Happy  Holidays

Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 49, December 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 

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


Keillor’s gang hits notes for the ‘good guys’

Did you catch Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion Saturday night? It was live (on December 6) from Town Hall in New York City, and to celebrate the snowstorm they had a song called “Snowstorm Boogie.” Three lines went this way:

“Airports closed.

“Highways packed.

“But Amtrak's running and that’s a fact.”

Audio is at http://www.prairiehome.org/play/audio_segment.php?media=/031206/031206_phc&start=00:00:00:00.0&end=00:00:24:32.0.

Watch for the line wrap on the URL.


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Judge okays one-day strike;
may hit during Christmas rush

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has given thousands of Amtrak employees the green light to stage a one-day walkout. However, the unions – which had originally planned the walkout on a Friday last October – have not decided whether to go through with it now.

Amtrak said it will appeal the judge’s ruling and will go back to court to prevent any walkout the unions implement.

The labor unions’ complaints about inadequate funding for Amtrak – the reason for the projected walkout – are still very much on the table.

“We haven’t made a decision yet [about the walkout],” Transport Workers Union (TWU) National Legislative Director Charles Moneypenny told D:F in an interview. He said the coalition of rail unions, which he leads, would meet in the week ahead and make a decision as to what to do.

The idea of a walkout has been challenged not only by Amtrak CEO David Gunn, but also by several other unions. Rail labor is split on the issue. Moneypenny, though, does not see the projected strike as “disruptive” on labor’s part.

“There’s never been an ardor to shut the service down,” he told us, “The ardor has been to prevent the service from being disrupted.” The TWU official said U.S. district Judge James Robertson obviously agreed “there’s a genuine danger out here on the rails. Unless Congress and the administration address it, something bad is going to happen.”

The unions’ view is that safety concerns and adequate money for the passenger train service are intertwined.

“You can’t make a safe railroad if you don’t have the funding. That’s been Mr. Gunn’s point all along,” Moneypenny said.

Gunn had originally asked for more than $1.8 billion. He ended up with $1.32 billion (counting deferral of a loan from DOT) from Congress. Originally, he had said unless the $1.8 billion was forthcoming, critical infrastructure work would be jeopardized and that at anytime, “something could fail.”

Moneypenny told D:F, “Suddenly he [Gunn] can make do with 600 million less than he could a few days before. I don’t believe that.”

In his ruling, Judge Robertson said that “it is indeed possible that a measure of truth lies on both sides.”

Amtrak argued the proposed strike has nothing to do with drawing the public’s attention to safety concerns, but in reality is “union muscle-flexing designed to give a strategic advantage in ongoing negotiations over new collective bargaining agreements.”

Moreover, Gunn and those unions opposed to the walkout have said such an inconvenience to Amtrak passengers would generate hostility from the public and that the resulting backlash would hurt not help the railroad.

In addition to TWU, the unions arguing for the one-day stoppage include the Service Employees International Union’s Council of Firemen and Oilers and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.


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Indiana judge orders Beech Grove
strikers to back to work

Federal District Judge Larry McKinney ordered striking Amtrak employees at the Beech Grove shops back to work on December 5, and to begin expedited arbitration in their dispute over outside contract workers, The Indianapolis Star reported on December 6.

About 600 employees at Amtrak’s Beech Grove heavy maintenance facility stayed away from work beginning December 3 after the Transport Workers Union and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes complained that the railroad violated their bargaining agreement by hiring contractors without first notifying them or meeting to discuss the matter.

The contractors were to repair track and cars. Eleven 11 other unions at the site refused to cross the picket lines.

Both striking unions contended Amtrak should have drawn from the roughly 70 furloughed workers before hiring contractors, but Amtrak argued hiring the contractors did not result in additional workers being furloughed and the unions didn’t follow proper internal procedure to settle the protest.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago said, “The judge ruled that there was no legal reason for the employees to strike, which has been precisely Amtrak’s position from the beginning.”

Magliari added that employees would not be paid for their three days on strike unless they had scheduled vacation or personal leave time for the three days.

He said the strike period would not be counted as absenteeism.

Amtrak said the dispute did not disrupt train traffic.


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For now, anyway

Amtrak nominees are ‘on ice’

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

President Bush’s three nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors are in limbo, still waiting in the wings for Senate confirmation. All of them have extensive private sector backgrounds.

They are former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall; former World Bank Railways advisor and onetime FRA official Louis Thompson; and Floyd Hall, a leader of turnaround growth companies, especially K-Mart.

No realist expects Amtrak, a publicly funded entity, to shed the political part of its equation; but if they are confirmed, the prospective board members can be expected to blend the political with their business backgrounds, accepting the fact that Amtrak is not and never will be a profit center.

The three generally made a favorable impression during their confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee November 6.

All of them supported a national passenger train system and said the country could afford it.

Much of the opposition to at least one or two of the nominees, if not all three, comes from some segments of Rail Labor, but that feeling among the labor chiefs is by no means unanimous.

The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Division (TTD) has taken no formal position on the nominees, although the federation has expressed “concerns,” mainly because of suspicions that some or all of them would look kindly on the idea of privatization.

Thompson, in particular, was initially thought to lean toward that view, though in more recent times, he has not made the privatization argument and, in fact, is no longer making the economic case against the long distance trains.

The closest Thompson came to addressing the issue at the Senate hearing was his comment that Amtrak should be made “stronger and more effective,” but that “I don’t think privatizing Amtrak would do that. Could you involve the private sector more effectively? I believe so.”

His more recent views, in fact, have won Thompson the outright endorsement of the United Transportation Union.

“We supported him with a letter,” UTU spokesman Frank Wilner told D:F.

“The reason we supported Lou is we met with him,” Wilner said, adding, “He asked us for our support, and he made very clear that he is not wedded to privatization. In fact, he told us that he was critical of a lot of the implementation of the British model, and we felt that not only was he coming into this with an open mind, but he is going to be the most experienced and knowledgeable of the Amtrak Board members.”

The union’s support for Thompson resulted from a two-hour meeting the nominee held with Wilner and UTU Legislative Director James “Broken Rail” Brunkenhoefer.

UTU has taken no position on Crandall and Hall simply because they have not asked for its support. This union is not pre-judging them.

Less inclined to give the president’s selections the benefit of the doubt is the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

“We have serious concerns about any Bush nominee to the Amtrak Board,” TWU Legislative Director Charles Moneypenny told D:F in an interview.

Citing the administration’s proposal for the passenger rail service which, in Moneypenny’s view, would “dismantle Amtrak,” the labor lobbyist said the Senate confirmation hearing was “disappointing” because “none of them was asked” flat-out if he supported the president’s plan for Amtrak.

Of the three, Crandall seems to come in for the least criticism from labor leaders.

“We have quite a few American Airlines people [in TWU],” Moneypenny told us. He added the director of TWU’s Airline Division “spoke favorably about Mr. Crandall [which] carries some weight with me. But I would like to hear from these people myself.”


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Fluor-Bombardier predicts Florida
high-speed rail will turn a profit

The contractor for a proposed bullet train system said last week that the state will turn a profit on high-speed rail, challenging Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) concerns about the cost of the venture.

Representatives from Fluor-Bombardier told members of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority on Thursday that the state not only would recoup its investment, pegged at $75 million annually for 30 years, but also could reap more than $400 million in net revenue over that time, the AP reported.

“It will be one of the best investments of public transportation that the state will ever see,” authority member C.C. “Doc” Dockery said at the December 11 meeting.

Bush had complained about the price of the Constitutionally mandated system in a letter to lawmakers last week.

