Destination: Freedom is taking a holiday break. This is our last issue for 2001. You'll see our first issue for 2002 on January 7. We wish all our readers joyous holidays - and we look forward to seeing you next year!
All photos NCI: Leo KingIt took 32 years, but the Downeaster Inaugural train finally ran on Friday, and regular, scheduled service began the next day. The canopies are not yet finished in Portland, but the first scheduled train from Boston in forty years arrived on time. The Downeaster Inaugural arrived punctually at 3:27 p.m.
NCI takes a ride
By Leo King
"We've had many highs, twice as many lows, but believe me - this is my high."
That's how Maine's rail boss, Michael Murray, summarized twelve-plus years of getting train service restored from Portland to Boston, nearly 40 years after the last scheduled passenger train rolled to a stop in Portland on the Boston & Maine. It had been a long road.
On October 29, 1960, conductor Al White locked the doors on the B&M's State of Maine. He was the last conductor on the last train, and he retired two years later.
On October 14, 2001, Al, who will be 81 in April, strolled down another passenger train aisle, once again dressed in his still well-fitting uniform from so many years earlier. This time, the slim, six-footer was aboard the Downeaster Inaugural, a special train carrying the press, lots and lots of politicians, railroad officials, union representatives and a host of invited guests - some 450 in all. The nine-car train's time-keeping was impeccable. It departed North Station (new identifier: BON) for Portland (POR) on time at 10:30 a.m., kept to its schedule through the day, and arrived on the Portland station track on time, at 3:27 p.m. Time permitted for speeches was 15-minutes - and no more.
Instead of being operated by the B&M, which was the Mellon Bank's first rail acquisition which renamed it Guilford Rail Systems, this train, and the subsequent four-trains daily in each direction, are all operated by Amtrak with financial assistance from the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), an umbrella organization which got its funding from Maine taxpayers. New Hampshire and Massachusetts also contributed to the cooperative effort. The trains operate over Guilford lines between Portland and Plaistow, N.H.
Murray, a professional engineer and a 35-year Maine DOT veteran, is NNEPRA's executive director. He answers to board chairman Jonathan Carter, who is also the Wells, Maine town manager.
Speaking to the audience in Portland, comprised of local people as well as the folks who arrived on the train, Murray noted former U. S. Sen. George Mitchell deserved a great deal of credit for getting the cash from Congress, some $10 million, to get the track upgrades started.
The train was comprised of two P-40 locomotives, nine cars, and a "cabbage car." The 814 and 806 were on the point going northward (east, on GRS) and the 90214 brought up the rear. The combination control and baggage car is a de-engined shell, with new flooring installed and the control stand left intact. It can carry luggage, as well as skis in winter and bikes in summer.
Engines 814 and 806 will tug the Downeaster Inaugural from track 7 at Boston's North Station to a newly built station track in Portland, Maine after passing over Charles River Movable Bridge at CP-1 (Controlled Point).
Conductor Arthur "Art" Timpson and his crew of seven assistant conductors were ready to go to work on this big day, as was engineer Pat Comeau up in the burly lead locomotive, No. 814, and the New England Division's road foreman of engines, Chuck Trotta. They awaited their guests on track 7. By 3:00 p.m. they would "outlaw," and a relief crew took over for the journey back to Boston.
The train's crew reported to Southampton Street Yard on Boston's South side at 3:00 a.m., took the equipment west to CSX's CP-3 and Beacon Park yard, then changed direction to travel about a mile down the very slow (10 mph) CSX Grand Junction line traversing Cambridge, Mass. and particularly the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eventually, they got to Swift Interlocking on Boston's north side, and made a turn to go westward, about a mile, to North Station.
This day would be filled with speeches, especially from Amtrak acting board chairman Michael S. Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor who now teaches at Northeastern Univ., in Boston, and a one-time Democratic presidential candidate.
Thirteen years after a retired banker wrote a letter to former Amtrak boss W. Graham Claytor complaining about the lack of service to his part of the planet, the hard work and dedication by Wayne Davis and others led to northern New England finally getting its passenger trains back after nearly 40 years. The Portland station is still under construction, as are the trackside canopies and other amenities, but the communities are light-years ahead of where they were one day earlier.
Davis received lavish praise - which he deserved - for his determination and sticking with the idea despite obstacles that would have discouraged many other people. Governor King, Senator Snowe, and several other heaped praise upon him, and National Association of Railroad Passengers executive director Ross Capon, who had also been aboard the inaugural train, presented him with a silver bell.
""The significance of the bell, Davis told his rapt audience, "is because 150 years ago, when the train first began to run, church bells would toll when someone in the belfry saw the smoke rising from an approaching train."
He said they did that again on Friday. As the Downeaster Inaugural approached each community, church bells would toll, announcing the trains approach.
Davis said, "Wasn't that smooth!" referring to the newly rebuilt track with wooden ties.
