despite the work stoppage at Amtrak’s largest maintenance facility where heavy repairs are made, an early-morning Indianapolis-Chicago train departed on time at 7:05 a.m. Amtrak officials said national traffic would not be affected.

“This is a local issue, and a minor dispute, and has no affect on Amtrak train operations in Indianapolis or anywhere else in the country,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago.

Amtrak plans to seek a temporary restraining order to stop the strike, he said.

The Amtrak strike is the latest in a string of labor disputes at the Beech Grove facility. At issue is whether outside contractors have been hired to prevent furloughed workers from returning to their jobs.

Union officials said their unrest began in September when Amtrak brought in a contractor to repair fences around the facility. In early November, a track maintenance contractor arrived. On Monday, another contractor showed up to repair rolling stock, union officials said.

Mike Flowers, BMWE assistant general chairman, said Amtrak didn’t file the required notification to bring in outside contractors.

“It’s called slapping us in the face,” Flowers said.

Officials from the two unions leading the strike said furloughed workers should be called back to their jobs if Amtrak needs more people to work at the facility.

Magliari said the hiring of outside contractors has not resulted in the furlough of union workers. He said a strike violates the formal process for settling such disputes.

Amtrak laid off more than 220 workers at the yard in 2002 as part of nationwide cutbacks. About 840 people worked there at the time. The yard employed 5,000 in its heyday in the mid-20th century.

Each week, workers at the southern Marion County facility in the town of Beech Grove overhaul one diesel locomotive and refurbish 17 cars. Employees’ annual pay averages from $30,000 to $50,000 and earn $16 to $20 an hour. They work in turn-of-the-century buildings on a 106-acre site.


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Plaistow wants an Amtrak station

Plaistow, N.H. selectmen agreed last week they would like to see a Downeaster train station in Plaistow. Even a passing train tooted its vote of approval.

The Downeaster is Amtrak’s passenger train service that travels from Portland, Maine, to Boston, and makes seven stops along the way in Haverhill, Mass., Exeter, Dover and Durham, as well as Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, all in Maine.

Planning Board Chairman Tim Moore said on December 1 the addition of commuter rail to Boston alone would benefit Plaistow and its neighboring towns greatly; the problem is deciding who is going to pay for it, according to the Rockingham News. It would be Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority service, which ends service a stone’s throw south of Plaistow and the New Hampshire state line.

“If anyone would like to raise their hand and own it they’re welcome to,” said Moore.

The terminal alone would cost about $100,000, and while maintenance costs are relatively low, insurance would be about $36,000 a year, according to Town Manager John Scruton.

Selectman Larry Gil said the state should take part in covering some of the cost.

Moore said the state DOT is “terribly narrow-minded” and it is unlikely they would fund it.

“They’d build 12 lanes straight to Montreal before they put a quarter into a train station,” he said.

Gil said bringing the project to fruition in the limited timeframe would take a lot of lobbying, and he thinks Congressional leadership could play a major role.

“I don’t see the town of Plaistow being able to make this go by itself,” he said.

There is some confusion surrounding the availability of a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant from the state, but Scruton said he thinks the grant will not be accessible by the end of next year, which would mean the plans for the station would have to start very soon.

Moore said he thinks the best option would be for the county to pay for it, since it will service the surrounding towns as well as Plaistow.

He suggested the selectmen discuss the possibility of the train station at the next regional selectmen’s meeting and perhaps get towns to agree to help fund the cost of the terminal.

“If I was one of those towns, I don’t know why I’d commit to it,” said Selectman John Sherman. “Either way, if someone else builds it, I can still use it.”

There is no question, however, that the station would be placed in the Park and Ride area behind the Staples store at 58 Plaistow Road, which was built near the tracks to accommodate a future train station.


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Florida governor intensifies
fight against bullet train

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) reiterated his opposition to the voter-approved high-speed train last week, sending lawmakers a memo asking them to support a ballot measure to cancel the project.

The bullet train – which voters approved in November 2000 and amended the state constitution to do so – is supposed to link up five urban areas of the state. The first leg of the project is to connect Orlando and Tampa, and the second phase is to link Orlando with Miami.

Bush said high-speed rail is going to cost the state billions of dollars more than anticipated and road projects all across Florida are going to have to be eliminated for years if the train project isn’t shelved.

“The state of Florida will pay an exorbitant price for high-speed rail – a price that simply cannot be justified,” Bush wrote. “We will spend billions of dollars before a single rider supports the system.”

Bush did not cite the source documents for his conclusions.

C.C. “Doc” Dockery, a Lakeland businessman who sponsored the petition drive that got the high-speed train proposal before voters in 2000, said there was nothing new in the governor’s memo.

“He’s been opposed to high-speed rail for 10 years,” Dockery said, adding that lawmakers did not vote this spring to put the issue back before voters.

Dockery also said Bush’s fiscal warnings weren’t supported. For instance, he said, the governor didn’t mention the $2 billion that the state will receive over 30 years under its contract with Fluor-Bombardier, the partnership of two firms that was selected to design build, operate and maintain the rail system.

“The governor was very selective in using his numbers,” Dockery said.

Dockery’s wife, Paula, is a Republican state senator.

State Sen. Jim Sebesta (R), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said Bush’s memo wasn’t surprising.

Sebesta said he told Bush 18 months ago that he would support the governor’s push for a repeal when he became convinced that the private sector was not supporting the project.

But Sebesta said he was not yet “quite convinced” that the contract with Fluor-Bombardier was a bad one for the state.

The Florida High-Speed Rail Assn. is meeting in Orlando on December 11 at the Orlando Airport Hyatt Regency Hotel starting at 8:30 a.m.

The Contract Committee “will review information presented by Fluor-Bombardier regarding various technology options and their cost implications,” a press release stated.


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Truckers block funding for
Montreal rail study in court

A lawsuit has tied up money the state had hoped to spend on a three-state study of plans to bring back passenger rail service between Boston and Montreal – and truckers are blocking it all.

Last year, during the first phase of the study with Vermont and Massachusetts, part of New Hampshire’s share of expenses was raised through the 18-cent-a-gallon state tax on gasoline earmarked for highway projects, but a lawsuit filed by the New Hampshire Motor Transport Assn., which represents the trucking industry, has challenged the use of gas-tax revenue on non-highway projects.

The AP reported on December 1 the state Supreme Court is not expected to rule on the issue before next summer. New Hampshire’s share of the cost for the next phase of the study is $83,000.

New Hampshire transportation commissioner Carol Murray said 80 percent of that amount could be covered with planning funds that her department received from the federal government.

The state must raise the other 20 percent, $16,600, to meet FRA requirements, which is paying half the study’s cost.

“There really is not another place in my budget where I could get general funds,” she said.

Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Assn., found that hard to believe.

“I’m sorry, but that’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence,” he said. “This study represents one of the best potentials for economic opportunity that I’ve ever seen.”

“What sort of signals does this send to the New England community? It tends to perpetuate the reputation that New Hampshire has of being isolationist and really not wanting to work with any other state,” he said.

“There have got to be some discretionary funds somewhere. It should be up to the governor, who has stated he supports the expansion of rail service, to be able to come up with the funds needed to make this match,” Griffin said.

Wendell Packard, Gov. Craig Benson’s press secretary, said the governor would address the issue when the region’s governors meet in about two weeks.

Specialists have estimated that if Boston-Montreal rail service was fast and frequent, and the fares reasonable, as many as 683,667 passengers a year would use the train.


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CN, BC Rail look for operator

Canadian National and British Columbia Rail are looking for someone to run passenger trains for them over BC iron.

Both carriers stated in a joint press release on Friday they are “inviting proposals from qualified parties to operate third-party passenger tourist trains over BC Rail’s network between North Vancouver and Prince George, and on CN’s line between Prince Rupert, Prince George and Jasper, Alta.”

Both carriers said last week they were merging. CN will be the parent company.

CN stated it “Committed itself to a prompt call for passenger tourist train proposals in its BC Rail partnership agreement with the British Columbia government. The new passenger tourist trains are expected to generate significant new economic activity in B.C., particularly in the province’s Interior and northern regions.”

CN and BC Rail have retained InterVISTAS Consulting, Inc. to manage the request for proposals process. Any qualified party interested in submitting a proposal to operate passenger tourist trains should notify InterVISTAS of its intent, in writing, by December 16, 2003.

Formal proposals must be submitted to InterVISTAS no later than 4:00 p.m. PST on February 9, 2004, at its corporate address, InterVISTAS Consulting, Inc., Airport Square, Suite 550, 1200 West 73rd Ave., Vancouver, B.C., V6P 6G5.

CN and BCR said “Among the criteria CN and BC Rail will apply in assessing proposals are new economic development for communities along BC Rail and CN lines through increased B.C. tourism, improved rail access to the 2010 Olympic facilities in Whistler, B.C., and the creation of railway and associated jobs to prepare and operate the new train services. Proponents will also be asked to demonstrate community-specific benefits from the new services.”

They also said communications, questions or requests for clarification regarding the RFP must be directed to Paul Ouimet, Senior Vice-President-Business and Strategic Planning, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc., at the company’s corporate address. Ouimet’s phone number is (604) 717-1803, fax at (604) 717-1818, or e-mail at paul_ouimet@intervistas.com.

The B.C. government has enacted legislation authorizing the CN and BC Rail partnership, but the transaction is subject to approval by Canada’s Competition Bureau. It is expected to close in the first quarter of 2004.

Details are online at www.cn.ca/BCRailpartnership/


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

BLE merges with Teamsters

U.S. and Canadian locomotive engineers have okayed a deal that will put them in bed with truckers.

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) “have overwhelmingly approved a merger with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,” said BLE president Don M. Hahs in Cleveland on Friday.

“Ballots were counted today,” Hahs said, and the American Arbitration Assn certified election results.

“The vote in the U.S. was 81 percent in favor of merging and 19 percent against with 47 percent of eligible members voting,” according to Hahs.

He said the Canadian vote “was 62.4 percent in favor and 37.6 percent opposed with 56 percent of eligible members voting.”

Hahs did not state any numbers of votes cast.

BLE members in Canada will now be members of Teamsters Canada and will be a part of the Canadian Rail Conference.

The merger will become effective on January 1 and the BLE will become the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Rail Conference.

“Today, two great unions begin a partnership to strengthen our ability to represent workers across the transportation spectrum," said Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa.

The addition of "Trainmen" to the name of the new organization is a significant step, Hahs said.

"The doors are now open and the structure in place," he said. "Throughout negotiations, it was our intent and the Teamsters' intent to allow the new organization to represent trainmen under the umbrella of the IBT Rail Conference."

The structure of the current BLE will basically remain intact, but some changes will be made as the BLET expands to incorporate additional trainmen members.

"The IBT's current Locals and Joint Councils are pretty much autonomous under the International IBT, and the BLET will also have autonomy," President Hahs said. "We will continue to elect our own officers and have our own conventions."

On February 26, 2002, the BLE Advisory Board approved a motion that allowed its executive committee to explore a possible merger with the Teamsters. Last July 10, the BLE board approved the merger documents. Ballots were mailed on October 20. BLE was founded on May 8, 1863.


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Traffic signal blamed for death

The National Transportation Safety Board last week said it determined that “the probable cause” in a collision earlier this year that resulted in two deaths “between a commuter train and a truck in Burbank, Calif. was the design of the traffic signals’ railroad hold interval, which displayed a flashing red arrow for the eastbound North San Fernando Boulevard left turn lane onto North Buena Vista Street.”

The accident occurred on January 6 at about 9:30 a.m. (PST), when eastbound Metrolink commuter train No. 210 struck a Ford F-550 crew cab, stake bed truck at the North Buena Vista Street grade crossing. Impact forces and post-crash fire killed the driver and destroyed the truck.

The NTSB said the “train derailed and came to rest about 1,300 feet beyond the crossing. Of the 59 passengers and two crewmembers on board, 32 sustained injuries. One passenger, who was treated and released from a local hospital, died 15 days later.”

More than 3,000 grade-crossing accidents have been reported this year, and 356 people died.

In this accident, the collision occurred when the truck driver made a shallow left turn onto North Buena Vista Street after activation of the flashing red left turn arrow. The signal system was functioning as designed, the Board said, and the truck driver acted accordingly, stopping his vehicle for the continuous red arrow that governed the left turn lane; only after that arrow changed to the all-red-flash mode did he proceed into the intersection and onto the crossing, and the collision occurred.

The board found that the truck driver lost “situational awareness” in a confusing environment that “required significant mental alertness.” Consequently, he missed the cues calling attention to an approaching train.