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

Fluor-Bombardier’s winning bid to design, build, operate and maintain the rail system’s first leg, linking Orlando and Tampa, came in at more than $2 billion.

If the bid’s proposal is implemented without any changes, the state would get back $419 million, Fluor-Bombardier said.

“This is the kind of information that the governor either doesn’t understand or didn’t include in his letter,” said authority chairman Fred Dudley, who was appointed to the bullet train panel by Bush.

Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj said too many questions remain about the assumptions of ridership and revenue used by Fluor-Bombardier and the authority, which is why the governor wants to repeal the amendment.

Four years ago, $6.3 billion, the cost of a similar project that would have linked Tampa, Orlando and Miami, was too much for Bush and he ended Florida Overland Express (FOX) shortly after taking office.

Because the authority wants to alter Fluor-Bombardier’s proposal, the revenue the state could garner would be less than the projected $419 million.

At Thursday’s meeting, contract committee members Dockery, Dudley and Leila Nodarse voted unanimously to recommend to the full authority that Fluor-Bombardier should double-track the line and prepare it for electric trains, although the first trains will be turbine-powered.

Those changes would add about $300 million to the proposal’s cost while cutting the revenue stream to $176 million over 30 years, Fluor-Bombardier said.

With Fluor-Bombardier winning the authority’s contract only six weeks ago, this was the first time the partnership of the two companies could present the positive numbers it promised during the bidding process.

“We think it represents a very good deal for the state,” said Lecia Stewart, Bombardier’s vice-president for high-speed rail in North America.

The full authority will vote whether to ask Fluor-Bombardier to make changes to its proposal at its meeting in Orlando on December 17.

Dockery said the contract committee’s recommendations on the system’s technology also gives the authority a base from which to start negotiations with Fluor-Bombardier.

“The price on this will come down,” Dockery said.

The authority can only make recommendations. The final decisions must be made by the state legislature in Tallahassee.

The next High Speed Rail Authority meeting is scheduled for December 17 at 8:30 a.m. in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board Room, Orlando International Airport.

The agenda will include Global Rail Consortium (GRC) protests, consideration of GRC’s settlement proposal, and consideration of motions relating to GRC’s protests.

Also to be discussed will be the staff director’s report from Nazih Haddad on discussions held with the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority, Walt Disney World, Fluor-Bombardier as well as a report from the Contract Committee, and a presentation on technology options from Fluor Bombardier

An environmental update is expected, as is a presentation regarding the authority’s 2003 Annual Audit Report, and the authority’s draft January 1, 2004 report to the governor and legislature.

Haddad will report on new proposed language for a tax-exemption issue, and a status report on the authority’s expenditures.

The board should adjourn around 1:30 p.m.

The Florida High Speed Rail Authority is online at http://www.floridahighspeedrail.org/.

Fluor-Bombardier is online at http://www.bombardier.com/fluor/.


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Southeast takes bold rail step

It used to be possible to zip from one city in the Southeast to another along interstate highways that were seldom crowded outside major metropolitan centers, but two decades of unprecedented growth have changed all that.

Today, a driver heading from Atlanta to Birmingham, Ala., or from Charlotte to Columbia, S.C., is likely to encounter the same congestion long familiar to motorists in other regions. Now, in a rare effort of regional cooperation, six Southeastern states are joining to push for an alternative – an ambitious, high-speed train network that would connect the region and link it with Washington, D.C. USA Today reported last week.

Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee and their allies in Congress recently won $750,000 in federal funds to study the possibility of such a system. Business leaders in the region, who are spearheading the effort, are touting the rail proposal’s unusual financing scheme. The federal government would pay for building the rail network at an estimated cost of about $6 billion, but once the tracks were completed, a private company would operate it, using its own locomotives and coaches and without government subsidies.

Proponents say this part of the proposal makes it attractive to skeptical members of Congress, who are reluctant to back an Amtrak-like system requiring continuing subsidies.

“When we were talking to the members, we would always hear, ‘I don‘t understand how you‘re going to pay for it, and I don‘t want another Amtrak,’” said Jean Kirby, executive director of the Southeastern Economic Alliance, a three-year-old coalition of business executives and 14 chambers of commerce from the six states.

Amtrak, which runs through every state except Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota and Wyoming, is the nation‘s only provider of city-to-city passenger rail service among the states.

Its trains run mostly on tracks owned by the freight railroads, except in the Northeast Corridor. They must compete with freight trains for the use of track that is in such poor condition in some places that the top safe speed is 20 mph.

“Our business approach to high-speed rail was really important in our meetings in Congress,“ Kirby said.

“It allows a private company to come in and make a profit and eliminates the need for ongoing operational subsidies. That is what gets everyone excited.“

Well, not everyone. Opponents of high-speed rail say it‘s unlikely that such a network would ever be built. Even if it is, they say, it‘s unlikely to relieve congestion.

“The first thing to understand about the Southeast high-speed rail program is that it‘s not high-speed rail. It‘s so-so speed rail,“ said perennial nay-sayer Wendell Cox, head of a St. Louis consulting firm that studies demographics and public policy, and a frequently quoted, outspoken rail opponent.

“Even if there was a market for high-speed rail, which there is not, this is not high-speed. It‘s too slow to get anybody out of his or her cars. When you consider getting to the station, going through security, then getting in and out of a cab to get to your destination, there‘s no advantage at all.“

Not all is doom and gloom.

“This is a huge issue that‘s being raised across the country because we‘re running out of capacity on our freeways and at our airports,“ said Fred Abousleman, transportation director at the National Assn. of Regional Councils, a non-profit group that serves local officials across the nation who are seeking regional approaches to key challenges.

During the 1990s, the federal government designated 11 areas as high-speed corridors. Proponents in the Southeast note that their region’s corridor is the only one where experts say a rapid rail system could break even from fares alone.

They envision a network that would build new track alongside existing tracks now used for freight, wherever possible, at a cost of $5 million to $10 million per mile. They say the trains would travel at average speeds between 85 and 130 mph.

The service would cater to business travelers at fares competitive with air trips of less than 300 miles.

“It would have positive implications on clear air,“ said U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who helped get funding for the study.

“There are some suggestions that it could take 25 percent of the traffic off Interstate 85 during peak drive times.”

North Carolina, which already owns many tracks inside its borders, is the state most likely to be up and running first. In most states, railroad companies own the track. North Carolina already has a conventional rail system featuring 12 trains providing daily passenger service on six routes. Now, finding money for the faster system is the main obstacle.

“It‘s gone from being a gleam in the eye to proving to be a very valid approach,“ says Pat Simmons, rail division director of the North Carolina DOT.

“We need a funding partner in the form of the federal government. Congress has looked at a variety of ways to deal with it,” he said.

Last month, Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.) and five other senators introduced a bill that would provide $42 billion over six years to develop new passenger lines, strengthen Amtrak and improve freight service. It would create a non-profit public-private partnership to issue $30 billion in bonds to build rail systems. Its prospects for passage next year are uncertain.

Sam Williams, president of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, came up with the idea for a regional alliance for trains. He said it represents a new approach.

“We came to the conclusion that we‘re not in competition with each other,“ he said. “Our competition is Japan, California, Frankfurt. Our economy is a Southeast regional economy. If we can get this done, it‘s going to be a rising tide for all boats in the region.“

Nevertheless, nobody expects to see high-speed trains racing across Dixie anytime soon. At best, experts say, efforts like this are incremental steps toward a network that even the most optimistic proponents say is at least five to seven years away from completion of its first leg.

Said Isakson, “I‘m not sure I’ll be alive when it‘s running.”


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Maine getting $1 million for track

About $1 million in federal money will soon be headed to a 13-mile rail line between Yarmouth and Auburn, Maine, the first step toward bringing passenger trains to the two communities.