"That track was smoother than 90 percent of all Amtrak routes, and I know - I've ridden all of them."
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told her audience filled with railroaders and political figures at Boston's North Station (in the Fleet Center's Legends room), "It is a great day for all of New England." After the journey, she exclaimed to a large gathering in Portland's Exposition Building, "We had a wonderful train ride! It was just delightful."
Maine Gov. Angus King was there, too, in the "Legends at the Fleet Center" room, upstairs over the station. He told his audience, "I got an e-mail from someone complaining" the train "wasn't non-stop."
King said he e-mailed back, "It took 40 years to get this far. Give me a break."
Dukakis presented an idea we would hear echoed throughout the day, as the train made its station stops.
At Haverhill, the first of six stops the train would make this day, Amtrak board chairman Michael Dukakis
"This is a great day for Amtrak, and a great day for Maine." Dukakis noted at each stop.
"The Acela Express just last week carried its one-millionth passenger," and he asked, "Have you seen the Acela?" Most people shook their heads, "No."
"It's a beautiful train," he said, and he pointed out some of its amenities.
Thirteen years after a retired banker wrote a letter to former Amtrak boss W. Graham Claytor complaining about the lack of service to his part of the planet, the hard work and dedication by Wayne Davis and others led to northern New England finally getting its passenger trains back after nearly 40 years. The Portland station is still under construction, as are the trackside canopies and other amenities, but the communities are light years ahead of where they were one day earlier.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told her audiences between Boston and Portland, many of whom were railroaders and political figures, at Boston's North Station - in the Legends at Fleet Center room, "It is a great day for all of New England."
After the journey, she exclaimed to a large gathering in Portland's Exposition Building, "We had a wonderful train ride! It was just delightful."
Maine's senior Senator, Olympia Snowe, also a Republican, paid homage to acting Amtrak board chairman Michael Dukakis.
She said, "Having Michael at the helm at this time has been appropriate."
Sen. Olympia Snowe sees the Downeaster and all passenger trains as an economic plus. She has been a staunch supporter of passenger rail over the years.
She said there would be an economic benefit to the state. Some $88 million is expected to be earned from additional taxes collected from visitors passing though the state. She added, "America needs a strong national rail system," for which she got a round of applause.
The train was catered. There were no Amtrak on-board services people aboard. The catering staff was well-trained, it seemed, even though most, as far as I could determine, were not railroad oriented. Fifteen people from Courrier & Chives and five more from Epicurean Feast were continuously going up and down the aisles, offering food. It was all free to the riders.
They began with orange juice and water (your choice), followed by coffee, then pastries, fruit on a stick (like huge strawberries and hefty servings of cantaloupe and two othersš it kept going on and on, until shortly before we reached Portland.
Riders aboard the train were from small towns as well as the larger cities.
Francine Cram, for instance, is a member of the Wells, Maine Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
"We're hoping a lot of people will view Wells," she said, "and increase business," and added, "People who don't want to make the drive" can take the train, "and make Wells the heartland of anything."
A companion, also from Wells, was Kathy Chase, who is the Senior Needs coordinator for the town and Ogunquit.
She is involved "in public transportation policy." There is no bus service in her communities, so getting the train there is a big step.
"Elderly people who can't or don't want to drive now have a way of going to Boston, and getting home again, " she said. Chase is also involved in building the community's first senior center.
Robin McDonough was aboard. She is Amtrak's tickets distribution coordinator in Washington. She figures out how the tickets will be made, and what will appear on them when they are printed at the ticket windows. She's also the budget director.
Al White, that retired B&M conductor, now lives in Sarasota, Fla.
Francine Cram (at left) and Kathy Chase, both of Wells, Maine, view the train as a means for seniors to be able to get around.
"Amtrak called me and asked me if I'd like to attend. Sure, I said. I miss it," he said. He has a summer home "on Windham Lane, near Sebago Lake."
When Al was a working man, he kept his gold Elgin pocket watch on time, and when it ran down, after that last train, he left it where it stopped - 3:40. He never started it again, but he had it with him on this day. It was part of his uniform.
Well-wishers on platforms along the 114-mile route were abundant. Local school brass bands played at most of the places where the train stopped.
At Haverhill, some twenty local school kids were all dressed up in those old-timer engineers' caps. They sounded like forty, cheering and carrying on and quite happy, it seemed. They greeted the train enthusiastically, and while Mike Dukakis was delivering his speech, the kids roared their approval several times - without a cue and in mid-sentence.
A reporter spoke up and asked the kids, "Where are we?"
"In Haverhill!" they responded in unison.
The boisterous kids at Haverhill cut off Dukakis with their cheers.
Well-wishers on farms stopped their day's work to wave and grin as the train passed; other folks gathered near grade crossings to watch this train flash by, which was moving at 60 mph most of the time.
The train represented a re-awakening for the region. Their forebears had done this very thing 150 years earlier when the first trains began to operate, but as cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes replaced train travel, the trains began to disappear.