Use of the all-red-flash mode for traffic signals at a railroad grade crossing, the board said, has ambiguous meaning, can be confusing to motorists, and, as a result, creates unnecessary risks to life and property.

As a result of the investigation, the Board recommended that the California DOT prohibit the all-red-flash option for traffic signal indications during the railroad hold interval at grade crossings.

The NTSB also recommended that the City of Burbank install a raised median or other barrier system at the accident site. Other recommendations dealt with limiting the use of highway traffic signals in the all-red-flash mode and the dissemination of traffic and safety engineering guidelines.

The NTSB is online at http://www.ntsb.gov.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Washington Metro

NCI: Leo King

Washington Metro Area Rapid Transit trains skirt the western edge of Amtrak and MARC in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, but they won’t be going near Dulles anytime soon.

 

Metrorail plan for Dulles derailed

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

Washington’s premiere rail transit operation is taking a double setback in the pocketbook.

One town council in Virginia has balked at funding its share of a plan to extend Washington’s rapid-transit Metrorail “subway” system, with a result that it may be another quarter of a century before the trains reach the rapidly expanding Dulles International Airport.

Meanwhile, Metro may also take a financial hit from an Oklahoma congressman who is upset that the transit agency accepted ads urging that marijuana be decriminalized.

The city fathers of the Herndon, Va., town council on December 2 voted down a special transit tax district for its share of the cost of extending Metro by 23 miles to Dulles Airport and beyond.

This was an extremely fragile agreement that had involved two years of work to attain broad political support. It had the backing of Virginia’s two Republican senators, John Warner and George Allen; its Democrat governor, Mark Warner (no relation to the senator) as well as Fairfax’s incoming county executive, Gerald E. Connolly.

Former GOP Gov. Linwood Holton, also a staunch supporter, lamented that the 6-0 action by the town council had rendered the project “dead.”

“We tried and tried and tried to get the tracks out to Dulles,” Holton told the Washington Post. Now, he said, “It may be 25 years before we see rail out to Dulles.”

Even though the plan involves one of the most congested areas of the entire nation, it now appears to be history. It cannot go anywhere without Fairfax County’s support. It leaves a $540 million hole in a $3.4 billion project.

Council members actually supported the idea, but noted they were on the receiving end of a barrage of protests from local businesses that feared they would be socked for the money and never see the trains. Their concern is that after the money – or much of it – was collected, a political decision would intervene to stop the construction with a line only partially built, benefiting their competitors at their expense.

The project was to be built in two phases. The first segment would include Tyson’s Corner, a giant mall whose businesses would benefit from the first phase. It’s the businesses in the second phase, those that are farther out, that feared they would be left holding the bag.

Council members believe that they were between a political rock and a hard place and that whatever they did – one way or the other – “would not be the right thing.”

The Herndon council approved a compromise that would extend the rail project into its town in the first segment, as opposed to the timetable to get the trains there in the second phase. However, rail organizers for the county said that was impossible for financial and operational reasons.

Connolly, the incoming county executive, said this “is not the end of Dulles rail,” but no known backup plan exists at this time.

However, the day after the council action, state, local and federal officials were scrambling to come up with an alternative. They could involve a reconfiguration on tax districts, possibly different tax sources, alternative construction plans; whatever. It is believed any new plan would take years to develop. So it appears a lot of time will be lost in any event.

On another front, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), wants to cut $92,500 from the federal government’s share of the Metrorail system because the transit agency agreed to run ads urging that marijuana be decriminalized.

The ad shows a man and a woman in a tropical island somewhere, with the caption, “Enjoy better sex! Legalize and tax marijuana.”

In a letter to Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham, Istook described the ad as “shocking,” and vowed to teach Metro a lesson by cutting its funding so that it would not accept ads like this in the future.

Istook, Graham and call-in listeners duked out the issue Wednesday on Sam Donaldson’s radio talk show on WMAL-AM Washington.

Graham argued that if Metro had not accepted the ad, it might have had to shell out thousands of dollars to fight a freedom of speech” lawsuit. In fact, he and Donaldson cited a suit in Boston over a similar issue involving the “T” transit system in that city.

Callers responded that was blackmail and that by that standard Metro could be forced to accept any ad from anyone, no matter how outrageous or offensive.

Further, Istook, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, told Donaldson and his listeners, “This is not about free speech. This is not about censorship. This is about how you use public money.”

Moreover, the lawmaker added, “[This is] not just normal advertising. They are actually free ads that have been given away with taxpayer’s money by Metro.” The $92,500 was based on the value of the free advertising.

Istook’s action is not final. He inserted the cut into an omnibus appropriations bill that is expected to come before Congress early next year.

Even some Metro riders who totally agree with Istook’s outrage over the ads – and the message it might send to their children and grandchildren – wondered whether cutting the money (albeit a mere fraction of the federal government’s $164 million share of the subsidy to Metro) would end up punishing riders who have nothing to do with the controversy.

If they could be assured the funding gap would end up dealing only with those who were instrumental in okaying the ad, that would be one thing, as far as they are concerned. These riders fear, however, that they might end up with the punishment in terms of cutbacks that could mean delayed maintenance, breakdowns, reduced service, or whatever.

Supporters of the congressman’s action, on the other hand, argue that the First Amendment does not require the government or public sector to give free ad space.


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Big Apple gets big bucks for rail

By Leo King
Editor

New York City is getting $2.85 billion in transit funding through federal grants for Lower Manhattan.

USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta said last week the city would get a $1.7 billion grant for the World Trade Center permanent PATH terminal under the World Trade Center site. He said it will “serve the PATH subway system and provide pedestrian connections on the east to the Fulton Street Transit Center” and on the west across West Street (Route 9A) to the World Financial Center and World Financial Center Ferry Terminal.

Before the horrendous terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the WTC station served more than 130,000 commuters daily.

Elsewhere, Mineta said on December 3 a $750 million grant for the Fulton Street Transit Center will rehabilitate and enhance multi-level, underground station complexes to serve 12 different subway lines and more than 275,000 daily riders.

A $400 million grant for the South Ferry Subway Terminal will replace the functionally obsolete station adjacent to and under Battery Park. The project will transform the single track, five-car station that serves the 1 and 9 subway lines with a three-track, 10-car, stub end, two-platform terminal, and will be located immediately adjacent to renovated Staten Island ferry.

Since fall 2002, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been working with New York State and city officials, including Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg along with a transportation working group assembled by Pataki. The group includes the State of New York, the City of New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

“The important thing for all taxpayers and the Lower Manhattan recovery is that these funds are available as needed for the grantee to expedite the development and completion of these critical public transportation projects,” said Mineta.

He added, “The federal funding for these grants will be available this week.”

Mineta said he and President Bush “remain committed to rebuilding Lower Manhattan and strengthening the transportation infrastructure” destroyed on September 11.

He added, “These grants will help commuters get to their homes and work more quickly, and restore the efficiency of New York City’s mass transit system.”

Pataki noted, “There is nothing more important than rebuilding and revitalizing Lower Manhattan as we never forget the heroes we lost on that awful day.


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Last Greenbush Line Station Standing

Bill Wood: Railroadnews.com

The original New York, New Haven & Hartford Greenbush branch station at North Scituate, Mass., is still standing. No word on current ownership, but stores are located inside.

 

Greenbush line is finally a-building

Former Scituate, Mass. Selectwoman Susan Phippen likes to say that many people will not believe the Greenbush commuter rail project is actually going to happen until bulldozers rumble into town.

The bulldozers have arrived.

Work on one of the South Shore’s most controversial projects has begun, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is hoping that trains will be running on the Greenbush tracks by spring 2006, reports The Patriot Ledger, of December 1.

Surviving station

“The North Scituate station is, I believe, the only surviving railroad building along the line,” says Bill Wood, who traveled the length of the Greenbush right-of-way as best he could on foot and by car.

Wood, who hosts Railroadnews.com, tells D:F “Immediately north of the station is an intersection (see http://greenbush.railroadnews.com/snaps/104-0492_IMG.JPG) and just north of that a missing bridge over Bound Brook.”

He noted, “The station has some stores in it.”

In the last month “I've walked the entire line from Glastonbury Monastery in Hingham to Greenbush (good hiking for those with a trails-to-rails bent), and other than a couple of mile markers and whistle posts and a fair number of culverts, there's not much remaining on the grade.”

He adds, “Finally, the new map shows a station at Nantasket Jct., which appears to be at the location of the former Hingham Lumber (the last Penn Central freight customer on the Hingham spur.”

He said he has not “physically investigated that portion of the line nor the Nantasket roadbed (which apparently was electrified in its day).

A station also survives in Nantasket, he recalled.

’Dozers have started cleared the right-of-way between Weymouth Landing and Mill Street in Braintree, and construction crews are relocating gas lines in Hingham Square to allow the relocation of Town Brook. An abatement team has been stripping lead and other hazardous materials from buildings on the old Driftway in Scituate, prepping those buildings to be torn down.

These are the first steps toward restoring the 17.7-mile commuter rail line – a $479 million project that has survived years of studies, meetings and lawsuits.

“It’s happening,” said James Eng, the MBTA’s director of construction for the Greenbush project.

Because the T has yet to receive five important permits, including a major one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the initial work is somewhat limited, but given that the project plans call for several bridges and a pair of underpasses in addition to the 17 miles of track, the T says there is plenty that can be worked on during the next couple of months.

The project is a joint venture of Boston construction firm Jay Cashman Inc. and British-based Balfour Beatty Construction Co.

Hingham will see the most action during the winter, Eng said. Once the gas lines have been moved, the narrow rail route between North and South streets will be readied for trenching. A large piece of equipment will drill into the ground until it hits bedrock, Eng said. At that point, a slurry type of substance will be poured in to form the support walls for the underpass. Eng said work crews were mobilizing last week, setting up trailers and fencing from Hingham Square to the town parking lot on Water Street. Traffic detours were being worked out.

“It’s gearing up in Hingham big-time,” Eng said. “By mid-December, people should see this thing going.”

In Weymouth Landing, crews are going to start driving pilings into the ground from Quincy Avenue toward Shaw Avenue in Braintree. The piling will support the walls for a shallow-cut tunnel. “The underpass and shallow cut are what I feel are the critical path items, and that’s what we’re going to concentrate on first,” Eng said.

The MBTA is using the slurry-wall method in Hingham because of the close proximity of the work site to several businesses. The method will reduce noise and vibrations that could harm the businesses structurally and economically, Eng said.

Crews have begun clearing the right-of-way in Braintree and Weymouth on either side of the future Weymouth Landing station. The MBTA has yet to obtain the permits needed to allow work on the station area.

By the end of the year, crews will have begun demolishing and rebuilding the Green Street and Wharf Street bridges. Work on the North Street bridge was under way when the MBTA ordered a Greenbush pause in February; the steel bridge structure is needed to complete that work.

Workers also will be installing silt fencing in certain areas to prevent runoff into nearby wetlands.

In Scituate, crews have been removing lead paint and other hazardous materials from a number of abandoned buildings off the old Driftway. The former Scituate Tennis Club, the Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Co. bus terminal, and a self-storage facility were all taken by eminent domain by the state to make way for the rail line’s new storage yard and 1,000-car Greenbush station. “We’ll probably be in there the first part of December to start demolition,” Eng said.

The MBTA has been working with Scituate officials to develop a schedule for demolishing the Stockbridge Road bridge. The town is in the process of installing new sewer lines in the Greenbush neighborhood and has needed the bridge for detours.

Former Selectman Phippen, Scituate’s interim project liaison, said residents should start preparing themselves for not having access to the bridge for several months. “We expect the (demolition date) to be around January 1, weather permitting,” she said.

No work is scheduled in North Scituate until the MBTA receives its final permits.

Eng said East Braintree residents should not expect much work until the MBTA finalizes a deal to purchase about 1.4 miles of track from CSX Corp.

The two sides tried to arrange a lease, but the MBTA said CSX wanted too much money and decided that buying the land would be cheaper. In September, the MBTA’s board of directors authorized the agency to make the deal. It could happen within days, Eng said.

No work in Cohasset is planned for the immediate future. Eng said the first thing likely to be done there is an archaeological excavation of an old roundhouse foundation beneath the town parking lot.

The MBTA is continuing to acquire needed parcels of land by eminent domain. T Spokesman Joseph Pesaturo said the transportation agency still needs to acquire about 70 pieces of land ranging in size from 20 square feet to eight acres.

The project is online at www.cbbgreenbush.com.

Photos of the existing route can be found at http://railroadnews.com.