D:F has learned Maine’s DOT wants that money to go to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic (SLR) after Amtrak reaches Brunswick via SLR-Guilford Rail Systems.

Along with millions of dollars for other Maine transportation projects, this portion would fund an analysis of a rail spur, said Ron Roy, director of the Maine Office of Passenger Transportation.

The money may also pay for some initial engineering, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported on December 6.

The tracks in question run from Yarmouth, past Pineland, through New Gloucester and into Auburn, but changes could be years away, said Roy.

Currently, Maine’s train-related goals are focused on extending passenger rail service from Portland to Brunswick. If all goes according to plan, that could be operating in 2007, Roy said, and extending service to Auburn would come later.

“This will be our first serious look,” he said.

Passenger service to Auburn and beyond has been in the works for several years. The eventual goal is to improve tracks all the way to the Canadian border, allowing someone to board a train in Portland or Auburn and take it all the way to Montreal.

“We want to make this linkage,” said Roland Miller, economic development director for the city of Auburn.

The city wants to be a travel hub, just as it has become an inland port for rail and bus freight.

An “intermodal” passenger station for trains, planes, buses and cars is planned for the south end of the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.


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Ex-Amtrak conductors get probation

Five former Amtrak conductors were each sentenced December 9 in federal court in Albany, N.Y. to five years on probation and ordered to make restitution totaling nearly $121,000 for pocketing cash from tickets sold on trains.

One by one the five appeared before District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn, expressing regret, attributing the wrongdoing to such influences as alcoholism, debts, health problems or being led astray by a girlfriend. All worked out of the Albany-Rensselaer station, according to the Albany Times-Union.

The federal prosecutor agreed to sentences that avoided prison for the scheme that evolved over five years. The thefts were uncovered during a routine audit.

“I think the sentences are fair,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina E. Sciocchetti said. “Each of the defendants told the judge they would not be in trouble in the future. We have five years of supervision of each of them to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Not being jailed enables them to work to pay back the passenger railway. The government will monitor the restitution payments. Audits of on-ticket sales are being conducted all over the country and others have been charged, Sciocchetti said.

The five all pleaded guilty during the summer to a single count of stealing more than $5,000 from Amtrak.

Dennis M. Hartley, 45, of Rotterdam, N.Y. was sentenced to six months of home detention in addition to probation. He was ordered to make restitution of $37,361 at the rate of $300 a month or 10 percent of his gross income, whichever is greater. He was initially charged with stealing $40,991, but turned in about $3,700 at the time of the audit.

William F. Farrell Jr., 38, of Pittsfield, Mass., on disability for a neck injury, was also given six months home detention. He was ordered to pay back $31,783 at the rate of $100 a month until April 2004 when he returns to work, and then the rate increases to $300 a month.

Samuel J. Chalk Jr., 38, of Virginia Beach, Va., was the third defendant given six months home detention. His restitution is $23,365 at $200 a month.

Keith J. Latimer Jr., 39, of Albany will pay back $15,813 at $200 a month, and Michael R. Greene, 26, will pay back $12,630 at $200 monthly.


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STATION LINES...  Station lines...

Union Station

For NCI: Collection of Dave Bowe

Denver’s Union Station may soon be getting a lot of new business – if voters okay a plan that would bring a 0.4 percent tax increase.

 

Denver takes a long look at its
station; makes transport plans

Denver Union Station will be the hub for the Colorado city’s forthcoming $4.7 billion rail and bus proposal. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) likely will put the proposal before voters next fall.

In the RTD’s vision, the station will be transformed from a lightly used structure at 17th and Wynkoop streets to a station bustling with people accessing trains, taxis, buses and bicycles to move around downtown and the metro region. Its nickname will be “FasTracks,” according to last week’s Denver Business Journal.

Amtrak calls on the Mile-High City with trains 5 and 6, the westbound and eastbound California Zephyr. The train operates from Chicago to San Francisco, the westward train arrives at 7:45 a.m., and departs at 8:05 a.m. Its eastward counterpart arrives at 7:11 p.m. and departs at 7:31 p.m.

At the height of the Depression, Union Station hosted 80 trains a day. During the winter, a ski train to Winter Park takes skiers to the slopes.

A mix of new retail, residential and commercial development would fill the 19.5 acres surrounding the transportation hub.

Several developers already have expressed interest in building what many call “transit oriented development,” or TOD, around the station. That’s partly because thousands of people are expected to pass through the station every day, which means there should be a captive audience for stores and restaurants.

TOD generally is higher-density and pedestrian-friendly, and often includes residences. Urban planners praise this type of development as environmentally friendly and say it can reduce reliance on cars.

Development at and around transportation stations is common in Europe and on the East Coast, including Union Station in Washington, D.C., and Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Locally, developers point to the redevelopment of the old Cinderella City Mall, at Hampden Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, into the Englewood light rail station, with the city’s civic offices, retail and residential buildings also there.

Union Station

For NCI: ©D.C. Warner – www.transpixs.com

Amtrak, light rail and buses already use Denver Union Station. In July 2002, nearby buildings had been razed.

 

If voters pass the FasTracks proposal, Union Station would be the hub not only for Amtrak and a new light rail, commuter rail and bus network throughout the metro area, but also could serve as a way station for the entire Front Range, say transit supporters.

“Union Station is essential to making FasTracks work,” said Cal Marsella, general manager of the Regional Transportation District, which is planning to send a 0.4 percent tax increase to the ballot next fall to pay for the new transit network.

“In every transit system in the world, you have a central point that you can get off. It’s in the hub of downtown Denver, where people can be distributed throughout downtown,” he said.

Amtrak, light rail and buses already use the station.

The two-mile, $47.8 million Central Platte Valley light rail line runs from the Auraria campus to Union Station, with stops at Invesco Field at Mile High and the Pepsi Center. The 16th Street Mall shuttle also stops behind Union Station.

The plan the RTD board recently sent to the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) for review said the station “will be the ‘Grand Central Station’ of Denver as the center of the regional transit system in the heart of the city.”

Union Station

For NCI: Gary Bowers

Before nearby buildings were demolished near the station, in April 2002 the area was crowded.

 

Gwen Anderson, the city of Denver’s Union Station project manager, said, “We need a place than can handle lots of different types of transportation as well as lots of different corridors. It’s the point where virtually all of RTD’s transit corridors will converge.”

Trains from all points of the Denver metro area – including U.S. 36, Denver International Airport, the southeast and southwest corridors, as well as on lines to Golden and Arvada – would stop at the station.

“We’re looking at 32 trains an hour coming into Union Station,” said Dave Shelley, RTD’S manager for corridor and regional planning.

Transforming the station into Denver’s “Grand Central” will cost $560 million for the transportation improvements. About $200 million has been earmarked in FasTracks to pay for putting light rail underground, according to RTD’s planners. The entire vision could take 20 years, they say.

For years the station lay in private hands, but in 2001, the city of Denver and other agencies joined together and bought Union Station plus about 20 acres of land for $49.7 million.

Since then, the group has been working on a master plan for the site, as well as getting the zoning needed to accommodate both the transportation and commercial sectors. The entire contract, initially led by Chicago-based developer Jones Lang LaSalle, is $5.5 million to do a master plan, an environmental impact study, change the zoning of the site and complete preliminary engineering.

Working with the 96-member Union Station Advisory Committee, made up of neighborhood groups and other interested parties, the team reviewed 44 alternatives for the station.

RTD said that under the current vision, commercial rail, such as Amtrak, plus RTD’s buses and light rail would be located underground. Commercial buses, such as Greyhound, would be above ground.

