The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

Contribute To The Cause
Help NCI Help You!

January 5, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 1

Copyright © 2009
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 20th Year

Home Page:

This E-Zine is best viewed at
1024 X 768 screen resolution

IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
Amtrak To Boost Service, Security, And Staff For Inauguration Day
   Rail Travel January 20
NCI Mentor Claiborne Pell Dies At 90
Aging New Jersey Rail Bridge Replacement Finally Gets
   Funding Approval From FRA
  Commuter Lines…
New Commuter Rail Needed Sooner, Not Later
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Opinion: Other Voices…
A Broadly Beneficial & Synergistic Economic Stimulus
The Need for Speed
  Publication Notes …

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

Record Crowds Expected


Amtrak To Boost Service, Security, And Staff
For Inauguration Day Rail Travel January 20

From: The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)

WASHINGTON -- Amtrak has expanded capacity by adding trains and cars to maximize available space for service to and from Washington, D.C., during the inauguration of the nation’s 44th president on January 20, 2009. The extra trains and cars will be added to Northeast Corridor Amtrak trains on January 20, with a majority of the extra capacity available southbound toward Washington in the morning and northbound from Washington in the afternoon and evening. All Amtrak trains in the Northeast require reservations and ticket purchases prior to boarding.

Supplementing Amtrak service in the Washington, D.C. area will be commuter rail service in Maryland and Virginia. MARC Penn Line service between Baltimore and Washington will become all-reserved on January 20, and schedules will be completely changed from normal practice in order to align with inauguration activities. Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains, which operate between Fredericksburg/Manassas, Va. and Washington, will operate on a normal schedule and will require reservations January 20. Passengers planning to use MARC and VRE are encouraged to check their Web sites.

Amtrak is advising its customers to expect extremely large crowds at Washington Union Station and is providing the following travel and security information.

Reservations for Amtrak trains may be made online at or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL. All tickets are reserved. Amtrak multi-ride tickets to or from Alexandria, Washington, New Carrollton, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and Baltimore will not be accepted, and Amtrak will not honor MARC or VRE tickets on January 20.

About Amtrak:

Amtrak has posted six consecutive years of growth in ridership and revenue, carrying more than 28.7 million passengers in the last fiscal year. Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail service to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit

Return to index

NCI Mentor Claiborne Pell Dies At 90

By DF Staff

Former Sen. Claiborne Pell

Senator Claiborne Pell
NEWPORT --- Former United States Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) died Thursday January 1 shortly after midnight, his family has announced.

An aristocrat who chose to run as a Democrat, an author and thinker born to great wealth who chose politics as a career, the father of Pell Grants which put millions of low-income Americans through college, and the man who convinced President Lyndon Baines Johnson to create Amtrak (although the law was not passed until 1970, after Johnson had left office) had been ill with Parkinson’s Disease for many years.

Pell was author of Megalopolis Unbound, one of the first serious books written on the effect of sprawling suburban development on America’s landscape. Focusing on the Northeast Corridor where Pell lived, it was inspired by a night airplane trip between Rhode Island and Washington taken by the Senator, who noticed that the lights of the houses and cities below had begun to merge into one huge sprawling suburban/urban conflation.

Senator Pell was one of the earliest supporters of the National Corridors Initiative, contacting its founder and president James P. RePass in 1991 to arrange a meeting and talk about writing a sequel to Megalopolis Unbound, a project yet to be completed, and to discuss strategy in advancing rail service, of which Senator Pell was a strong and early proponent. Part of his inspiration came from the increasingly decrepit condition of the tracks along the Northeast Corridor in the 1960’s, as railroad bankruptcies and generally poor management impacted service quality and reliability. His travels to DC in the sleeping car of the New Have Railroad’s Senator was “a waker,” not a sleeper, the Senator said.

NCI created its highest award, the Claiborne Pell Award, in honor of the Senator, and presented it first to Senator Pell at a conference in Newport in 1994.

Senator Pell was cheerfully eccentric, and would terrify his neighbors when elderly by driving himself around Newport in a rust-splotched Ford Taurus, a suitably downscale vehicle which the upscale Senator loved. Following one conference, and about to go on his way home, he grinned at his host and wondered aloud, before driving off, “Do you suppose they will stop me…?”