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Fall River, New Bedford lose bid

Raynham, Mass., selectmen December 4 "declared victory" in their fight against a Fall River and New Bedford commuter rail line and voted to disband a legal fund set up to battle the project, according to the Taunton Gazette.

The announcement followed the recent release of a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority capital investment report which excluded the $720 million rail project from its five-year capital plan.

"The fight, at least through fiscal year 2009, is over," Selectman Gordon Luciano said.

The MBTA study set priorities for maintaining, enhancing and expanding its system, Luciano said.

It concluded the controversial rail extension from Stoughton to the south coast was the second most expensive capital project in the state, second only to the $8.7 billion north-south rail link - and estimated to cost $94,000 per rider to build and $69,000 per rider to operate.

The MBTA agreed to allocate $3.37 million to the Fall River-New Bedford line over five years, but only to complete ongoing bridgework and engineering, he said.

Selectmen Chairman Donald McKinnon recommended writing to the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, asking the agency to "please stop" pressing for the rail project in their annual reports.

SRPEDD leaders should be trying to secure federal money to widen Route 24 and state fund for an express bus line, McKinnon said.

Under new spending guidelines approved two years ago, the MBTA must "forward fund" or budget for all its capital planning projects.

Earlier in the year, Gov. Mitt Romney put all its transportation projects on hold, saying the state could not sustain its high debt level.

He later approved the completion of the Greenbush commuter rail line to the South Shore.

Project supporters in New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton say rail commuter is needed to stimulate economic growth in the area.

Foes, including officials in Raynham, Easton and Stoughton, have been battling the plan on environmental and economic grounds.

The train would cut through the Hockomock Swamp, a designated "area of critical environmental concern" - and cause irreparable harm to endangered species. McKinnon said SRPEDD should be encouraging businesses to come to Southeastern Massachusetts.

"Give us jobs here," he said.


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DNC searches for safe routes
in Boston; Orange line will be out

While Democrats are picking a Presidential nominee at Boston’s FleetCenter in July, commuters will still need to get to and from work.

The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNC) pledged last week (on December 1) to make commuters’ lives as painless as possible July 26-29, according to The AP.

“There’s a balance that we need to achieve between keeping this building safe and secure and letting people live their lives here,” committee chief executive Rod O’Connor said.

Interstate 93, which runs alongside the FleetCenter, is expected to remain open, said O’Connor.

“It’s not our preference to close down everything so that Boston commuters can’t move in an around the convention,” he said.

Those who rely on public transit will notice more changes.

Beginning in March, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Green Line stop at North Station will be closed to subway cars. The elevated structure above Causeway Street is being torn down – a project planned long before Boston was chosen for the convention, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

“We expect to have the elevated tracks dismantled before the convention,” he said.

A system of buses will connect Haymarket, North Station, Science Park, and Lechmere stations.

The Orange Line subway will continue running through North Station up until the week of the convention, but won’t make stops there during the four-day event.

Commuter rail lines that enter North Station at the FleetCenter also will continue, but will stop before reaching the building.

“They will not be permitted to come all the way into the platform,” Pesaturo said. “They will be stopped further out. That’s what we’re preparing for.”


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How do they do it up there?

Nashville Tennessean reporter Kelli Samantha Hewett recently studied New England commuter railroads to see how they operate in that part of the country. Nashville is on the cusp of starting its own commuter rail system, and is comparing itself to Shore Line East, which operates over 33 miles of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor primarily between Old Saybrook and New Haven, Conn., with some trains extending another 39 miles westward to Stamford on the Metro-North Railroad.

Service on another 18 miles eastward from Old Saybrook to New London ended last April as a failure when it was unable to attract the required ridership.

Hewett told her readers that every morning, thousands of commuters from the eastern New Haven suburbs climb into their cars and speed – or creep or crawl – along Interstate 95, across the “Q” Bridge and into the city.

They choose to drive, despite a 10-year Interstate 95 construction project, despite delays as predictable as death and taxes and despite the alternative of a clean, comfortable, 32-mile-long commuter rail service that runs the same route. Some even drive their cars to the New Haven railroad station, park and catch a connecting train to New York.

Trains are as familiar in New England as chicken fried steak in the South. Yet after 13 years, the area’s Shore Line East rail from New London into New Haven lures 750 daily roundtrip riders, small in number but fiercely loyal to the service. Each rider pays as much as $7.75 one-way. Connecticut taxpayers chip in $18 for every passenger, every ride, every day.

Commuters from Lebanon, Tenn., into Nashville are expected to have a similar rail choice in 2005, when the $37.5 million Nashville-to-Lebanon commuter rail opens for service, paid for with about 80 percent federal money.

Nashville’s proposed fares are expected to top out at about $4 but have not been finalized, organizers say.

New Haven reflects Nashville’s rail in size, schedule and the lifestyles of potential riders. The Shore Line East commuter rail is one of the few existing systems in the country similar to Nashville’s in length, number of stations and area population.

New Haven provides 1,500 daily rides after 13 years of service. Nashville’s rail is expected to provide at least 1,900 daily rides by 2012, according to estimates.

Tennessee rail organizers say New Haven is unusual, despite the fact that passenger estimates are similar. More rail systems, they say, have seen higher ridership and related development surrounding the stations. They also say better planning and a proposed rail network here will help ensure success.

“I think New Haven is atypical,” said Betty Laurs, a transportation consultant on the Nashville project who also has worked on more successful California projects. In Tennessee, “I think the growth is potentially more than our ridership numbers.”

Laurs, who works with Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm, thinks Nashville’s planning and the four other lines proposed for this area will boost ridership, a trend seen in other cities such as San Diego.

Despite some critics’ concerns, Laurs thinks the federal government will continue to spend money on mass transit to ease congestion and pollution.

Nationwide, commuter rail ridership has jumped by 20 percent since the mid-1990s, according to the American Public Transportation Assn., a nonprofit international rail group.

Some Tennessee policy-makers, including New England native Gov. Phil Bredesen, have their doubts. They don’t think Middle Tennesseans will change their driving habits without full-blown light rail or subway service, which costs a lot of taxpayer money.

“I’m not a big fan of that kind of stuff,” Bredesen said of the Midstate commuter rail project. “I’m happy to be supportive of the Lebanon commuter rail, but it’s not going to make any difference in traffic patterns. It’s a nice demonstration project. I don’t particularly want to spend money on that kind of thing.”

Passenger rail has succeeded with tens of thousands of daily riders in places such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, San Diego and Philadelphia.

But after 13 years, Connecticut has spent millions of dollars operating and maintaining the Shore Line East. An independent report this year for the state of Connecticut stated public transportation improvements, including expanded Shore Line East service, won’t ease congestion on the area’s traffic trouble spot, I-95.

“You try to give people choices,” said Allyson Shumate, rail projects coordinator for the Regional Transportation Authority, a key agency in the Nashville project. “People say it is only 2,000 people, but that’s 2,000 less cars on the road at peak commuter time;” but the choice of many midsize cities has been light rail or bus rapid transit – smaller, often cheaper systems with more stops in and near the city. Those projects are proposed in Memphis; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Honolulu and Phoenix.

“It’s hard for me to think of Nashville as being a really promising area for commuter rail, even 20 years out,” said transportation consultant Dick Pratt of Garrett Park, Md.

Pratt helped design Washington’s Metro system and has worked in transit since the 1950s. He also is working on a handbook for transportation experts on the models of success for different forms of transit.

Laurs said the difference is that since Nashville is such a sprawling city, it is better suited to commuter rail than light rail, especially considering national studies that show the many miles driven each day in Nashville.

“Nashvillians drive farther than anyone else; they live farther away from their jobs,” Laurs said. “It makes more sense to do commuter rail.”

Pratt disagrees. He said if commuters can easily get within eight to 12 miles of Nashville, or any city of about 1 million people, bus rapid transit or light rail is a smarter option.

Commuter rail systems, Pratt said, failed in cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia, in part because of the cities’ economic woes and also because they were “borderline too small” to support commuter rail in the first place.

Other experts say Nashville’s population may be an issue.

“It sounds like (Nashville) is ahead of the game,” said Patrick McCarthy, a transportation expert at Georgia Tech. “The question is, how far ahead are you? If you are too far ahead, it’s rocky.”


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Tennessee begins intermodal plans

There is a growing recognition among state and local governments that wider roads alone cannot solve all the state’s transportation problems into the indefinite future.

For example, Atlanta offers proof that more roads don’t mean less traffic, wrote AP reporter Tom Sharp on December 1 in Nashville – but the barriers to mass transit in Tennessee are deeply ingrained and dauntingly high, officials say.

“It’s one of the greatest challenges we have,” said Ed Cole, chief of environment and planning for the Tennessee DOT.

TDOT has long had programs for public transportation, the bulk of them devoted to helping start and maintain city bus systems, but that effort has always paled in comparison to the road-building program.

Gov. Phil Bredesen has vowed to change that dynamic.

“It is the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Roads,” he likes to say, yet Bredesen realizes what a mammoth task it will be to shift the culture, not just at TDOT but among the citizenry, from the entrenched practice of getting in the car and driving to work every morning.

TDOT is dipping its toes in the water with a long-range plan for the state’s transportation needs 25 years into the future. The transit segment of that plan is expected to be completed by the end of December.

A comptroller’s report over the summer noted that Tennessee’s population is growing faster than the national average, that urban sprawl is continuing, that traffic congestion increases in the urban areas despite new roads, and that the state soon could be out of compliance with new federal air quality standards.

“Tennessee’s lack of a thoughtful, inclusive, long-range planning process, and a comprehensive general development plan for the state, hinders Tennessee’s ability to achieve the cultural, societal and population density changes necessary for mass transit to be successful,” the report concluded.

There are tentative steps both old and new. The four major cities and several smaller ones operate bus lines already. Memphis has a light rail system downtown that it is trying to extend to the airport. Nashville is trying a pilot commuter rail project from 30 miles to the east in Lebanon into downtown.

TDOT Commissioner Jerry Nicely recently said the department was proposing to expand transit funding by $1 million next year, to $30 million. In contrast, the road program is well over $1 billion.

To make mass transit work, experts say it needs to be safe, accessible, punctual, reliable and pleasant. It also helps if it’s cheaper, either in actual cost or in timesavings.

So far, Tennessee’s traffic congestion has not reached the critical mass it takes to push people out of their cars; but even if it had, what would they do instead? The suburbs around Nashville and Memphis, the two likeliest centers for mass transit, are connected to the central urban core by one thing: asphalt.

The long-range plan will look at ways to move both people and cargo by some other means. Transportation officials note it would help relieve congestion considerably if some of the freight now being hauled in trucks could be moved by rail or water.

Cole says the current long-range plan will be the first time TDOT has integrated all the various modes of transportation into its vision for the future.

“Despite all of our rhetoric about comprehensive transportation planning, we still have a process that’s driven toward one or the other, transit or highways,” Cole said.

The long-range plan will try to peer into the future and guess how population and commuter patterns will evolve. It will be subject to things over which the state has no control, such as whether the price of a car and a gallon of gasoline remain within the grasp of virtually everyone.

“Right now our planning is driven by people who have no choice (about using mass transit),” Cole said. “We have to see what the options are that will make transit an option attractive to people who now feel the car is the only way to go.”

Observed alone, the price tag of a system of light rail or commuter rail (light rail is dedicated to moving people around; commuter rail shares freight tracks and runs heavier trains over longer routes with fewer stops) will probably appear prohibitive.

Costs to build and maintain roads are also pricey.

“Some will say we cannot build our way out of congestion. Even if it was physically practical we couldn’t afford it,” Cole said.

Getting people from the suburbs into town is only a part of the answer, of course. They aren’t likely to walk all the way across town once they get there.

“This is a system. If we’re going to attract commuters they have to be able to get around,” Cole said. “If we don’t have some sort of circulator system it won’t work. And then you need parking at the other end.”

As unlikely as it may seem at this point, Cole said there are examples in Charlotte and Salt Lake City of cities similar to Nashville and Memphis where mass transit has taken hold in a car culture.

“The state has a responsibility to help plan for our needs. It’s such a capital-intensive process we can’t do it in one or two years but have to lay it out 20, 25 years in advance,” Cole said. “The cornerstone has to be public involvement. When all is said and done, they’re the ones who use the system and pay the bills.”


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Houston prepares for trolley opening

Houston Metro says the Main Street line will be ready to carry passengers during opening ceremonies scheduled for New Year’s Day. The last time a trolley ran down a city street was 64 years ago.

A frenzy of work continues along the 7.5-mile corridor from south of Reliant Park to the Univ. of Houston-Downtown, but the major tasks are finished, the Houston Chronicle reported on November 30.

