Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 34, Dec. 11, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update



NCI: Leo King

Train No. 133 is in Southampton Street Yard, Boston, as the first snowfall of the season began on Friday. Engine 656, a high-horsepower Acela Regional locomotive, is in revenue service. Assistant Conductor Pat Mangon (carrying hose) and engineer Bob Heap are on their way to move No. 177 to South Station. Conductor Lou Dellavalle, the third member of the yard crew, is out of the picture.

Danger In Penn Station tunnels

Key lawmaker demands action

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The ticking time bomb that is the hazardous conditions in the tunnels leading into New York City's Penn Station has prompted House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) to fire off a letter (dated November 15) to Inspector General Kenneth Mead to update him on the repairs contemplated since the I.G.'s report on the matter last March.

"We expect to get the report back by Christmas," said a spokesman for the chairman.

What galvanized the congressman into this latest action was a fire in an Austrian railroad tunnel that killed more than 150 people, including nine Americans.

"A fire in any one of the tunnels under Penn Station could have catastrophic results," Wolf said.

We have been writing about this problem in past issues of D:F, and, in my view, we have been amazed to note that the New York-based media has largely ignored it. It is not as if this was any big secret that someone had to shoot to us over the transom or slip to us in a Washington parking garage a la "Deep Throat" in the Watergate case. It is all public information out there in the open.

The I.G.'s report was issued last March. It was the subject of congressional testimony, and we discussed it in these pages in our May 1 issue, and also last month when the Amtrak Reform Council staff issued a "working paper" in which the problem was mentioned.

Dead silence from the New York news outlets. That silence was finally broken December 4 when the New York Post breathlessly reported that it had "learned" that "a half million people traveling to and from Penn Station daily ride through century-old railroad tunnels that are catastrophes waiting to happen."

Wolf's office indicated to us that no other New York news medium has picked it up. Presumably, they will "learn" about it after some cataclysmic accident claims a sufficient number of victims to warrant calling it "news."

Wolf noted that since the mid-1970s, the three railroads serving Penn Station - Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit - have spent $150 million to improve ventilation, lighting, evacuation and communication in tunnels beneath the existing station and the James A. Farley Post Office Building across the street, but that an additional $655 million in safety improvements that are needed are not scheduled to be completely addressed until 2014.

Wolf compared that with $344 million in federal funds that have been spent just since 1994 on converting the Farley Building to a new railroad terminal, for an expected total of $800 million by the targeted completion date of 2005.

"Life-safety issues should be addressed prior to or concurrent with development, not nine years after the redevelopment is completed," the Wolf's letter stated.

He envisioned the panic that would ensue "if passengers tried to escape from a dark, smoky, burning tunnel" climbing single file up just one narrow staircase, ten flights to the street level, with no landing for slower people to rest or allow for passing.

Amtrak supporters, who may fully agree with Wolf's alarm over safety conditions in and around the New York station, would probably dissent from his linkage with the Farley Building project.

"Why should I choose between my mother and my father?" they would ask, "They're both important."

That seemed to be the tenor of National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Assistant Director Scott Leonard.

He told D:F that in order for Amtrak to fix up the tunnels right away, the passenger train company would have to "not run any trains at all." The money just isn't there. And Leonard says this gets back to the problem of Amtrak not having a dedicated source of funding "like everybody else," i.e., airways and highways.

He said that Amtrak is scheduled to give the inspector general a presentation on the topic before the end of the year.

As for Wolf's linkage of the tunnel problem to the Farley building, the NARP official said the building renovation is funded from sources separate from the Amtrak fund.

"When state money came down from Albany, it didn't say 'tunnels'. It said 'Farley Building.'"

Thus, the problem gets back to the railroad industry officials, in the private and public sectors, and their repeated non-negotiable emphasis on safety as the number-one priority.

But who is going to put up the money? Wolf said that is a question that should be confronted.


High-speed bond bill still on hold
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The bill to inject substance into the effort to get high-speed rail in the United States off the ground and on the way to reality remained up in the air as we went into the weekend.

The Senate shelved the tax bill to which the $10 billion rail bonding authority measure had been attached. Negotiations were scheduled for the weekend between the White House and the Congressional leadership.

Informed sources on Capitol Hill told us that the best hope now is to attach the High Speed Rail Investment Act to an omnibus appropriations bill encompassing all the remaining appropriations measures that have failed to pass because of vetoes or threatened vetoes by President Clinton.

Clinton, however, is now very much a lame duck, and at least some of the Congressional leaders are in a mood to simply pass another Continuing Resolution (CR) simply allowing those departments without 2001 appropriations to continue along on the 2000 funding levels. The president has said he would not buy that and would approve only short-term CRs. Congressional leaders generally are unimpressed, arguing the president apparently will settle for nothing short of massive amnesty for thousands of illegal aliens and an ergonomics bill that would wreck many small businesses. So both sides are dragging their feet, and the Congressional leaders note that a 2000 level of funding would save taxpayers money but it would also mean no rail bond bill. NARP, for its part, is urging its members to phone the White House during the weekend and petition the President to insist on the HSRIA as a part of any final compromise package.