The Senator was famously frugal, and would often wear his father’s suits (dating from the 1930’s and 40’s), pointing out that fact to his companions, even as they dined in one of New York’s most exclusive clubs or one of Providence’s world-famous Federal Hill Italian restaurants.

In 1965 he met with President Lyndon Johnson at the White House, and talked to him about the need for a national passenger rail system to replace the broken system in place, then operated by freight railroads under the Interstate Commerce Commission’s common-carrier mandate. These railroads were nearly all facing bankruptcy due to competition from truckers using the then-new Interstate Highway System built by taxpayers.

Pell traced the route of the proposed service from state to state on a large map in Johnson’s office; when he reached Texas, Johnson said out loud, “That makes more than 270 electoral votes” --- Johnson had been keeping track in his head of the total electoral vote each state brought in. It was at that point, Sen. Pell later said, that President Johnson decided to back the plan to create Amtrak. It took five more years for the legislation to pass, but Amtrak started service in May of 1971. In 2009, with a change in Administrations and uncertainty about the stability of the gasoline supply, it looks like it will be finally be given the kind of permanent funding the American highway system has always enjoyed (since 1916).

Senator Pell, who served in the Senate from 1961 to 1997, was married to Nuala O’Donnell Pell in 1944; they had four children, Christopher Pell, Dallas Pell Yates, Julia Pell (deceased), and Herbert Pell III (deceased).

Return to index

Aging New Jersey Rail Bridge Replacement
Finally Gets Funding Approval From FRA

By DF Staff

NEW JERSEY ---- It was built before they were born, but millions of rail passengers travel over it every year, mute testimony to the sorry state of American rail infrastructure, and the neglect visited upon that crucial segment of our transportation system.

The Federal Railroad Administration has at last given Amtrak permission to replace the moveable bridge with a higher span over the Hackensack River, part of the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor, Amtrak has reported.

The Portal Bridge, built in 1910, should be replaced by 2014, at a cost of about $1.344 billion, the FRA said.

Here is the statement from the FRA announcing the decision:

“The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a Record of Decision for the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project over the Hackensack River, between Secaucus and Kearny, NJ. The FEIS, prepared in cooperation with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, considered four build alternatives in addition to a No Action Alternative. The FRA has decided to proceed with the alternative which includes a three-track fixed northern bridge, a two-track moveable southern bridge built on a new southern alignment, and a track over track grade separation to eliminate crossover movements,’ the FRA said.

“This alternative is expected to cost $1.344 billion in 2008 dollars and take 66 months to complete. Replacing the bridge with additional tracks will result in enhanced capacity, improved service, and operational flexibility. The existing Portal Bridge is a two-track, moveable swing-span bridge that was constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad and began operation in 1910. The bridge, owned by Amtrak, is a bottleneck along the Northeast Corridor that conflicts with marine traffic and impedes efficient and reliable passenger rail service. Nearly 500 trains utilize the bridge every weekday, and both Amtrak and NJ Transit anticipate additional growth in the future. The FEIS and additional information is available on the Portal Bridge website,” the statement said.

Return to index
COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

New Commuter Rail Needed Sooner, Not Later

Socio/Economic Benefits Seen In Areas Served By Rail

DF Staff From Boston Business Journal On Internet

MBTA Commuter control-cab coach at platform

An MBTA Commuter Train stands at the ready.
A new train line in Southeastern Massachusetts, Boston to New Bedford, could do far more than just give an easier commute, say area officials and state leaders. It could give the region an economic boom.

A January 2nd article in the Boston Business Journal by Mary K. Pratt describes the overwhelming support for the commuter rail extension among business leaders and state and local officials who have been talking about and planning the commuter service for decades. Now, Governor Deval Patrick is putting renewed focus on the project with an emphasis on moving it forward quickly.

“‘It would have a tremendous economic impact for this region,’ said Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce.

The article continues “Nascimento and others see the proposed South Coast rail as an important engine for driving economic growth in a region that in many ways has fallen behind other sections of Massachusetts. They said the commuter rail would bring, in addition to a slew of temporary construction jobs, a new class of professional workers, tourists, money and commercial development to support all of them.