Trains have been on numerous test runs since all power systems were finished October 22, and most stations are almost ready to handle passengers with ticket-vending machines, lighting and brick platforms.

There is a long list of final touches that workers are striving to complete this month to ensure everything sparkles for opening day – and especially for the week preceding February 1 when Super Bowl XXXVIII comes to town and more than 100,000 visitors are expected.

No rail stations have signs yet telling riders where they are. New downtown transit centers and in the Texas Medical Center for bus transfers are not yet ready, some sidewalks and streetlights have not been installed, and the signature plaza in the center of downtown remains inaccessible.

“We are very close to getting the stations all wrapped up,” said John Sedlak, a Metropolitan Transit Authority vice-president.

“This is a fast-track project and it puts challenges on us every day to bring all the pieces together,” he said.

Metro has received 11 trains from Siemens. The transit authority originally ordered 15 trains but later increased that number to 18, bringing concern that all might not be ready for opening day. Sedlak said Metro expects to have 17 trains by January 1, with the 18th and final train arriving soon thereafter, in time for the Super Bowl.

The transit authority recently postponed full implementation of train service by a month to allow extra time for working out any kinks that may develop. After a 10-day phase-in after the January 1 launch, trains were originally going to run every six minutes during peak periods. The recent schedule modifications include keeping 12-minute separations for 45 days, as well as postponing changes to bus routes that tie into the rail line from January 11 to February 15 and March 28.

The official deadline for completion of the $324 million project is actually mid-February, but Metro has always promised a New Year’s Day start-up so Super Bowl visitors will be able to ride the trains. Houston leaders hope the sleek new light rail line will help boost reviews of the city when thousands of journalists arrive next month to cover the National Football League championship.

Sedlak said the 45-day delay of full rail service would have minimal impact.

The first day of regular revenue service for MetroRail will be January 2.


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Phoenix hits transportation snags

The Phoenix, Ariz. $15.8 billion transportation plan hit a huge pothole at the Arizona Legislature last week, where key lawmakers want to withhold funding for light rail until at least 2011 and postpone for six months a public vote on the plan’s tax funding.

Rep. Gary Pierce (R) said the changes are needed to stave off mounting opposition to the plan among Republicans in both houses, but they drew sharp criticism December 3 from the Maricopa Assn. of Governments and Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, who has threatened to pull Phoenix’s support and tax money from the plan if lawmakers change it drastically, The Arizona Republic reported.

“To me, it seems almost like bad faith,” Rimsza told other mayors assembled for a regional council meeting. Rimsza suggested they unite behind an effort to get Gov. Janet Napolitano involved in the negotiations, saying, “Clearly, we’re going to need her support.”

Napolitano was in Washington, D.C., for meetings last week.

The transportation plan is a blueprint for a transportation future, dictating how nearly $16 billion in state and federal funds and local tax revenues will be spent if taxpayers agree to extend Maricopa County’s half-cent transportation sales tax for another 20 years. Without the extension, the current tax expires in 2005. It has supplied the money to build most of the region’s new freeways since enactment in 1985.

The new plan includes $9 billion for new freeways and improvements, $1.4 billion for major street improvements, and $5 billion to expand regional transit. Included is just over $2 billion for new light-rail routes that would augment what is supposed to be built by Phoenix and Tempe.

Lawmakers must approve legislation putting the plan and the tax extension to a public vote before late January in order to go on the countywide ballot in May.


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MTA rides troubled finances

New York’s state comptroller says budget gaps for New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could be much bigger than the transit agency is expecting, The AP reported last week.

The MTA reported it will have gaps of $840 million in 2005 up to $1.5 billion in 2007, but comptroller Alan Hevesi said the MTA is counting on risky resources, which means the budget gaps could be larger, and as much as $2.1 billion by 2007.

Hevesi said spending is growing much faster than revenues, and added the main reason for the budget gap is because the state is no longer helping to pay for its large capital spending plan.

Hevesi said the MTA is projecting larger increases in ridership and as much as $174 million in savings by 2007, but the agency has not said how it would achieve these savings.


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New Hampshire starts thinking
about commuter trains to Boston

Two couples, one from Winthrop, Mass., and the other from Durham, N.H., were dining recently in an Ipswich, Mass., restaurant, when, suddenly, one looked up from her dish and said loudly with both surprise and joy, “It’s a train.” Indeed, a passenger train was hurtling past on tracks bordering the eatery, the Boston Globe noted on November 30.

The unexpected appearance of the MBTA commuter train from Newburyport to Boston inspired some table conversation about how all four diners preferred train travel to auto commuting and, yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if more of that were available.

Coincidentally, three days later, in Portsmouth, N.H., Vicky Dompka Markham, who runs the Center for Environment and Population, said regretfully that she and her husband, both environmentalists, would rather not drive to Boston for a visit if there were an alternative. They had tried the train. It meant driving first a half-hour to Newburyport, parking, then taking the train for an hour and 10 minutes. Driving is more convenient, she said, but, “If we could take a train from near our house to Boston, we’d prefer that.”

Their house is in North Hampton, and that just might be one of the stops on the kind of railroad service that Peter Griffin would like to see.

Griffin’s car is essentially a file cabinet on wheels. Both the back seat and front passenger seats are loaded with materials, including reports and maps on what he regards as a potentially great alternative to his and other cars – railroads.

“I am not a train buff,” said the Windham, N.H., resident, not one of those guys, he said, who’s had model trains since he was 12. For him, railroads are not a hobby or plaything, but, rather, a cause in what he regards as the vital need to provide a balanced transportation system.

So serious is he about this that he takes time on a Saturday morning to drive down to Newburyport to be interviewed on why commuter rail service should be extended from Newburyport up the New Hampshire seacoast to Kittery, Maine.

Griffin, a research analyst for Fidelity Investments, is also president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Assn., which wants to revive passenger and freight rail wherever possible, and that includes the seacoast extension, which might make stops in Salisbury, Seabrook, Hampton, North Hampton, Portsmouth, and Kittery. Exact station locations are up in the air, Griffin said, but what’s moving along is both the Rockingham Planning Commission and a legislative task force are studying whether, how, and where to get this line on track. Griffin is working with both groups.

“Look at rail as part of a balanced transportation system,” Griffin urges. “Roads and airplanes don’t supply everything. Transportation is the only part of your life where you have no choice. When you invest in retirement, do you invest in only one stock? When your kids think about college, do they apply to only one?

“It’s not just moving commuters,” Griffin argues. “You’re talking about access to six beaches, to nice shops in Portsmouth and Newburyport. You’re talking about urban renewal opportunities. Salisbury and Hampton Beach are reinventing themselves, as is Seabrook. Kittery wants to construct a downtown around a possible rail terminal.

“Transportation is a euphemism for economic development,” he contends. “It’s not only about moving people to work. It’s also about moving goods by freight. It’s about tourists. It’s an opportunity for real estate development.”

The arguments seem logical, especially when voiced in the environmentally conscious precincts north of Newburyport, but how does the state view such proposals?

Griffin contends there has been a seed change, or, if you prefer, a choo-choo change in the state’s mind-set. “The reputation of the New Hampshire DOT was one of building highways,” he said. “Now, they want to develop an intermodal transportation system.”

Not everyone is as sanguine. Tom Irwin, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, is an ally in the fight to revive rail. Indeed, the foundation would like to see the state tap into its highway fund for other forms of transportation. In an interview recently in his Concord office, Irwin contended, “The current transportation policy continues to be weighted heavily toward cars and to cater to single-occupancy vehicles. New Hampshire has some catching up to do.”

Griffin, though, remains optimistic that there are New Hampshire officials who have come around to the conclusion that expensive highway projects lead mainly to more auto congestion and suburban sprawl. It’s ironic, he says. New Hampshire once had a balanced transportation system, in the 1930s, what with trains, trolleys, and roads. “By those standards,” he says, “we are regressive today.”


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MBTA funds three rail projects

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority last week reported it has funded three projects between fiscal years 2004 and 2009. For the life of the budget, including some money spent in the current fiscal year, the state will spend $18.13 million, according to its draft Capital Investment Program for fiscal years 2004 though 2009.

The track projects “will have a positive impact on the operating budget as a result of more efficient operation,” according to a statement.

The “T” will be replacing rails systemwide on an as-needed basis throughout the commuter rail system to maintain service reliability and safety.

“The goal of this program is to replace approximately five miles of track annually in conjunction with the MBTA’s commuter rail management contractor,” according to the statement.

Another project will replace worn rail on curves.

“Many of the existing system curves have worn down and are close to or have exceeded their useful life. Replacing this rail will insure customer safety and continued service reliability.”

The MBTA is also going to add a fourth track over the existing but temporary Fort Point Channel Bridge.

Workers will install 100 feet of track, relocate and install an existing double-slip switch, and install additional signals associated with the revised track plan. It should help dispatchers managing increased traffic into and out of South Station.

Other projects that have not yet been funded deal primarily with track.

“The condition of commuter rail tracks throughout the system vary. Four lines are in fair to acceptable condition, four are in good condition, and three are new and in excellent condition,” The “T” said.

Systemwide, there are maintenance issues which apply to several or all of the rail lines. Performing periodic renewal and replacement programs “in a timely manner” reduces daily operating costs, reduces life cycle costs, and increases reliability and safety.

Among the future projects is a plan to double-track the existing Haverhill single-track line between Lowell Junction and Frey.

Another job would replace 5.6 miles of 112-pound and 115-pound rail on track between Winchester and Mishawum, a track segment used by both the Lowell and Haverhill Lines.

On the Fitchburg Main Line, 18.4 miles of 112-pound, non-control-cooled rail would be replaced between Willows and Fitchburg.

The MBTA will also have to buy new rail.

The state agency would buy 10,000 feet of head-hardened, 132-pound rail to replenish inventory and replace worn out rails.

Another plan is to remove Bleachery Interlocking.

That project would encompass numerous tasks – including relocating Guilford’s train operations from Lowell to Lawrence, the removing crossovers between the MBTA’s New Hampshire Main Line operations and Guilford’s Lowell Branch, relocating a crossover, and the removing four other crossovers.

Another future plan would extend the double-tracked portion of the Fitchburg Line west through the station at South Acton. Extending the double-track would allow trains turning at South Acton to be held clear of passing trains, and subsequently reduce delays.

A similar plan is in Reading Station’s future.

The project would extend the Haverhill Line double-track north through Reading Station. The extension would allow trains turning at Reading to be held clear of passing trains, thus reducing delays and freight conflicts.

Elsewhere, Beverly Drawbridge’s mechanical devices need to be upgraded. All outdated and worn gears and parts would be removed and replaced. The push-pull rod system and wedge mechanisms need to be redesigned for greater reliability and durability, and bearings and ancillary equipment need to be updated.

The commuter carrier also wants to upgrade station approaches at Salem, Manchester, and Gloucester. Approach tie pads would be inserted at the expansion joints at Saugus, Manchester, and Gloucester drawbridges.

Installing and maintaining fencing along rights-of-ways is important to safely operate trains, protect railroad property, and to prevent trespassing and illegal dumping of trash and contaminated materials on railroad property.

At Montvale Yard, the entire facility on the Lowell Line would be rehabilitated.

Systemwide, a replacement and renewal program for defective ties will enable continued reliable commuter rail usage.

Another project would provide funding to renew grade crossings on the commuter rail system.

The entire MBTA budget is online at http://www.mbta.com/insidethet/pdf/MBTADraftFY04-09CIP.pdf (Requires Adobe Acrobat Viewer)


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


Smithsonian’s ‘America on the Move’ Exhibition Showcases Transit

Public transportation’s role in shaping the nation is vividly explored by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in its just-opened permanent exhibition, “America on the Move,” that examines the way transportation has changed American lives and landscapes from the 1800s to the present.

The largest-ever exhibition for the museum located on the Mall in Washington covers 26,000 square feet and showcases more than 300 transportation artifacts in historical settings brought to life by large mural backdrops, 73 cast figures, set designs, and soundscapes. APTA is a sponsor of the exhibition that opened to the public Nov. 22 with grand opening festivities. Alstom Transportation Inc. and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority joined with APTA as co-sponsors of the exhibition.


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Los Angeles Examines Regional Mobility Issues

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority joined the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce on November 17 to sponsor Los Angeles’ second annual “Mobility 21: L.A. County Moving Together” transportation summit, in partnership with the Auto Club of Southern California.

The summit concluded with key leaders urging support for efforts to secure local, state, and federal funds for transportation improvements for the region. They made recommendations on issues including planning for freight movement; improving ground access to airports; building partnerships to develop a county-wide transit network; balancing growth through infill development that enhances communities; building support for public transportation, highways, and infrastructure projects; creative local funding opportunities; and cutting red tape for faster project delivery.