Some elements could be moved underground later, when money becomes more available, according to RTD’s planners.

Union Station

For NCI: Karl A. Innes

It was busy inside Denver’s station in 1998.

 

A draft of the master plan for public comment is expected to be complete in the next two months. After the plan is approved, the environmental impact study (EIS) must be completed.

The EIS is being spearheaded by Parsons Brinkerhoff, part of the master plan team, and began in June 2002, said Parsons Brinkerhoff’s John Valsecchi, project manager for Denver Union Station Alliance.

An EIS is required if federal money will be used for a project, as it likely will at Union Station.

The EIS looks at the air quality and noise impacts of the project as well as the socio-economic effect it will have on the surrounding neighborhoods, among other things, Valsecchi said.

Valsecchi expects to have a draft of the EIS complete and ready for public comment in four to five months.

“We’ll address [concerns] and answer them and possibly make some changes. Then we’ll publish an EIS. That’s forwarded to the Federal Transportation Administration, which will review it. If they agree we’ve done it properly and everything’s in it, then they actually sign off on it. Strictly speaking, it’s done for them,” Valsecchi said.

The zoning change application, which would allow for mixed-use development at Union Station, was filed with the city last summer, but must be updated, the planners said. The update could be completed in January, Gwen Anderson said.

Planners are seeking the city’s new “transit mixed use 30” or TMU 30 zoning designation for the Union Station area. This zoning allows higher density and buildings of up to 250 feet in height. There’s discussion of new buildings near Union Station that will be about 220 and 200 feet tall, said Eric Anderson, a principal with Civitas, Inc., a Denver firm specializing in urban planning and landscape architecture, which is part of the team working on the Union Station Master Plan.

The station has a national historic designation, but for the city to have more control, it must designate the station and area as a historic landmark as well.

While project planners say the composition of the real estate is tentative, they are looking at a mix that includes approximately 600,000 square feet of office space, 440,000 square feet (or 320 units) of residential development, and between 100,000 and 130,000 square feet of retail development, including restaurants.

“The residential portion could include a hotel, rental housing and for sale housing,” Eric Anderson said.

The development of significant real estate around the site will serve a few purposes, Gwen Anderson said.

“What’s readily apparent to most people is that it’s a way to create revenue on the project,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential on the site to create value through real estate development. But I don’t know that that’s the most important factor.

“The ability to create a mixed-use development with the transportation is a way to make the transportation portion more successful. By having the development include office, retail, civic, and residential uses, it will create a level of activity that will be more balanced during a 24-hour period.

“In my research, the facilities that are strictly transportation with a minor nod to other uses are not perceived as being as attractive,” Gwen Anderson said.

She added, “There are concerns about safety. You end up with a few peak times where you have transportation going on, but during the other times, you have peaks and troughs in activity.”

Eric Anderson said ground could be broken on the overall project as early as 2005.

“In part, it depends on FasTracks,” he said.

Both Eric Anderson and Valsecchi stressed that though FasTracks’ fate will affect the timing and funding of the Denver Union Station project, it will happen even if voters defeat the proposal.

Among the challenges will be timing of the transportation and real estate development.

“We have a limited site and a lot to put on there,” Valsecchi said. “We know the public transportation piece cannot be done all at once. We know the transportation part will take from six to eight years. The development can occur concurrently or after that. For the bigger buildings, you can’t do them until the basement is in, and that’s for transportation.”

Overall, the real estate development will help make the transportation successful and vice versa, said members of the master plan team.

“It will be a place where people are encouraged to linger – and I don’t mean loiter,” Gwen Anderson said. “There’s a very clear distinction. There are interesting things to see and do. People can meet friends for dinner.

“Conversely, if there are destinations within the facility that encourage people to come earlier, it just creates a dynamic and bustling sense that’s appealing to people. It doesn’t wind up having the feel of just a bus station, or just a place where trains are.

“And that also helps feed a positive public perception of transit. In the right hands, this will be something we haven’t seen in Colorado.”


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Saratoga Springs station opening soon

The opening date for a new Saratoga Springs, N.Y. train station remains a moving target, with chances for a mid-December ribbon-cutting now dim – but hope remains for the station to arrive before the new year.

“I‘m still confident, based on what the contractors are telling us their schedule is, it will be later this month,“ said Capital District Transportation Authority Chairman David Stackrow.

A year ago, as some board members pressed for an opening in time to catch part of this year‘s summer thoroughbred racing season, Stackrow said he‘d be satisfied with “early fall.”

As autumn unfolded, he revised his expectations, noting that a December 21 opening would still meet the technical definition of fall.

While contractors at the $5.9 million station still say that‘s a realistic finish date, Stackrow said last week, “Looking at what needs to be done, I‘m not overly confident that that‘s going to happen. We‘re running out of time, in spite of what they‘re telling us.”

Nonetheless, the completion of the station clearly is within sight, Stackrow said, easing any real sense of anxiety about the actual opening date.

“It‘s a disappointment“ that the station is not yet open, but “I think we‘ve demonstrated our ability to manage a project, and it‘s going to come in under budget. I know I said fall. If I‘m off by a couple weeks, I can live with that.”

While the Saratoga station is a far smaller project, it has been a goal of the CDTA board for this project to help counterbalance some of the criticism the authority drew during construction of the $53.1 million Rensselaer Rail Station.

That station came in about $19 million over budget and two years behind its original schedule when it opened in September 2002.

Even if Amtrak begins calling on the Saratoga Springs station this year, a formal opening celebration will likely wait until January, said CDTA Marketing Director Carm Basile.


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Grant could improve Fayetteville depot

Fayetteville, N.C. is mulling over a grant to fix up its Amtrak station.

The city would provide $50,000 and the state would pay the remaining $450,000, and the money would be paid over two years. A vote is expected during the state Board of Transportation meeting in January, according to the Fayetteville Observer. The city spent $274,000 to renovate its exterior in 1989.

A “Moving Ahead” project is spending $700 million statewide for roadwork and other transit improvements. The Fayetteville station project is working its way through the approval process, Patrick Simmons, director of the rail division at the NCDOT said.

The station was built in 1911.

Details of the project have not been completed, but some ideas include building a higher platform to make it easier for passengers to get on and off the trains, better lighting for the canopy that shelters the boarding area, and landscaping, sidewalks and other outdoor work to help the station blend in better with other downtown architecture – such as the nearby Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

The city owns the railroad station and rents it to Amtrak.

Craig Hampton, the city’s special projects director, would like to have the work completed by this time next year. The goal, he said, is to make the station more convenient, more appealing and safer.

Simmons said a new platform would be eight inches above the level of the tracks, meaning passengers wouldn’t have to climb as far.

A platform can’t be built at the height of the cars, Simmons said, because freight trains use the tracks. Freight loads are sometimes so wide they would hit a taller platform, he said.

In addition to the platform, Simmons and Hampton said, other work could include a fence to prevent people from wandering onto the tracks, improvements to the waiting room and better access to long- and short-term passenger parking.

The Palmetto is among four trains that stop there daily, but some of the stops are in the middle of the night, when the station is closed. Its pay phone is locked inside.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Greenbush line goes here

Bill Wood, http://greenbush.railroadnews.com/

In a few short weeks, this piece of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Greenbush line will be transformed from grass, weeds and pebbles to a brand-new operating railroad with three bridges over a shallow cut.
Greenbush work begins at Weymouth

The reality of the Greenbush commuter rail line hit the Weymouth Landing area like a jackhammer on December 8.

Crews started installing piles to begin construction of a 3,000-foot-long shallow cut railroad tunnel, which will go under Shaw Street and Quincy Avenue in Braintree, and under Commercial Street in Weymouth before resurfacing on the other side of Commercial Street where the Rhine Lumber Yard used to be.