Dukakis said, during one of his addresses, "We made some dumb mistakes back in the 1950s." He was referring not only to passenger trains nearly disappearing, but even the tracks, in many cases. Now, we find ourselves in a rail renaissance, because the railroad can get to places without restrictions - no airports and their attendant delays, no highways and their attendant and frequent gridlock - as long as the tracks are there. We love our cars, but we're going to have to learn to drive less.
The re-awakening is not just for the communities the train passes through, but for adjacent towns, and villages adjacent to those places.
The social implications are enormous - as long as the country has the will to make it happen. Maine has proven that, and the evidence will follow in the months ahead.
As Snowe pointed out, New Englanders from the northern half of the region now can get to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game without having to drive there - and dealing with the insane driving situation in that city.
Ultimately, it may also contribute to GRS's bottom line. The rights-of-way are also natural rights-of-way for cable lines, for which Guilford has been happy to lease space. They can still run trains (although that seems to be a low priority, in my view) and the added passenger traffic should begin to attract new businesses, some of which will have need of freight rail.
Maine's Governor King put it this way:
"It is another link to and from the New England hub, Boston. The train will bring us closer, not only physically, but emotionally as well."
He said a poll was recently taken in which Bostonians were asked, "How far away is Maine?
His friends call him, "Duke." Michael Dukakis rides with long-time North-South Rail Link advocate John Businger aboard the Downeaster Inaugural return trip.
The average response was, 400 miles," he said.
Conspicuous by his absence was Amtrak CEO George Warrington, but Dukakis said he told him to stay in Washington, where he was "working on Amtrak business."
Northeast Corridor president Stan Bagley was present, but did not speak to the crowds. David Fink Jr., Guilford's vice-president, was also aboard the train, but he did not speak publicly either.
Union people were skeptical at first about how the proposed trains service would affect them.
George Casey, the United Transportation Union Boston representative, who is also a working Amtrak conductor, said, "I initially had reservations because I was concerned Guilford would get the work."
He added, "Mellon and his crowd did everything they could to stop this service, but the freight railroads will be better off, too," with the new Amtrak service.
|Dukakis wants rail connector built|
Acting Amtrak board chairman and former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis rode with John Businger on the Downeaster Inaugural return trip from Portland to Boston Friday evening. For the first time, Dukakis publicly advocated, during his whistle-stop speeches, getting funding for the so-called "North-South Rail Link," a four-track, one-mile long rail connection between North Station and South Station in Boston. By tying both stations together, Northern New England would be directly linked to the rest of the nation by passenger rail, especially to the growing Northeast Corridor between Boston and Richmond, Va. Dukakis suggested perhaps the name should be changed to the "Atlantic Corridor."
Businger, a former Massachusetts state representative, has been a long-time supporter and advocate of the link, which would see a tunnel connecting between the sites. The plans have already been engineered, and await funding and contracting.
Train crew keeps first Downeaster on time
Amtrak Conductor Arthur Timpson prepares to board the special guests on the Downeaster's inaugural run.
Conductor Danielle Young, who was an assistant conductor on this run, was the first to qualify over GRS territory.
Conductor Arthur "Art" Timpson was the man in charge of the of the Downeaster's special run from North Station in Boston (BON) to Portland, Maine (POR). Engineer Pat Comeau operated the nine-car train, and road foreman of engines Chuck Trotta was in P-40 No. 814's cab as well. A second unit, 806, was immediately behind the lead engine, and a Ścabbage car" - a de-engined F-40, the 90214, with train controls and a baggage cavern where the engine used to be - brought up the rear to allow push-pull operations. The train carried press from all media - who even had their own coach - as well as political figures, work-a-day railroaders, and other guests. Timpson and his crew did not have to pick up tickets this day, but in regular, daily service, which began the next day, daily four trains began operating in each direction over the 114-mile route.
Assistant Conductor Danielle Young was one of seven conductors and assistant conductors on the Downeaster Inaugural run on December 14. All, including several engineers, had qualified over Guilford Rail Systems territory between Plaistow, N.H. (where MBTA operations end) and Portland, Maine during the preceding six months - or more. Young was the first to qualify, and has her own train now that regular service has begun. The conductors and engineers had operated test extras over the last several months to qualify physical characteristics and become familiar with GRS operating practices.
The crew outlawed at 3:00 p.m., but a relief crew, with conductor Rory O'Connor and engineer Scott Pereira, took over the duties, and guided the train back to Boston at the appointed hour. It left at about 6:00 p.m. and arrived in Boston around 8:30. The skies had been cloudy all day, but the rain held off until shortly after the train left, and then it poured. At least the temperature had been hovering around 50 - and it wasn't snowing.
The Downeaster Inaugural train consisted of two engines, nine cars, and one "cabbage car." In order, they were:
P-40 locomotives 814 and 806, rated at 4,000 hp each.