And those factors would not only benefit the region, officials said, they’d help the state as a whole.”

“There’s overwhelming support for the rail extension to the area because it’s important to the economic growth and social well-being of the South Coast region,” Nascimento said. “It’s something we as a region have been waiting for. We’ve been promised it for a long time.”

The region that would benefit from the new line includes Bristol and Plymouth counties where Fall River, New Bedford, Taunton and other surrounding towns are located.

Stephen C. Smith, executive director of the Taunton-based Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District, commented on the economic statistics in the South Coast region that show a clear break in income, unemployment, and education attainment compared to Metro Boston and the rest of the northern region. “The South Coast region is not performing anywhere near the level of Metro Boston, so the economy further south is disconnected from the Greater Boston economy and the successes of the Metro Boston area.”

Smith points out, however, that in southern sections that are served by rail (the MBTA has commuter service to Attleborough, Stoughton and Middleborough) there has been a higher than average rate of growth. Now it’s time for the Fall River-New Bedford stretch to get that service and enjoy the benefits of it. He said that this would help attract more professionals – the region’s southern area has many draws, such as lower housing costs, historical and cultural sites, and proximity to the ocean, but it needs the rail.

The line would also give existing residents easier access to the Boston-area jobs that tend to pay better, he said.

The article continues with the point that the Patrick administration is encouraging towns and cities to partner with the state to accommodate the influx of new people by growing “smart,” that is – capitalizing on the new train line by clustering development around the stations. The state’s South Coast rail manager, Kristina Egan, said they want to “spur economic development near stations, guide new development of homes and jobs to places that make sense, like village centers and industry clusters, and protect the natural resources that make the region so special, like farms, forests, and coastline.”

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said, “I think the rail will help bring jobs. It will promote retail, it will promote mixed-use (projects), and obviously any construction that’s taking place will provide jobs.”

Even though the South Coast line has yet to be built, Lang said the mere potential of it already spurred economic advances, explaining that it played a part in the redevelopment happening in downtown New Bedford.

“The rail is sparking some real interest from developers,” Lang said.

The selling points go beyond Southeastern Massachusetts. Local and state leaders said expanding the commuter line could help attract businesses to Boston, as well. With the South Coast line, employers will see a larger geographic region from which to pull workers and a region with lower cost housing where workers can settle.

“I think without question it can benefit the state, because it helps knit the state closer together,” said Susan Houston, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development.

The biggest frustration for everyone interested in getting the rail line up and running is the slow process in making it happen.

The state’s Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works is examining which routes would be best for MBTA service and has started the state and federal environmental reviews. They estimate the cost to be approximately $1.4 billion and are aiming for a 2016 opening.

“The unfortunate part is that they’re not ready to go on any part of this project,” said state Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, noting that the project has been kicking around since the 1970s.

He fears that they could lose out on money from federal economic stimulus packages if the state does not soon have the project ready to roll.

Pacheco’s not the only one who wants to get this rail project going fast.

“This is an extremely important project to begin building as soon as possible,” Lang said, adding that the jobs created from the rail construction alone would be an economic boon to the region. “So let’s build it and get people on it.”

Return to index
STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)78.4573.66
Canadian National (CNI)37.9334.66
Canadian Pacific (CP)34.3532.18
CSX (CSX)34.6231.60
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)31.5428.68
Kansas City Southern (KSU)20.3919.02
Norfolk Southern (NSC)49.0744.56
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.2510.97
Union Pacific (UNP)50.1346.27

Return to index

OPINION: OTHER VOICES... Opinion: Other Voices...  


A Broadly Beneficial & Synergistic
Economic Stimulus

By David L. Foster, Executive Director, RailSolution
342 High Street, Salem, VA  24153
540-389-0407 /


We have found, as maybe you have as well, that many folks overlook the pivotal importance of wise transportation decision-making to most of the other hot button issues currently being debated, including climate change and greenhouse gases, energy independence, pollution reduction, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency, health and safety, and national security.  We have put together the attached position paper to use with politicians and other opinion leaders both with the economic stimulus program as well as with the transportation reauthorization act later in the year.  Feel free to use all or parts of it if you find it helpful to your mission.  The changes in Washington present an unparalleled opportunity to change the direction of transportation investment in this country, but the highway engineering and construction lobbyists will be working assiduously to divert as much as possible to road building, so we must be vigilant.