Because it is a shallow cut tunnel, there will be no roof. Three new bridges will carry traffic over Shaw Street, Quincy Avenue, and Commercial Street.

The “soldier pilings,” which are steel columns, are now being installed between Shaw Street and Quincy Avenue in Braintree, behind a 7-11 store, Eastern Bank, and Lucid Funeral Home, according to Tom Carroll, community outreach director for contractor Cashman Balfour Beatty (CBB).

The piles will be part of a wall holding back the dirt as the excavation of the tunnel progresses.

Even though work is underway, the design for the Weymouth Landing tunnel is not fully approved and not all needed environmental permits are in hand.

One of the permits was approved by the Weymouth and Braintree Conservation Commissions, but appealed.

CBB is currently working in “non-permitted” areas that do not require permits.

Trees and brush are being cleared in the right of way along the tracks in Weymouth between Commercial Street and North Street up to Regina Road.

Clearing between Green Street and Unicorn Avenue is continuing.

Carroll said that the brush clearing is limited to the minimum width allowed for train operation safety in order to save as many trees as possible.

“Whatever we can leave, we do,” he said.

All personnel associated with this and any construction have been issued a badge identifying them as CBB workers.

A complete schedule of the work to be done is available at Web site www.cbbgreenbush.com.

Bridge construction on Greenbush line

CBB

CBB began bridge abutment work at Regina Road on November 10.

 

On North Street in Weymouth, water mains are being installed. The road will remain open until work reaches the bridge, when North Street will be temporarily closed.

Once North Street is paved, North Street will be used as a detour when work later begins on Green Street.

The beginning of the installation of the soldier piles in the landing area began just a little more than a month after Gov. Mitt Romney (R) announced the end of the seven month halt in construction of the $479 million commuter rail line which will travel 18 miles through Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate, linking the five towns to South Station.

The project begins at the connection with the existing MBTA Old Colony Main Line at the Braintree Wye in East Braintree.

The station in the landing will serve East Braintree as well as Weymouth residents. There will be spaces for 150 to 200 cars on the Commercial Street side of the parking lot in Weymouth and 75 cars on the Quincy Avenue side in Braintree.

There will be additional parking behind the Quirk Auto property. Weymouth also will have another station in Jackson Square.

In 2006, when the trains are supposed to roll, the line will provide 12 round trips between South Station and Greenbush each weekday and eight round trips on both Saturday and Sunday.

Seven new commuter rail stations will have been constructed along the way, each with an 800-foot-long high-level platform.

Stations will be similar to those constructed on the other Old Colony lines and include accommodations for bicycle parking and passenger drop-off and pick-up by car, van, or bus, according to the project description provided by CBB.

CBB has setup a 24-hour hotline at (781) 682-6350. People who live along the line and have questions about the brush clearing may call.


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Dulles project takes more hits

By Wes Vernon

The uproar over Smith’s comments was so voluminous that late Friday - actually past D:F’s deadline - Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan issued a statement that his state has no intention of blocking the Dulles Rail Project. Flanagan said Smith was expressing his personal opinion. The state of Maryland, he added, respects the right of Virginia to build its own transit projects. D:F will have an update on this next week.

 

Washington, December 12 – The carefully crafted plan to extend Washington D.C.’s Metrorail “subway” to Dulles International Airport appears to be on a slippery slope with the collapse of one domino after the other.

The latest domino is the state of Maryland, which has balked at paying its share of the tab for running the trains to the airport.

As reported last week, the Herndon, Va. Town Council voted to withhold its share for the project because of its doubts that the Dulles line would ever reach its constituents.

Then a few days ago, a Virginia trial lawyer named Gilbert Davis said he was suing to stop the Dulles project, complaining it would “suck up” money needed for roads.

Now the incoming chairman of the Metro Board – Robert J. Smith – says Maryland will not pay its share of the $4 billion project. He argued bus rapid transit would be cheaper and more efficient. Buses operate on their usual rubber tires, but assume characteristics of rail with specific stations and dedicated rights-of-way.

Smith allows as how extending Metrorail from West Falls Church to Tyson’s Corner would make sense, but that ridership projections drop sharply beyond that.

The Washington Post described Smith’s remarks as having “a seismic effect” on Metro. That’s because Maryland’s position upsets the applecart on fragile tripartite arrangements between Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The system started up in the 1970s only after years of negotiations between the three jurisdictions and the counties and cities within their borders to create a culture of cooperation in which they support each other’s Metrorail projects. The 103-mile system never would have been built without that kind of understanding.

The feds and local governments fund construction of the line in the jurisdiction in which the line is built, then once the line is up and running, all jurisdictions share costs over and beyond what is financed from the farebox. Thus, Maryland does have the power to block the Dulles rail plan, dubbed the “Silver Line.”

Virginia would pay the lion’s share of the operating subsidy. The D.C. and Maryland shares combined would be less than Virginia’s portion of the annual subsidy.

The chairmanship of the Metro Board is fixed on a rotating basis between the jurisdictions, and now it’s Maryland’s turn – thus Smith is slated to assume that position next month.

As he pointed out, the Dulles line would operate totally within the state of Virginia, but many D.C. and Maryland residents use Dulles Airport.

Maryland’s position prompted some salty remarks by Fairfax, Va. Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman. He told the Washington Post that Smith has an “understanding of the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”


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New York commuter trans
nearing capacity, report says

A new Hudson River rail tunnel and an expansion of Penn Station are the best ways to relieve increasing commuter congestion, New York City transit officials report.

The proposals come as New York officials plan the long-term redevelopment of the area west of Penn Station and as New Jersey Transit (NJT) reports that by 2009, it will no longer be able to accommodate any more riders, Newsday reported on December 8.

“Not only are Penn Station... and the trains serving it overcrowded, but all trans-Hudson crossings are at or near capacity,” according to a report on the rail proposals.

About 340,000 riders arrive and depart from Penn Station daily on Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and NJT. That number is expected to grow to about 432,000 by 2010.

NJT customers alone are expected to more than double in the next 10 to 12 years, said Richard Roberts, chief planner of the joint Port Authority-NJT project.

The agencies held hearings on December 8 on the plan in New Jersey; additional hearings were held later in the week at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn’t taken a position on the tunnel and the expansion.

“We are aware of the project, and we are evaluating the scoping documents,” said mayoral spokeswoman Jennifer Falk.

The ideas have the support of the Regional Plan Assn., which sees the project as bringing new jobs to the Far West Side.

“It’s going to help ensure that the markets are growing in the region,” said association spokesman Jeremy Soffin.

Plans call for the tunnel to be constructed under the Hudson, south of the existing tube. Additional tracks would be built below 34th Street, between Sixth and Eighth avenues, said Martin Robins, who formerly headed the initiative and now is director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.

The project is expected to cost up to $5 billion and would probably not be built for more than 10 years.

Citing prohibitive costs, officials said they have temporarily put aside another initiative, to extend a tunnel through Manhattan to Amtrak’s Sunnyside Yard in Queens. That East River tube would free up space in an adjacent Amtrak-owned tunnel that NJT now uses to bring trains for storage.

They also have apparently dropped proposals to bring NJT to Grand Central Terminal.

Instead, they are concentrating on the West Side, which Bloomberg wants to develop in sync with building a new stadium for the 2012 Olympics.


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Spur to Meadowlands for ‘Nets’

New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey stepped up his efforts to keep the New Jersey Nets in the Garden State by announcing on Wednesday that a $150 million rail spur would be built into the Meadowlands site of a planned family entertainment complex that will surround the Continental Airlines Arena, where the Nets play.

