The answer lies within these pages, but here's a hint: Downeaster service prepares to start in just five days.
Destination: Freedom will be taking a break so its staff can spend the holidays with their families. Our last issue for 2001 will be on December 17, and our first issue for 2002 will be published on January 7. We wish all our readers the merriest of Christmases, a joyous Hanukkah, a terrific new year - and we look forward to seeing you next year!
NCI: Leo KingAmtrak engineer Ernie Kissinger is one of thousands of railroaders who will ultimately benefit from the upgraded retirement legislation the Senate approved 90-9 last week. Virtually all railroaders agreed the reform was required. Kissinger is at the throttle of No. 93 from Boston to Richmond on December 4.
|Senate passes rail pension bill, 90-9|
"All of you in this room will live to see the day when the public rebels against the current transportation policy."
That prediction came from Ross Capon, Executive Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) in a November 30 Transportation Table luncheon at the National Press Club.
It was one of many contributions this past week to the ongoing debate about passenger train service that heated up during the end-of-the-year congressional session.
That pre-Christmas legislative snarl on Capitol Hill nonetheless finally managed to bring apparent closure to another ongoing debate - the railroad retirement bill. This will delight thousands of survivors of rail workers. These widows and widowers will now receive full benefits instead of a mere portion of the retirement payout their late spouses had received during their lifetimes after spending years working in the industry.
It also will delight current workers who get to take full retirement at age 60 after completing 30 years of service.
After Senate debate droned on, with a small band of opponents trying to block passage at every turn, the lawmakers finally voted 90-9 to approve the measure.
Due to a technicality, it still had to go back to the House for another vote, where overwhelming support has previously been recorded; after that, on to President Bush for his signature.
The White House has sent some favorable signals on the measure now that it has been revised to assure the president that no public money will be used to invest in the stock market. However, the administration has not spoken out publicly on the issue and Mr. Bush is clearly keeping his options open. So we will know where he comes down on it the day he acts one way or the other.
The very tiny possibility that someday, the taxpayers could make good on the retirement benefits if the system goes broke galvanized bitter end opposition.
However, Association of American Railroads President Edward Hamberger several months ago noted the bill "simply gives the railroad industry responsibility for its own retirement fund, and permits the railroad employees' pension plan to be invested in a manner similar to other private industry plans."
Further, he noted, if the assets of the trust ever fall below a four-year reserve, the railroads must make higher contributions "to maintain the proper reserve." Thus, the industry is accountable and responsible to the trust.
Syndicated columnist Bob Novak, who has written at least twice before on the retirement package as a "gravy train" for both management and labor, again criticized the bill Thursday as an aside in an article on an unrelated matter.
The other rail debate of the week, passenger trains and their future, did not reach such "light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel" closure, nor does anyone expect that it will for a long time.
The Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), which is mandated by law to come up with a restructuring plan, is planning a special session in a few days to hash over the various proposals of its eleven members, plus ideas that have been formulated by the ARC staff.
There are several schools of thought among the council members themselves. They range all the way from one member who wants to maintain the status quo with Amtrak to another member at the opposite end of the spectrum who wants to privatize nearly every facet of the operations.
In between, you have what we have described in this space as an intellectual feast. The core questions are: What is to be done about implementing high-speed rail in the dense corridors? What do you do with the long hauls? Is there room for government-run coach operations and privately operated sleeping car or first class sections or separate trains? Some have noted there is such a system on the Alaska railroad. Can it work in the lower continental 48 states?
One council member, Chicago rail attorney Jim Coston, brought down the house on December 2 at a Philadelphia conference on Representing Rail Passengers' Interests where he denounced the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 as "silly, meaningless, futile, superfluous, gratuitously punitive, and inappropriate." The object of Coston's ire is the provision in that law that mandates that Amtrak achieve operational solvency by late 2002.
"Companies don't become profitable because somebody passes a law ordering them to," Coston told his audience, "Companies become profitable for two reasons. An economic and political environment favorable to profitability exists, and a management capable of exploiting that environment is in place."
Since passenger trains in this country have not enjoyed a favorable economic or political environment in this country since the 19th Century, Coston explained, "passing a law commanding Amtrak to stop losing money is like shaking a baby to make it stop wetting its diaper."
After all, according to Warren Buffet, the respected icon of the investment community, "The airline business, from the time of Wilbur and Orville Wright through 1991 made zero money, net."
In truth, said Coston, "all forms of intercity commercial passenger transportation are money-losers, if you calculate all their costs the same way we calculate the costs of passenger trains."
That gets back to a notion we've repeatedly made in this space: Until America comes to grips with the unbalanced funding mechanism for transportation system, the system itself will remain unbalanced. Airways and highways have their infrastructure publicly underwritten before they get to the starting gate. Railroads are expected to pay for the whole thing, both infrastructure and operations. That has led to congested highways and airways, while rail service is left to pick up the scraps and survive on band-aid solutions.
This is the picture that will get worse before it gets better. It is the kind of situation that would lead one to speculate that many if not all of us will live to see the day "when the public rebels against current transportation policy."
Retirement benefits would rise
The rail retirement bill, now numbered H.R. 10, will increase benefits an average of $300 a month for about one million railroad retirees, spouses and survivors, according to the AAR.
Rail retirement benefits are paid under a 1930s-era program older than Social Security. The legislation would involve only a portion of the fund, moving $15.6 billion out of lower-earning Treasury bonds and into private markets.
Proponents contended that investing the pension fund in private securities will increase its earnings and that if the opposite happens, payroll taxes on the railroads would be raised to meet any shortfall. Under the bill, assuming a 2 percent increase in rate of return, those taxes are to be cut from 16.1 percent to 14.2 percent by 2003 for the rail companies and would never rise above the current 4.9 percent for employees.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the budget concerns involved only technical accounting rules because railroad workers and retirees, not taxpayers, paid in the $15.6 billion in the fund.
