This will be the last issue of Destination: Freedom until January 8, 2001.
Goodbye 2000, hello 2001:
The rail odyssey is about to begin
The readers and friends of Destination: Freedom and the National Corridors Initiative have labored mightily this year to develop support for investment in the American rail system, so I know that many of you are disappointed in the failure of Congress to pass the $10 billion High Speed Rail Investment Act.
I've got three words for you:
Don't give up!
While the bill didn't make it through, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) both publicly pledged to introduce and co-sponsor the bill early in the next session. Perhaps even more significantly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who has been hostile to Amtrak, made a conciliatory statement that acknowledged the widespread support in the country for passenger rail service, and the need for the United States, if it has chosen a policy of supporting rail, to do so in an organized, cost-effective way.
Amtrak has had many battles, and the war is not over, but the launch of the Acela Express, the growth of mail and express service and, especially, the strong and continuing support for regional intercity rail corridor development by the governors, state legislatures, and just plain citizens across America bode well for the future of rail - and not just passenger rail.
As much as any one entity, the freight railroads hold the key to their own long-term success, and to that of Amtrak and the many important commuter and regional rail systems that operate on freight-owned track. That key involves new public support and partnerships for economic development, which not only improve passenger service, but will help the freights build the capacity they need so that shipping costs, and the cost of living for every American, can be lowered.
Happy New Year, then, and make plans to join NCI, and attend May 10-11, 2001 at Washington when we host our conference "Partnerships for Corridor Development: Making Multi-Modalism Work" at the Washington Marriott.
NCI: Leo KingThe Acela Express passes through Providence, R.I. on its first day of scheduled service.
|Acela Express' first week was rocky|
Some days are pretty good, in retrospect. Others are horrendous. That was Amtrak's scenario last week when it launched its Acela Express service. The high-speed train arrived in Boston about seventeen minutes late on Monday. On Tuesday, it nearly never arrived at all.
On December 11, the first day the train ran in scheduled, revenue service, it left Washington on time at 5:00 a.m., but lost a few minutes enroute to Boston over little things, little things like numerous cab signal problems. The engineer was getting bad signals at Davisville, R.I. - presently the heart of 150 mph territory - and again at Cranston, where the top speed allowed is 100 mph, when a signal dropped to restricting in front of the train. "Restricting," is a 15 mph speed allowed inside an interlocking, and 20 mph outside.
In Providence, a stuck door delayed the train for a minute or two.
Engine (power car, in Bombardier-Alstom terminology) 2009 was up front while the 2020 was pushing from the rear.
The new Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System," a fancy cab signal system with transponders located in the gauge at strategic locations, seemed to be the culprit. The operating method is different, things engineers have to do are different, and the in-cab equipment seems to be quite sensitive to changing conditions. Cab signals have replaced automatic wayside signals between New Haven, Conn., and part of Rhode Island, but ACSES is being installed from Washington to Boston.
On that first revenue day of operation, the train paused in Providence, R.I. running 17 minutes late. Main Line dispatcher Ken Vitiello cleared the signal at Orms Interlocking, which is just east of Providence station, well in advance of the express train, and engineer John Gallagher had a "clear" indication at Orms Interlocking. Conductor Terry Farrell was looking after the passengers.
NCI: Leo KingIt's a hard left turn at Orms Interlocking in Providence, R.I.
The weather was awful - a 300-foot overcast, drizzle and 34 degrees.
By the time the train arrived in Boston at 11:43 a.m., it was 12 minutes late, according to Amtrak's
The equipment went to Southampton Street Yard in Boston where it arrived at 12:38 p.m., was cleaned and serviced, and made ready for the No. 2175 turn and the run back to Washington.
Yard conductor George Casey and engineer Don Lacey Sr. left Southampton Street Yard at 4:21 p.m. after getting a mechanical clearance and release from yardmaster Bill O'Brien, an okay from the South Bay Tower train director to shove the train to the "15 switch" to operate via Dorchester Branch No. 2 track over the mile of steel and wire to South Station.
The road crew, conductor Ed Englehardt and engineer Steve Bruno, left promptly at 5:10 p.m. After a crew change in New York's Penn Station, the train arrived back in Washington at 11:59 p.m., 16 minutes late.
NCI: Leo KingTrain 2150 passes through Orms Interlocking en route to Boston.
Tuesday morning was supposed to be a bright day. Not weatherwise, because it was still bleak (at least it wasn't snowing), but it was going to be my first ride on one of the fancy express trains. It did not happen.
I deadheaded west on No. 131, an Acela Regional with HHP-8 No. 655 on the point. It was about 15 to 20 minutes late arriving in Providence from Boston - which is only 44 miles east of Providence - and stayed that way all the way to New Haven. We were getting frequent cab signal (re: ACSES) "hits," and the train went from sometimes 135 mph to a crawl with an automatically applied full service air brake application. It wasn't engineer L. Owens's doing; it was the on-board equipment and how it was interfacing with the wayside equipment. His conductor, Ed Monahan, could only sigh. He had no control over those things, either. We took hits (those that I was aware of) at Mystic River Bridge, Thames River Bridge, Nan (Niantic River Bridge), and other places.
Some deadheading conductors (not in uniform) were also aboard 131, on their way to New Haven to ride back on No. 2150 for an orientation ride. When they boarded at South Station and Route 128, none had an inkling they would not be riding the express train today, nor did I. It was not until they were aboard that an assistant conductor tipped off Peter Dillon that the northward trainset never left our nation's capital. Dillon, Tom Driscoll and some other United Transportation Union local chairmen and local representatives - all working conductors as well - were on the clock.
Dillon said the Acela Express jobs "are all bid jobs," and that "candidates have to go to Wilmington [Del.] for three days' training, then spend a few days rehearsing" on live runs. "After that, they can submit their bids."