Mobility 21 brought together a countywide group of elected officials, transportation providers, and business, labor, community, and academic leaders to develop practical solutions to the county’s transportation issues. The program included two general sessions and seven breakout sessions.


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Maintenance Workers’ Strike Ends in Montreal

Regular public transportation service in Montreal resumed November 24 following an overwhelming vote by striking maintenance employees of the Societe de transport de Montreal to accept a new labor contract. The strike began November 16, involving 2,050 STM maintenance employees.

According to published reports, the vote for the contract passed with 91 percent of voters in favor. The agreement allows for raises totaling 8.7 percent over four years, the same as other public transportation workers, and includes greater input concerning the mechanics’ pension plan.


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30 Transit Agencies to Share $50 Million in Security Funds

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced November 13 that $50 million has been allocated in the form of grants to 30 public transit agencies across the country to help them enhance the security of their assets and passengers.

These transit systems were determined based upon the number of annual riders and overall track mileage.

The transit grants are part of a $725 million earmark in the fiscal year 2004 Homeland Security Appropriations bill for the Urban Area Security Initiative, the high threat, high density urban areas grant program.

The bulk of the program’s funds, $675 million, are being allocated to 50 urban areas in the form of grants through the states to urban areas selected by the Department of Homeland Security to enhance their overall security and preparedness level to prevent, respond, and recover from acts of terrorism.


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Carter to Retire December 3 After 30 Years as Head of TalTran

John L. (Larry) Carter, longtime executive director of TalTran, the transit system in Tallahassee, Fla., has announced his retirement effective December 3—the thirtieth anniversary of his tenure as director.

Carter’s retirement marks the end of a 66-year era of public transportation in Tallahassee run by the Carter family. Larry Carter’s father, Charles Carter, was president of Cities Transit Inc., operator of transit systems in six cities throughout Florida and Georgia, from 1937 to 1976. Larry Carter was the manager of Cities Transit in Tallahassee, the predecessor of TalTran, when the city purchased the system from the private sector in December 1973.

He was honored by APTA at the 1997 Annual Meeting in Chicago as the longest serving transit director in the nation.


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Los Angeles MTA Mechanics Strike Ends

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277, which represents 2,800 active and retired mechanics, reached a tentative contract agreement on November 17, ending a strike that began October 14. The MTA board approved the agreement that day, and ATU members voted on the pact November 19, as Passenger Transport went to press.

MTA noted that the tentative contract does not include an agreement on funding of the union’s health trust fund, which will be the subject of a 90-day non-binding mediation/arbitration.


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Laketran Sales Tax Levy Passes

Lake County, Ohio, residents renewed a one-quarter of 1 percent sales tax levy for a 10-year period to support Laketran. The November 4 ballot initiative won with 67 percent of the vote.

The sales tax levy provides 73 percent of Laketran’s operating revenue.

Since the last levy was passed in 1994, ridership on Laketran has increased 62 percent. Ridership grew from 589,224 in 1994 to 957,120 in 1992.


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STATIONLINES...  Station lines...

Jonesboro station could help town

Jonesboro, Ga. Mayor Joy Day told the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority (GRPA) last week that locating a commuter rail station downtown would act like a magnet, drawing more retailers back to the downtown area.

“At one time, all the lawyers’ offices were full of retailers,” she said on November 26, according to the Clayton County News Daily.

Other cities that have implemented similar plans around a rail station have seen their downtown areas rejuvenated, said GRPA’s rail manager.

“(Transportation and economic development) go hand-in-hand,” he said, and added, “It helps bring focus and consolidate some energy for redevelopment.”

To attract more retailers, the city will soon implement its master plan for downtown development, part of the Livable Centers Initiative, which aims to improve the overall quality of life in Jonesboro.

The city is completing the plan to pump new life into downtown with new retailers, sidewalks and green space – all centered on the proposed commuter rail station – to be housed in the old depot.

Planning for the rail line, which would run from Atlanta to Macon and through Clayton County, is complete and now the rail authority is waiting for state funding to update the area rail system.

The city initially told the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is funding much of the LCI improvements, that it wanted the rail station located outside of the downtown area because of traffic and access concerns, but at a meeting with the rail authority, Day said Jonesboro will spur more development by locating the station downtown.

The city held public hearings throughout the planning process, and Day said many residents expressed a desire for more businesses and activity around the depot.

Local resident Mildred Williams has followed the plan and said it will be good for Jonesboro.

“We need something to revitalize downtown,” Williams said.

Day said that, as Jonesboro has grown, most retail stores have moved away from the downtown area, but getting more pedestrians downtown will bring them back.

The commuter rail service would also give commuters another option to get to Atlanta, and will reduce traffic on Interstate 75, Alexander said.

City Manager Jon Walker said he does not think the rail station will increase congestion in downtown Jonesboro, which already sees 12,000 cars per day.

“We decided, instead of having one parking deck that might be difficult to get to, to split the parking (for the rail station),” Walker said.

One deck will be located behind a bank on one street, and the other behind the county courthouse. The city would pay 20 percent of the $4.8 million to construct the Mill Street deck in 2004. The remainder might be paid by an LCI grant the city will soon apply for, Walker said.

Rail commuters would be able to walk from the decks to the depot, which would have a new extended platform.


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Old depot goes home, is restored

For years it was a lonely sight: the old Beecher, Ill., depot, sitting empty in a Monee, Ill., field, but with perseverance and a lot of fundraising, a group of about a dozen area residents brought the old depot home to Beecher. The group is restoring the 1870s building to its original form for a grand opening and stamp cancellation event December 6, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Donna Rodeghiero of Beecher, one of the residents working to restore the depot and the event coordinator, designed the stamp with a picture of the original Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad (C&EI) structure. For the canceled stamp event, people may bring a blank envelope to be stamped or purchase notecards, also designed by Rodeghiero with a picture of the depot, for $1.50 or $2.

An employee of the Beecher Post Office will do the stamping from a ticket window that has been restored with an old cast-iron grate. Bill Molony, president of the Blackhawk Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, will portray an 1880s small-town station agent in period clothing.

The repainted and repaired depot has been decorated with railroad relics, which include an old block operator-station agent’s scissors-style phone, a telegraph, the cast-iron grate with a C&EI sign, wax seal stamps and the original forms and envelopes used.

It won’t serve any trains, though.

The depot closed during the 1960s and was sold to the owner of Thompson’s Winery on Pauling Road in Monee, where it was used as a gift shop until the winery closed in the 1980s. The winery donated the depot to Beecher, and the 50-by-19-foot building was transported three years ago to its location on Reed Street.

“The thing sat in the fields just rotting away, and a lot of people took a look at it and said this isn’t worth it,” said Rodeghiero, an art teacher at Beecher High School.

“The railroad was the reason Beecher became a town,” she said, explaining that town founder T.L. Miller wanted the rails for shipping his cattle.

Once the depot restoration is complete next year, the Washington Township Historical Society will move in.


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Fire razes Arizona station

A Thanksgiving Day fire in Tucson’s Rita Ranch area burned a 19th Century station to the ground. Firefighters were unable to save the old Esmond Station in Tucson.

Originally named the Papago Station, Esmond Station was built around 1885 when the Southern Pacific Railroad first made its way through southern Arizona, historian William Kalt said.

“It is very possible that it was part of the initial line,” Kalt said. The cause of the fire was unknown, The AP reported.

In its heyday, Esmond Station was a bustling train order office, Kalt said. The station is infamous for the “Esmond Wreck,” a head-on collision of two trains east of Tucson on January 28, 1903, that killed at least 14 people.

The crash was blamed on an order sent from Tucson directing a westbound train to pull off at Esmond siding, four miles down the track, until an eastbound train passed through. The message never made it to the train’s conductor, resulting in what is arguably the deadliest train wreck in Arizona, Kalt said.

The station had slipped into disrepair in recent years, but talk of a restoration effort had begun where just 10 years ago the station’s original sign was still hanging, Kalt said.


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Ex-Santa Fe depot is leasing space

Leasing space may soon be available in the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. depot following a vote by the San Bernardino, Calif., city council last week that laid the groundwork for filling the historic train stop with tenants.

The council unanimously approved a cooperative agreement, which defines the operating responsibilities of the city and its partner, San Bernardino Associated Governments, nicknamed “Sanbag,” which owns the 85-year-old depot, according to the San Bernardino County Sun-News.

The agreement stipulates that Sanbag will become the anchor tenant in the building, and will occupy about 22,200 square feet on the depot’s second floor.

Because the agency owns the building, it will not pay rent, but it will contribute to the costs of security, custodial service and maintenance in the facility’s common area.

Sanbag, through a property management firm, will be responsible for the depot’s management. The city will retain an active role in leasing decisions. San Bernardino will also continue to be responsible for the security and maintenance of the neighboring Metrolink station.

Both properties have the opportunity to back out of the agreement after giving one year’s notice. The property would then revert back to Sanbag’s ownership.

If the agency walks out of the agreement, the city would be reimbursed for the roughly $1.9 million cost of renovating the depot. If San Bernardino backs out, it is not required to pay Sanbag anything.

Once both sides adopt the agreement, a property management firm can be selected and lease agreements with other tenants can be negotiated and approved.

Both Metrolink and Amtrak hope to move into the building, making it a transportation hub.

“There’s wonderful space to be leased,” said Councilwoman Wendy McCammack.

She asked, “Do we need to hire a property manager? There’s 30,000 square feet that will be flying out the door at good rates.” The depot also will feature banquet space that can be used for weddings. Renovations are expected to be complete in March.


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

Bombardier declares dividends

Bombardier, Inc.’s directors December 2 declared dividends to be paid.

The firm’s Class A shares will earn $0.0225 per share (Multiple Voting), and $0.0225 per share on Class B Shares (Subordinate Voting). All are payable on January 31, 2004 to the shareholders of record at the close of business on January 16, 2004.

Holders of Class B shares (Subordinate Voting) of record at the close of business on January 16, 2004, who have a right to a priority dividend at the rate of $0.0015625 per share per year, payable in quarterly installments of $0.000390625, will receive the third installment of $0.000390625 per share on January 31, 2004.

A quarterly dividend of $0.34225 per share on Series 3 preferred shares is payable on January 31, 2004 to the shareholders of record at the close of business on January 16, 2004.

A quarterly dividend of $0.390625 per share on Series 4 preferred shares is payable on January 31, 2004 to the shareholders of record at the close of business on January 16, 2004.

Bombardier’s Third Quarter 2003-04 earnings before taxes and before gains on its sale of military aviation services reached $165.2 million or 3.5 percent of revenues, the company reported on December 3. It earned $0.06 per share.

Bombardier reported its financial results for the third quarter and nine-month period ended October 31. Its consolidated revenues totaled $4.7 billion, earnings before income taxes were $165.2 million.

Order intake continues to remain solid at $14.5 billion year-to-date and we have a very impressive backlog of $31 billion,” said CEO Paul Tellier. “We are taking every step required to deliver on this strong backlog while improving our operational effectiveness to increase profit margins. We will also further strengthen our ability to win bids at the right price so that each new order will contribute positively to overall results.”

Tellier said, “I am definitely not satisfied with Bombardier Transportation’s results as they are. We are taking decisive action and are acting on every opportunity to take out costs. No stone will remain unturned to enhance profitability and maximize operational effectiveness. We are working closely with our workplace partners in each geography to ensure that our cost reduction plan is flawlessly executed in accordance to local regulations.”


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BSNF at Swarthout Road in Cajon Pass, Calif.

Two photos for NCI: Phillip Burnside

Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train approaches Swarthout Road in Cajon Pass, Calif. On November 29.

 

Economic upturn brings downside

By Wes Vernon
Chief Washington Correspondent

The economy is revving up to a roar – but even that great news is not an unmixed blessing for everyone. Many shippers – especially farmers – are more or less victims of their own success.

Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Roger Nober headed to Chicago for a Friday meeting on December 5 to try to put out a political and economic fire among shippers and railroaders.

The occasion was a summit meeting with the Grain Car Council (GCC), a creation of Nober’s board. Organized in 1994, its immediate aim is to try to get the Class I railroads, Class II rail operators, the short-lines, regulators, and shippers in the same room to discuss how they deal with bumper crops whose movement to the markets are stalled by inadequate rail capacity to move them.

Last August, over breakfast, when Nober asked one of the Class I CEOs, “How’s business?” the response was, “Gee, y’know, everybody says the economy is getting better, but I don’t see it.”