If someone were to run up and say to you that national energy policy, environmental policy, transportation policy, and energy independence could all be greatly served with one economic stimulus infrastructure program, you would certainly be skeptical. But here it is. The steel interstate.

Here are some of the issues it addresses directly:

What is the Steel Interstate?

Analogous to the vision, scope, courage, and function of its highway forerunner, it would do for the nation’s railroads what the Eisenhower Interstate System did for roads. A core national network would be created of high-volume rail corridors. These would be the backbone for movement of both goods and people in the 21st Century. They would be multi-tracked, grade-separated, higher speed, employ state of the art signaling and safety, avoid congested terminals and densely populated urban areas, and specialize in moving trains quickly and efficiently.

By concentrating heavy flows of through traffic on such designated corridors, electrification of the steel interstate can readily be justified. By substituting domestically generated electricity for imported foreign oil as the main power for the nation’s transportation sector, we can lower cost, improve security, keep billions of dollars here at home to create jobs and boost the economy, improve the nation’s balance of payments, wean ourselves from our current dependence on foreign oil, improve transportation safety, and better our environment.

In many ways the nation’s railroads today are where the highway network was in the 1950s. The critical lack of both speed and capacity is largely due to atrophy brought on by truck competition and loss of high-value freight during the decades of the build-out of the Interstate Highway System. Railroad management, faced with steadily declining volumes and high property taxes, took every opportunity to pull up track and retire facilities.

As a result, once the Interstate Highway System became congested and sometimes gridlocked and truckers faced chronic driver shortages and huge fuel price increases, there was no extra rail capacity to absorb freight that shippers might want to divert from trucks to rail. Demand in excess of supply was good for the railroads, because for the first time in decades they had pricing power, could pick and choose the business to handle, and began making solid profits.

But it is not good from a public policy standpoint. Moving freight by rail takes only a third of the energy per ton-mile of trucking. Greater fuel efficiency translates directly to lower pollution generated, including CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. Adding equivalent freight-carrying capacity on rail requires a much smaller footprint on the land than highway construction, and is lower in cost, both environmentally and economically.

As a nation, our public policy position should be to encourage freight (and passengers) to be carried by rail wherever possible. The steel interstate is the way to do this. Even long distance trucks can be carried aboard trains. Used in Europe but not in the U.S., this concept goes by various names, including rolling highway, truck ferry, and generically as “open intermodal” because it can handle all trucks, not just trailers or ocean shipping containers.

Former Federal Railroad Administrator Gil Carmichael is often thought of as the father of the steel interstate. He first promulgated the concept, calling it “Interstate II” in a Washington, DC paper presented May 20, 1999, [ ] Currently Senior Chairman of Intermodal Transportation Institute, University of Denver, Carmichael continues to make talks in varying venues championing the steel interstate.

Why the Steel Interstate is a Win/Win/Win from so many perspectives.

This section explains in greater detail how the steel interstate has so many benefits and addresses so many current national infrastructure issues.

International Competitiveness

Efficient movement of goods, both internally and to and from ports, is vital to our national competitiveness in world markets. Transportation is a key price component of everything we buy, use, or export. Countries without first class freight movement systems will lose markets and business to those that do have them. America’s railroads have fallen decades behind much of the rest of the world, where fast, efficient, electrified rail lines are capable of accommodating dozens of trains per hour. Both people and goods are moved with speed, reliability, and low cost. And in many countries this is accomplished without dependence on oil.

Currently in the U.S. our interstate highways are becoming increasingly clogged and often gridlocked. Freight movement by truck is becoming difficult, unreliable, and expensive. And it is wholly dependent on oil. Our railroads lack the capacity to pick up the slack. We are long past the point where adding more lanes of highway can address every problem of congestion and growth. Environmental and economic costs are simply prohibitive. To maintain and enhance national competitiveness, we need a new, more reliable, and environmentally acceptable way to move goods and people in the 21st Century. The steel interstate addresses this need.