By 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, the ACSES equipment on the Acela Express train was acting up so much that mechanical forces in Washington's Ivy City Yard deemed the train not serviceable. Other reports said Ivy City Yard inspectors found "minor damage" on the express train's pantographs. The equipment was repaired, but not in time for the train to leave the yard for its second day of service on Tuesday.
Amtrak tried to ready its only other available Acela Express train, trainset No. 6 (engines 2030-2031) which had been conditionally accepted on December 10, but inspectors found problems there as well, including a broken freezer and no hot water in the café car.
A Metroliner was dispatched in its place, but it ran into problems of its own, sustaining engine failure at Stratford, Conn., (MP 59) with 90 people aboard. The train arrived in Boston two hours and nine minutes late, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, the repaired express train deadheaded from Washington to Boston later in the day to make the afternoon's 2175, due out of South Station at 5:10 p.m.
Amtrak spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said the equipment problem was nothing that was specific to high-speed rail. She said, "It's just one of the mechanical vulnerabilities of electric trains."
She added, "Because it's the Acela Express, we wanted to err on the side of double, double, super caution, so we pulled it" out of service.
Elsewhere, 50 mph winds had blown down some catenary south of Newark, N.J., adding further woes to Amtrak's day.
NCI: Leo KingNo. 131, HHP-8 engine 655, at New Haven, Conn.
Acela Regional No. 170, with AEM-7 No. 909, picked up three paying passengers in New Haven and took us eastward. We had all paid the premium $87 fare to ride on the express train to Boston. No. 170 was five minutes late arriving in New Haven.
Strong winds were blowing along the Shore Line as well. We struck a downed tree limb a couple of miles west of Branford, Conn., but no harm was done to the train nor anyone aboard.
We lost no more time, at least as far as Providence.
When I got back to my hometown, I went straight to the ticket counter. The ticket agent had no clue I worked for the railroad, but as soon as I said "2150," he knew exactly what was coming. I told him I wanted to exchange it for another ticket between New Haven and Boston one week later. I got an upgrade without even asking for it. I went from "first class" to "business class." Let's see what December 19 brings.
When I got home and turned on my computer, I found I had received an e-mail message from Amtrak Acela marketing people that rang rather hollow:
Come Join Us on Acela Express
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2000 13:27:48 PST
From: Amtrak-Customer Service
"Today, Acela Express high-speed rail service begins.
"It's a new way of travel that takes you away from airport hassles and traffic jams. And whisks you to your destination in comfortable, spacious surroundings.
"On Acela, we value your time as much as you do. You'll have the freedom to stretch out. To spread out. To conference. To enjoy something delicious. To use all your electronic devices. Always. So you use every moment more productively. More pleasurably.
"We welcome you to join us on Acela now.
"Make your reservations at: http://p01.com/t.d?hkI6PYOoi=/reservations.amtrak.com
For more information:
Even the message was a day late.
A trainset of two AEM-7s and seven coaches were dispatched from Southampton Street yard to South Station as a backup, just in case they were needed for Tuesday afternoon's 2175.
By Wednesday, the Acela Express backup trainset was in service, running between the endpoints of the Northeast Corridor. Trains 2150 and 2175 carried engines 2030-2031. An observer at Route 128 station noted, "the train was almost full" on its westward journey.
On Thursday, non-express 2150 showed up in Boston at 1:10 p.m., with AEM-7 951 leading a six-car Amfleet set. Express trainset 2009-2020 showed up in mid-afternoon and went around the Southampton Street Yard loop track to turn, and headed back to the station at 3:50 p.m. to depart as 2175 on time at 5:10.
The end of the first week of erratic Acela Express service ended on a positive note. The 2030-2031 set made 2150 in the morning, and turned for Friday afternoon's 2175.
The trains do not yet run on weekends.
Waning days of 106th Congress
Rail bond bill hopes fade
(Just at deadline, Congress passed a key appropriations bill, but not the High-Speed Rail Investment Act. However, Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), in a spirit of bipartisanship, pledged to jointly sponsor the bill early in the next session. - Ed.)
As we were going to press with our last issue of the century, several stories were in the works that may or may not come to fruition during the holidays.
We have been bird-dogging the fate of the $10 billion dollar rail bond bill. At week's end, there was some mild pessimism in the high-speed rail community as to whether it would end up in a big "compromise" package negotiated by the White House and the Congress. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a chief sponsor of the measure, reportedly was "despondent" over its prospects.
Amtrak President George Warrington had to miss out on the going-away party at Washington's Union Station for FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris on Thursday (December 14) because he was constantly on the phone to Capitol Hill trying to jar the bill out of legislative gridlock.
Judging from what we were hearing Friday night, his lobbying success on this crucial issue was in doubt. It was believed that Senate GOP Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle had decided not to include the bill in the final legislative package. So NARP sent out two e-mails that day, frantically urging the members to get on the phone to the two Senate chiefs. Meanwhile, And Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) was threatening a filibuster if the rail bond bill was excluded.
Friends of Amtrak are proposing that the passenger rail company go back to Congress and ask for more time to reach operational self-sufficiency. They believe Amtrak could make a good case for pushing back the October 1, 2002 deadline because of unavoidable (on Amtrak's part) delays in getting the new 150 mph Acela Express up and running.
Proponents of this idea were startled to see the entire Amtrak board march in lockstep opposition to asking for the delay. The board members and Amtrak management remain confident that they can still meet that deadline, as specified in the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act.
"I don't understand where they're coming from," declared one prominent Amtrak supporter.
"They've slipped (by millions) in their business plan timetable, mostly because of the Acela delay. Yet they insist they'll still make it."