Ninety days later, “they’ve got more business than they can handle,” the chairman told D:F, as he was preparing to rush to the airport to catch a plane ahead of a snowstorm then predicted for Washington.

The upswing in the nation’s economy has caught railroads, truckers, and barge lines scrambling to meet the increased demand in terms of equipment and crews.

Meanwhile, several factors are coming together to translate all of this pressure on the demand side of the market into price increases all the way down the line to the consumer trying to feed the family.

A November 21 analysis by Smith-Barney – a survey of 1,400 industrial shippers – supports Nober’s anecdotal conversation with the rail CEO. The study finds that while 53 percent of the shippers see the economy improving in November, as compared to only 30 percent as recently as August, 47 percent of the respondents reflected a “shipper angst” that is rising over “service degradation” in transportation. That compares to only 27 percent who viewed the service in a negative manner back in August. Crew shortages are seen as a factor.

Union Pacific empty cement hopper train

Union Pacific empty cement hopper train tops the summit at Cajon Pass, Calif. on November 29. It is crossing from the cutoff to BNSF at Summit.

 

Again, the problem, in one way or another, affects all transportation shipping services, including railroads, truckers, and barge services.

The Smith-Barney report may have prompted The Wall Street Journal of December 1 to front-page just the railroad industry’s role in this phenomenon. That story reported complaints from farmers that “failure to deliver their goods is cutting into the potential profits.”

A check with railroad, shipping and governmental regulatory sources indicated a belief there are no “bad guys” in this situation.

In fact, John Ficker, President of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) – the major voice of the shipping interests – tells D:F the “recourse in this is to work with the railroads to work through” the problem.

The railroads have had “huge surpluses of grain cars for the last several years, thousands of cars in storage” said Tom White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads (AAR). “Obviously you’re not going to be on a spree of buying a lot of new equipment” under those circumstances.

Does this problem have a viable solution?

Nober is seeking one.

That was the centerpiece of last Friday’s closed door meeting in Chicago where D:F would have liked to have been a fly on the wall.

“No one could afford to maintain a fleet of cars that is going to be used just every five or eight years when you get an extraordinary demand,” White told us in an interview.

In fact, if the industry tried to do that, “you would have to charge such high rates that nobody could afford it, just to maintain the fleet,” he added.

“I couldn’t agree more,” shipper spokesman and NITL President Ficker said.

“Nobody ever builds [a] production model…regardless of what industry you’re in, for the peak of the cycle. That’s just typically how business is done.”

However, he added, simply understanding that doesn’t help “if I’m a farmer sitting in North Dakota watching my wheat just sit there parked and I’m not getting paid.”

Those farmers “work hard and they get frustrated at the end of the day when they think they’ve finally got something…that they think they can go to the bank with,” only to find they can’t move their product, the NITL boss said.

STB Chairman Nober said here and there, he hears farmer complaints that they are victimized by a “conspiracy” to keep their grain from market; but, he said, most of those concerned about this exasperating problem realize it does not lend itself to a simple solution.

Based on the feedback the STB and its consumer protection division are getting, Nober said the problem appears to be focused primarily in the Dakotas, although the Smith-Barney and Wall Street Journal reports indicate it is more widespread in the nation’s farm belt.

So is switching to trucks the answer to the problem? Some shippers try to go that route, but truckers have their equipment limitations too.

As to crew shortages, both AAR’s White and NITL’s Ficker pointed to the fact that the new 60/30 railroad retirement law has kicked in and has led to a lot of railroad engineers leaving the workforce when they reach age 60 with 30 years of service behind them.

It takes a good six months to train a rookie engineer, Ficker said. That undoubtedly has added to the crew shortage problem.

We are not here addressing “inside baseball.”

Though railroaders, farmers and regulators are obviously far more focused on the problem than others, there is a much wider or “mainstream” interested party in all this: the consumer.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) – which has acknowledged these problems in getting grain to market – is having to raise rates.

However, AAR’s White said railroad charges to shippers have not gone up “anything like” the hikes in some barge rates – reportedly quadrupled in the past year.

“At some point,” says NITL’s Ficker, “that’s going to have to be passed along to people [consumers trying to put food on the table]. It cannot continue to be absorbed by the man in the middle, whether it’s the farmer, the processor, or whatever.”

Then there is the matter of domestic security where railroads and other transportation modes have had to allocate more resources to meet the demands of a post-9/11/2001 America.

Add to that the fact the cost of fuel has risen to higher levels in the past few years. Railroads and truckers alike have carried that burden.

As if that weren’t enough, truckers are now living with new hours-of-service rules whereby the time for loading and unloading is counted in the number of hours a driver is permitted to work on a given day. Previously, only actual time on the road behind the wheel counted. That lengthens shipping time and adds to costs.

Delays in getting grain to the market, earlier railroad retirements, shorter hours for truck drivers, the war on terror, and higher fuel costs all add up to higher costs down the line for Americans everywhere. All of us pay in the end.

It is not only domestic consumption that is affected. As Nober points out, “the demand for export grain is way up.”

The Grain Car Council meeting Friday was to cover a range of problems, although the delays outlined here mean the Chicago summit was coming “at a fortuitous time,” Nober observed. “Right now, we’ve got to get grain off the ground. We’ve got to get it moving.”


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Traffic at St. Johns Bridge, FL

NCI: Leo King

Containers on flat cars – big boxes on rolling platforms – are big business throughout the country, from California to Florida. Consider Florida East Coast traffic heading southward over St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Fla. last spring.

 

Rails lease freight cars to cut costs

As the economy accelerates and rail freight expands, more North American railroads are forgoing the cost of ownership and maintenance by opting to lease, rather than own, freight cars. This benefits the railcar leasing companies, most of which are based in Chicago.

“Business has been picking up,” said Robert Lyons, vice president of leasing company GATX Corp., wrote Sascha De Gersdorff for the Medill News Service on November 30.

Leasing “is a growing trend,” said AAR spokesman Tom White.

“In the most recent years, the majority of new cars purchased have been by leasing companies,” White said.

The better railroad cars can cost from $100,000 to $200,000, said Howard Tonn, executive director of the Railway Supply Institute Inc. in Chicago. A locomotive costs about $2 million and can pull more than 100 cars. So a railroad could spend more than $22 million on just one freight train.

“It’s a tremendous capital expense to tie up money in equipment,” Tonn said. “Companies are finding ways to cut expenses, and they do that by leasing freight cars.”

GATX, TTX Co. and GE Rail Services Co., all based in Chicago, and St. Charles, Mo.-based ACF Industries Inc. are meeting the demand.

The average railcar lease runs about $500 per month, with a term of from three to five years.

Demand had been soft.

“The freight industry has been at a very low point over the last three years,” said Joe Silverio, a senior manager of American Rail Industries Inc., an affiliate of ACF. It was hurt by an unfavorable economy; the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and a spate of mergers that reduced competition.

“We’ve come through a pretty turbulent time,” said Lyons of GATX. “The last couple of years have been very challenging in the business.”

Rail-freight volume is rising sharply. According to the AAR, the nine busiest weeks in history occurred between September 13 and November 15. COFC loads are up 6.7 percent this year.

“There has been a large increase in intermodal traffic as more and more things are moving in containers,” Tonn said.

TTX, which is owned by North America’s Class I railroads, is the largest intermodal leasing company in the world. The company, which serves North America’s seven Class I and 550 smaller railroads, owns and leases more than 129,000 cars, 30 percent of which are intermodal.


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Fill in a 23-mile hole

New Hampshire takes a hard look at rail

The economic component of railroads is becoming increasingly evident in Carroll County, N.H. Trains are a focus of burgeoning government and private industry interest.

Some 459 miles of tracks criss-cross New Hampshire, including the New Hampshire Northcoast (NHN), which operates over the 42-mile southern section of the Conway Branch between Rollinsford and Ossipee, the Granite State News pointed out on November 20.

Interchanging with Guilford Rail in Rollinsford, it makes a daily trip to Boston, supplying sand and gravel for the nearly completed “Big Dig,” and often makes an additional run for its customer Eastern Propane. In 2002, NHN handled 13,800 freight cars.

A map of working railroad lines, looking like a network of spider webs spreading across the state, reveal a conspicuous gap within the system. That gap is a 22.8 mile stretch of line linking Ossipee to North Conway, and from there, on to Canada and hundreds of other connections.

The area of line, subject of intense scrutiny by the state legislature, has been unused for more than 30 years – but its rehabilitation could bring a leap in economic development.

That possibility was the theme of a recent tour by lawmakers and planners in a refurbished NHN caboose. Rumbling past waterways, farms, woods, residential areas and industrial acres, the caboose carried the passengers not only to its railroad car shop in southern Ossipee, but into the history of the railroad.

The tourist industry is the state’s strongest suit, and for years those tourists came by train from the Boston area to the resorts of North Conway. Going in the opposite direction, products were hauled to cities by freight car.

“At one time, no place in New Hampshire was more than an hour from a railway station,” said State Rep. William Mosher, chairman of the Seacoast Commuter Rail Task Force. “A community develops around a transportation hub. Cars promote sprawl.”

State Sen. Joseph Kenney, who chairs the Transportation Committee, added, “A lot of those old buildings are still there. They remind us of our history and economy. Trains played a vital role in the local communities, and those communities now have a vested interest in bringing in the railroad.”

The past, it turns out, is now the future.

A confessed train aficionado, Kenney introduced an amendment to look seriously at rebuilding the disused piece of Conway Branch.

“We’re trying to reduce transportation on the heavily traveled Route 16 corridor and provide a superior environment by expanding the rail service,” he said.

“Costs go up when you bring in trucks,” Mosher noted, “plus you have ground pollution and wear-and-tear on the roads.”

Trains could certainly reduce the number of trucks on New Hampshire’s highways. According to NHN’s operations manager, Steve Arnold, using the basic formula that one train car equals almost four trucks in carrying capacity, “This train takes 60,000 trucks off the road.” The freight trains also beats trucks hands down when it comes to fuel prices and pollution. “There’s no comparison,” Arnold declared.

It’s ultimately cheaper to construct railroad lines than highways.

Twenty years ago, the cost of building railroads and highways was the same; today, roads can be four times as expensive as comparable railroad lines. They also have the added cost of repaving. Rails can last considerably longer.

“American consumers are willing to pay the extra price when everything is done by truck, because they want things right away,” Arnold said. “Trucks are quicker and more convenient, but some commodities don’t warrant them.”

“The infrastructure needs to be in place,” Brian Lombard of the NHDOT said.

“If gas prices shoot up, people are going to look for alternatives.”

He advocates “putting money into developing these things.”

Arnold’s job is to bring in business.

“We’re trying to bring in industry along the line,” he explained.

Industrial acreage and development is most active in the southern reaches now, especially along the 46-acre industrial park and rail distribution facility in Rochester. NHN expects rapid growth in that area due to the proximity to Interstate 95, Route 4, and Route 16. An established highway system with easy rail access lends itself to a transportation hub for future business development.

Development in the Ossipee area includes the line’s state-of-the-art locomotive repair shop, rail car repair shop, and prospects for lumber distribution, intermodal storage and transfer station for petroleum products, and storage and transfer station for propane gas. Centralized distribution points might be a solution to the rapid sprawl threatening the state.

If the rail corridor between Ossipee and North Conway is rehabilitated, creating a full north-south route in the state, development in northern New Hampshire is sure to be enhanced, and businesses now located on the defunct portion could be serviced. Another part of NHN’s overall plan is to provide commuter access to the high-speed passenger rail corridor between Boston and Portland.

“Economy is developed off the line,” Kenney said, “and commuters and visitors would rather be in a passenger train than fighting traffic.”

The state’s rail plan lists goals of providing an efficient railroad network to help stabilize New Hampshire’s economic health and expand employment, and assisting in the re-establishment of commuter and inter-city rail passenger services, as well as tourist operations.

The “missing link” of the Conway Branch would fit nicely into that strategy – but what is needed to make those 22.8 miles viable?

Not as much as one might think, looking at the weeds covering rusting rails. “It’s in surprisingly good shape,” says Gary Hogg, president of Manchester Sand and Gravel, owned by Boston Sand and Gravel, which in turn owns NHN. In fact, the rail could handle a train traveling at 10 mph in the condition it’s in now.

Built by the Boston & Maine Railroad, the line’s drainage system is excellent, and the roadbed is intact. Rehabilitation would involve weed removal, 50 percent tie renewal (3,250 ties per mile), 30 percent rail renewal, and 100 percent track surfacing.

Upgrading grade crossings at six locations would entail appreciable expense; the signal systems would have to be completely replaced. Some property owners may feel the impact of the line starting up again, if they’ve built structures on the right-of-way.