Coach 44969, café 48980, coaches 44968, 44707, caf» 48985, coaches 44957, 44799, 44704, and 44926.
Control car-baggage car 90214 was on the rear. The reverse order was correct going back to Boston.
Both cafe´ cars were from Metro Club service, and the cars with a "7" in the middle are handicapped-accessible.
NCI joins 800-member
Alliance for Transportation
The National Corridors Initiative has signed on as a founding member of the Alliance for a New Transportation Charter, an 800-member coalition of transportation advocates from across the country assembled under the leadership of the 10-year-old Surface Transportation Policy Project.
The formation of ANTC was announced at the National Press Club in Washington December 13, following an STPP banquet the previous evening honoring former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta with the John Chafee Award, named for the late Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island. Also honored was former Amtrak President Tom Downs.
Mineta was the opening keynoter of NCI's annual conference in Washington in May 2001. Moynihan, the "godfather" of ISTEA and TEA-21, was praised Wednesday night by Chafee's son, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who served as NCI's first executive director before running for elective office.
Citizens' Forum for Transportation
Kicks off Southeastern Transit effort
The first in a series of Citizens' Forums on Transportation kicked off a new citizen-led effort to develop a transit-based transportation system for Southeastern Connecticut and Coastal Rhode Island December 15, when more than 50 regional transportation advocates and citizen leaders, as well as invited public officials, met in New London, Conn., to begin this unique project.
Sponsored by the Sierra Club Transportation Committee of Connecticut, New London Main Street, the Transportation Choices Coalition for Connecticut, and the National Corridors Initiative, the Citizens' Forum heard from Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority's legendary general manager Beverly Scott, Siemens Executive Frank Guzzo who built the successful St. Louis light rail system, New London's new Deputy Mayor Beth Sabilia, Connecticut Bicycle Coalition chief David Hiller, Dan Lorimier of TCCC, health and transportation expert Marla Hollander of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NCI's Jim RePass, and Providence Attorney Bill Brody, the legal architect of Providence's downtown revival when he was Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy's chief counsel. The conference was organized and run by Sierra Club Transportation Chair Molly McKay. The next Citizens' Forum is scheduled for the end of February 2002, and will be announced on this website.
NCI: Leo KingNOT ALWAYS 150 MPH - The Acela Express trains do not always fly at top speed. Consider the rear power car of a trainset leaving the loop tracks at Southampton Street Yard for its yard track. It moves (left to right) at around 5 mph, the loop's track speed. In a little while, after it is inspected, cleaned and serviced, it will turn for another speedy premier train, but, for now, it's just another yard move passing by South Bay tower and over the Dorchester Branch at the diamonds. The trains last week carried their one-millionth passenger, says Acting Amtrak board chairman Michael Dukakis.
|Pen should be in Mr. Bush's hand|
By Wes Vernon
There were smiles everywhere at the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Christmas party Wednesday night, December 12. The air at the annual occasion was even more festive than usual.
Everywhere you looked were railroad executives and rail labor leaders cheering each other in a rare feeling of non-adversarial brotherhood.
And why not? They had scored a tremendous victory the previous day as the House of Representatives had overwhelmingly given the final Congressional stamp of approval on the Railroad Retirement bill.
House Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) said, "All those years of hard work have paid off."
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who heads the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had earlier said the measure is "an extremely fair and important bill."
"Through reasonable, more profitable investment of railroad retirement trust funds," he noted, "This bill will improve the lives of rail employees and their families, and benefit rail management as well. Benefits for railroad retirees will be improved, and taxes for railroad employers will be reduced."
Current employees get a break in the provision for full retirement at age 60 after 30 years of service. It reduces by five years the vesting period for coverage under railroad retirement.
Congressional passage meant the measure would next go to the White House where, it is believed, President Bush will sign it. Congress made some changes in the original bill to meet his concerns, but the proposal passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities, 90-9 in the Senate and 369-33 in the House.
Just before making his way to the historic Willard Hotel to host the party, Edward Hamberger, AAR President, issued a statement saying that "the railroad family - its employees, management and retirees - would like to express our sincere thanks" to Congress for "acting so responsibly in passing legislation to modernize the Railroad Retirement System."
But if Christmas cheer reigned at the Washington gathering, no doubt there was a feeling of relief and optimism hearthside in the homes of the surviving widows and widowers of rail workers, many of whom had had a tough time making ends meet with the pension significantly reduced when their spouses departed.
As Hamberger noted, for them the legislation means "hundreds of dollars more each month, making it a little easier to pay the bills and buy both food and medicine." Tens of thousands would benefit by this action.
"This is a tremendous victory for railroad employees," added James "Broken Rail" Brunkenhofer, national legislative director for the United Transportation Union (UTU)
"It has been a long and difficult journey begun 23 months ago when International President Byron Boyd sat down with other unions and railroad officials to negotiate an agreement to benefit UTU widows and widowers, senior railroaders and junior employees," he said.