Meanwhile, a high Amtrak official flatly denied to me a report that I had heard from two sources that after Congress adjourns for the year, Amtrak plans to slash millions from its budget and impose massive layoffs.
Plans are in the works for trying to find the money to fix the dangerously deteriorating tunnels in and out of New York City's Penn Station. This situation, first reported on in D:F last spring, is finally catching the attention of the New York media.
The New York Post ran a story December 13 saying Amtrak is seeking $340 million to accelerate plans to fix the worst safety hazards, such as ventilation, water for firefighting, and emergency exits. The story said the Long Island Rail Road has already spent $97 million for tunnel repairs, with plans to spend another $125 million over five years.
A source at the office of the federal DOT Inspector General's office told me New Jersey Transit would kick in some, possibly around $125 million. NJT is making the point that it is not the heaviest user of Penn Station, but is willing to pay its share for the repairs.
We were looking into reports that New York's MTA was making moves to get into the act big time. MTA officials reportedly were concerned that the repairs had not progressed more rapidly under Amtrak's ownership. Amtrak, for its part, said tight budgets with which it has had to live had forced the slower timetable.
In any event, I.G. Kenneth Mead was planning to have a report on the desk of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) today in answer to the congressman's urgent request and expression of alarm concerning tunnel safety.
The December 14 going away party for FRA Administrator Molitoris brought out almost everybody who is anybody in railroading in Washington and beyond. It brought back memories to this writer. Back in the 1970s, a brochure crossed my desk outlining a plan in Ohio to push for high-speed rail in that state.
To put this in perspective, you have to remember in those days, Amtrak was creaking along almost literally held together with paste and glue. Whether we would have any passenger trains at any speed at all was an open question, let alone high-speed.
So, I called up the then Ohio high-speed rail activist, Jolene Molitoris, and asked her next time she's in Washington, to stop by. I'd put her on my radio program. She did, and we had a half hour discussion of her dreams of bringing high-speed rail to America.
Years later, I had her back on that same radio "Crosstalk" show as Federal Railroad Administrator and again, the subject was high-speed trains, this time with the added discussion of every other facet of the rail industry.
To witness the launching of the Acela Express in the final weeks of her tenure at FRA held a special meaning for Jolene Molitoris.
|Molitoris leaving FRA|
Jolene M. Molitoris said last week she will give up her stewardship of the Federal Railroad Administration on December 31. FRA's Deputy Administrator Jack Wells will serve as acting administrator, the USDOT reported. DOT is the parent agency for the FRA.
Appointed by President Clinton in April 1993, Molitoris was the first woman to lead the FRA in its 34-year history.
"Jolene Molitoris has provided almost eight years of both outstanding leadership at the Federal Railroad Administration and dedicated service to this country," said USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater.
"During her tenure, Jolene brought this nation the seven safest years in rail history for every safety category we measure and she is to be commended for her efforts."
Molitoris will become the president and CEO of GeoFocus Inc., a firm that supplies the transportation industry with geographic information systems and global positioning satellite services.
"It has been a rewarding experience to serve President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary Slater and the American people," said Molitoris.
"Leadership, partnership and results - these three words embody the core spirit and professionalism of the women and men of today's Federal Railroad Administration. Innovative public-private partnerships have accomplished extraordinary things, turning challenging opportunities into remarkable successes."
Molitoris championed rail safety in the U.S. and around the world, establishing zero tolerance for any safety hazard as the industry standard, creating safety partnerships with rail labor and management and achieving historic increases in all safety categories as a result. FRA-led partnerships with rail labor, management and others helped reduce train accident fatalities by 87 percent, rail employee casualties by 34 percent, and highway-rail crossing fatalities by 35 percent. These record lows were achieved while rail freight and passenger traffic were at all time highs.
Molitoris received several honors during her eight-year tenure, including Railway Age magazine, which featured Molitoris as one of the 16 most respected and admired "Great Railroaders of the 20th Century." In 1999, she received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In 1995 and 1996, the Woman's Transportation Seminar (WTS), Washington, D.C. Chapter named Molitoris as their Woman of the Year, and in 1996 the WTS of the U.S. named her the National WTS Woman of the Year.
Officer, suspect wounded
News reports last week in Chicago said a shootout between a police drug unit and two suspects in Union Station killed one person, injured two and sent waiting train passengers diving for cover on December 12.
The officers had tried to stop the two men to question them, but one of the suspects grabbed a female officer, followed by an exchange of gunfire, a police spokesman said.
One of the suspects was killed, the policewoman was shot in the leg, and the other suspect, also hospitalized, was in critical condition, Camden said.
The shooting began on the Amtrak concourse next to train platforms, police said. A statement from Amtrak said that the two men had just arrived on a train from New York and that the incident was an "apparent federal drug interdiction."
Inez Hart, a traveler from Africa, was an eyewitness. She told the AP, "When they got off the train, they apprehended them right in front of where the lounge was for Amtrak. They tried to grab the bags and take the bags away from them. There was a struggle, and during the struggle, they pulled guns."
"The bullets came flying right through the window where we were, and glass shattered everywhere. Everybody had to drop to the ground, the whole waiting area, and we crawled like we were in a movie, an action movie,'' she said.
Camden said the police unit included an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, an Amtrak police officer and the wounded city policewoman.
An Amtrak employee said he was headed to lunch when the shootings happened.
"All of a sudden about 25 men were running and screaming, 'They're shooting!' They knocked me down," said Peter Noto, a passenger service agent. "I heard gunshots all over the place."
The wounded officer was reported in good condition at a local hospital, and the wounded man was in surgery in critical condition, officials said. Police said most of the station remained open and rail traffic returned to normal about an hour after the shooting.