Such a link to mass transportation – that has long been promised for the Bergen County site – would, when added to the planned $1.3 billion Meadowlands Xanadu entertainment, retail and sports complex, make the location “the premiere site in the nation and the region,” the governor said.

Specific construction costs were not discussed.

The proposed rail spur into the Meadowlands has been an idea in the minds of planners for the nearly 30 years that Giants Stadium and the arena have existed on the fringes of the wetlands. In the past, it has foundered on environmental and cost issues.

Richard Roberts, a civil engineer and planner with New Jersey Transit, said that the current proposal had mastered some of the environmental problems because of a realignment that parallels existing highways. Money would come from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Mr. McGreevey said.

The announcement came on the day that McGreevey received the first installment of a $160 million payment from the Mills Corp. and Mack-Cali Realty Corp., the private developers of the complex.

He said that Gov. George E. Pataki, his partner in the bistate agency, had agreed to the idea of the rail spur and that he expected it to appear on the agency’s capital budget for consideration by the agency’s commissioners “in the next few weeks.”


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Bay State considers monorail

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew J. Amorello said last week that he is considering building a monorail or magnetically levitated train on the median of the Massachusetts Turnpike from Springfield to Boston.

Speaking before construction industry leaders on December 9, Amorello said the monorail, which would take up less land than conventional railroad tracks, would provide a whole new way to commute from fast-growing areas west of Boston and could tie into New York rail service at Springfield, the Boston Globe reported.

“The right-of-way is an asset, and we should take advantage of it,” he said, referring to the turnpike median strip. He added, “The Turnpike Authority is a building authority, and we will continue to be so.”

After his remarks at the forum, which focused on future transportation projects, Amorello said he had commissioned a $10,000 study on the feasibility of a rail line down the turnpike median. He did not say where funding would come from.

Transportation planning firm HNTB, based in Kansas City, Mo., is doing the feasibility study, said turnpike spokesman Doug Hanchett.

Monorails have rebounded in popularity since the 1960s and 1970s, aided by new technology, including the magnetic levitation system, which uses electromagnetic power to lift, guide, and propel trains above an elevated guideway. Such a monorail has been proposed between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., between Chattanooga and Atlanta, and connecting southern California suburbs with Los Angeles International Airport. Monorails are in place in Seattle, Miami, and at the Old Dominion University campus in Virginia.

Jonathan Carlisle, spokesman for state transportation secretary Daniel Grabauskas, said he could not comment on Amorello’s proposal.

“We’d be happy to look at the study when it’s completed, but we’d have to know more specifics – number of trips, what it would cost – before we could say how it would fit into the state’s transportation network,” Carlisle said.

Amorello has been the target of criticism recently from legislative leaders and Gov. Mitt Romney, who wants to merge the Turnpike Authority with the Highway Department, and take over Big Dig management.

The median is only a few feet wide for significant portions of the 135-mile MassPike roadway, from Interstate 495 to Back Bay, where concrete jersey barriers separate the travel lanes. In other spots the median has a width of 30 feet or more and with grass, trees, and plants.

If found to be feasible, the monorail would be on an elevated guideway with a relatively small foundation in the median, and the platform for the trains cantilevered over the travel lanes in a T-shaped configuration, Amorello said. Another possibility is putting a rail line on the surface, in the median where there’s room, and in the highway lanes for other segments.

One major obstacle that must be overcome is getting by the dozens of bridges that block the median corridor, Amorello conceded.

Trains have been put in highway medians in a number of metropolitan areas, notably Chicago, where a heavy rail line takes passengers into the city from O’Hare International Airport.

Some specialists expressed skepticism in the Boston area.

“Maglev” monorails are “one of those wonderfully bad ideas that keep coming back,” said David Luberoff of Harvard’s Kennedy School, co-author of the book Megaprojects. Such proposals sound good at first, Luberoff said, but the systems are often “extremely difficult to build, almost impossible to finance, and unlikely to provide any significant transportation benefits.”

The Massachusetts Turnpike doesn’t go directly into any urban areas besides Boston, Luberoff said, which would mean that the state would have to undertake costly land taking for spurs into places where the stations would be convenient. It’s also not clear why commuters would take the median train when commuter rail is available, he said.


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Tempe buys UP bridge, route for light rail

The City of Tempe, Ariz., will pay Union Pacific Railroad $1.8 million for its downtown bridge property and a spur line for the city’s future light-rail project.

The property starts at Washington Street and parallels the railroad’s main line south to its intersection with the Creamery Branch Spur. Both will be used for a light-rail bridge across Town Lake.

The rail spur intersects with the main UP line east of Third Street and Ash Avenue and runs to University Drive east of Dorsey. It will be a future multi-use path for light rail. Tempe City Council approved the purchases December 4, wrote The Arizona Republic.


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North Carolina edges closer to fast trains

David Foster, rail environmental programs manager for NCDOT, told more than 60 members of the High Point and Greensboro, N.C. Chambers of Commerce on December 9 the final phase of environmental studies to bring high-speed rail from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., with stops in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, will go from January through October 2004. A final decision on the Southeast High-Speed Rail project is now expected in September 2005.

– Greensboro/Winston-Salem Business Journal


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APTA Highlights...  APTA Highlights...

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


New Weyrich Report: Riders and Non-Riders Alike Benefit from Transit

Public transportation projects, specifically rail transit, benefit not only their passengers, but also residents of their coverage areas who never use the service. For this reason, all residents of an area considering transit investments – not just those who expect to ride regularly – will be well advised to vote in support of them.

That’s the core finding of Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind in How Transit Benefits People Who Do Not Ride It: A Conservative Inquiry, a new report from the Free Congress Foundation.

“Non-riders, too, benefit from rail transit,” the authors state. “To the degree they realize that fact and vote for more rail transit, everyone wins. As will transit itself, in referenda throughout the country.”

The report, funded by APTA’s business members, is the fifth and latest in a series of monographs offering a conservative case for public transportation.


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Details on TEA LU Proposal

The December 8 issue of Passenger Transport offers details on the “Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users,” or TEA LU, released November 19 by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The legislation would authorize $69.2 billion over six years for the federal public transportation program.

The bill, H.R. 3550, does not yet have a budget or revenue title, so it does not include guaranteed funding or firewalls. Committee members and staff have emphasized that both highway and transit programs will be guaranteed, both the General Fund and Trust Fund components.

TEA LU would authorize a total of $375 billion over six years for federal transit and highway programs.


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Senators Introduce ‘ARRIVE 21’ Rail Reauthorization Bill

Six senators from the eastern U.S. – Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Joe Biden (D-Del.)— introduced the American Railroad Revitalization, Investment and Enhancement Act, or ARRIVE 21, on November 25. The bill, S.1961, has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over rail and safety issues.

According to the bill’s sponsors, the policy framework in ARRIVE 21 will strengthen Amtrak and give states a new funding partnership to invest in intercity and high-speed passenger rail service and freight rail projects.

“For passenger rail to be successful, its infrastructure must be developed through the kind of bold federal leadership we exercised for our other modes of transportation,” said Hollings, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “That’s why my colleagues and I are pleased to introduce this landmark piece of legislation. It’s designed to change the way we think about financing passenger rail service, and it’s designed to grow our passenger rail system into the world-class system it should be.”

The legislation calls for a six-year, $42 billion investment in U.S. rail infrastructure and service to expand high-speed passenger rail in congested corridors, strengthen Amtrak, improve freight mobility, and better balance the nation’s transportation system.