As many labor-management wounds seemed to be on the back burner, at least for that evening, not all was peaceful within the house of rail labor.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive engineers voted 17,251 to 7,425 against merging with UTU. The latter had voted in October 6-to-1 in favor of the merger.
"It is regrettable that BLE members declined to create the largest combined rail, bus, and air union in North America, whose goal was the protection and advancement of each historical craft," said UTU President Byron Boyd, Jr.
There has been some dissatisfaction among BLE members, a union that has had three presidents in three years. Recall elections happen on a near-regular basis, which has led one observer to say BLE's constitution permits mob rule. There is a lot of grumbling and talk about trying to recall the current president. BLE leadership generally favored the merger, and that is one reason for dissent in the ranks. Certainly, the rank-and-file vote, certified this past week by the American Arbitration Association, was a slap in the face.
The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) held a news conference Thursday to look at the future of how Americans are to get from here to there in the decades ahead.
The bottom line is there's been too much emphasis on highways, and not enough on transit, in the STPP's view. There is a crying need for the latter. Notwithstanding the fact that in recent years, more than 300 miles of new rail lines have opened in urban and suburban areas, and another 244 miles are under construction, the reality remains that for most Americans, transportation means just one thing: driving.
Of the federal funding available for any use, states used just six percent "to expand travel choices." That is a euphemism for giving people the option to travel by some mode other than the automobile. That is the number one priority of the STPP.
The second one is restructuring incentives to favor system rehabilitation and (again) alternative transportation development rather than new highway capacity.
Third, redirect investment to reward commitments to existing neighborhoods and investments in those areas where people now work and live, including "key rail linkages to airports, downtown and intermodal centers."
Finally, challenge transportation providers to modernize their practices to be more responsive to public and community interests.
A long list of wide-ranging organizations, including the National Corridors Initiative and elected governments and officials in the private and public sectors have signed up for this effort.
Though many of them have social agendas well beyond the issue of moving people, STPP President David Burwell assured me the group as a whole was not aiming to mimic the European style of strict land use planning that forces any one lifestyle on Americans who like to make their own choices.
"Our aim is to offer people more choices, " he said.
"We signed on to this process because we felt that there was a real need for a coordinated effort to build transportation options." NCI President Jim RePass said. NCI is Destination: Freedom's parent organization.
Elaborating on a question raised at the news conference, he added, "Those people who might say initially, 'Gee whiz! They're going to take our cars away from us,' (that is) the opposite of the truth."
This policy says we need to work "so that people have more options so that people who do want to live in a city can do so easily and get around easily." Not every major city has public transportation as good as New York, Boston, or Washington.
NCI is involved in this "because we see the rail transportation system is in need of support, and we want to give support to those who are trying to build a better transit system," RePass stated.
The post-world War II emphasis on highways has said, in effect, that we will have only a suburban lifestyle choice, the NCI official added.
"Some cities have been emptied out and very badly damaged."
The STPP contends that the ICE-T ("iced-tea") omnibus transportation legislative approach, now 10 years old, has not lived up to hopes that more choices would, in fact, be offered the public. The coalition seeks to change that.
During the week, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) was urging its members to contact their senators and representatives to pass legislation relieving Amtrak of the mandate to draft its own liquidation plan, as triggered by the finding of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) that Amtrak will not meet its legislatively required deadline of late 2002 for operational solvency.
ARC itself, meanwhile, had drawn up a blueprint for considering restructuring plans for Amtrak. The document was rather involved, dealing with several options. The council was to gather Friday to consider all the ideas of the members for how, or whether, Amtrak is to be restructured or replaced or supplemented by other entities.
On Thursday the House Aviation Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill "to help the nation's general aviation community recover from the tremendous economic impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks," according to a committee press release.
Though the press handout mentioned no total amount, some individual figures were into the billions. While few begrudge the airlines the funding they need to get back on their feet, this serves as a reminder that the funding offered modes of transportation can be uneven at times.
Several days ago, the House approved a transportation appropriations bill that included $5 million requested by New York City for an environmental impact statement on a proposed cross-harbor freight rail tunnel.
Also included were $14.7 million for New York's Long Island Rail Road East Side Access Project (to enable the LIRR to serve Grand Central as well as Penn Station) and $2 million for the preliminary work on the long-awaited Second Avenue subway, a project that's been on and off the drawing boards for about 82 years.
|Is Montreal service next?|
Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts officials will study whether to start high-speed rail service between Boston and Montreal.
The first phase of the three-year study, reports the Boston Globe, will look at potential ridership and the time needed to restore the northern New England service. The second phase will review engineering and design, Vermont Transportation Agency officials said December 7.
"This certainly is not a project that's going to happen in a year or two," said Karen Songhurst of the transportation agency.
"It's a long-term investment."
Vermont was designated part of a high-speed rail corridor by the federal government last year for a proposed route that would run from Boston to Montreal. Another route extends from Boston to Portland and Auburn, Maine.