High-speed passenger trains, that could connect Boston to the North Country in about an hour, would require new rail.

“The railroad is here,” Hogg said, and added, “Whether it’s used or not is the decision.”

Kenney says the DOT’s Bureau of Rail and Transit is studying the costs involved to bring the section up to standard and will report back to the legislature in June 2004.

It’s an expensive proposition that Mosher says requires “forward thinking people.” He noted that New Hampshire is the fastest growing state in New England. “Our highways are maxed out.”

Erik Taylor, director of public affairs at Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell and a representative of NHN, conjectured that ultimately a private partnership will realize the continuation of the Conway Branch, but “commercial activity needs to come first.”

The tour included visiting by automobile of areas of the disused section, and a discussion of a proposed intermodal transportation center in West Ossipee.

Mosher presented plans that Kittery, Maine, has to develop a new downtown area based on a transportation facility with trains, taxis, and shuttles. Rental cars, buses, and shuttles are envisioned meeting trains depositing passengers in North Conway where The Conway Scenic Railroad is located.

“We need a state vision when it comes to transportation,” Kenney states. “If we focus on the North Country, we need to start off with a transportation infrastructure.”

Arnold says the future of the railroads is assured.

“I tore up rails that are being relaid today. The economy will dictate – trains will be back.”


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Tupelo gets $1 million for rail study

The city of Tupelo, Miss. will get $1 million from a federal transportation bill for a railroad relocation study, Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said on November 28. The city had been scheduled to receive $500,000 to study options for relocating the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad from midtown and downtown, according to The AP.

Wicker said through a spokesman that during bill consolidation, $1 million was added in conference.

“This is just the first step, but it represents progress toward a solution we hope will result in enhanced safety and improved traffic flow throughout the city of Tupelo,” Wicker said.

Railroad relocation in Tupelo revolves around the Crosstown intersection at Main and Gloster streets, bisected by the railroad and adjacent to its yards.

Virtually every train that crosses or stops on the tracks at Crosstown congests Tupelo traffic on dozens of streets in all directions. Dozens of long-distance freight trains and shorter switching operations create potential daily traffic problems at several crossings, but Crosstown is the acknowledged core problem.

Relocation costs have been projected at $9 million or more. Officials said the federal money will help narrow choices plus refine the cost analysis.


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Town may send an injunction to UP

West Memphis, Ark., Mayor Bill Johnson said the city is consulting an attorney about filing an injunction concerning Union Pacific’s plans to route trains through the city to the Marion Intermodal Facility. Johnson recently received a letter from UP’s Joseph Bateman Sr., the senior vice-president of governmental affairs.

“This letter is self explanatory – Union Pacific plans to proceed with their original proposal and route trains through West Memphis,” Johnson said in a memorandum to city council personnel, the Eastern Arkansas Evening Times reported on December 2.

UP sent Johnson the letter in response to their November 11 meeting.

Bateman wrote that while the railroad understands the city’s concerns, that basically work on the tracks will begin soon, and trains will soon follow.

Bateman said they asked an outside consultant to study the alternative routing suggested by the city. That report should be available to them soon, but no date was specified.

“At this juncture, it is our intent to look at the suggested new bypass as a future alternative if the city were able to acquire the necessary funding for such a project. However, we estimate that securing Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers approval could take at least two years, which does not factor in the need to assemble the property and find the necessary public funding,” Bateman said.

Trains are not set to run through West Memphis until the line is upgraded from its current status to FRA Class 2 standards, which allows operation at 25 mph. Replacement work on railroad ties will begin shortly and is expected to be completed by spring. After that, detouring trains will come through town for about three months while maintenance work is completed elsewhere.

Bateman further stated that they will not operate trains from the Marion Intermodal Facility on the same days as they are rerouting trains from their other main lines so the increase in traffic would not be nearly the magnitude discussed in the November 11 meeting. Detoured trains will amount to about six a day. Once reroutes are finished, Bateman said, UP will continue to work with the city on flagmen and traffic control until they are able to work out adequate traffic control improvements along the route with the city.

During the November 11 meeting, Johnson and other city officials expressed to UP officials their concerns about safety and trains blocking emergency vehicles and prohibiting them from getting from one side of town to the hospital on the other side of town.

Johnson noted there is only one fire station on the west side of the tracks and a number of large companies there also. A mile and a half long train would slow down emergency vehicles trying to get to those facilities in the event of an emergency.

Bateman responded to those concerns in his letter. He said “...the city may want to apply to the Union Pacific Foundation for additional financial assistance for emergency services. We will be glad to facilitate and support an application to the foundation.”

Johnson said in his memo to city officials, “I have also met... with Rep. Denny Sumpter to discuss possible legislation to penalize the railroad for blocking our streets.”


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BNSF’s Grinstein takes over Delta

When he ran Burlington Northern Railroad in Fort Worth during the early 1990s, Gerald Grinstein insisted that he had no interest in going back to the then rapidly consolidating airline business.

“Right now, a person would have to be crazy to get into the airline business,” Grinstein said in a 1992 interview. He was CEO of Western Air Lines when he led its sale to Delta Air Lines in 1986.

That was then.

Last week, on December 8, Grinstein, now 71, became the CEO at Delta effective January 1, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Grinstein said in an interview last week that members of Delta’s board approached him about the job after Chairman and CEO Leo Mullin told directors in July that he intended to retire.

“It was something I turned over in my mind for several weeks, and ultimately, the rest of the board persuaded me that it was something that I should do,” Grinstein said.

Besides electing Grinstein to be Delta’s top executive officer, the board also named director and former General Motors CEO John F. Smith, Jr. to take Mullin’s post as board chairman.

Darius Gaskins, a Massachusetts-based transportation consultant and Grinstein’s predecessor as CEO of Burlington Northern, said he was “shocked” at hearing the news.

“Gerry’s a smooth operator,” Gaskins said. Grinstein succeeded Gaskins as Burlington Northern CEO in 1987 and left eight years later, after leading BN through a merger with Santa Fe Pacific Corp. to form Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry.

Analysts believe that Grinstein may be able to persuade Delta’s pilots union to accept deep pay cuts. Mullin has been at the center of a controversy about executive pay at Delta and has been unable to get the airline’s pilots to budge on concessions.


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Denver yards get remote controlled engines

Technology is supposed to make our lives better, but critics claim a new way of moving trains through the Denver freight yards is putting lives at risk and the public in danger.

Remote controlled locomotives are being used to move freight cars, and sometimes hazardous waste, around the yards – which means no one is aboard, KCNC Denver reported last week.

Both BNSF and Union Pacific have begun using the new technology. They use a small radio control box to send the trains forward or backward, up to a mile-and-a-half down the tracks.

For the railroads, it reduces the number of trainmen needed and cuts costs, but one railroad union contends the savings for the railroads puts the public at risk as well as railroaders.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Union representative Mike Young said he is critical of the safety of remote control operations.

“We’ve experienced 200 accidents with remote control equipment,” Young said. “There has been one fatality, four to five amputations over 200 accidents due to unprotected movement with this equipment.”

The TV station found at least two accidents in Denver’s yards involving remote control technology.

On July 23, a BNSF train, operated by remote control, derailed in Denver. Empty tank cars that carry liquefied gas derailed.

Another remote control accident in Denver led to a lawsuit. One year ago, a remote controlled engine ran into another engine during the night, injuring a railroad employee.

Last year in Baton Rouge, La., a remote controlled train derailed and shut down local highways for hours.

Earlier this year, a CSX employee was killed in Syracuse, N.Y., when a remote controlled locomotive hit him.

In northern California, a railroader lost a leg during a remote control accident.

This year, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) wrote to the Federal Railroad Administration that he was “deeply concerned” about the threat remote controlled operations pose to worker and public safety.

BNSF stated those concerns are misplaced.

“On Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway we have noticed a 52 percent reduction of incidents on our line alone,” spokeswoman Lena Kent said. “The railroad contends remote controlled trains are safer than those with engineers on board.”

Railroad officials say every accident is due to improper use of the technology – that operators are always supposed to be positioned at the front or back of a train.

“There is an employee if the train is moving forward and there’s an employee that precedes that movement,” BNSF Jim Perdew said. “If a train is moving backwards there is an employee that protects that movement as it proceeds backward.”

In theory, it’s a safe way to operate.

In practice, that’s not what the TV station always videotaped.

Several times last summer, News 4 filmed while operators sent trains up and down the tracks with nobody in position to actually see where the train was headed, and in yards easily crossed by pedestrians looking for a shortcut, or with trains carrying hazardous materials, the consequences could be significant.

“Nobody being around to watch the front of the train and protect it is pretty dangerous stuff,” Young said.

The level of danger is the subject of a heated ongoing debate.


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Rail freight traffic up in November

U.S. rail carload traffic rose 0.3 percent (3,566 carloads) while intermodal rail traffic rose 8.2 percent (60,275 trailers and containers) in November 2003 compared with November 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported last Thursday.

Increases in carloads of crushed stone and gravel (up 12.8 percent, or 8,789 carloads), coke (up 28.3 percent, or 5,015 carloads), waste and scrap material (up 9.4 percent, or 3,303 carloads), chemicals (up 2.7 percent, or 3,090 carloads), and grain (up 3.2 percent, or 3,004 carloads) provided most of the gains in U.S. rail carload traffic in November. These gains were offset by carload declines for coal (down 2.8 percent, or 14,485 carloads) and metallic ores (down 21.4 percent, or 14,123 carloads). All told, 14 of the 19 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw U.S. rail carload increases in November 2003 compared with November 2002. Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloadings were up 2.3 percent, or 18,051 carloads, in November 2003

Canadian rail carload traffic was up 9.9 percent (25,082 carloads) in November 2003, while Canadian intermodal traffic was up 0.3 percent (459 units) during the month. In November 2003, Canadian grain traffic was up 31.0 percent (8,835 carloads), carloads of chemicals were up 7.2 percent (3,867 carloads), and carloads of farm products excluding grain were up 42.1 percent (3,468 carloads). For Canadian railroads, 15 of the 19 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw rail carload gains in November 2003 compared with November 2002.

“The North American freight rail network is second to none worldwide in terms of cost effectiveness, safety, and efficiency, and enormous quantities of commodities and goods of all kinds are transported on that network every day,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

“Take grain,” Rockey added.

“Canadian and U.S. freight railroads moved nearly 133,000 carloads of grain in November 2003, nearly 12,000 (or 10 percent) more than in November 2002. The carload increase for grain in November is higher than for any other commodity.”

Through November, total year-to-date U.S. rail carloadings of 15,666,387 were down just 0.04 percent (6,770 carloads), as gains in coke (up 36.5 percent, or 62,795 carloads), waste and scrap materials (up 5.9 percent, or 25,511 carloads), and chemicals (up 1.6 percent, or 21,341 carloads), among others, were offset by declines in coal carloadings (down 1.6 percent, or 100,803 carloads), metallic ores (down 6.0 percent, or 40,917 carloads), and motor vehicles and equipment (down 2.9 percent, or 34,106 carloads). Excluding coal, year-to-date U.S. rail carloadings through November were up 1 percent (94,033 carloads).

Year-to-date U.S. intermodal traffic through November was up 6.7 percent (574,932 units) and is on pace to far surpass the previous annual record set last year. Total volume through 48 weeks was estimated at 1.39 trillion ton-miles, up 1.3 percent from last year.

For the first 11 months of 2003, Canadian carload traffic was up 0.5 percent (16,085 carloads), while Canadian intermodal traffic through November 2003 was up 6.1 percent (115,498 units).

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were down 7.9 percent (2,898 carloads) in November, while intermodal originations were down 8.2 percent (1,236 trailers and containers). For the first 11 months of 2003, TFM carload originations were down 2.5 percent (10,319 carloads), while TFM intermodal traffic was up 12.4 percent (18,346 units).

For just the Thanksgiving holiday week ended November 29, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 286,128 carloads, down 0.1 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings up 6.2 percent in the East and down 4.2 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 162,544 trailers and containers, down 0.1 percent from 2002; and total volume of an estimated 25.8 billion ton-miles, up 2.4 percent from the equivalent week last year. (Note: Due to a technical data correction, 2002 U.S. intermodal traffic for this week was overstated by about 12,000 units).

For Canadian railroads during the week ended November 29, the AAR reported volume of 66,794 carloads, up 11.6 percent from last year; and 42,670 trailers and containers, up 0.2 percent from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 48 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 18,683,618 carloads, up fractionally (9,315 carloads) from last year; and 11,208,579 trailers and containers, up 6.6 percent (690,430 units) from 2002’s first 48 weeks.

