Vol. 7 No. 51
Copyright © 2006
This page is best viewed at
elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Traffic congestion is a worldwide problem,
not just an American dilemma.
Photo: © www.hupac.chThe Rolling Highway in Switzerland
Photo: © Nikolaus Wächter/ImagepointLorry jam near Erstfeld, Canton Uri, about 25 km (15 miles) from the northern entrance of the St Gotthard road tunnel
In Europe, one of the most congested routes is through the Alps. People have always found ways of crossing the Alps, but before the advent of motorized transport most people traveled only for trade or for war or on important business. The numbers were relatively small. Now millions of people cross them every year, creating problems our ancestors never dreamed of.
The number of vehicles going over - and through - the Alps has increased more than tenfold in the last 25 years. The valley roads are choked with vehicles, and the air is choked with fumes.
Too many transport interests need the Alpine route. Italy needs it for exports and imports. Swiss and other Europeans use it to spend vacations in Italy, and people like to use their cars, especially when they go on holiday.
Events in one country affect others just as we are impacted by what goes on from one state to another. A devastating fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel linking France and Italy - forced a three-year closure in 1999; another less serious fire in 2001 caused a much shorter closure of the Gotthard tunnel. Traffic had to be diverted, stretching to the limit the capacity of the remaining tunnels. The transport system between Italy and northern Europe could one day collapse entirely under a similar domino effect.
A SOLUTION: FROM ROAD TO RAIL
Switzerland adopted a general policy to divert transport from road to rail by a series of measures to encourage use of rail more and more over time. In the process, they also reached a set of agreements with the European Union in 1999 which included a compromise over freight transit. They raised the weight limit on trucks allowed to use Swiss roads, which meant that heavy trucks were no longer obliged to make the detour via France or Austria. But to discourage these trucks, Switzerland introduced a heavy vehicle tax in January 2001, one of its measures to encourage the move from road to rail. Thanks to the heavy vehicle tax, the number of freight trucks crossing the Swiss Alps by road in 2004 was some 10 per cent down on the 2000 figure. Before the tax was introduced, truck numbers had been rising.
In 2004, 65% of freight (measured in tons) came through the Swiss Alps by rail - a sharp contrast to France and Austria, where the bulk of goods were still shipped by truck.
Another stage of Switzerlands road to rail policy occurred in June 2001 with the opening of the rolling highway: trucks are carried by train between Germany and Italy, never setting wheel on Swiss territory.
LANDMARK DECISION TO BUILD NEW ALPINE TRANSIT ROUTE
At a conference of ministers of transport of Alpine countries in June, 2004, the decision was made in conjunction with the European Union that a strategy must be set up to deal with the crisis of congested traffic traversing the Swiss and Italian Alps. It was stipulated that, wherever possible transit traffic had to be conveyed by rail. Two new railway links needed to be built, one through central Switzerland and the other along the Brenner corridor. At the same time, Italy and France agreed on the need to develop the rail corridor between Lyons and Turin.
The strategy was put into effect immediately in Switzerland and the countries along the Brenner corridor.
In addition, a more ambitious project, a deeper tunnel under the Alps for a new rail system known by its German acronym NEAT - New Rail Alpine Transit - would be built. It would be partially funded by the heavy vehicle tax. Its longest tunnel would be 57 km (35 miles long). The first stage, the Lötschberg base tunnel, (34.6 km/21.5 miles) is scheduled to open in 2007.
A popular vote in Switzerland in 1994 strengthened the countrys bid to encourage rail at the expense of road: the voters approved a new clause in the Swiss constitution (article 84.3) which states that the capacity of the transit roads in the Alpine area may not be increased.
This has not stopped the road lobby from pushing for additional capacity, in particular, a second road tunnel through the Gotthard. This is opposed by the government and by environmentalists.
TUNNELS: CHALLENGES OF SAFETY AND COST
Efforts to improve the important pass routes through the Alps date back to the beginning of history. Heavy snow has made mountain passes impossible to traverse, so for centuries the Swiss have been tunneling through them.
The very first tunnel in a Swiss Alpine pass, the Urnerloch, was built in 1707-8 to ease the passage over the St Gotthard. It was 64 meters (210 feet) long. The longest tunnel today is the Gotthard railway tunnel, 15 km (9.3 miles) long, built more than 100 years ago. The first road tunnel under the Alps was the Great St Bernard linking Switzerland and Italy. It opened in 1964.