Electrification & Energy Independence

Substituting domestically generated electricity for foreign oil has immense implications for energy independence. The transportation sector of our economy is the largest energy consumer. At this time, with the small exception of Amtrak in the Boston – Washington corridor, it is entirely dependent on oil, most if it imported, much of it from nations unfriendly to the U.S. Not only could the U.S. stop sending billions of dollars annually to these nations, but this money could be retained at home, creating jobs and boosting economic activity in the electric generation and transmission industries, strengthening our national power grid, and broadening the production and market development for renewables.

Many proposals have been advanced to enhance America’s energy independence, ranging from more rigorous building codes to tougher CAFÉ mileage standards for automobiles. All pale in comparison to the oil and energy savings from an electrified steel interstate. U.S. railroads used over 84 million barrels of diesel fuel in 2006. Much of that could be saved by main-line electrification. Medium and long distance trucks should all move in the future aboard speedy and reliable electric-powered trains. This could boost oil savings ten-fold. More on that later.

The United States’ near total dependence on diminishing oil resources for its transportation sector threatens the mobility of people and goods on which we are so heavily dependent for our quality of life. Two-thirds of the nation’s oil is used for transportation. Oil production worldwide likely has peaked. The Hirsh Report surveyed opinions on this from many petroleum geologists, and the majority said peak world production had occurred or would occur by 2010. [Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management, by Robert L. Hirsch, Roger Bezdek, and Robert Wendling, U. S. Department of Energy, February, 2005 - [ ]

Some of the Hirsh Report’s findings have direct relevance to the steel interstate:

“Oil peaking will create a severe liquid fuels problem for the transportation sector.”

“As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.”

“Aggressive, appropriately timed fuel efficiency and substitute fuel production could provide substantial mitigation.”

Of course, there is no better way to substitute fuel than through electrification. Other commonly mentioned methods, such as shale oil, tar sands, and coal liquefaction face production bottlenecks or environmental problems making them unsuitable candidates for widespread oil substitution.

World population, and oil consumers continue to grow. On a per-capita basis world oil production peaked several decades ago. New emerging demand from nations such as India and China, and resulting upward price pressures in recent years, illustrate dramatically this national dilemma.

We need to wean ourselves from imported oil. We need to begin now the difficult national planning required to move goods and people in coming decades when oil becomes prohibitively expensive and ultimately non-available as a transportation fuel. Substituting domestically produced electricity is the key. There are no technical barriers to railroad electrification. The technology is available today and widely used around the world. The steel interstate addresses this need.

National Security Implications

Because of the huge dependence of our transportation sector on oil, the nation is enormously vulnerable to any disruption in the supply of oil. The USA has 177,000 miles of railroads, with the Department of Defense classifying 32,421 miles as strategic (STRACNET). An electrified steel interstate would protect this core strategic rail network and help protect the nation from a worldwide disruption in oil production.

Alan Drake is an engineer and researcher for Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, a non-profit, non-partisan research and public education initiative to address peak oil and energy challenges for the United States.[ ]

He argues convincingly that a reduction of 6 to 7 million barrels per day over 24 to 30 months would cause U.S. food distribution to become erratic and the national economy to collapse. A nation can be defeated through economic collapse as truly as on the battlefield. International geopolitical scenarios are possible that could produce the protracted decline in oil availability hypothesized by Drake, including coordinated action by the Arab producing nations and military interdiction of the Straits of Hormuz or Malacca.

Another likely cause is that in a post-Peak Oil world, producing nations will naturally begin to preserve more domestic production for current and future domestic use, especially since the economies of many such producing nations are booming. Such hoarding can be expected to cause world oil exports to fall even more rapidly than world oil production. Energy economists refer to this as the Export Land Model, and it has been increasingly discussed and debated in recent years. Alan Drake states that in his opinion, “this is the most likely scenario and a very real threat to national security - even survival.”