The "high-speed" trains would run up to an average of 90 mph. The increased speed and service to Montreal would help draw more riders, Songhurst said.
Currently financially troubled Amtrak only goes as far as St. Albans, and passengers must take a bus to Montreal. The faster train could also be an alternative to expensive short-range airplane flights, and would improve freight service as well.
The new train would run through New Hampshire in Nashua, Concord and Manchester. From White River Junction, it would follow the existing rail corridor along Interstate 89 to St. Albans and Alburg, where it would connect with the Canadian National Railway.
"If you take the whole corridor, there would need to be significant upgrades (to the tracks)," Songhurst said.
"And in one section, from Concord to White River, there's no track."
The $400,000 study will be funded by a $200,000 grant from the Federal Railroad Administration and equal amounts of matching funds from the three states.
|Holiday corridor schedules change|
Northeast Corridor schedules for Christmas and New Year's Days have been modified, says Amtrak.
On Monday, December 24, the normal schedule will be kept, except No. 169 runs instead of 179.
On Tuesday - Christmas Day - trains will operate on a normal Saturday schedule, except No. 179 runs instead of 169, and 195 runs instead of 191.
No. 631 runs on Monday, December 31; 176 runs instead of 196.
No. 169 runs instead of 179 on Tuesday, January 1 - a Sunday schedule; 82 runs as does 182.
|Defense bill aids Amtrak|
A measure added to the defense appropriations bill before the Senate passed it on Dec. 7 has given the railroad's supporters a little room to maneuver in.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr., (D-Del.), Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and others averted a filibuster around midnight during debate on the defense bill (H.R. 3338) by cutting a deal with Amtrak's most vocal opponents, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Phil Gramm (R-Tex.).
The Democratic senators won voice-vote approval of an amendment that would deny any funds for implementing an Amtrak liquidation plan until a reauthorization law for the rail service is enacted, which is expected next year.
Under the 1997 law, the Nov. 9 decision leads to another step - the council must submit to Congress within 90 days a plan for restructuring Amtrak to make it more profitable. Biden and Hollings originally wanted an amendment that would have eliminated that requirement.
Sources involved with the negotiations said that was a non-starter with McCain. Biden watered down his original proposal and pledged not to try to come back and renegotiate it later after McCain threatened "extended debate," according to McCain spokeswoman Nancy Ives.
"It's a fairly good outcome, considering we wanted to lift the cloud from over Amtrak's future," the Biden aide said.
Meanwhile, newly released figures contradict Amtrak's projections that train ridership blossomed in the days and weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Writing for The Associated Press, Laurence Arnold reported on November 30 that nationwide, ridership was lower each day in the week after the attacks compared to the week before, according to numbers released by the ARC. Overall, Amtrak's ridership was down 6 percent in September and 1 percent in October, compared with a year earlier.
The ARC did not state where it got its numbers from.
Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz said that the railroad's early projection of a 17 percent boost in ridership the week following the attacks was based on an established formula based on tickets sold. As it turned out, an unusually high number of prospective passengers canceled their plans or traded in their tickets, he said.
Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said Amtrak has done well, given the difficult climate for travel in general.
Capon noted that the Air Transport Association estimated that airlines registered a 23 percent drop in passengers in October, compared to Amtrak's 1 percent decline.
Capon said Amtrak advocates are pleased by increased interest in long-distance sleeper cars and frequent sellouts on its high-speed Acela Express service in the Northeast.
Capon said he is hopeful the attention generated by the council's decision will result in more money for a transportation alternative that always has been underfunded.
"We never get anything done in the United States without a major crisis," Capon said. Still, he said talk of liquidation is unrealistic and threatens to harm Amtrak's standing with lenders, he noted.
|Amtrak's latest ridership report looks good|
Amtrak's Acela Express, which is still being phased in along the Washington-New York-Boston corridor, ran below Amtrak's projections for much of the year, but has exceeded them by 9 percent since Oct. 1, according to information released Saturday by the railroad. As of Nov. 30, Acela Express trains had carried nearly 857,000 passengers, and as Acting Chairman Michael Dukakis pointed out last week, the Acelas have already carried their one-millionth passenger.
Service began Dec. 11, 2000, with one train making a daily roundtrip between Washington and Boston.
An Amtrak spokesman said one Acela Express train was selling out on an average weekday in August. Now, eight to 10 trains - 35 to 40 percent of those in service - are selling out on an average weekday in both first class and coach.
Ticket revenue from Acela Express was approaching $100 million on Nov. 30. Amtrak is projecting that when they are at full strength, the speedy trains will carry nearly 3.9 million riders, generate $300 million in revenue and net $180 million each year. Government watchdogs have called Amtrak's predictions overly optimistic.
|Amtrak loses appeal in Arizona|
The Arizona Supreme Court has declined to hear Amtrak's appeal of a ruling that dismissed its $13 million lawsuit against the state and Mohave County over a 1997 derailment near Kingman.