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)30.4029.77
Canadian National(CNI)9.9659.35
Canadian Pacific(CP)26.9627.24
CSX(CSX)34.1533.89
Florida East Coast(FLA)30.7530.50
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)25.6025.26
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.0913.30
Norfolk Southern(NSC)22.5021.41
Union Pacific(UNP)65.4463.68


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

Thieves steal air horns from engines

The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (PSRM) was burglarized last week at their primary museum site in Campo, Calif. During the week, thieves entered the property and stole five historic air horns from atop five different locomotives.

Police theorize the event most likely involved more than one person due to the weight of the horns, and would have taken several hours to accomplish. Each horn is valued at about $1,000, making the total value stolen more than $5,000.

“This type of crime against the community is truly unbelievable,” said PSRM president Jim Lundquist.

“For 23 years we have been volunteering our time and money to preserve the region’s railroad history. Now, in the matter of a few hours, someone feels that they can just come onto our site and steal from us. I am really disappointed that this could have occurred from a non-profit museum.”

Stolen were two Nathan P3s, two Nathan P5s, and a Leslie Super Tyfon three-chime.

Air horns, mounted atop each locomotive, “are required by federal law to be in place and operational in order to operate the locomotives,” Lundquist said. He added, “Until they can be replaced, the locomotives cannot operated.”

Considered collection items, the most likely candidate to find them is for sale in various ways.

“Chances are that someone saw these people while the crime was taking place or will see them for sale soon,” said Lundquist.

“I’m so disappoint in these criminals’ actions that I pledge $1,000 of my own money for any information which leads to the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of anyone involved in the crime.” Anyone with information is encouraged to call the San Diego County Sheriff at (858) 565-5200.

The PSRM has maintained the Campo Railroad Museum since 1980 and operates the San Diego and Arizona Ry.

PSRM is online at http://www.psrm.org.


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Tennessee Santa train readies

The Southern Appalachia Railway Museum of Oak Ridge, Tenn., has scheduled their 6th annual Santa Train for Saturday and Sunday, December 13 and 14, 2003. The Santa Trains will operate at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. both days, with an additional train on Saturday at 11:00 a.m.

The train rides will last 90 minutes each and will operate over the former K-25 Manhattan Project railroad in Oak Ridge. Each trip will feature a decorated train and a visit by Santa Claus, while passing through rural Roane County.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children 12 and under with lap children 2 and under free.

A caboose is also available for groups up to 10 for $100. The proceeds from the event go to the continuing restoration of the Museum’s railroad equipment.

The museum, in Knoxville, is online at www.southernappalachia.railway.museum.


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Camas Prairie readies to roll again

A new tourism venture will put passengers where they haven’t been in 45 years – back on the Camas Prairie Railroad from Lewiston.

A 15-passenger van outfitted for rail and road travel will take passengers down the mountain from Reubens to Culdesac, writes the Idaho Statesman. Along the way, they’ll go through six tunnels and visit historic landmarks.

The rail trip will be an extension of the tour business started and owned by Tony Snodderly of Craigmont.

His company, O-ya Adventures, already offers Lewis and Clark trips as well as general history tours of the area. The rail portion of his tour is an add-on to the motor trip.

Snodderly partnered with Mike Williams, owner of the BG&CM Railroad, to bring tourism to the railroad that soon will be open to freight traffic. The passenger tours are expected to begin sometime after January.

Snodderly plans to use two 15-passenger vans with hi-rail capability to take people on the line. Eventually, he hopes to upgrade to a larger bus and then to a self-propelled rail car.

Passengers will pay about $75. The rail van will make stops inside the tunnels, where they can view the intricate rock structures and old bridge timbers.

The van will get off the track at Reubens and drive to other points of interest, including the History of Winchester Museum and St. Gertrude’s Monastery near Cottonwood, Snodderly said.

When that’s finished, the van goes back on the tracks and the passengers are returned to Culdesac.

Stan Patterson, a conductor on the North Idaho and Pacific Ry., said plenty of people, especially seniors, like touring – but do not seek thrills such as whitewater rafting. A rail trip could provide an interesting but low-risk way to see the country.


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Link museum to open in January

A museum devoted to the work of the late O. Winston Link, who became one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed photographers for his dramatically lit black and white photographs of trains and railroad towns, will open in the newly renovated Norfolk & Western Ry. passenger station in Roanoke January 2004.

David Goode, Norfolk Southern chairman, president and CEO, and former Norfolk & Western chairman and CEO Jack Fishwick, both natives of the Roanoke area, are honorary co-chairs for a fundraising effort to launch the museum, reports NS Newsbreak in its December issue.

The 15,000-square-foot museum will house the largest collection of Link’s work, including 190 signed prints, 85 estate prints and all 2,400 of Link’s negatives. The collection also is expected to include recently recovered stolen prints, some of which never have been seen by the public. The prints recently were recovered after they appeared on an internet auction site.

Link photographed N&W steam locomotives as they passed through towns in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland from 1955 until 1960, when steam operations were terminated.

He requested before his death in 2001 that a museum bearing his name be located in the old N&W passenger station in Roanoke, where he took some of his photographs. The station was built in 1905 and redesigned in 1947 by world-renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy. It served as the hub of five main rail lines radiating to points in Ohio, North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee.

In addition to Link’s work, the museum will exhibit his photographic equipment, prints not on formal display and N&W artifacts. A virtual rail experience will allow visitors to “take a trip” to the towns he photographed.


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

Singapore People Mover

Two photos: NCI: Todd Glickman

The Sengkang peoplemover is an automated single unit.

 

Singapore runs trolleys, peoplemovers

By Todd Glickman
Special to Destination:Freedom

Contributor Todd Glickman recently spent time in Southeast Asia, and in between business appointments, rode the rails. In this series of three reports, he provides an update on the urban rail transit scenes in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok.

Singapore has had a clean, efficient, and cost-effective urban mass transit system since the late 1980s, when the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) first opened.

The new North-East MRT line in Singapore opened in June, and interconnects with the previously existing East-West and North-South lines. Denoted in purple color on system maps, it runs from Harbour Front in the south to Punggol in the northeastern part of the island city-state.

The trains are unitized six-car sets, with walk-through articulation. Each car has four doors per side, longitudinal seats (62 per car), and ceiling handholds along the center of the car. Yes, one can still be a straphanger in Singapore.

View from the cab

Young Singaporians watch the guideways ahead.

The trainsets use AC propulsion as denoted by the telltale multi-pitch whine. Station stops are announced automatically, using a woman’s voice that has a British accent. She even throws in “mind the gap!” for good measure. Each car has six plasma TV screens that show commercial messages; station information scrolls along the bottom. There are also two ceiling-mounted LCD displays that also show station information.

Operation is totally automatic. In fact, there is no cab; the trainsets have a similar appearance to airport peoplemovers—with a covered driver’s console that can be used in an emergency.

In a throwback to tradition, there are two viewing windows, one at either side of the front car. In automatic operation, dwell time is set and doors close automatically after a warning signal. I saw no door holding at any time, even during rush hour. There are supposedly roving customer service personnel; I thought I saw one sitting in the middle of the train. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but was holding a two-way radio. In the center of the front is the emergency exit, a ramp that opens outward onto the tracks much like the tailcone emergency exit on a DC-9 or 727.

Stations are immaculate – there was no litter on any platform or train, and station cleaners are everywhere. Like the older lines, modern faregates use proximity cards. Fares range from S$0.80 to S$1.80 (S$1.00 is about US$0.70) depending on distance traveled. Station platforms have screen doors, so all stations are well air-conditioned.

Station mezzanines and transfer corridors along the new line are spacious and well-lit. They are also “ADA-compatible,” or would be if there were an Americans with Disabilities Act-like law in Singapore (the older lines are not).

On the route map, I noticed a notation for the “Sengkang LRT System,” so I rode out to the transfer station for that route. I expected a street-running light rail system, but was surprised to learn that it is an elevated peoplemover very similar to what one finds at airports now, such as Newark and San Francisco, and the new JFK Airtrain.

It runs through a community that reminds me of dozens of “co-op cities” like The Bronx in New York City – side-by-side, with hundreds of high-rise apartment houses, and all very modern. The LRT appears to be the primary mode of transport for what are tens of thousands of residents.

The LRT is a single car automated peoplemover (manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries) that operates in an elevated guideway.

The Sengkang line consists of two loops, one to the east and the other to the west of the Sengkang station on the MRT NE line. Currently, only the east loop is in operation; the west loop is due to open later this year. The loop has an outer and inner track, and cars run in opposite directions around the loop.

On my ride I saw two cars per track, and so with a running time of about 11 minutes around the loop, there’s a car about every 5-1/2 minutes in each direction. One can ride around in either direction from all stations. Transfers to and from the MRT are free. The one-way ride to central Singapore is S$2.80, though since I did not leave the system I was able to ride to and from central Singapore for the minimum S$0.80 fare.

The system map shows another LRT route on the other side of the island branching from the Chao Chu Kang station on the older North-South line. Singapore is currently building another heavy rail line, the “Central Line,” that will provide further interconnection with the existing lines an reach parts of the island not yet served.

Next week: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


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36 die in train bomb near Chechnya

Russian crash

Russian TV

Coach’s twisted metal


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A bomb tore through a commuter train near Chechnya on Friday, killing 36 people and wounding at least 150 others in a suicide attack possibly aimed at spreading alarm before weekend parliamentary elections.

Reporting from Rostov-on-Don, Russia, The AP said the bombing, the second fatal attack on the train line since September, hurled passengers from the car and trapped others under a mound of twisted, ragged metal. Rescue workers climbed to the top of the cars to cut electrical lines and put out fires to reach the wounded.

The force of the explosion, estimated by a local official at 22 pounds of TNT, toppled one car onto its side. Hours after the blast, firefighters continued to pull dead from underneath the carriage.

The bomb went off around 8:00 a.m. during rush-hour in an attack calculated to kill and injure a large number of people on the train traveling between the cities of Mineralnye Vody and Essentuki, said Maj. Gen. Nikolai Lityuk of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Authorities treated the attack as an act of terror, but did not single out any suspects, said Vladimir Rudyak, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in the southern Russian region.

“We will find those who did it, “ Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said, according to the Interfax news agency. “The earth will be burning under their feet.”

A body of a presumed suicide bomber was found, along with unexploded grenades and remnants of a bag believed to have carried the bomb, the Federal Security Service said.

Six people were killed in two blasts on the same train line in September. No group claimed responsibility for those attacks in which bombs were planted the tracks.


WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

On September 23, 2003, you published a photo showing the weed-covered Greenbush line right-of-way with the credit listed as “MBTA.”

The problem is that the picture was taken by me and is published at my website at http://greenbush.railroadnews.com/.

What possible hubris allows you to steal someone else’s work and then republish at your web site under false authorship? I want you to post a prominent correction and apology at your web site.

Bill Wood
Manager, Railroadnews.Com

Apparently you are correct. Our apologies.

When we visited these pages on your site, there was no reference to you by name, nor anything else that could identify it as anything other than either a contractor’s site or MBTA. We chose to credit MBTA. Over four years of publishing D:F, we’ve made a point of crediting proper sources for any material we’ve used. Yours is the first error we’ve made in this regard. We take plagiarism seriously.


Dear Editor:

In response to your December 1 newsletter, the heaviest freight trains in Europe are run by LKAB with an axle load of 30 tons and 8,000 tons. See http://www.lkab.com/the_ore_line_30t/malmbanan_30t.html and http://www.mtab.com/mtab_eng/lokvagn.html. So, the German claim is not even close.

Also, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. sees trains from CSX, Metro North and Amtrak. The owner of the old Hospital branch, however, wants to put a transloading facility in the middle of town – where it is not needed.

There is plenty of industrial space available at the Hudson line level where it would be closer to highways than at Smith Street yard.

Why get trucks through town when it is unnecessary?

Hauling freight up a 10 mph incline for two miles can’t be that profitable or CSX would have done it before they sold the branch to current owner.

Just my opinion.

Jaap van Dorp
Brewster, N.Y.


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

Long Island RR circa 1950s

NCI: Leo King collection: Long Island Rail Road

Back in the 1950s, the Long Island Rail Road’s PR department got so many requests from school kids and the media for photos they printed up a bunch for public consumption – and that included D:F’s editor. The cutline stated, “Interior view of Class MP-70-B double-deck coach, showing the unique two-tier seating arrangement which provides seats for 132 passengers as compared with an average of 72 in the standard coaches.”

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.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographers Group (.jpg) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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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