Labor was delighted with the outcome. The Transportation-Communications International Union posted on its website. "Thousands of phone calls and e-mails combined with non-stop lobbying efforts by rail labor and management have resulted in final passage of our Railroad Retirement Reform legislation.š
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) International President Don M. Hahs "offered congratulations and thanks to all active and retired BLE and GIA members who were so diligent in their efforts to lobby the Senate to pass this much-needed legislation." He also congratulated all BLE lobbyists who worked on Capitol Hill to secure passage of the bill, and to the entire Rail Labor Coalition.
The United Transportation Union (UTU) posted on its site, "Grandma and thousands of 60-year-old career railroaders are about to receive big-ticket holiday presents after the Senate this morning overwhelmingly approved a Railroad Retirement reform bill mirroring what the House had approved earlier this year."
The UTU, which has mostly conductors in its membership, noted "continued health coverage will be provided by railroads until the retired worker reaches age 65 and is eligible for Medicare."
Also, the bill provides that "younger workers will receive full vesting in Railroad Retirement after five years of railroad employment rather than the existing 10 years."
The bill also includes a requirement that railroads ensure the future solvency of the pension fund by absorbing any necessary future payroll tax increases.
Three photos - NCI: Leo KingThe new graphics say it all. Decals have been applied to all three "Cabbage cars" - 90213, 90214, 90220.
Pine Tree staters
get their trains back
in just five more days
It "only" took 35 years to once again link Portland and other Maine seaside Towns to Boston. The Downeaster, with brand-new textual graphics on the "cabbage car" noses, forward flanks, and a big, round stylized logo emblazoned on the rear quarters, make it quite clear which train - and railroad - this is.
"In a triumphant affirmation of America's rail renaissance, the state of Maine is bringing back passenger rail after a 30-year absence, due to a successful grass-roots campaign combined with a formidable effort from the state's leadership," the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority wrote in a press release last Wednesday.
The service is owned by the State of Maine and operated by Amtrak over Guilford Transportation's tracks. The Downeaster will call on communities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, "and will be the only form of transit that links Portland and seven other coastal towns to Boston."
As of December 3, the maximum authorized speed for passenger trains on the GRS Freight Main Line between Plaistow and Portland has been increased to 60 mph, but GRS had 40 mph speed restrictions still in place virtually everywhere, and 25 in some locations, according to sources. A long, narrow single-track causeway at Old Orchard Beach was raised from 10 mph to 40.
Four feet wide all around.
Amtrak crews expect to begin practice runs at the higher speeds when Guildford lifts the restrictions. They will also make two-minute mock station stops. They will not pick up any passengers until Saturday, the 15th, when service actually begins. An inaugural train will run on Friday.
A crew working on the Wildcat Branch by Wilmington Junction, at an interlocking named CPW-WJ, is welding and grinding and doing last-minute preparation.
The branch is still 25 mph between CPW-WJ and Clarke Street, but, we are told, local Amtrak engineering managers have applied to management in Philadelphia to raise the speed on that stretch to 40 mph as well. They have also asked Guilford to raise the portion of the freight main between Haverhill and Plaistow from 40 mph to 60.
An unexpected bright spot is a new four-foot round logo adorning the "cabbage cars." NNEPRA's Jane Anderson told D:F on Friday that Mike Faucher of Harbor Graphics in Poquonnock, Conn., did the work, "and for under $2,000."
Maine Gov. Angus King said, "The initiative to restore passenger rail service has been in progress for more than ten years, beginning with the largest citizen's petition drive in Maine's history."
What's on a nose? The text says it all.
King added, "Ordinary citizens demonstrated an extraordinary belief in the value of rail service in building our economy, reducing automobile emissions in our air and providing a relaxing and picturesque travel experience to link great locations along the northern New England coast."
The governor said there would be a positive influence on business in the Pine Tree State.
"The inauguration of the 114-mile rail corridor will expand business and leisure activities between three states and benefit us all."
The Downeaster's inaugural run, to begin on Saturday (December 14), will be marked "by festive whistle-stop events in the nine cities on the train route, the ringing of church bells throughout the seaside, gatherings of dignitaries in Boston and Portland, and an appearance by the same conductor who padlocked the last train into Portland 30 years ago," according to officials.
Among the day's participants will be Michael S. Dukakis, acting Amtrak board chairman; Jonathan Carter, board chairman of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, and Amtrak president and CEO George D. Warrington.
In revenue service, the Downeaster will make stops in Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and Wells, Maine; Dover, Durham, and Exeter, New Hampshire; and Haverhill, Mass., as well as the end points of Portland and Boston.
In Boston, the service will operate from the North Station-Fleet Center complex at 135 Causeway St.
The inauguration of Maine's first train service in more than 30 years will be in itself a historic moment, while the celebration will be marked by historic roots. Resurrecting a tradition that began more than a century ago, on the morning of December 14, church bells will ring-out in each town as the train approaches. According to custom, the church bells were sounded to alert the next town along the route that the train was on its way.
The inauguration ceremony will also include a champagne-christening ceremony in Boston's North Station followed by the customary "All-Aboard!" notice, which will be shouted by the conductor who padlocked that last train in Portland 30 years ago.
Even the name of the train service has historic significance. It recalls the days of the great sailing ships that cast off from Boston Harbor and followed the winds that blew down and eastward to Maine.
The Downeaster will make four daily round-trips. A one-way trip between Portland and Boston takes two hours and 44 minutes and costs $21.