Tunnels present the authorities with the constant challenge of balancing efficiency, safety and cost.
Safety is paramount in the NEAT design: every possible effort is being made to avoid accidents in the first place, but plans must be in place to facilitate escape and rescue when necessary. Trains running in different directions will be kept apart with cross passages linked at intervals and a number of side tunnels feeding into the main one.
Road tunnels will always offer more hazards than open areas, and rescue work is always more complicated.
The fire in the Gotthard road tunnel in October 2001 was caused when a tire burst, sending the truck into the lane of an oncoming truck carrying a cargo of tires, which caught fire, spreading toxic fumes. The extreme heat caused the cement facing of the tunnels to explode. Eleven people died.
The even worse Mont Blanc tunnel fire in 1999, which killed 39, occurred when a cigarette tossed from a vehicle set light to highly inflammable margarine.
After the Gotthard fire, trucks were only allowed to enter the tunnel in one direction at a time. There had to be a set distance between them at all times and absolutely no passing.
Waiting areas have been set up for the trucks - some of them 60 kilometers (40 miles) away. All this is highly unpopular among the drivers, who claim that whereas once they could cross Switzerland in four hours, they now have to plan on 16. Wait times average just under one hour but sometimes can be as long as two and a half.
Unfortunately time is money, and lorry drivers are paid according to distance driven, not time at the wheel. The result: they work far longer than the 46 hours per week laid down by the law. And that does nothing to improve safety.
Return to index
Photo: © www.blsalptransit.chLoetschberg base tunnel: workers wave cantonal and national flags to celebrate the breakthrough, April 2005
Scientists have long noticed that the unique features of the mountainous Alpine area could make it susceptible to a higher level of air pollution and a greater impact from noise than in some other environments.
The monitoring and minimization of traffic- induced noise and air pollution is a new project financed by the European Community Initiative Programme Interreg III B Alpine Space. Professors from the Institut f¨ur Meteorologie, Universit¨at f¨ur BodenkulturWien, and the 2 Institut f¨ur Physik der Atmosph¨and several other institutions are conducting the study.
The project aims at the integrated use of advanced science-based methods to monitor, assess, and predict air pollution and noise and their impact on the environment, quality of life and health along major transport routes. These methods are adapted to the Alpine topography and its specific meteorological phenomena which often amplify the levels of concentration and noise. The purpose of the project is to promote these methods to regional and local authorities, to supplement standard methods towards more reliable predictions and scenario assessments, to quantify the limits of emissions if given air quality and noise standards are to be met, and to assess the environmental impact of traffic flow changes due to regulations, new infrastructure, or modal shifts.
The study will focus on two regional target areas: the Brenner corridor between Kufstein (Germany) and Verona (Italy), the other one is the Fr´ejus corridor. It includes the Val di Susa from Torino towards the Montcenis (Italy) and in France it includes the Maurienne Valley. These corridors are the ones with the highest traffic going through the high Alps and they both have road as well as rail transit routes.
The project will run from 2005-2007.
Information about the project plan, the ongoing work and the results will be published on the ALPNAP web site (http://www.alpnap.org/ ).
ALPNAP is interested in information exchange and possibly cooperation.
New stations web site is launched
Amtrak has launched its Great American Stations Web site, designed as a resource for local public officials and others regarding passenger rail station revitalization, funding sources and other issues. The site also serves as a forum in which best practices may be shared.
Acting as a central resource on stations, the site provides local jurisdictions information and resources associated with station ownership, links to ADA requirements, potential funding sources for rehabilitation and upgrades and how to get started on renovations. In addition to benefiting a particular town and its traveling public, stations often serve as economic development engines for communities.The site aims to foster partnerships with local communities to make investments in stations by making available Amtraks expertise and information.While Amtrak actually owns a relatively small number of stations around the country, its employees have a great deal of experience and knowledge to offer localities. Being developed on a route-by-route basis, the site kicks off with stations along the Empire Builder route the California Zephyr route will be next and will ultimately feature all of the stations Amtrak serves.
Please visit www.greatamericanstations.com to learn more.
Selected Rail Stocks...