Alstom to rebuild 100 engines for CSX
|Alstom reported last week it will supply CSX Transportation, Inc. with 100 remanufactured SD40-2 freight locomotives valued at more than $80 million, as part of a multi-year lease agreement between CSXT and CIT Rail Resources. In a press release, the company said the work will be performed at its Montreal facilities, which have already supplied CSXT with 50 remanufactured SD40-2 locomotives under a lease agreement signed in March. It said it would deliver the 100 locomotives through the first quarter of 2001.|
|Helm to 'repo' 28 engines from B&A|
A San Francisco leasing company is going to court this week to repossess 28 locomotives and numerous freight cars from two Bangor & Aroostook System rail lines for failure to make "millions of dollars" in payments.
The rail lines, however, say they are in a "major dispute" with Helm Financial Corp. over the quality and power of the engines, and has been fighting the leases for at least three years, the Bangor News reported last week.
A hearing was scheduled on Friday at Bangor District Court.
Bangor & Aroostook System, whose parent company is Iron Road Railways, includes Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, Canadian American Railroad, Quebec Southern Railway, Northern Vermont Railroad and Logistics Management Systems.
B&A and CA railroads are using the locomotives and rail cars being repossessed, according to court documents.
In court documents, Helm Financial does not list how much it says is owed by the Bangor-based rail lines. What is included in the documents are letters alerting the rail lines that the leases were terminated in mid-November, and subsequent notarized "forcible entry and detainer," or repossession, summonses were issued.
"We're past due millions of dollars," said Helm Financial spokeswoman Barbara Wilson last Friday. "We've inspected the units and they have not been maintained in accordance with the lease. We need to go get those units back."
No formal legal responses from the rail lines are included in the court documents but Dan Sabin, vice president and chief operating officer for B&A Railroad, said that company has been renegotiating the leases with Helm Financial for about three years because of a "major dispute" over the quality of the locomotives.
"We're in a substantial dispute on the quality of power" of the locomotives," Sabin said Thursday. "We've asked to terminate their lease because of the poor quality of their locomotives. Most of them are in service, but they're not satisfactory for our increase in service, our increase in revenue."
"That's the first we've heard of it," Helm's spokeswoman responded Friday.
"We've been working with them for three years. The payments have not been coming in. We're a small, private company. We don't have a lot of options.
"If they didn't want them, we would just take them back," Wilson said. "It's that simple."
Sabin would not counter Wilson's remarks.
B&A System has about 100 locomotives in service.
WC board tells Burkhardt, 'No'
Shareholders of Rosemont, Ill., based Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp. rejected a plan last week by a dissident group, led by former CEO Edward A. Burkhardt, to take over the company's board, according to a report in Crain's Chicago Business News.
New York-based Proxy Monitor Services recommended keeping the company's existing board intact, a week after another group, Institutional Shareholders Service (ISS), made a similar recommendation. The board election process began Nov. 15 and will conclude Jan. 13.
Burkhardt's group, which calls itself the Wisconsin Central Shareholders Committee to Maximize Shareholder Value, would reinstate Burkhardt as CEO.
"We are pleased another neutral observer is recommending (Wisconsin Central) stockholders reject the Burkhardt group's efforts to seize control of the company," Wisconsin Central CEO Thomas Power said in a statement Tuesday.
"We are moving forward expeditiously with our plans to maximize value for all (Wisconsin Central) stockholders, including scheduling meetings, on-site inspections and other due diligence activities with potentially interested parties."
Burkhardt, who left the company in July 1999 after a clash with the board, downplayed the report, saying that Proxy Monitor Service is a small company and that many shareholders continue to support him, including the company's largest stakeholder, Southeastern Asset Management Inc., which owns 14.4 percent of Wisconsin Central.
"I'm still quite optimistic," he said.
Burkhardt claimed the board had thwarted the sale of the company and had done nothing to arrest plunging share prices, but the most recent ISS report within the last two weeks noted that the current board favors a sale.
Tex-Mex buys 85-mile Texas line;
STB upholds FMC-UP decision
The STB gave its okay for the Texas Mexican Railway Co. (Tex Mex) to acquire and operate Union Pacific's "Rosenberg Line" south of Houston to Victoria, Texas. The route has been dormant for several years. The board's approval of the transaction, which was privately negotiated between Tex Mex and UP, "is expected to enhance trackage rights obtained by Tex Mex in connection with the 1996 merger of the UP and Southern Pacific (SP) rail systems, and to help Tex Mex become a more efficient and effective competitor for rail traffic moving between the United States and Mexico" an STB on-line report stated.
The Rosenberg Line is an 85-mile route in southern Texas running from just south of Houston to Victoria (in the direction of Corpus Christi). UP currently owns the Rosenberg Line, which, prior to the UP-SP merger, was owned by the SP system. The line has not been operated for a number of years.
Tex Mex owns and operates a line extending from the International Bridge at Laredo, TX (where Tex Mex connects with its affiliate, Transportation Ferroviaria Mexicana), to Corpus Christi. Tex Mex connects with lines of The Kansas City Southern Railway Company at Beaumont, TX, using trackage rights over UP lines granted as part of the STB's approval of the UP-SP merger. The trackage rights operations, however, extend over a significant portion of UP's busy "Sunset Route."
The STB stated, "The line's transfer to Tex Mex is expected to restore service to businesses along the line, add rail infrastructure to the Houston-Gulf Coast region, free up capacity on some of UP's busiest routes, and generally to help inject new and vigorous competition into southern Texas rail operations and traffic moving under the North American Free Trade Agreement."
In addition to approving the line's sale, the board also sanctioned the pro-competitive agreement the parties reached expanding trackage rights so that Tex Mex may move traffic originating or terminating on the Rosenberg Line and interchange traffic with railroads other than UP.