The inaugural train will leave Boston at 10:50 a.m., depart Haverhill at 11:45, Exeter at 12:25 p.m., Durham at 12:52, Dover at 1:14, Wells at 1:49, Saco at 2:23, Old Orchard Beach at 2:45, and arrive in Portland at 3:27. It is an inaugural trip, so the time-keeping may not be as good as it should be in regular, daily scheduled service.
Each stop is intended to last 15 minutes, and the locomotive engineer will blow the engine horn at end of 10 minutes, signaling the remaining five minutes, according to Wayne Davis of TrainRiders Northeast.
|Letter begins a quest|
The push for the passenger train service between Portland and Boston began 13 years ago when Wayne Davis, a mortgage banker who liked to travel by train, wrote to Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor to complain about deteriorating service.
Davis ended his nasty letter by adding, "What would we have to do to get you to expand your mediocre train service to Portland, Maine?"
Claytor was sympathetic and urged Davis to promote the idea. Davis went on to form the rail advocacy group TrainRiders Northeast, which helped initiate legislation that got the project off the ground.
The Associated Press reported the story last week as New England news organizations prepared to cover the event.
The Portland-based organization started with 21 members and now claims more than 1,300. Davis, the retired chief executive of BankEast, now spends much of his time in his volunteer job as chairman of TrainRiders.
Claytor died in 1994. Amtrak's current acting chairman, Michael Dukakis, was invited to be on board for the first run of the Downeaster for dignitaries on Friday.
Meanwhile, even before service begins, supporters are looking ahead to expansion The new service represents the first stage of what state officials ultimately foresee as a wide-ranging passenger rail network that would open much of Maine to train-riding tourists.
The next leg would extend the line to Brunswick, also on Guilford tracks. With funding for a new trestle linking the track to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad already in place, service to Brunswick should begin by 2003, Davis said.
The line would then be extended to Rockland, where the state envisions a new ferry service taking tourists to Bar Harbor.
Another project that rail planners hope to see in the future is the ability to connect with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor via a new underground rail link between North Station and South Station.
Officials say that the $1 billion-plus project isn't dead but won't become a reality anytime soon.
Michael Murray, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, foresees the time when they could then catch a train from the Ellsworth area to Bangor and from there be able to make connections to Quebec, the Canadian Maritimes or back south through Waterville, Augusta and Lewiston.
"The linkpin is Portland to Boston. That makes it all possible," he said. "We're looking at car-free vacations. These vacations can be one week or two weeks."
Meanwhile, the Portland Press Herald recounted an anecdote from Phillip Hill when he opened his mailbox a few days ago. He found an elegantly lettered note inviting him on the inaugural run of the Downeaster.
"I'm all set and thrilled to pieces," said Hill, 83, whose father and brother each worked for 50 years as engineers and firemen on the Boston & Maine Railroad passenger trains that shuttled between Boston and Portland, a service that ended in 1965.
Inaugural day schedule
Hill plans to bring a photograph of the men, who are now long dead.
"I want to represent them," he said. "They would have been delighted to see this train, no question."
Hill will be one of the few ordinary people on the special 12-car train, which leaves Boston on Friday with a load of 450 VIPs, mostly business leaders, railroad executives and government officials, including as many as three governors, four congressmen and six senators as well as the press from all media.
It will be a 114-mile-long party through three states, with a cash bar and free Amtrak food, interrupted by whistle-stop speeches at each of the nine communities that will have Amtrak stations. At mid-week, officials were still trying to arrange for a brass band to greet the train - as proper railroad etiquette dictates - when it arrives in Portland.
Hill snagged a seat because he had asked for help from U.S. Rep. John Baldacci's office. Hundreds of other less persistent train enthusiasts will have to wait until the following day, when Amtrak service officially begins. Railroad officials say more than 1,000 tickets have been sold for the four regular round trips scheduled on Dec. 15. The trip will take 2 _ hours and cost $21 one way, while a same-day round trip will cost $35.
Following the inaugural run, the celebration will continue at the Portland Exposition Building, where a two-hour party will feature an edited version of the trip on a giant video screen and a 20-foot-long ice sculpture of the Downeaster. The party, which begins shortly before 4 p.m., is open to the public, at a cost of $25.
Inaugural trains are part of a long railroad tradition that serves multiple purposes. Railroad officials expect free advertising from the horde of travel writers and media representatives who'll ride in their own car. The train also serves a political role, providing recognition to all the players who worked to bring rail service back to Portland. The coalition will still be needed, as the service faces the new challenges of pleasing riders, generating revenue and winning corporate sponsors. Political support may be needed again someday, if the train can't pay its own way.
The inaugural train and events that day will cost $100,000, much of it subsidized by corporate sponsorship.
For many of the people who will ride, the inaugural train is not about anything practical at all. It's a highly emotional event that signifies the triumphant end of a 13-year quest.
"Sometimes, when we were in the dark days, it seems that was the thing that pulled us along - that inaugural ride," said Jeri Edgar, a member of TrainRiders Northeast, the citizens group that lobbied and petitioned for the train.
"God willing, I will be on it," said Herb Connell, one of the founding board members. "I will still be knocking on wood until the train comes and it actually goes. We've had so many false starts."
Some of the people who advocated early for the service are now dead, or so old they fear the nearly five-hour journey would be too strenuous.
Organizers of the event have struggled with all the requests from people who want to be on the inaugural train. Wayne Davis, the head of TrainRiders, said his office has fielded at least a half-dozen requests every day.
Patricia Douglas, a planner with the Northern New England Rail Authority, said it's difficult telling people they can't be on the train.
"Every day," she said, "when you have to disappoint someone, that takes the wind out of my sails for this event."
One man who landed an invitation, railroad historian Robert Willoughby Jones, said he's flying from his home in Los Angeles to ride the train.