The Supreme Court declined to review the March 15 decision in which the Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge's dismissal of the lawsuit.
Judge B. Michael Dann had ruled that Amtrak waited too long to file a lawsuit over the derailment that occurred after a flash flood weakened a bridge.
Amtrak contended that the state and Mohave County were to blame for the flooding, because they built roads in the area and permitted other construction along the Mohave, Wash.
|High-Speed train kills three teens|
An Amtrak engineer saw several kids on the tracks near Philadelphia December 9, but he couldn't stop his train in time at Fairless Hills, Penn.
Police said the high-speed Acela Express train was going 100 mph when it rounded a bend in Bucks County, Penn. and struck and killed Raymond Kostar, 13; Eric Hopwood, 15; and Dan Slater, 19, all of Morrisville.
They were the first people to die after being hit by the sleek trains.
Two other 14-year-olds, a boy and a girl, who were with them, were not struck, and were not injured. None of the approximately 300 passengers aboard the on the Boston-to-Washington, D.C., train was hurt.
Police said the five teens were on the tracks, walking with their backs to the train as it rounded a curve. Authorities said the engineer saw the teens and tried to stop.
Passengers continued on to Philadelphia after a two-hour delay, then boarded other trains.
Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn said engineers need at least a mile to stop a fast-moving train if they see someone on the tracks.
In a similar case, in the Baltimore area, Justin Crowley, 16, of Dundalk, Md., was killed and his cousin, Robert Pike, 19, also of Dundalk, Md., was critically injured when an Amtrak train struck their all-terrain vehicle Saturday night, Baltimore County Police said.
The New York-to-Washington train struck the four-wheeler in Rosedale at about 6:30 p.m., Dunn said. No one on the train was injured, but the accident caused significant damage to the train, and passengers were transferred to a different train.
Pike remained in critical condition Sunday night at the Univ. of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, a nursing supervisor said.
|Conrail pays $3.5 million to settle Amtrak claims|
Freight rail carrier Conrail Inc. will pay $3.5 million to settle federal claims it underreported and underpaid for its use of tracks owned by Amtrak, the agreement showed last week.
The Justice Department claimed that the Consolidated Rail Corp. knowingly submitted false reports to the passenger rail service on its track use along the Northeast Corridor, alleging breach of contract.
Under a 1986 agreement, Conrail has to calculate its track usage and pay Amtrak a fee. The alleged underreporting occurred largely between 1989-99. Conrail did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Freight giants CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern absorbed most of Conrail's assets in 1999. Philadelphia-based Conrail still operates some lines in the Philadelphia area, New Jersey and Michigan.
The case was investigated by Amtrak and the USDOT's Inspector General. The settlement was reached with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia.
STB looks for help from AAR
Surface Transportation Board Chairman Linda J. Morgan said December 10 that the STB "has asked the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to convene a meeting with railroads, shippers, and other involved parties to discuss ways to address issues concerning delays in the interchange of railroad cars among railroads."
The board's action arose out of a dispute between the Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) and several smaller, "connecting" railroads with which UP interchanges traffic, principally in the Chicago area, that concerned charges which the connecting railroads had sought to impose on UP for delays in accepting cars in interchange. UP argued that a railroad may not impose such charges on another railroad for delayed interchange unless all parties to the charges agree, or unless the charges are specifically authorized by the board.
"The interchange of traffic among railroads is a fundamental operational component of the national railroad network and typically is a straightforward and reasonably uniform process in which all railroads participate for their own benefit and that of the shipping public," she said.
Morgan added, "Sometimes, however, parties differ as to how such interchange can be accomplished to best meet the needs of all concerned. The board noted that it can resolve such disputes, if the parties cannot do so themselves, and stated that it will resolve the issues raised in this case, if necessary."
She also pointed out, "The national railroad system functions best on the basis of good faith cooperation among all railroads, both large and small."
Morgan noted, "If we were to rule against UP and find that carriers are not prohibited from unilaterally imposing interchange charges, the result could be a variety of charges, imposed pursuant to the actions of one carrier and the responses of another, that would not be conducive to the cooperation necessary for a seamless, efficient national rail network."
|BNSF makes holiday plans|
"BNSF's Christmas and New Year's operating plan will focus on meeting customers' expectations while allowing as many employees as possible to spend time with their families during the holidays," a railroad spokesman said last week.
He added "To the extent possible, BNSF plans to minimize the operation of freight trains out of origin terminals. Most originating trains will be held at terminals from 6:00 a.m. on Monday, December 24 until 6:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday, December 26. The same suspensions will apply from 6:00 a.m. Monday, December 31 until 6:00 a.m. on January 2."
He pointed out, "Since many carload non-unit train customer plans reduce operations over the holidays, to the extent that capacity will accommodate, no merchandise trains will operate between 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Day. Where possible, crews that are away from home will be returned to their home terminals during this holiday window. Merchandise trains will continue to run during this period over the New Year's holiday."