Rail people support 'HSRIA'
The American Passenger Rail Coalition (APRC), High Speed Ground Transportation Association (HSGTA), Railway Progress Institute (RPI) and National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) renewed their call for enactment this year of the High Speed Rail Investment Act (HSRIA), which allows for bond-financed passenger rail investments over ten years.

The HSRIA, which passed the House as part of its tax bill, garnered 167 sponsors as freestanding H.R. 3700; the Senate bill, S. 1900, has 57 sponsors (not counting Senate Finance Chairman William Roth who strongly supports it). Support has come from across the political spectrum. The impressive list of HSRIA supporters, which includes public officials, newspapers, and other organizations, is on the World Wide Web at http://lautenberg.senate.gov/highspeed/letter.html.

The key players are Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, and Office of Manpower and Budget director Jacob Lew. A NARP spokesman said, "These people need to hear from their colleagues about the importance of doing the rail bond bill this month."

He added, "The HSRIA may be the only practical way to secure a reasonable level of passenger rail capital investment in the next few years. Amtrak's fiscal 2001 capital budget is so tight that expenditures on heavy overhauls of rolling stock will be dramatically reduced from the FY 2000 level."

Meanwhile, he pointed out, a public disillusioned with overburdened air and road facilities is turning increasingly to trains even trains that are slow by world standards. Amtrak just completed its fourth consecutive year of ridership growth nationwide.

On the Pacific Northwest Cascadia corridor (top speed is 79 mph), ridership has grown 180 percent from 226,400 in 1993 to an estimated 633,000 this year.

HSRIA capital investments would be expected to produce substantial economic benefits, expanded business opportunities and new jobs in states and regions around the country.

The bill would also allow Amtrak sell $10 billion in bonds over ten years, to be invested in partnership with states. The USDOT must approve projects, and states must provide a 20 percent match. Bondholders would get tax credits in lieu of interest payments. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the cost to the federal government over 10 years would be $3.26 billion.

Here are the Web addresses for the four organizations:

American Passenger Rail Coalition, http://www.aprc.org; e-mail at hparcell@ix.netcom.com, or snail mail at 900 Second St., NE, Suite 109, Washington, DC 20002-3557.

High Speed Ground Transportation Association, http://www.hsgt.org/; e-mail, achettle@hsgt.org, or 1010 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 110, Washington, DC 20001.

Railway Progress Institute, http://www.rpi.org/; e-mail rpi@rpi.org or700 N. Fairfax Street, Suite 601, Alexandria, VA 22314-2098.

National Association of Railroad Passengers, http://www.narprail.org or e-mail, rcapon@narprail.org, or 900 Second St., NE, Suite 308, Washington, DC 20002-3557.


Border crossings may get easier
Amtrak reported last Thursday that new customs procedures have begun entering and leaving Canada.

Spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said the new methods are "intended to reduce the time it takes to process passengers on the Maple Leaf and Adirondack trains" either entering or leaving Canada.

"The most notable change, she said, "is that Amtrak customers are now required to submit date-of-birth and citizenship information before their tickets are issued.

That information is forwarded to border crossing agents so that required background checks can be performed before the train reaches the border.

U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N. Y.) was credited with helping to get the new procedures in place, said Amtrak's Northeast Corridor President Stan Bagley.

Passengers are now advised, when they make their reservations, to bring appropriate identification documentation for gaining entry into the United States or Canada.

The railroad is also issuing special baggage tags that match numbered stickers on the back of the customers' tickets, allowing border crossing agents to easily determine to whom each bag belongs.

Cummings said "Within the next two weeks, new bilingual (English and French) station signs to help passengers with directions and procedures will be posted in all Amtrak stations in the Northeast serving trains to Canada."



NCI: Leo King

MBTA (Amtrak) commuter train 763, a "Readville Shuttle," passes South Bay Tower en route to Readville, some nine miles distant, as snow falls in Boston on Friday afternoon. The 'T' is considering a rapid transit line on this route.
FAA wants South Station spire trimmed;
'T' mulls idea to convert Dorchester line
A proposed South Station skyscraper that would rise even higher than the Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center may wind up considerably shorter.

Lowell Richards, the Massachusetts Port Authority's chief development officer, sent a letter to state environmental regulators urging a big cut in the South Station tower, the Boston Herald reported last Friday.

Massport, which operates Logan International Airport, is backing up concerns raised by the Federal Aviation Administration, that the 840-foot tower proposal, which includes a 150-foot ornamental spire, is a "hazard to air navigation." With the spire, the FAA contended the tower would be so tall it would interfere with Logan flight patterns, forcing more planes to fly over East Boston.

Robert Durand, the state's environmental secretary, is reviewing the tower proposal and is expected to make preliminary recommendations by month's end.

A Texas development company behind the giant office tower said it is willing to do whatever is necessary to alleviate the FAA's concerns. David Perry, a Hines Interests LP senior vice president, said his company is still in talks with federal aviation officials, but to eliminate their concerns, Hines would consider eliminating the 150-foot spire, which, along with its decorative use, could also be rented out to telecom and cellular companies. Axing the spire would bring the tower to 690 feet, satisfying the FAA's height concerns.