In the 1960s, he said, passenger rail service between Boston and Portland struggled to compete against the automobile, especially after the Maine Turnpike was built. But Jones said the region's population has grown substantially, and today's crowded highways aren't that pleasant or fast. He said he thinks rail service will succeed.
"To me," he said, "it's just wonderful to have it back again."
Destination: Freedom will be aboard.
The Portland press Herald is online at http://mainetoday.com
|Furlong joins NCI staff|
James C. Furlong, a reporter of long standing who worked for the Wall Street Journal affiliate Dow Jones Newswires in New York, London, and Bonn, is joining the National Corridors Initiative as Director of Media Outreach.
"I have asked Jim to head up Operation Education, our outreach program to the news media, with the title Director of Media Outreach," said James P. RePass, President & CEO of NCI.
"He is a superb professional journalist who understands the need for America to have a decent transportation system, and that rail must be a part of the balance."
Operation Education is the National Corridors Initiative's program to educate the general news media on the role of transportation in the nation's economy.
In particular, NCI seeks to focus attention on the benefits of rail investment, and to help the news media understand how rail has come to be, with a few exceptions, such an underutilized part of the nation's transportation system even as it is more and more needed for national defense and security as well as economic development.
"While NCI is unabashedly pro-rail, we are advocates not from a sense of nostalgia for some lost golden era, but because as business and environmental advocates we see rail investment as essential to the economic and environmental health of the country. Both passenger and freight rail, and mass transit, have been badly damaged by federal policies that have grossly favored highway and airport construction to the exclusion of all other transportation modes," said RePass.
"We plan to counter the massive disinformation about rail that has gone unanswered for more than a generation - disinformation initially peddled by the highway lobby and its supporters, but now such a part of the Śconventional wisdom' that even well-intentioned reporters repeat the myths about rail that have harmed the nation so much."
"Under Jim Furlong's direction, NCI, on a systematic basis, hopes to begin to educate the American news media on the value and importance of balanced transportation," said RePass.
"We are in the process of assembling a comprehensive list of journalists by category (transportation, environmental, business, editorial, and state house) and will also be developing a transportation fact sheet that will be provided to journalists, rail advocates, and others who need accurate statistical information."
Furlong retired as the Dow Jones Newswires Senior Editor for the Americas in 1998, and worked for UPI, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and the City News Bureau of Chicago. He was also co-founder and editor for a time of Internet Publishing Group in Newtown, Penn.
He is a graduate of Brown University, and the author of Labor in the Boardroom - the Peaceful Revolution about German labor relations, published by Dow Jones.
|Amtrak picks Godwin Group|
Advertising Age magazine (http://adage.com) reported last week that Amtrak, which recently dropped WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather as its national advertising agency after just 10 months, has hired the Godwin Group of Jackson, Miss., to handle marketing for two long-haul trains in the Southeast - the Crescent and the City of New Orleans.
Amtrak said in a statement that the agency will try to position the trains as the best alternative for travelers in the Southeast.
The Crescent operates between New York and New Orleans while the CNO runs from Chicago to New Orleans.
Amtrak offered no indications of spending on the account.
Thanks to Ray Dunbar.
Cardinal rolls into Kentucky
"I can honestly say it's a smooth ride across the Ohio. The train moves about 30 miles-an-hour, and the view is breath-taking," said WAVE-TV's Shannon Davidson, who rode the Kentucky Cardinal on its first trip across the Ohio River into Louisville after being absent for 25 years on the former Louisville & Nashville.
The Amtrak train made the journey from Chicago on December 4.
Other riders who have wanted passenger train service back in Louisville say the view is grand from the Kentucky side of the river.
"I used to get on a sleeper here and go to bed, and the next morning at 7:00 o'clock, I was at Dearborn Station in Chicago," said former L&N construction engineer Charlie Stoecker, who can now do that again.
"This great Union Station will be the point of pride for our community," said Mayor David Armstrong.
The train runs from Chicago, through Indianapolis, to Louisville.
It's a $36 ticket one way, a price some would jump to pay. "Once you realize the train service is not here anymore, it adds to your travel plans," said Rudy Davidson.
For riders who wish to continue to Nashville, Amtrak and Greyhound have teamed up.
December 4 was a terrific and historic day for Louisville, Amtrak, and rail advocates. A large crowd was on hand at Louisville Union Station to greet the first Kentucky Cardinal into its namesake state. No. 850 made a grand entrance as it backed onto the new spur with a former L&N open-end observation car on the rear end. Another private car, also of L&N heritage, was coupled to it at the rear of the train.
Former L&N employee and resident rail historian Charles Castner was in the large crowd.
"It was surreal seeing Union Station crowded with people once again with Christmas decorations everywhere - so reminiscent of the 1950s or 60s," one observer said.
Louisville's mayor thanked Amtrak officials, Louisville's transit authority, the L&I and CSX for bringing the Kentucky Cardinal across the river and said it will be a boost to development in the area.
The train arrived in Scottsburg, Ind. around midnight, running about 45 minutes late, and was greeted at the depot by what looked like the entire population - including Scottsburg's mayor.
"It was an incredible day. On more than one occasion, Amtrak employees quietly indicated that Amtrak was strongly considering extending the train to Nashville by Spring 2002.
Thanks to Ralcon Wagner of Nashville, Tenn.
|Trinity commuter line is finished|
The Trinity Railway Express between Fort Worth and Dallas is envisioned as the spine of a future 300-mile passenger rail system connecting the region.
With the opening last week of two downtown Fort Worth stations, the Trinity Railway Express becomes the first completed commuter rail line in Texas. It is also the nation's first example of two major metropolitan centers connected by commuter rail to a major airport, the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last week.
Officials said there is more to come.
"This is the ribbon that pulls the region together," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the region's metropolitan planning organization.