While some may see such scenarios as alarmist, others will see them as realistic concerns. For the most part, the difference is not if, but when, they will hit us. A massive capital spending program on long-lived infrastructure that helps eliminate oil use is a nearly ideal economic stimulus. The majority of spending would be for domestic goods and services. The steel interstate meets this need.

This paper relies heavily on Drake’s research and writing on an electrified steel interstate – [ ] Another useful national defense prospective is offered by J. William Vargrass in his paper A Proposed National System of Interstate and Defense RAILROADS as an infrastructure project for the next fifty years, for the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. [ ]

Energy Efficiency

Railroads are much more energy efficient in moving a ton-mile of freight than trucks. In the discussion of railroad electrification above, we mentioned the potential to save a substantial amount of the 84 million barrels annually of diesel fuel now used by the nation’s railroads. It’s hard to know what percentage is realistic. But it seems reasonable that in a core national network of steel interstates, much of the densest traffic flow would be concentrated on these lines simply for speed, ease of movement, and lower cost. So let’s say two-thirds of the diesel can be saved by main-line electrification, or 56 million barrels/year. The remaining freight would still require diesels on lighter-density lines, and in yards, terminals and switching operations.

Trucks carry about a quarter fewer ton-miles of freight than railroads, but use about 11 times as much total fuel. In 2006 this amounted to about 930 million barrels of oil. Clearly if a substantial percent of truck ton-miles could be shifted to rail, a much larger amount of oil could be saved in the nation’s transportation sector each year and a much greater step towards energy independence could be achieved. Most intermediate to long distance trucking ultimately should be carried aboard trains on the steel interstate. Again it is speculative what percent of the total this might be, but if we use 50%, then we have another 465 million barrels of oil annual potential saving.

With the 56 million barrels from rail diesel saved through electric conversion, this indicates a reasonable target of over half a billion barrels of oil saved annually. This is in the same ballpark as estimates for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge at its peak. ANWR of course would deplete, but the steel interstate savings would not. In fact they would grow as traffic grows.

This dwarfs all other sources of energy savings popularly bandied about in the quest for energy independence. The bulk of the savings derive from the switch from energy-intensive trucking to more energy-efficient rail, with an added boost from converting rail from oil power to domestically generated electricity. Added savings from efficient movement of passenger trains are possible compared to the current nearly total dependence on individual automobiles.

Converting two-thirds of rail ton-miles to electric, plus switching half of truck ton-miles to electric rail, would require an increase of less than 1% in U.S. electric generation to achieve an enormous oil savings roughly equivalent to 7% of total U.S. annual oil consumption. The under one percent could readily be accomplished with conservation alone, applying well-known energy efficiency technologies and pricing techniques to reduce wasteful electricity consumption; and less readily but certainly possibly through increased generation of electricity from renewables. The steel interstate makes this achievable.

Pollution reduction

The foregoing discussions of energy efficiency and energy independence have shown that huge fuel savings are possible with an electrified steel interstate. The easiest and most direct way to achieve a reduction in pollution is to burn less fuel! The half billion barrel annual oil savings at the cost of less than 1% added electric generation is huge. Again it dwarfs other means of reducing emissions including greenhouse gasses such as CO2 that we see being considered and debated every day in the quest to address global warming and climate change.

Think, too, about where the emissions are generated. Fewer trucks spewing diesel exhaust along the highway, and fewer diesel locomotives spewing exhaust along the nation’s rail lines. Huge reductions from these small point sources are transferred to minor increases at electric generating stations. Of course optimally this power would come from renewables or nuclear where there is no greenhouse gas impact. But even where that is not immediately achievable, there is a large and identifiable benefit from concentrating emissions at power plants. Such plants are far more efficient than countless smaller internal combustion engines of trucks and locomotives that their load replaces. Plus for the most part the emissions can be captured and treated at the origin before they are passed into the atmosphere. This massive potential to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases is a corollary benefit of an economic stimulus investment in the steel interstate.

Health and Safety

Apart from a beneficial contribution to reducing manmade impacts on climate change, less air pollution contributes greatly to human health. Asthma and other respiratory ailments would be reduced, especially along major interstate highway corridors and urban areas with heavy truck density. Carrying many of the through trucks on electric rail would immediately improve particulate emissions levels from diesel exhaust. Some troublesome non-attainment areas could even see enough improvement to achieve environmental attainment status and permit more productive economic growth.