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New Memphis Light Rail Line to Open in March

The Memphis Area Transit Authority is finalizing work for a March 2004 opening on a two-mile light rail line extension between the city’s historic central business district on the Mississippi River and its burgeoning medical center to the east of downtown.

The new line is scheduled to open on-time and $19 million under budget, costing approximately $56 million instead of the original $75 million estimate, said William Hudson, MATA president and general manager.


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Connex Names Perry to Head Fairfax Connector

Michael H. Perry, a 23-year public transportation professional, has been named by Connex/Yellow Transportation to head the company’s operation of the Fairfax Connector bus system in the suburban Washington community of Fairfax County, Va.

Perry comes to Fairfax County from Hampton, Va., where he has served since 2000 as chief operations officer for Hampton Roads Transit’s bus, trolley, paratransit, and ferry operations.

Connex/Yellow Transportation now operates all of Fairfax Connector’s bus service under contract with the county, with more than 50 routes, 165 buses, and over 27,000 daily passengers.


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Georges Donato Dies; APTA Hall of Famer, Transit Designer

Georges Donato, 75, a 36-year employee of the Société de transport de Montréal and an international expert in rapid transit facilities and design, died November 17 following a long illness.

Donato joined STM in 1951 in the vehicle maintenance department, transferring to the engineering department in 1961. He served as head of the engineering department from 1963 until his retirement, and was named to the APTA Hall of Fame in 1988.

Donato was active with APTA, serving on the Committee on Ways and Structures and on the committee responsible for design criteria on environmental control in the construction of a subway. For the International Union of Public Transport (UITP), he participated in working groups and made presentations at conferences.


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FREIGHTLINES...  Freight lines...


Mark DiVecchio: http://www.silogic.com/SDA/SDA.htm

A computer simulation of a San Diego & Eastern Arizona train crossing Goat Canyon.

 

SD&AE plans January restart

Tiny flecks of granite caught the bright sun as they wafted from the mouth of Tunnel No. 16 in Carrizo Gorge, the stopping point on Saturday for passengers on a 10-mile tour along the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Ry.

Running north out of Jacumba, the train had chugged along as far as it could. Tunnel 16, just past the 600-foot-long Goat Canyon wooden trestle, is the last passageway still blocked by collapses that closed the rail line in 1983.

Carrizo Gorge Ry., the Lakeside company that has been working about seven years to restore service on the line, says it will punch through the remaining 150 feet of blocked tunnel in about a week, writes The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The SD&AE extends from San Diego to El Centro, Calif., some 150 miles. The company was a Southern Pacific subsidiary. In 1976, a tropical storm washed out the line in many locations and service was suspended. An abandonment petition was filed, but most of the route is still in operation and became independent of SP control. Part of the line is now the San Diego transit system. Some, if not all, of the motive power is ex-SP.

By the end of January, the railway hopes to replace the last of the damaged track and begin moving its first freight between San Diego and the Imperial Valley, company President Gary Sweetwood said.

“The first two commodities will be propane gas… and sand and gravel,” Sweetwood said.

The fuel will be bound for Mexico, where the rail line continues after the border at San Ysidro. The sand-and-gravel aggregate, currently trucked in from Plaster City, will continue to support San Diego’s building industry.

Sweetwood said he hopes the railway ultimately will import lumber products and make the Port of San Diego a portal for freight deliveries to and from the East.

The company has been working about 15 months to clear two collapsed tunnels, remove brush and restore track on the railway, which includes a 44-mile segment in Mexico and was originally built in the World War I era by businessman John D. Spreckels.

“No one thought these guys were going to do it,” said the company’s lobbyist, former San Diego Councilman Byron Wear.

If the work seems fast, “the most difficult part is just getting all the players in place,” said Sweetwood, wearing a red mesh construction vest as he met tour passengers at the blocked tunnel.

Permits and agreements were required for disposing of tunnel debris and to protect the bighorn sheep that occupy the area, among many other issues, he said.

The company also asked the state to commission a small police force for the rail lane, mainly to keep away hikers and bikers who had become accustomed to free rein through the now-active area.

Even if a freight train runs along the tracks next month, Carrizo Gorge Railway won’t be through rehabilitating the line. Sweetwood said there will still be all kinds of “small stuff”: cosmetic work and upgrades to support a fully functioning freight line.

The 75-pound rail, which dates to 1919 in some places, will be replaced with 115-pound track.

“Back when Spreckels had this railroad,” the lighter rail “was quite adequate,” Sweetwood said. It’s not anymore.

He estimated that the company, started by heavy earthmovers and train enthusiasts, has invested more than $5.5 million in the work.

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner (D) secured an additional $10 million in federal funds to use on the rail line.

In a recent interview, Filner described the work as a “big deal,” using the word “big” five times for emphasis. “San Diego will have direct freight-rail connections with the East,” he said, adding, “That means the port can actually be a working port… and a way to diversify our economy in a way that has not been done since we lost the defense industry.”

The San Diego Assn. of Governments, which is administering the federal money, approved spending $1.6 million last month to develop a business plan and other startup needs. An additional $1.3 million is expected to be earmarked for an X-ray machine to be used at a stop in Campo, where the line emerges from the Mexican segment that starts in Tijuana.

Hay suppliers in the Imperial Valley are interested in the train as a cheaper alternative to trucks, said Fred Mercurio, who is marketing the railway to agribusiness. Wheat growers shipping to Italy from San Diego also are talking to the company, he said.

Last week’s cargo was strictly human: A 60-seat Amtrak car was packed with people from the Metropolitan Transit System, SANDAG, train buffs and other guests.

A yellow diesel engine pulled the passenger car through Carrizo Gorge at a lumbering pace, trailed by a small vehicle called a “speeder” whose operator keeps on the lookout for fires that might be generated by sparks.

The route from Jacumba has 17 tunnels, some up to one-half-mile long, and 14 trestles.

The 750-foot-long Tunnel 16 collapsed in a fire. Carrizo Gorge Ry. has been digging through from both ends, clearing fractured rock to “get back into good blue granite,” as Sweetwood put it.

The U.S. portion of the line starts in San Ysidro and includes a section used by the San Diego Trolley’s Blue Line, which gives freight cars a window of only a few hours in the dead of night to use the track.


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Alberta looks for Alaska rail link

Alberta’s provincial government says it is willing to explore the potential of a railway link that heads north to Alaska.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) recently told a business luncheon in the Yukon that getting the North American railway grid from northern Alberta and British Columbia through the Yukon to link up with the Alaska Railroad would stimulate resource development in the North.

The Edmonton Sun reported Murkowski told the audience that the North is the continent’s breadbasket, with potential for more development of resources, including minerals, timber, fish, oil and gas. A CN-ARR connection has been on the table for more than 30 years.

Having a main rail-link anchor – which he described as a transportation corridor – would promote resource development, stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life for northern residents.

“We would like to encourage that type of development because we think that type of venue would be attractive,” Murkowski said.

Alberta Tory cabinet ministers Mark Norris and Ed Stelmach say the province is keen to hear further details of Murkowski’s idea.

“We definitely will be interested,” said Stelmach, the transportation minister. “As we push farther north to develop our resources, we have to find a balance between how much we can do in terms of building roads up north and how much freight and people we can move by rail.

“Roads are quite costly. They’re all borne by the taxpayers; we’re looking at some cost-efficiencies of using rail.”

Norris, the economic development minister, said the Conservative government is already trying to develop a strategy to increase railway access into the North, so Murkowski’s notion would fit right in.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Norris. “I think there’s a couple of bridges that need to be built, but overall it would be wonderful for northern development.

Norris said talk of establishing a high-speed train from Alaska to Alberta might be a bit premature.

“I know every time high-speed rail is mentioned, the costs are very, very prohibitive and you have to have a real big market for it,” he said.