"It connects our three central business districts - the two downtowns and Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW), the gateway to the world."
After Fort Worth and Dallas clashed about Dallas's Love Field and the Wright Amendment, the Trinity Railway Express has become a symbol of cooperation.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit, operates the rail line. If congestion and air quality problems prompt the construction of more commuter lines, they would probably also be shared by the two agencies.
About 300 miles of passenger rail lines are planned for "the Metroplex," as the greater Dallas-Fort Worth are is known locally, and an additional 150 miles are on the drawing board.
"Frankly, it bursts the image of the region as an auto-dependent place where people don't have choices," said Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "What happens this week may lay the groundwork for more frequent service, as well as boost the case for the other possible commuter rail lines that are under consideration in the Dallas-Fort Worth area."
Commuter rail, at $16 million per mile, is less expensive than traditional light rail, at $43 million per mile. So future passenger rail plans tend to focus on commuter rail, which can run on the same tracks as freight trains. A feasibility study is under way for commuter rail on the Union Pacific corridor that links Dallas and Fort Worth via Arlington and Grand Prairie.
As part of the study, a subcommittee of the Regional Transportation Council is considering elevating the Union Pacific rail line or the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line where the two cross in downtown Fort Worth. The project would use federal, state and freight railway money.
The Union Pacific line would be used for commuter rail, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line would carry special-event passenger trains between downtown Fort Worth and Texas Motor Speedway.
A north-south line from the Trinity Railway Express into Arlington is also being considered, possibly along Collins or Cooper streets. A short Trinity Railway Express line called the Dorothy Spur already runs about a mile south of the CentrePort-DFW Airport Station, but officials said they are not necessarily sold on using it because it is not in good condition.
Eventually, plans call for commuter rail on the former Cotton Belt line, which runs from downtown Fort Worth northeast to DFW Airport and beyond. The track is being used for the Tarantula train between Fort Worth and Grapevine.
|Florida rails stand to gain big bucks|
South Florida's trains, buses and airplanes stand to gain tens of millions in dollars from a bill approved by the U.S. Senate last Tuesday. If President Bush signs it, the legislation would pump more than $44 million into mass transit in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
A compromise between both houses of Congress, the bill would spend $59.6 billion for projects around the country, said U.S. Rep. C.W. Young (R-St. Petersburg), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
About $292 million will go to the Federal Aviation Administration to be spent on aviation security measures, such as airport bomb-detection equipment, Young said.
Congressmen from both Houses hashed out an agreement on next year's transportation spending last week. The House approved the compromise Thursday.
In South Florida, the 71-mile-long Tri-Rail system may be the biggest winner. The passenger train system stands to gain $27 million in federal grant money for improvements to the train station in Fort Lauderdale and for a new station at Cypress Creek Road.
"Go out on Interstate 95 this afternoon at 5:30 and see what happens," said U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale.
"That $27 million for the Tri-Rail, we've got to get that up and going to a point where people will take it. We've got to get people out of their automobiles, and they'll only do so if we give them reliable, comfortable transportation."
Tri-Rail officials also intend the use the money to build a double-track commuter rail line from Pompano Beach north to Mangonia Park in Palm Beach County. The goal is more-frequent train rides. Currently, Tri-Rail runs at 40-minute intervals. When the three-year project is finished, the trains will run at 20-minute intervals.
Other South Florida rail projects that may be funded by the bill include $3 million to study and plan a high-speed rail system to connect five Florida major urban areas. One year ago, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment ordering legislators to begin constructing a high-speed rail system by 2003 to link the state's five largest urban areas. Other non-rail transportation projects were included in the measure.
ExpressTrak opens Albany facility
ExpressTrak, which handles the reefers that run behind Amtrak trains, has opened a new transloading facility next to the carrier's terminal in Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y.
The ExpressTrak terminal offers fifth-day service between Albany and the West Coast year-'round, the company said last week.
Under ExpressTrak's "Rapid Modal System," trucks will carry goods between the Albany-Rensselaer facility and receivers and shippers in the New York capital region, southern Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
It is ExpressTrak's third terminal opened on the East Coast, following Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.
"Our fleet of high-tech, refrigerated rail cars has grown from two to more than 50 this year, and will number more than 100 by April," said Kevin McKinney, ExpressTrak's vice president of marketing.
|G&W buys Emons Group for $18.5 million|
Regional shortline operator Genesee & Wyoming will acquire Emons Transportation Group, which operates the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad in New England and the York Railway and Penn Eastern Rail Lines in Pennsylvania, the companies stated last week.
GWI will pay $18.5 million in cash for Emons and assume about $10.9 million of Emons debt. Emons shareholders will receive $2.50 per share, "a 63 percent premium over the closing price" on November 30.
the acquisition will merge a newly formed subsidiary of GWI with Emons. The companies expect the deal to close in the first quarter of 2002.
The 260-mile SLR runs from Portland, Maine, to St. Rosalie, Quebec, where it interchanges with Canadian National. It handles primarily pulp and paper, forest products, and chemicals, but also carries intermodal traffic, as well as bridge traffic between CN and Guilford.
The 40-mile York Railway (a product of the consolidated Yorkrail and Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad) connects with Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Canadian Pacific. Penn Eastern, its sister road of roughly the same size, is made up of six separate rail lines in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
A major SLR customer, Pulp & Paper of America, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. It had generated 9 percent of Emons' $25.4 million fiscal 2001 revenues.
GWI said it expected to reduce Emons' operating expenses by $1 million through corporate and administrative streamlining, as well as through coordinating operations of the SLR and its own operations in Quebec, where it operates the Qu»bec-Gatineau Railway.