Taking through trucks off the highway would also alleviate congestion in key highway corridors, reducing collision and accident potential with cars, and making driving safer and more pleasant. Diverting hazardous materials shipments, commonly now moved by truck over the road, is yet another health and safety benefit, especially in densely populated areas. Many schemes have been debated in the highway engineering world on ways to configure highways for car/truck separation as a means of safety enhancement. The steel interstate takes trucks away, providing real separation!

Other Environmental & Economic Benefits

In any evaluation of comparative costs and benefits of highway and rail, a big plus for rail is its lesser footprint on the land. Often comparable new capacity can be constructed on rail with little need for the new land. The steel interstate can be built mostly on existing railroad rights of way. Typically these are 50 to 100 feet wide, and one or two additional tracks can be accommodated. Sometimes grading and bridge structures are already in place where double track was removed in the past. Even where grade or curvature moderation will require deviating from existing right of way, the land need is modest compared with adding interstate highway capacity.

Taking trucks off the highway and moving them instead on electric trains would have a very salutary impact on highway maintenance budgets. Road damage is roughly proportional to the fourth power of the axle load. A 20,000 lb axle causes 16 times as much damage as a 10,000 axle, and 160,000 times as much damage as a 1,000 lb axle, though wider tires mitigate the effect slightly. The net result is that over 95% of the traffic damage to roads and highways comes from trucks and far exceeds fuel taxes paid. Most state DOTs are finding that as highway infrastructure ages, a greater and greater portion of their annual budget is going to maintenance, with little or nothing left for construction such as interchange improvements or truck climbing lanes.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is promoting a core national passenger network of over 40,000 miles. It is remarkably congruent with the STRACNET main lines designated by Department of Defense. It is important to understand that the electrified steel interstate can serve multiple purposes, and serve them well – freight, passengers, and national defense.

Using electricity as a power source has price stability advantages for the steel interstate versus today’s dependence by rail carriers on diesel fuel. The cost per BTU today for electrical energy is much lower than a BTU from diesel, and has been far more stable, principally because it is a domestic market and not subject to vast fluctuations of international oil. This is likely to remain so.

In addition to price stability, electricity has efficiency advantages for rail. Electric propulsion is about 15% more efficient than diesel, so locomotives accelerate and brake better than those dependent on their own on-board diesel generators. Regenerative braking can capture kinetic energy from trains stopping or descending grades and return the energy to the power grid. This contrasts to current diesel locomotive technology, where such energy is dissipated as waste heat. Electric locomotives can develop more sustained high power output than their diesel counterparts. Fewer helper locomotives would be needed for heavy grades, so trains can go on through without stopping. The 15% increase in acceleration and braking represents a 15% throughput capacity increase for rail lines, a corollary benefit of an electrified steel interstate.

Importance of the Interstate 81 Corridor:

The steel interstate is a great concept with compelling advantages for the nation. We should use economic stimulus funding for a pilot demonstration. That can be done in the I-81 Corridor between Knoxville, TN and Harrisburg, PA. Here are some factors already favoring this selection:

Infrastructure vs. Pork – a Fiscal Policy Footnote

Ever since John Maynard Keynes told us increased government spending could boost aggregate demand during economic downturns, we have seen such expansionary fiscal policy deployed with varying degrees of success.

Most recently, in early 2008, we had the $600 economic stimulus check for every payer of federal income tax. Such programs are quick. Almost everyone spends the money as soon as they get it. But the economic boost is also quick, peaks, and is gone, very much the proverbial flash in a pan.

By contrast, some of the projects of New Deal agencies, such as CCC and WPA, actually created things of lasting value. Infrastructure was developed and capital assets put in place to benefit future generations. Here in Virginia the Blue Ridge Parkway, now celebrating its 75th Anniversary, is a good example.

These were not flash in the pan stimuli. They were sustained over many years, creating jobs and boosting economic activity. The Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, was not completed until the 1980s. Economists tell us about the magic of the multiplier effect. For every dollar paid out, three to five dollars of economic activity is generated as the effects of those wages and procurement expenditures ripple through the economy.