Return to index
British rail faces increase
London - According to various news outlets, Great Britain will double its current passenger duty collected on all airline tickets, which in effect restores the U.K. airline ticket tax back to its pre-2001 rate. Britains Treasury Secretary, Gordon Brown, stated that the increase is aimed at aiding the reduction of CO2 emissions caused by airliners. The tax increase amounts to an additional GBP 5.00 charge for British and European flights, and GBP 20.00 more taxes on intercontinental flights. The tax increase shall go into effect in February 2007.
The reaction from the European airline industry was swift and furious. British Airways (BA) along with rivals Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, BMI and Ryanair issued separate press announcements which decried the increased tax as unfairly singling out the airline industry and doing nothing to contribute to reductions in green house gasses.
The move by Britains government to increase taxes on airline travel with supposed aim of reducing CO2 emissions parallels Frances introduction of a EUR 4.00 tax on international economy class air tickets and EUR 40.00 on international business class air tickets in early 2006. France says the proceeds from its newly introduced air ticket taxes are going to efforts to fight HIV-AIDS and fund African development and poverty relief. The introduction of the tax on air tickets by the French government caused similar outrage in the airline industry at the time as is the British air fare tax increase announced this week.
Michael OLeary, chairman and CEO of Irish / British low cost airline Ryanair, who is one of the harshest and most vocal critics of any and all taxes on European air travel, stated that the airline industry is the source of just 3% of the worlds industrial CO2 emissions and that comparatively little is being done in Europe to tax the biggest sources of CO2 emissions, which are cars, trucks and electric generating powerplants. A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said that the airline industry can reduce C02 emissions significantly without additional taxes by more efficient air traffic control and special procedures such as towing airliners to the runway before they start their engines rather than using jet engines for taxing to the runways. A similar scheme of towing airliners to the runway prior to starting their engines was tried at Bostons Logan and New Yorks Lagaurdia airports in the mid 1980s, albeit as a way to reduce noise pollution. The scheme was abandoned after concerns were raised by aircraft manufacturers about possible long term damage to landing gears from extensive towing to and from active runways with tractor tugs.
Both the British and French air travel taxes are mostly limited to internal European flights and international flights by airlines based in the two countries. European passenger railroads are set to benefit from possible passenger switchovers from air to rail mode due to increased air fares. Unlike airlines, most European railroads are already paying market prices for diesel and electricity which are heavily laden with numerous taxes and environmental surcharges approaching 70% of the cost at the pump or catenary wire for these energy sources. Deutsche Bahn - German Railways - estimates that 75 cents of the approximate EUR 1.10 it pays for each liter of diesel fuel is tax. Deutsche Bahn and other European railroads have been put under intense price pressure in competition for passengers in the past decade by numerous low cost airlines such as Ryanair, easyJet, Virgin Express and Air Berlin.
The European Union continues to look for ways to include air travel in carbon trading schemes and environmental taxes in order to limit CO2 output due to commercial air travel. However airline industry lobbies as well as certain foreign governments, most notably the United States, have stated they will vigorously fight off any attempt to include commercial air travel in carbon trading schemes or new environmental taxes.
In last weeks lead story (Academics, business coalition call for change in Northeast Corridor ownership, operations DF Dec. 4, 2006) it states, those portions of the Northeast Corridor designated to Amtrak in 1976 [Editors Note: it was 1970]...
Although the meaning of designated is unclear, it was 1976, not 1970, that the government took over the assets of Penn Central and created Conrail, and when the ownership (with mortgage) of the NEC was transferred by DOT to Amtrak.
Merritt David Mullen
I think the following times regarding the MBTA ski train, need to be corrected! (DF 12/4/06)
An outbound train will leave Bostons North Station at 8:35 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and make stops at Ayer at 7:09 a.m., Littleton at 7:17 a.m., South Acton at 7:25 a.m., West Concord at 7:30 a.m., Concord at 7:34 a.m. and arrive in Fitchburg at 10:06 a.m.
Ed We would encourage readers to always check local published schedules, or in this case check out the commuter rail section at the MBTA web site at www.mbta.com.
Web addresses as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial presentation. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our pages.
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, wed like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at email@example.com. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCIs webmaster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.
Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.
Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our email@example.com for additional information.
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 transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives state DOTs, legislators, governors offices, and transportation professionals as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our firstname.lastname@example.org.
This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.