GWI's major holdings include the Buffalo & Pittsburgh, Illinois & Midland, Portland & Western, and Louisiana & Delta. GWI operates 7,700 miles of track in five countries on three continents, and runs over 2,700 additional miles under various running rights agreements. In October, it purchased the South Buffalo Railway from Bethlehem Steel.
|NS makes Christmas plans|
Norfolk Southern is preparing to drastically curtail service during Christmas.
A spokesman said last week, "In response to reduced customer demands during the Christmas holiday weekend, NS will begin a curtailment of operations on December 22. Operations will be reduced to minimal levels by December 24, as necessary to meet customer demand where necessary and to provide for fluid operations in critical areas to enable a smooth transition to normal service levels on December 26."
A notice to customers stated "Every effort will be made to minimize impact on customer operations while allowing Norfolk Southern employees to spend time with their families."
He added, the same plan will be followed for the New Year holiday period beginning December 29 through January 2.
He said the Central Yard Operations Center will be staffed at reduced levels throughout the holiday period. The National Customer Service Center will be closed on December 25 and January 1.
|Bangor and Aroostook Railroad is bankrupt|
|A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge entered an "order for relief" on December 4, placing the Bangor & Aroostook freight railroad in bankruptcy. A U.S. trustee will be obtaining the names of five potential trustees for the BAR from the USDOT and FRA, one of whom will be appointed to take control of the BAR and continue operations. A motion to permit interim operations pending appointment of the trustee is anticipated.|
NCI: All photos, Leo KingRon Soltys of Cranston, R.I. takes 93 from Boston to New Haven on November 14.
Views from the cabs
Engineers make it look s-o-o easy
In the cab!
December 4 was a remarkable day for me. I rode AEM-7 cabs from Boston to New York on No. 93, and returned in the cab on No. 86.
The older electric engines are rated around 6,000 horsepower, but the upgraded critters are now rated at 8,000 hp, the same as the new HHP-8 engines from Bombardier that were recently delivered.
The southbound - umm - westward - trips were with Engineer Ernie Kissinger from Boston to New Haven, Conn., and John Springer, from New Haven to Penn Station, New York City. The return trips were with engineers Frank Mokisel from the Big Apple to New Haven and Christ Taft, from New Haven to Boston.
A speedy Acela Express 2152 going east passes No. 93 in Rhode Island.
This had been a long-thought-about ambition - to ride an engine between the city pairs. Besides, I was getting ready to retire from Amtrak (January 30, 2002), so it was going to be now or never, as I viewed it. After 14 years on the railroad, I would be "pulling the pin," as railroaders say, and leaving New England for sunny, warm - especially warm - Jacksonville, Fla. No more sending trains to and fro on the Dorchester branch from South Bay tower. No more telling commuter strings, "Okay down to the signal" in the "Front Yard" in Boston's Southampton Street yard. No more telling the Acela Expresses and Acela Regionals, "Okay down to the Fifteen Switch." No more telling the Readville switcher "Okay down the 'Chute'" track to go to S-and-I track three. No more hearing conductors like Lou Dellavalle and George Casey calling out signals as they come through Loop interlocking on their way to the loop tracks and car wash calling signals.
"Eighty-six, back up. We have a restricting," or when they get to the other end of the loop listening to them call second trick yardmaster Bill O'Brien for a yard track, then calling the train director - the op - at South Bay tower.
"South Bay, 86 off the loop when you can handle us."
"Roger 86, As soon as the Readville Shuttle passes (in a couple of minutes), I'll send you east for Dorchester 1, then west for the 15 switch."
They would repeat my instructions... and wait until I could move them.
Dorchester Line dispatcher Paul Torosian would give them a signal east on 1 at Loop, otherwise their train would not fit between South Bay and Loop. There are only five car lengths, and most trains, including commuter trains, were at least six cars.
No more straightening the iron and pushing the signal buttons for the shuttles, nor CSX's weeknight local peddler, B-733, on its way from Readville Yard to South Boston, the Boston Globe and "the freezer."
Amtrak New England operating rules chief Paul Carroll okayed my head-end pass, formally named, "Temporary Train Authorization Permit 'A'" on November 7. The following Tuesday, I called engineer Ron Soltys at the Boston crew base at South Station around his reporting time, told him I planned to take pictures, and had a head-end pass, and would like to ride with him. He was agreeable, so I told him I would get aboard No. 93 on the station platform in Providence, R.I. near my home in Cranston.
The train is due to leave Providence at 10:25 a.m., but his train was running a few minutes late on that day. It seems a westward Acela Express had broken down near the Dedham-Route 128 station, so they had picked up the passengers from that train - including some Federal Railroad Administration people who were riding the head-end of his HHP-8 engine. In short, there was no room for me. We chatted briefly on the platform and agreed I should try the next day.
Both days were remarkably warm for the time of year - well into the 60s and sunny.
On Wednesday, I was back on the platform, and this time he had an AEM 7.
Things were going fine until we approached Mystic, Conn.
My two-year-old digital camera batteries died. No backup. They had been so reliable... but they had come to the end of their service life. My Nikon 950 was fine. I was able to snap a few photos during my brief journey, but the quest would have to continue another day.
I bailed out at New Haven, and rode a coach on No. 174 back to Providence. As soon as I arrived, I drove over to a nearby Radio Shack store and spent $35 on four new primary batteries, and a backup set. I also bought an additional "powerpack" battery online from Tiger Direct computing in Miami. That arrived in the mail about two weeks later.
The weather the following week was not photogenic at all, so I had to wait until December 4 to try it again.
I called Ron in Boston again, but it turned out even though he was there in the crew room, he had to attend a Red Block session. He is a Red Block chief. That is a railroader's program to help fellow employees who have alcohol or drug-related problems.
Ernie Kissinger would be taking the train instead.