Elsewhere in STB decisions regarding the UP, Chair Linda J. Morgan said on Friday that the board has rejected a UP petition asking the board to reconsider its May 12, 2000 decision in a case opposed to the FMC Wyoming Corp.
In its May decision, the board found that UP had market dominance over the traffic shipped by FMC to and from its facilities at Westvaco, Wyoming and two Idaho sites. The board also concluded that, based upon a stand-alone cost analysis, the rates charged by UP for transporting various commodities for FMC were unreasonably high, so the board ordered UP "to reduce those rates and to pay reparations to FMC."
|Rose takes over BNSF|
Matt Rose, 41, is the new chief executive of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, succeeding Robert Krebs at the Fort Worth-based railroad. The railroad's directors elected Rose on Thursday, according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Krebs, 58, who had been CEO of the railroad since the 1995 merger that joined the Burlington Northern with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe systems, remains chairman. He said he intends to stay with the company for about a year before retiring. He was chairman of Santa Fe before it merged with BN.
"I've been a railroad president or CEO for 20 years," Krebs said, "and I know one of my most important jobs is to find a successor who has the confidence of the board and management."
Rose was named president and chief operating officer of BNSF in June 1999.
|BNSF sets intermodal record|
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway set an industry record by passing the one million mark in trailers and containers that have been lifted this year at its Los Angeles Intermodal Facility. According to the Journal of Commerce Online.
"This is the first time in the industry that one million intermodal containers and trailers have been lifted at a single facility anywhere in the world in less than one calendar year," said Carmen Iacullo, general director of hub and facility operations.
Averaging nearly 3,000 lifts daily, BNSF's Los Angeles Intermodal Facility is the busiest intermodal facility in the world. Overall, BNSF expects to lift more than 6.3 million containers and trailers at its 35 intermodal facilities throughout the United States this year.
NS digs out in Buffalo
Norfolk Southern says its employees in the Niagara Frontier Region - Buffalo, N.Y. - performed a "phenomenal job" restoring intermodal service at its snowed-in classification yard.
When a winter storm blasted southeast coastal states last week, it left a smattering of snow in the Greenville, S.C., area. But the earliest snowfall there in years was termed a "non-event" for the Piedmont Division by Assistant Superintendent Mike Alley.
"It slowed up some of our taxis that transport train crews, but it didn't slow down the trains at all," he said.
Phil Scott was not so lucky. He is intermodal operations division manager in Buffalo. A November. 21 storm caught that area off guard and closed NS operations there for 24 hours.
"It was a total whiteout," Scott explained.
"You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. It was not forecast, and it caused all kinds of problems and eventual gridlock. The National Guard had to be called in during a state of emergency to help out. The roads were so bad that two of our employees had to sleep in the office; they couldn't make it home."
In an area that is used to getting a lot of snow blowing in from the Great Lakes, the storm dumped 25 inches on the area in 24 hours. Abandoned vehicles clogged roadways, snow could not be removed, switches could not be cleared, and operations stopped until the weather broke.
Overnight, the snow stopped falling and the cleanup began. Area residents needed several days to recover from the storm, but NS said its intermodal ramp was cleared for operation by 6 o'clock the following morning.
"The Transportation department did a phenomenal job," said Scott, who added, "The superintendent was here helping to coordinate train movements. Everyone pitched in to get the freight moving again."
|NS furloughs 400 employees|
On the cusp of Christmas, about 160 employees of Norfolk Southern in Roanoke learned Monday they would be going home for the holidays without pay. For many, the furlough began yesterday, and ends with employees back to work on January 2, but some other workers have no return date.
Norfolk Southern posted furlough notices throughout its system Monday for about 400 employees. For 150 shops crafts workers in the East End Shops, the layoff will be temporary, according to the railroad. Their furlough will begin at the close of business Dec. 17 and end with employees back to work Jan. 2. Affected were a number of trades, including machinists, carmen, sheet metal workers and electricians, the Roanoke Times reported.
Another 250 NS employees system-wide, including 10 in Roanoke, will leave work without a return date, according to Susan Bland, an NS spokeswoman.
"This is in response to business conditions," said Bland. "Norfolk Southern is aware what time of year it is."
What is in store for America's railroads?
As this final year of the 20th Century draws to a close, patterns are emerging that clearly point to a potentially bright future for the U.S. railroad industry, freight and passenger.
There are also trends that can lead to good or bad results; those in the "question mark" category.
Some railroad-savvy observers see a future that is at the very least "different," and at worst, vastly diminished.
Which way lies ahead? Our specialty is not the crystal ball. We are reviewing the possibilities.
If I were asked to list the most significant rail industry stories for 2000, they would read as follows.:
1 - In March, the Surface Transportation Board ordered a 15-month cooling off period in which no rail merger cases would be considered. The board wants to take a long look at where the industry is going, no doubt taking into account predictions in some corners that at the rate railroads are merging, the U.S. may ultimately end up with one national giant running everything.
So far, we have dealt with the "Ghost of Rail Christmas Present." Forget any ghost of the past. If you're looking for stories about puffing steam engines in1900, you're on the wrong website.
Let us now cautiously, and with many caveats, wade into what an imaginary "Ghost of Rail Christmases of the Future may foresee.
As we approached the end of this century, I had the opportunity to sit down for an hour-long discussion with Fritz R. Kahn, an attorney with many years of experience in railroading, and asked him to elaborate on some of his published prognostications for the industry's future.
In preparing his 1997 book, "Railroad Mergers," my colleague Frank Wilner had asked Kahn to let his imagination "run wild" as to the 21st Century.