In other Boston area developments, the Herald reported the MBTA is taking a look at a hybrid rail line through Mattapan, and is toying with the idea of transforming the Fairmount commuter rail line into a more traditional rapid transit line, increasing the frequency of trains and adding stops throughout Dorchester and Mattapan.

The line, named the Dorchester Branch, currently extends from The Transfer interlocking on the Amtrak-MBTA commuter main line, 10 miles west of South Station, to Fort Point Channel where it rejoins the main line for the remaining half-mile into the Boston terminal. At its western end, it also has a short track that connects with the Franklin line.

The T began searching on Friday for a consultant to look at ways to improve service on the route; but officials warned that any potential overhauls would have to wait until the agency, or people pushing for improvements, identify a funding stream.

"We're taking a cautious look at this," said Robert H. Prince Jr., the T's general manager. "We'll first see how this report comes out."

"Readville Shuttle" trains operate every half-hour during peak periods and hourly off-peak weekdays. There are three intermediate stops at Upham's Corner, Morton Street and Fairmount.

To get downtown now, people in that section of Dorchester, the most densely populated on the route along with Grove Hall, have to bus to either the Red Line or Orange Line, or switch to another bus at Dudley Station.

The advisory board has considered a proposal that would remake the Fairmount line into a kind of commuter rail-Red Line hybrid called the Indigo Line, with six new stops and trains every 15 minutes and on weekends.

The consultant's job will be limited to looking at short-term fixes, opening additional stations, adding trips and expanding hours.


Corridor lines...

Amtrak fares rise across many lines

Amtrak quietly raised its fares during December. A travel agent noted that West Coast Surfliner business class fares were up one dollar, and Cascade fares between Portland and Eugene rose 3 percent.

Elsewhere, rail fares on the Carolinian were up 3 to 8 percent, City of New Orleans was up 3 to 8 percent, and the Crescent 2 to 8 percent.

Trains from Chicago to Washington, and others between Philadelphia, New York and Boston were up 3 to 8 percent.

An exception was between Sandusky, Ohio and Chicago, which was down 5 percent.

Most Chicago to West Coast routes rose as well, except between Chicago and Milwaukee, where there was no change. The Provo-Salt Lake City-Reno routing declined 8 percent, and Gallup thru Kingman and Needles, Ariz., was down 5 percent (to get Laughlin-Las Vegas business), and from Needles through Los Angeles, which was down 15 percent.

No fare increases were seen between Chicago and Kansas City.

Sunset Limited local points east of New Orleans increased 3 to 8 percent.

Thanks to Gene Poon


Vermont commuter service begins
The Champlain Flyer bounded down the tracks last Monday as Vermont began its first commuter rail service.

Hardy New Englanders were bundled against frigid 20-degree, frosty air in Burlington over the nation's smallest commuter rail system, which ferried its passengers 12 miles at speeds up to 40 mph.

"'This is the beginning, I hope, of a real renaissance in rail,'" said Gov. Howard Dean, who had championed the project for nine years.

For opponents of the rail plan, it was a huge waste of money; but for supporters, it was a giant leap in what state transportation secretary Brian Searles called "the rail revolution."


Freight lines...

Maine Coast folds; new operator in wings

The last run of the Maine Coast Railroad operated December 4. The last train arrived at Brunswick at about 12:45 p.m. with all four of the carrier's elderly engines, the 2004, 2002 (two leased MLW M-420s), 367 (Alco RS-11), and 958 (Alco S-1). Also in the train were two ex-Long Island Rail Road coaches and an empty Union Pacific covered hopper.

According to the engineer, that was the first and only time all four engines were together in one lashup.

Upon arrival at the Brunswick Yard, the train was shoved into a yard track against some empty freight cars. The four engines were shut down, handbrakes set, some equipment removed, including radios, and then drained of coolant (except for the 2002 which had anti-freeze).

According to the crew, Safe Handling was to begin service Tuesday or Wednesday. Safe Handling has an interim agreement to run the lines until Maine DOT finds a long-term operator.

The ex-Maine Central 958 was slated to go to the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, N.H., but disposition of the other three engines was uncertain.

Crews would scatter. A brakeman was going to go to work for Guilford, while one engineer and another employee would work for Safe Handling. The brakeman said that because Guilford and Maine Coast had had a good working relationship, Guilford had welcomed former Maine Coast employees to come work for them.

Thanks to Alan Seamans


Business lines...

Leblanc named Bombardier chairman

Bombardier Corp. of Montreal reported on Thursday that Jean-Yves Leblanc had been appointed to the position of Chairman of Bombardier Transportation. Pierre Lortie, currently President and Chief Operating Officer, Bombardier Capital, will move to the position of President and Chief Operating Officer of Bombardier Transportation. The appointments were effective on Dec. 6, 2000. Both men will report directly to Robert E. Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of Bombardier, Inc.

The way we were...

...For Daddy is the Engineer!"

Otto Kühler, B&O Railroad magazine reprint; Leo King collection

"....For Daddy is the Engineer!"
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" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

Destination: Freedom's editor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and mostly chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at http://www.themestream.com under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."

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 Site in Boston.


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