Coal trains - both loaded and empty - will operate normally over the Christmas holiday.
The spokesman stated, "BNSF will attempt to keep trains at the crew's home terminal between 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Day if capacity exists at the terminal. On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, trains will operate normally."
Throughout the two-day Christmas and New Year's holiday periods, BNSF may annul or consolidate trains in line with anticipated reduced traffic volumes. Additionally, consistent with the needs of customers, BNSF will reduce local, road-switch and switch engine assignments.
|CSX, NCRR finally agree on ownership|
North Carolina Railroad Co. and CSX have settled a 140-year ownership dispute over a portion of track near Raleigh, NC. The agreement opens the door for increased rail transit and economic development in the Triangle and eastern portions of North Carolina.
In September 2000, CSXT filed a property lawsuit disputing ownership of a 200-foot portion of the NCRR corridor between Raleigh and Cary that is used by CSXT freight trains and Amtrak passenger trains. The corridor also is proposed for use by the Triangle Transit Authority for its planned regional rail service.
Under the settlement, NCRR, which owns the 317-mile rail corridor between Morehead City and Charlotte, will be acknowledged by CSXT as owner of the corridor in question. In exchange, NCRR grants CSXT the right to continue its use of the corridor.
Both companies agree to continue to accommodate Amtrak. CSXT also may add up to two miles of double track to meet future capacity needs.
The settlement also allows the Triangle Transit Authority to use the right-of-way north of the existing CSXT and Amtrak operations area between Raleigh and Cary to build TTA's regional rail transit tracks.
"The resolution of this conflict ensures CSXT freight service to the northeastern part of the state," says NCRR Chairman Sam Hunt. "High quality freight service is an important component for sustained economic growth and development. It is an asset for the businesses already located northeast of Raleigh and can attract new industries considering locating in the region.
This will also allow TTA to go forward to finalize their regional rail plans."
CSX Corporation Chairman John Snow said, "From the inception of the Seaboard Air Line Railway in the 1890s, this line has been a key part of our railroad and our company's success. North Carolina and its industries are important to CSX and we look forward to a close working relationship with the North Carolina Railroad Company."
The NCRR's mission is to manage, improve and protect North Carolina's rail properties and corridors in a manner that will enhance passenger and freight service and promote economic development.
CSXT and its 35,000 employees provide rail transportation and distribution services over a 23,000 route-mile network in 23 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. CSXT is a business unit of CSX Corporation, headquartered in Richmond, Va.
|Saluda grade carries its last train|
When a train passes through this small town on the western edge of Polk County, "Your blood just surges," says local resident Caroline Tindal.
"From any direction you catch that sound. You hear it, you feel it in the earth: the churning, the struggling of the engines."
After this month, that sound will be missing. Norfolk Southern Corp. says it is suspending operations on 33 miles of track between Hendersonville and Mascot, S.C., near Spartanburg because the buyer of coal shipments that once made up much of the line's traffic is now getting its coal from a different source.
Norfolk Southern has no plans to abandon the track, spokesman Susan Terpay said Tuesday, and could resume operations on it later if conditions warrant. No customers in Western North Carolina will lose service, she said.
The grade on the roughly three miles of track to the southeast of Saluda to Melrose is the steepest mainline grade in the country. The trains, the tracks in the very center of town and the railroad buffs who come to see them - patronizing some local businesses in the process„are all a big part of life in Saluda, residents said.
"We're just heartsick," said Cindy Ledbetter, a cook in Ward's Market and Grill a few feet from the tracks. "It'll be different."
"It's a very comforting, earthy kind of thing," said Patti Peake, who works in a blacksmith's shop not far from the tracks and lives within earshot of them in Tryon.
"You're just used to the train rumble. It's hard to put into words, but we love it."
Saluda's elevation is listed as 2,097 feet and the Melrose area's at 1,424.
Various strategies have been employed over the years since the line opened in 1878 to get trains up and down the grade. Trains now ascend the grade at 20 mph and descend at 8 mph, Terpay said.
The track in question is part of the line that connects Asheville and Hendersonville with Spartanburg, S.C. WNC shippers will have other routes available to them, Terpay said.
A Web site for railroad buffs, www.trains.com, says the change is being made because Duke Power is now buying coal for a generating plant near Belmont from the area around Williamson, W.Va, instead of in western Virginia. When the coal came from the western part of Virginia, the best route to the plant was through Saluda. Now the route through the Salisbury area makes more sense, the site says.
This article on Saluda grade appeared in the Dec 11, 2001 edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times.
NCI: Leo KingIn the dark of night, when Penn Central still existed, DeWitt Yard in Syracuse, N.Y. was a special place for people who liked to watch trains. In 1974, on this summer night, these black beauties called DeWitt home. The photographer was in school at Morrisville College, part of the State Univ. of New York system, and majoring in journalism.
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