In a nutshell, Kahn serves up two doses of good news and one serving of bad news for 100 years from now. The good news is commuter trains, subways and light rail systems will still be around, perhaps more heavily than ever. On the other hand, the tracks that carry the current Class Is will be in their last days, and of course, Amtrak will be long gone.
First, the man's credentials: Kahn has been a transportation lawyer all of his professional life. At one time, he was general counsel for the old Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). In private practice, he has represented the D&RGW, C&BW, P&LE, and Monongahela. More recently, he has represented shippers and shortline railroads.
In our own discussion with Kahn, he noted that most modes of transportation inherently last no more than 200 years. "Take a look at the carriage. Take a look at (barging on) the canals."
Right now, he said, the decline of railroads is foreseeable and will be certain by the end of the 21st Century.
The veteran rail lawyer said the long-predicted "running out of oil" will finally begin to materialize in 30, 40, or maybe 50 years. And since railroads have chosen to be carriers of bulk freight, grain, coal, and chemicals, including plastics, the Class I carriers will suffer because the very scarcity of these products will cause consumers to be more selective in the use of them. Most plastics and chemicals, as carried by railroads, are derived from oil and gas.
Another factor at play here is that, "if you don't like the service you get from one trucker, you can call up another trucker." Not so easy to do in the case of railroads. And Kahn believes that will continue to backfire on railroads.
Nuclear, solar, and thermal energy sources will not be conducive to rail transport. These fuels have not completely proven themselves to be efficient or economic so far. But, hey, when you're letting your "imagination run wild," one can postulate that someday, nuclear fuel, an energy source now in relative infancy, will ultimately be free of "radiation problems." Our futurist raises the possibility of rocket-propelled sky ships for passengers and subterranean vacuum sleds for freight, if and a big "if" it is, a way can be found economically to burrow beneath the ground for long distances.
Ah, you laugh now. But remember 100 years ago, they were laughing at the Wright brothers.
150 mph tilt trains?
"That's nothing," said Kahn with a shrug of the shoulders. Europe and Japan have been way past that for years, and the Northeast corridor is not in track shape to accommodate trains up to 200 mph consistently from Washington to Boston. He doubts the political will is there to make it happen, even though "the technology is there."
Here is Kahn's projected timetable. Read it and weep.:
George Lee Fleming, Data manager for NASA, travel agent, sometime actor, and longtime student of railroading throws cold water on Kahn's cold water, you might say.
In Fleming's scenario, long distance passenger trains survive, despite advances in telecommunications.
"People still want to meet others personally, regardless of how good computer communications or simulations become." (As an aside, Fleming adds, "3D virtual sex with a computer image agentäugh!")
And if, as Kahn prophesizes, rail mass transit survives, Fleming says "Tack enough short-haul services together, and making an intercity or long distance service from it is relatively easy."
"Areas of natural beauty" will also attract train travel, predicts Fleming. Amtrak President George Warrington (See RailNews magazine for September 1998) has broadly hinted future long distance service may survive as "cruise trains" on the order of the American Orient Express.
Don't forget the population increase. Fleming cited Census Bureau predictions of anywhere from 7 percent to 50 percent to nearly double the current population just by 2050, the midway point in the 21st Century.
"The more people there are, the less feasible (relatively) any totally auto-based society becomes" in terms of consuming energy and space. And you still need to get foodstuffs to all those people.
Fleming has more faith in the future of solar wind and thermal energy than many others do. And he sees these as generators of hydrogen which can be used as (liquid) fuel for aircraft.
He envisions a new source of technology to store energy (such as electricity) in a much more efficient manner. Railroads, by running off a catenary or third rail, would have an energy advantage over alternate energy cars or trucks in the long haul. Here, Fleming thinks that perhaps the energy situation will encourage the railroads and transportation planners to re-think their decades-long resistance to expanding electrification on most Class I lines.
The same logic (energy becoming more inefficient and expensive to store for automobiles) would apply to air transport. Hydrogen airliners would be quite feasible, though it "might take a while" for them to gain general acceptance.
Railroads would take much traffic from automobiles, while viability of air transportation would remain pretty much as it is today.
Since Kahn's rocket skyships and underground vacuum sleds are not yet invented, Fleming declines to speculate on them.
Kahn's whole scenario is enough of a cold shower to make any railroader turn to an imaginary Ghost of the Future in much the same way Scrooge did in Dickens' Christmas Carol when he said something on the order of, "But Spirit!
Tell me this is not to be! I was promised a brighter future if I changed my ways!"
We'll stop right there because with that last sentence, we've come full circle.
We'll leave you to think about it for the holidays.
Happy 21st Century, folks!
|Our future could be bright|
If I had to make a list of what I thought were the top news stories concerning railroading for the year 2000, At the very top of my list would be completing the electrification job begun more than eighty years ago by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad between New Haven, Conn., and Boston, Mass.
Getting that job done led to the arrival of North America's first truly high-speed trains, Amtrak's Acela Expresses operating between those two major Eastern cities. It also led to operating Acela Regional service, which, although slower than the express trains, is still considerably faster than conventional diesel-drawn trains. The regional trains use refurbished Amfleet equipment, but new HHP-8 and updated AEM-7 electric engines haul them. The former engine is capable of 135 miles an hour travel, while the latter can move at 125 mph.
Amtrak began upgrading the corridor between both New England cities nearly ten years ago.
It began with the track, moved on to signaling and computer operated railroading, and saw the former ubiquitous towers fall by the wayside.
Today, the 55 dispatchers in Boston are hopping from one end of their territory to the other, moving fast passenger trains, slower passenger trains, freight trains, track patrols, Sperry cars, and other on-track vehicles as well as giving away "foul time" to signal and track people who need to make never-ending repairs. It is the nature of all railroading.