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NS to spend $810 million

Norfolk Southern Corp. said last week it “plans to spend $810 million in 2004 for capital improvements to its railroad operations and subsidiaries.” The anticipated spending includes $517 million for track projects and $258 million for equipment, according to an NS press release.

CEO David R. Goode said, “Our capital spending budget reflects our commitment to providing the highest levels of service and safety for our customers and to utilizing our equipment and facilities efficiently.”

In track improvements, “The largest expenditure will be $384 million for rail, crosstie, ballast and bridge programs,” the carrier stated.

In addition,” $29 million is provided for communications, signal and electrical projects, $19 million for maintenance of way equipment and $16 million for environmental projects and public improvements such as grade crossing separations and crossing signal upgrades,” Goode said.

Equipment spending includes $178 million to purchase 100 six-axle locomotives, upgrade existing locomotives, certify and rebuild 390 multi-level automobile racks and purchase 212 bi-level racks at the end of their lease. Equipment spending also includes $42 million for projects related to computers, systems and information technology.

Business and industrial development initiatives total $64 million and include track and equipment spending for increased capacity and access to coal receivers, bulk transfer facilities, and vehicle production and distribution facilities; investments in intermodal terminals as well as equipment to add capacity to the intermodal network; and additional investments in Norfolk Southern’s Triple Crown Services and TransWorks subsidiaries.

NS Ry. operates 21,500 route miles in 22 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario.


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Railroads deliver buses in new car

Pacific Harbor Line, Inc. (PHL) said last week it had successfully completed delivering the first transcontinental movement of Thomas Built school buses in a new type of railcar known as a “unilevel” car.

Four buses were driven from the Thomas Built Buses factory in High Point, N.C. to Norfolk Southern’s vehicle loading facility at Winston-Salem, N.C., where they were loaded into prototype unilevel railcars built by TTX Corp. and Trinity Industries.

NS then moved the freight cars to Kansas City, Mo., where they were interchanged to Union Pacific for the journey to Los Angeles and the buyer in Wilmington, Calif.

The buses were unloaded by Wilmington-based Vanco Heavy Lift, Inc. and turned over to drivers for their journey to BusWest in Whittier, Calif. and eventual delivery to their customer First Student, Inc.

The school buses are full-size alternative fuels vehicles.

Limited availability of fuels such as liquefied natural gas would have made driving the buses across difficult, and vehicle size makes transportation by truck expensive.

In the past, railroads did not have enclosed auto racks with enough inside clearance for large vehicles, and the prospect of moving them on open flatcars offered too many chances for en route damage.

No word how much the move cost.


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Bank analyst is positive on some rails

Analyst John Barnes at Deutsche Bank said railroad carloads have been running well ahead of forecasts so far in the fourth quarter. In the latest week, rail traffic increased 5.7 percent, with grain and coal both should gains.

“We believe this reflects the true underlying strength in rail carloads, which continue to recover along with the industrial economy,” Barnes said in a note to clients.

Among the “buy” rated railroads he covers, Canadian National Ry., (CNI) CSX (CSX); Norfolk Southern (NSC) and Union Pacific (UNP), all showed gains for the week.

– CBS MarketWatch


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Intermodal sets yet another record

For the eighth time in the past ten years intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads has set an annual record, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

Intermodal volume for 2003 reached 9,399,690 trailers or containers during the week ended December 6, 2003, breaking the annual record of 9,349,630 that was set last year.

With three weeks left in 2003, U.S. intermodal volume is expected to exceed 9.8 million units for the year.

For just the week ended December 6, intermodal traffic totaled 202,690 trailers or containers, up 7.0 percent from the comparable week last year.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 347,735 cars, up 5.0 percent from last year, with volume up 9.3 percent in the East and 1.8 percent in the West.

This is the highest carload freight volume for any week this year. Total volume for the week was estimated at 31.5 billion ton-miles, up 7.1 percent from last year’s 49th week.

Fifteen of nineteen commodities registered gains from last year, with coke up 45.2 percent; crushed stone, gravel and sand up 20.4 percent; waste and scrap materials up 18.5 percent; and grain up 18.4 percent. Loadings of metallic ores were off 19.9 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 49 weeks of 2003: 16,014,122 carloads, up 0.1 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 9,399,690 trailers and containers, up 6.7 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.42 trillion ton-miles, up 1.4 percent from last year’s first 49 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Canadian railroads also reported an increase in carload freight but a small decline in intermodal during the week ended December 6. Carload volume was 71,356 cars, up 14.3 percent from last year. Intermodal traffic of 42,337 trailers and containers was down 0.6 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 49 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,879,836 carloads, up 0.2 percent from last year, and 1,925,909 trailers and containers, up 6.5 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 49 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 19,102,709 carloads, up 0.2 percent from last year and 11,453,606 trailers and containers, up 6.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended December 6 totaled 7,204 cars originated, down 23.8 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,164 trailers or containers, down 15.3 percent from the 49th week of 2001. For the first 49 weeks of 2003 TFM reported cumulative volume of 411,564 cars, down 3.0 percent from last year, and 169,743 trailers or containers, up 11.7 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)31.6930.40
Canadian National(CNI)60.0059.96
Canadian Pacific(CP)26.9226.96
CSX(CSX)34.3834.15
Florida East Coast(FLA)31.7230.75
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)27.2825.60
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.4614.09
Norfolk Southern(NSC)23.6122.50
Union Pacific(UNP)67.3165.44


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

I have a few issues with the story on Nashville commuter rail (D:F December 8). I realize these inaccuracies may be from the Nashville Tennessean story it makes reference to.

First, regarding the statement that “Service on another 18 miles eastward from Old Saybrook to New London ended last April as a failure when it was unable to attract the required ridership.” That is incorrect.

The service to New London ended because limits were to be imposed on the number of trains using the bridges between Old Saybrook and New London. SLE (Conn DOT) reached an agreement with Amtrak where SLE riders could take certain Amtrak trains to New Haven. This decision was very much not due to lack of ridership.

Second, it states “Commuter rail systems, Pratt said, failed in cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia…”

Philly... are you kidding me?

Even in this same article it says, “Passenger rail has succeeded with tens of thousands of daily riders in places such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, San Diego and Philadelphia.”

This is nothing but sloppy journalism. This person clearly had no fact checking process and didn’t even re-read their own story of inconsistencies. This is exactly the type of misinformation about mass transit that has been spewed out for decades now. As a weekly reader of D:F, this story is nowhere near the quality of what I expect from D:F.

Rich Sampson

We take the blame for the Shore Line East error. Thank you for setting us straight.


Dear Editor:

Your article, “How do they do it up there?” quoted Dick Pratt, a public transit consultant from Maryland. I'm not sure if Mr. Pratt was quoted from the Nashville Tennessean story on intermodalism, but hopefully his comments about commuter rail having “failed” in Detroit and Philadelphia do not give the wrong impression in Tennessee. Detroit may be without service, but in Philadelphia, SEPTA operates 13 commuter rail lines in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and while there have been problems with on-time performance and the larger problems of decentralization and sprawl, SEPTA trains still carry about 100,000 people to work every day.

Andrew Koniers
Jenkintown, Penn.


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THEWAYWEWERE...  The way we were...

Otto Kuhler etching of steam engines

NCI: Collection of Leo King; B&O magazine

Industrial designer Otto Kuhler (1894-1976) not only designed steam locomotives, he also drew etchings of them, such as his Ladies in Waiting (1932) which eventually found its way into the Baltimore & Ohio magazine. The original is 13 3/8 inches by 16 5/8.

End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

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

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.


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