Kissinger is a Boston-based engineer. He took the job on that day after being bumped up (he owns the No. 173 job). The engine this day, 953 tugging eight cars, was one of the few remaining unrebuilt AEM-7 engines, rated at 6,000 hp.
Conductor Susan Somerset got on in PVD with me. She was qualifying the New Haven-Boston segment on the route, and had ridden an MBTA commuter train from BOS. Those trains go slow enough so she can see more of the wayside details, which she will be required to know when she qualifies her physical characteristics. This was her 15th trip, not all of which were to Boston. She is already qualified between New Haven and New York City.
If anything marred the westward trip, it was the sun's location. Most of the time it was in front of us; not directly, which would have been impossible, but enough so that the photos were not all they could have been. Had I taken my journey in , let's say June or July, the sun would have been very high and of much longer duration. Eventually, especially on the return trip, splattered bugs on the windshield became a distraction.
When we arrived in New Haven, Ernie got off, Susan left, and John Springer took over at the helm.
Springer is a tough, tell-it-like-it is, no-nonsense guy who doesn't want anyone in the cab calling signals.
"I do it every day, so when someone comes along who doesn't... I even tell that to management."
He is, however, a friendly man. In fact, when I told him I was riding just to get pictures, he asked me which train I would be taking east. I told him first one out. He checked his timetable. It would be 86.
John was a "tour guide" as well. When he learned I was a train director and block operator in Boston, he started pointing out old towers along the Metro-North route between New Haven and New Rochelle, N.Y., where Shell interlocking is.
All the towers are out of service as interlocking towers. Some are buried in ivy, others surrounded by catenary equipment. The movable bridges still have ops who are still rules qualified and can hand up train orders when required.
"Mets" dispatchers in New York control most of the layout. Only New Haven still has an active interlocking operator where an op can look out the windows to see what's going on.
I told all the guys I don't know signals that well, so I would not be calling them, even though the rules call for head-end riders to do so. To a man, all were happy with that; thought that was a fine idea.
John Springer keeps his speed restriction summary handy.
It is a four-track speedway between New Haven and New Rochelle. Top speed permitted on the line is 90 mph on a short segment near the west end, and the rest is mostly 65 mph track. Most of track 2 is out of service as MN upgrades its catenary and other facilities. Track 1 already has concrete ties inserted, but the rest has wooden ties.
That trackwork at New Rochelle is unusual. Not only do Amtrak trains make a left turn to head west on "the branch," as Mets people call it, they also travel over crossovers and diamonds with movable frogs. There is little chance of derailment with iron like that.
When we got to NYP, John took me to a part of the station I had never seen before - the crew room. He introduced me to a couple of guys, showed me the screen that would show which track 86 - and everything else would be leaving from. I cooled my heels for about 20 minutes and made some new friends, including a conductor who went by his initials, "JR," and Bob, the assistant conductor for 86. To be honest, I've forgotten what their names are. I wasn't taking notes at the time.
The crew room phone jingled. Nobody made a move to answer it, so since I was so close, I picked it up.
"Hi, this is" so-and-so. "Could you take a look to see if there is a blue gym bag around there?"
It was a conductor on No. 174 who had left his bag - with his wallet inside it - on the floor. He was calling from his cell phone. The train had left New York at 12:30 p.m.
"Is my wallet still in it?"
By now, Bob was into the act, and we rummaged around and found it.
The guy was relieved.
"That phone is brutal sometimes," Bob remarked.
A few minutes later, somebody else called looking for someone. I sang out the name, but a woman conductor sitting nearby said, "He's not here."
I repeated her response.
"He's not there?"
End of conversation.
Bob introduced me to his engineer, a young man in his early 30s, or so I guessed.
Frank Mokisel is a boomer, of sorts. He grew up on Long Island, became a conductor and worked for Amtrak in Miami, then moved on to Chicago, and now lives in Brooklyn.
"I like the urban setting," he said. He also earned a degree in broadcast journalism.
"I never thought I'd wind up here, but when I graduated in 1991, they [broadcasters] weren't hiring. I sent my resume 'around the world,' and Amtrak was the first to respond."
We strolled downstairs to track 10, where No. 86, led by rebuilt AEM-7 No. 940 with eight cars in tow, was waiting for us. The engineer who had brought it in was waiting for Frank on the platform. Their conversation was brief - the trains is running okay, no forms D, no "exceptions," railroader chatter meaning everything is okay.
Frank made a brake test and some other checks, and we were ready to go, on time, straight up at 2:30 p.m. We could hear a light "thump, thump" from the wheels as we left Pennsylvania Station.
Looking almost directly into the sun marred the view of Hell Gate Bridge going westward. Now, The sun was to my back, and it was a remarkable view on the approach and over the deck. They only thing missing was a train coming in the other direction.
Frank and his bride live in Brooklyn and "love it there." It's home.
"I like the urban setting," he said.
The ride over the branch was quiet. We passed one other westward liner, entered Shell Interlocking onto Metro-North track, made a station stop at New Rochelle, passed a few commuter trains heading for Grand Central Terminal, and made brief station stops at Stamford and Bridgeport.
The journey to New Haven was uneventful.
Frank left, and Chris Taft got on, after they exchanged greetings and some tech details, like "No form Ds, engine runs okay; just a little sluggish, and there are flat spots on the wheels."
Chris, 24, lives in New Haven and is on the spare board. Life on the spare board can be hard - you never know when you're going to get the call to take a train somewhere - anything from an Acela Express to a work trains extra.
By now, the sun was setting, and it getting too dark to take pictures without setting off the flash unit.
Tanya, our conductor, called for the train to leave Old Saybrook, but we still had a minute to wait for the scheduled departure time, 4:37 p.m. It was just as well, anyway. She called Chris again telling him to hold it up. Someone else wanted to get on.