The track department had been busy replacing elderly bridges in a rehabilitation program started in 1992, and it would soon be looking ahead to the day when electric trains would run over these tracks.
Building spans, as you might guess, is never an easy task. When a major rail line is severed, even if it is only one track in a multi-track route, great care must be taken to move trains safely and to protect employees "out there" doing the bridge and track work, especially those who are close to a "live" track.
Several short steel decks were replaced during the summer of 1992 between Attleboro, Mass. and Westerly, R.I. Heavier bridge replacement continued during 1993 and 1994, including spans at Apponaug (part of Warwick), and East Greenwich, both in Rhode Island. The replacement program continued for several years throughout the three-state region.
In September 1992, four decks in the Hebronville, Mass., area were among the longest spans replaced by the Bridges and Buildings and Track departments.
Canton viaduct, a century old high stone bridge in Canton, Mass, and "Tin Bridge," a steel span over the Blackstone River on the Rhode Island-Massachusetts state line received major rehabs, including installing ballasted decks in place of timbers.
In 1998, the days were numbered for Boston's three nearly century-old Fort Point Channel bridges. Permanent track removal began in May. Track 1 over the double-tracked span was removed; track 2 had been removed a few years earlier; only the middle span remained operational, and that carried the newly rebuilt Old Colony route, Dorchester branch traffic, and equipment moving to and from Southampton Street Yard over two tracks. The deck nearest Boston Harbor had carried no rail traffic in many years.
That was one project that stayed close to schedule. A new "temporary," immovable three-track span went up, and was completed in December 1999. After that, the two remaining movable decks came down.
A permanent bridge will go in after the "Big Dig" tunnel project is completed under the tracks and the channel, and the so-called temporary bridge will be removed. That, however, is several years away.
About one year following the bridge program startup, an incredible machine, with a track and support gang of about 135 people, began ripping up wooden ties and laying down new concrete ties during the summer of 1993 on the Northeast Corridor in Southern New England. The machine was simply called the "TLM." It was an incredible "Track Laying Machine."
Not only could the TLM do those tie tasks, but it could also remove worn continuously welded rail and install new ribbon rail as well, all at the same time. The machine and its crew began their work in Rhode Island, between Kingston (MP 158.1) and High Street (MP 141.7) interlockings in May 1993.
Some 215,000 concrete ties and about 66 track miles of 136-pound welded rail was to be installed, according to field operations director Kerry DeLong, from the railroad's engineering department in Philadelphia.
Usually by mid-November, Amtrak's track department has put away most of its tools for the winter, waiting for snow clearing projects to begin... but not in late 1993 in Southern New England.
Jim Craig's tracklayers were charged with installing 80-mile-an-hour crossovers in four locations between Boston and New Haven. Craig was the engineer in charge of production operations, and was the first to wax enthusiastically not only about his the brand-new Plasser-American Switch Exchange System, which was also the gang's name, but also the dozens of people who worked with him.
"See that man over there? That John Wilkins is awesome. He's always doing something." Wilkins was running part of the five-section machine that had just removed a 107-foot section of straight concrete tie track out of the main line on track one in the neighborhood of MP 143, which was about one mile east of High Street tower.
"Each piece has its own function in life," Craig observed.
While the track department was busy realigning tracks and the software designers and engineers in Philadelphia were writing the programs to extend the Centralized Electrification and Train Control computer system westward and prepare for the coming electrification, C&S was out in the field rewiring the signal system as each new piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Perhaps stating they were rewiring the system is wrong. They were actually installing a totally new signal system, with new computers, new bungalows, and new switch machines on those brand new switches, whether they be high-speed crossovers or otherwise. Hand-operated temporary block station switches were permanently removed.
Typical of their work was Mill River Junction in Connecticut, a complex interlocking just over one mile east of New Haven. This was the place where the trains continued east to Boston, or else made a left turn to go northward to Hartford and Springfield via the Inland Route, as it was named. It was also the place where the track led to Belle Dock, a Providence & Worcester Railroad industrial line, and the leads to once mighty Cedar Hill Yard, at one time the principal classification yard for the former New Haven Railroad.
It took about a year to complete the job, from design to moving the tracks, and installing new switches and signaling, but by late September, the job was done, and on schedule. The official cutover date was October 2, 1996.
It is a strange-sounding acronym, but CETC, pronounced "see-teck," by those who use it, led Amtrak's New England Division into late Twentieth Century railroading, and prepared it for the Twenty-first Century. The acronym stood for Centralized Electrification and Train Control, and it is a computer-based train control system that allows dispatchers in Boston, who work in exceptionally subdued light and gaze at computer screens, to control switches and signals from the Hub to nearly 155 miles westward to just beyond Mill River Junction, one-point-three miles east of New Haven, Conn., where Metro North territory begins.
The cavernous CETC room itself is located on the fifth floor of South Station in Boston. There, around the clock, dispatchers man their video consoles that display the tracks, and they are able to control switch alignments and signals from their consoles. There is also a large, theater-like projected display against a screen at the front of the room. "It's the electric cave," as one observer put it.
On the first day that I visited (June 30, 1993), first-trick terminal dispatcher Ken Woodward controlled traffic arriving from the Dorchester Branch and Southampton Street Yard, and main line traffic arriving and departing from South Station to just east of Back Bay station, at Cove interlocking.
Corridor dispatcher Paul Jackson, who was covering the job while regular dispatcher Paul Morrissey was on vacation, controlled traffic over nearly 14 route miles from Back Bay station in Boston to Canton Jct.; and Main Line dispatcher Dennis Drumheller controlled the switches and signals over the 45 miles between Mansfield, Mass., and Kingston, R.I.