Sustainable development projects by government are strongly preferable - projects that put capital in place, build infrastructure, and benefit future generations -- rather than the far more transitory impact of tax rebates that leave no lasting legacy.

An excellent example that would not only revive the national economy, but sustain it throughout the last half of the 20th Century is the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. Over five decades billions and billions of dollars were spent developing a national system of high-capacity, grade-separated, higher-speed highways that comprise the core long-distance ground transportation network in this country. The system, now virtually complete, is the envy of the world and the key to the universal mobility Americans enjoy, contributing immensely to our quality of life today.

Now in 2009 our government is once again wrestling with the important issues and decisions relating to economic stimulus. The news has been full of proposals, most recently described as a $500 billion stimulus package. Tax credits and rebates seem to feature prominently once again. But a lot of homage is also being paid to “fixing our crumbling roads and bridges”, so clearly the proposals envisage an infrastructure component as well.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has announced they have 11,391 projects ready for immediate implementation. But this list seems overwhelmingly what would be considered traditional pork barrel earmarks – beautification projects, sports facilities, recreation facilities, water projects. These are not true infrastructure projects. Desirable though they may be, they do not make a lasting contribution to the nation’s economic competitiveness. There may be some limited benefit of accelerating the projects with federal funding, but no incremental capital would be put on the ground. These plans were all going to be built by local governments anyway.

Accommodative tax policies, highway maintenance projects, and accelerating some local plans may help boost the economy in the short term. But longer term, to sustain an economic recovery and perpetuate it for decades to come, we need a broader vision. We need the steel interstate.

At their website:

Return to index
EVENTS... Events...  

NCI Transplan21 Logo   Sierra Club Logo

Sign up now.      There is still space....

The National Corridors Initiative

And The Sierra Club of Connecticut Present . . .


The Need for Speed

Via Better Regional Commuter Rail Service New London ­NYC, Worcester,
and Boston/Springfield/Providence and Beyond!


The Radisson Hotel, Governor Winthrop Boulevard, New London, CT
Friday, January 9, 2009, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. $25.00 Registration Fee
Make checks payable to National Corridors Initiative
Credit cards accepted.
RSVP to Molly McKay, 8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT 06355
Tel: 860-536-5480     Fax: 860-536-5482

Tentative Agenda:

 9:00 a.m.Registration
10:00 a.m. Opening Remarks: Molly McKay, Sierra Club, Conference Chair
10:05 a.m.Keynote Address: State Rep. David McCluskey (D-West Hartford)
10:30 a.m. Special Guest Speaker: California High Speed Rail Chair Rod Diridon
11:00 a.m. The Washington View:
United States Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)(invited)
Former Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT)
11:30 a.m.The Dollar Tax: Matt Nemerson, Connecticut Technology Council
12:00 p.m.Luncheon Speakers: Jim RePass, President, NCI
State Senate President Don Williams
1:00 p.m.Making Regional Commuter Rail Happen

A. New England: Tom Irwin, CLF of New Hampshire, Moderator

  • The North-South Rail Link: Fmr. State Rep. John Businger
  • Everett Stuart, Sierra Club and NARP, RI Commuter Rail RI
  • Peter Richter, ConnDOT: Shore Line East
  • Karen Burnaska, CT Transit
  • ConnDOT, Deputy Commissioner Al Martin

B. Access to the Region’s Core: Rick Arena, President, APT

  • Al Papp, David Peter Alan; Lackawanna Coalition; NARP
  • Ryan Lynch, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
3:15 p.m.How Maine Did It: Wayne Davis, President, TrainRiders Northeast
3:45 p.m.Conference Resolution: A Letter to the President-elect and NE’s Governors
4:00 p.m.Adjourn

Return to index


END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2009 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, intermodalism, transportation-oriented development, and current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending large images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size. Descriptive text which includes location and something about the content of the image is required. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your web site or e-mail address.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

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

|| Top of Page || Past Newsletter Editions || NCI Home Page || Contact Us

  || page viewings since date of release.