Between Nan and NLC, well after dark, we saw three deer ahead crossing the tracks in front of us in the bright headlight. The first two made it across safely, but the third did not. There was a horrific thud. There was nothing Chris could do.
At New London, spare engineer Carl Andresen climbed aboard. He was deadheading home and would also bail out in Providence.
Chris Taft of New Haven, Conn., hauls No. 86 over the road from New Haven to Boston. A relief engineer took over in Providence.
It's remarkable watching these engineers work. They all have been doing the job for so long and over the same lines they have memorized the speeds around curves. Except for occasional temporary added speed restrictions, they all know when to slow down, speed up and fly when they can.
"The curve we just left is 80," Chris said, "and the one we're on is 80. The one ahead is 70." We were still somewhere in Connecticut.
By now, I was fading. Eight hours of riding an engine and looking for things to photograph can be wearing.
We got to Providence six minutes advanced. Chris had to hold the train there until its scheduled departure time, but a relief engineer took over. Chris would have "outlawed" had he been required to take the train to Boston.
I had snapped 175 high-resolution frames on four "compact flash" cards, the "film" my digital camera uses. The next day, I spent 12 hours at my computer downloading 170 of them. The other five were unusable.
Watch out, J'ville... here I come.
CP's Christmas train visits
Canadian Pacific Railway's "Holiday Train," a 1,200-ft freight train decorated with thousands of Christmas lights, began its spectacular cross-continent journey in New York City last week with a special ceremony to honor the fallen heroes of September 11.
CPR's 17,000 Canadian and American employees "were deeply moved by the events of September 11 and wanted to show their sympathy for New Yorkers," said CPR President and CEO Rob Ritchie.
"The Holiday Train has become a symbol of employee pride and caring, and we're taking it to New York to show our support."
The CPR Holiday Train began its 400-mile U.S. journey through the northeastern U.S. at Fresh Pond Junction Rail Yard in Queens where New Yorkers could view the illuminated train and special holiday entertainment.
That afternoon, Ritchie rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate CPR's recent listing, and simultaneously lighting the train's 8,000 Christmas lights.
Representatives from the NYSE, New York City officials, community leaders, the families of the fallen heroes of September 11 and New Yorkers joined CPR officials at the Holiday Train. CPR's partner in the Holiday Train, General Electric supplied the lights and other support, and participated in the tribute.
In addition to an earlier $100,000 donation to the NYSE Fund for Fallen Heroes, CPR donated Canadian Christmas trees to families of the firefighters and police officers who lost their lives in the September11 rescue. Handmade wreaths were being presented to city officials, police and fire commissioners.
After leaving Fresh Pond, the train stopped briefly on Amtrak's Hell Gate Bridge at approximately 7:00 p.m., then headed north through New York State. The train stopped in Saratoga Springs, Fort Edward, Whitehall and Plattsburg on Dec. 6 for special charity events in each community before crossing the Canadian border and ending its journey in Montreal, Quebec.
A second Holiday Train began its Canadian journey the next day, visiting 50 communities along the CPR network between Montreal and Vancouver, B.C. A third train, traveling through the U.S. Midwest, left Chicago on December 8. Food and cash raised at all event stops will be donated to local food banks.
About 1,100 railroaders work for CPR in the northeastern U.S.
Citizens' Forum for Transportation
Sierra Club of Connecticut, Transportation Choices Coalition of Connecticut and NCI 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., New London, Conn. Radisson Hotel. Creating an integrated transit-based transportation system for New London, southeastern Connecticut and southwestern Rhode Island region.
Speakers to include former Rhode Island Governor's Counsel William G. Brody; Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority's GM Dr. Beverly Scott; Frank Guzzo, Siemens Transportation Systems of North America; transportation expert Marla Hollander; NCI President Jim RePass, and others.
For reservations, contact Sierra Club of Connecticut Transportation Chair Molly McKay via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and credit card information. Registration is $25 for Sierra Club, TCCC, and NCI members, $30 for non-members. Luncheon.
City Club of Chicago
Amtrak acting board chairman Michael Dukakis will be principal speaker at a City Club of Chicago breakfast at Maggiano's Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave., Chicago from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. $20. Reservations, 312-565-6500.
January 11-15 2002
National Railroad Contractors Assn.
Annual exhibit and technical meetings
|NCI web site adds features|
NCI's webmaster, Dennis Kirkpatrick, tells us "We have just installed a new 'search' feature at the National Corridors Initiative web site. It is now possible to search through the various documents and newsletters at our site by keyword or key phrase."
He said a new "search" link has been added to our home page.
For example, If you need to get information on the new Amtrak service from Boston to Portland, Maine, you can access the search page and insert the word "Portland" and the search engine will locate all of the past editions of Destination: Freedom that address that topic.
You may also enter specific phrases (in quotes) such as "National Rail Passenger" to be searched-for as well.
Asking for pages that talk about "Amtrak" may produce some interesting and overwhelming results, but the search engine has some built in restrictions to prevent such large responses.
We have also added a search box on that page for the popular Google search engine, which can be used to search the internet in general.
On another note, we'd like to remind readers that we are no longer posting the D:F newsletter in two parts for older or low memory web browsers. It's simply not productive for us to continue the practice, and we need to conserve web storage space. With that in mind, we plan on some website "house cleaning" that will see existing two-parters removed from the web site after the Christmas holiday during our publication break. If anyone wants copies of those back editions, we recommend downloading them now.
NCI: Leo King collectionAll we know about this photo is that it was the Reading railroad. That's it. We don't know where, nor when (except in the steam era, ca. 1950), and we guess those telegraph line were still in service. The Reading (in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as we recall), still had a PR office, which was where the photos sans details came.
This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.