By 2001, all the former block operators were gone, except for the quintet at South Bay Tower in Boston on the Dorchester Branch at Southampton Street Yard. Many new dispatchers populated the CETC room, and CETC extended from Boston completely to New Haven; but back in 1993, Shoreline dispatcher Rick Arrighi was supervising the interlocking operators between High Street tower in Westerly and Old Saybrook, Conn. It was still a "paper railroad" with block sheets, and operators who called out the times as each train passed.
In July 1996, the question was, "When will electrification of the Northeast Corridor begin between New Haven and Boston?"
The answer was, "Now."
By December 2000, the question was, "Are we finished yet?"
The answer was, "Almost."
Catenary supports started going up and the wire began to be strung in July 1996 after the U.S. Congress allocated $321 million for the project.
The rain fell outside, but inside one of Amtrak's newest stations, party balloons helped to make a groundbreaking ceremony a special event on July 3, 1996 in Providence, R.I. The railroad began a job that had been a dream of railroaders for more than 80 years - electrification of the Northeast Corridor from Boston to New Haven, Conn., where the catenary would be installed over both main tracks.
The line would continue to operate from Boston to Providence, then on to a few less often traveled stations at Kingston and Westerly, then Mystic, New London, Old Saybrook, and New Haven. Among the benefits would be eliminating a 10- to 20-minute engine change, from diesel to electric, at New Haven for Washington-bound trains, and vice-versa for Boston trains. It would also allow for America's entry into high-speed rail, up to 150 mph, albeit still slow by European and Japanese fast train standards.
High-speed trainset design was continuing, and construction began in 1997. Work was focused, Amtrak High-Speed Rail Vice President David Carol said, on interior design issues, and ways to ensure that the train design reflected ideas from customers and employees. The veep noted that the railroad's new high-speed trainsets would include many new safety features, premium accommodations, state-of-the-art business amenities, and measures to minimize noise and vibration emissions, and accessibility for disabled travelers.
He also pointed out that Amtrak was subject to "Buy-America" requirements, "which directs a majority of trainsets, and facilities to be manufactured in the United States substantially from articles, materials and supplies mined, produced or manufactured in the United States." The trains were to be built at Bombardier-GEC Alstom plants in Barre, Vermont and Plattsburgh, New York, with additional work awarded to 73 potential subcontractors in 23 states.
By August 1996, GEC Alstom had taken over the railway manufacturing facilities in Hornell, N.Y., which were previously owned by the American Passenger Rail Car Co. (Amerail). About 170 people worked there.
Three production areas were used to build passenger cars, propulsion equipment, electrical components, trucks, and railroad car refurbishment. GEC Alstom said it would modernize the plant and begin manufacturing signaling systems there.
Bombardier, meanwhile, was expanding its capacity of its Plattsburgh facility and would begin a major expansion of the company's state-of-the-art rail car manufacturing plant. Bombardier said it spent $18 million to more than double the capacity of the plant, from 63,000 to 133,000 square feet. Construction was to be finished by February 1998. The expansion would enable the two-year-old facility to accommodate two sizable orders the firm had received. One was a contract to supply 680 rapid transit vehicles for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit. The other was the contract for high-speed rail trainsets, which were still called American Flyer. The name Acela Express had not yet been created. The power cars and high-speed locomotives were built at Bombardier's Plattsburgh facility.
Meanwhile, Amtrak completed its track replacement program between Boston and New Haven the preceding summer with 329,000 new concrete ties and 136 miles of new continuous welded rail installed.
Also, "117 curves were realigned for a smoother and faster ride. B&B and Track departments replaced 32 of 57 old open-deck bridges with ballast-deck bridges. Structural repairs to a number of bridges in Connecticut, some dating back to 1912," were underway or had been completed, according to Carol.
There were bumps along the way - the high-seed express trains were deemed four inches too wide, the original wheelsets tended to hunt at high speeds, some truck bolts were found to be too short, and other gremlins, but the obstacles were overcome, and the payoff finally began to emerge on January 31, 2000 when the passenger railroad was able to operate a single train drawn by an AEM-7 electric engine between Boston and New Haven, and on to New York City, Philadelphia and Washington. By December 2000, four trains were operating daily, and on December 11, the first Acela Express began operating in scheduled, revenue service. The first week of operations was less than stellar, but, since I am an eternal optimist, it is my view that things can only get better.
Immediately ahead, Amtrak needs to get the rest of the trainsets from the manufacturers and get them into service. That may be done sometime in 2001. I'm hedging, because the schedule is about a year behind the original plan.
The Acela program is not only a beginning of high-speed rail for the Northeast, but is also blazing the trail for the rest of the nation as well. George Warrington's notion that Amtrak needs to add trains to succeed is vital - the railroad cannot win over customers if it runs no trains. For years, the GAO has dismissed Amtrak is nothing more than a cancer on the federal budget. I say passenger railroads, of all stripes, will be the salvation of this country in its transportation needs. To be sure, I am biased, but as a nation, we cannot continue building highway after highway. The railroad structure is already in place, albeit some of it is covered with weeds and is a rusty streak, but a few dollars invested in "weeding the garden" will reap dividends for all, including the freight railroads. That $10 billion High Speed Rail Investment Act would do wonders not only for railroading in general, but also for the national economy, and virtually everyone's wallet. Not all lines will be 150 mph routes. Look at Vermont's tiny 12-mile commuter start-up of December 2000, for example. The trains make 40 mph, which, for now, is enough. They had to start somewhere... and that's what they did: start. Perhaps one day their trains will be able to make 80 mph over a much longer course. There are many lines in the country waiting to be reopened, to be put back to work, to be useful once again. That's what railbanking was for. Let's start investing, again.
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