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

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January 11, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 2

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

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

  News Items…
Massachusetts Seeks To Buy Land For Major South Station Expansion
  Maintenance Lines…
A Northeast Corridor Bottleneck To Remain Yet Another Decade?
  Amtrak News…
Amtrak To Stop In Castleton, VT.
  Safety Lines…
Safety Experts Raise Concerns About Deep-Cavern
   Rail TerminalsPlanned for Midtown Manhattan
  Service Lines…
MBTA Exercises Option With MBCR For Commuter Rail Service
   Launches New Customer-Focused Improvements
  Selected Rail Stocks…
Urban Pathways To Liveable Communities
Leadership Needed
  Publication Notes …

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

Massachusetts Seeks To Buy Land
For Major South Station Expansion

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

BOSTON --- The long-planned development of Boston’s crucial South Station area hit a big speed bump this week when negotiations involving the state, the private developer, and postal authorities that own a 16-acre tract adjacent to South Station reportedly collapsed.

Boston Globe reporters Casey Ross and Noah Bierman wrote January 8 that instead of the private development project, “Massachusetts will try to buy the entire 16-acre US Postal Service mail-sorting facility near South Station in Boston, and use the property to significantly expand commuter rail service for the region.”

“The plan comes after the collapse last month of a land deal, negotiated with a private developer, that would have given the state just a portion of the massive tract,” reported the Globe.

State officials disputed the accuracy of The Globe report about the collapse of the negotiations, telling Destination: Freedom that its conclusion was “over-stated,” but the fact remains that the project’s future direction will have a major impact on the region’s transportation infrastructure.

Among other things, plans to expand Massachusetts’ commuter rail service to Bedford-Fall River will put a serious capacity challenge to South Station, where the US Postal Service’s huge South Boston “annex” effectively blocks expansion of surface-level tracks.

Also, any work done at or near South Station will determine whether the long-planned North-South Rail Link connecting Boston’s South and North stations, first proposed more than a century ago, but not yet funded except for some preliminary studies and engineering, will go forward. In response to the Globe story, National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass noted that the state could capitalize on the issue by developing a set of underground platforms at South Station --- similar to those in New York’s Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, and other major world cities --- placing them deep enough to fit the alignment already determined for the Rail Link. This would allow the Rail Link to, effectively, be built in phases, with the tunnel ends at South Station the starting points for tube boring under the central part of the city, and on to North Station.

Paying for either project is and will be an issue, and both would be costly. However, RePass noted that a series of underground malls and pedestrian walkways built at the same time would enable the development of an “Underground Boston” similar to that which Montreal has created over the last 40 years. “This ‘Underground Boston’ would take people out of the elements during the winter months, and simultaneously create rentable retail space whose revenues could be used to pay off bonds sold to build the Rail Link/Underground Boston infrastructure. “This notion of ‘value-capture’ using a part of the revenues enabled by the very existence of the infrastructure project --- whether it is a rail line, tunnel, bridge, or anything else --- is increasingly found in Europe and Asia,” noted RePass, “but is still relatively unknown here”. A major conference on value-capture is planned for New Orleans May 7, RePass also noted, sponsored by the University of New Orleans’ Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, NCI, and others.

In the Globe, it was reported that “Massachusetts transportation officials said owning all of the Postal Service property would allow the state to build as many as 11 track lines - up from the previously planned five - and thus position it to increase passenger service on both the commuter rail and Amtrak networks.”

“This is a 100-year transportation decision,” The Globe quoted Peter O’Connor, head of real estate for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, as saying: If we decide we need eight more sets of tracks, then that’s what we’re going to try to build. We’re not going to try to squeeze them into a development.’’

Rail operators also need new tracks to expand service for Amtrak and on the Fairmount Line, a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail branch that officials are planning to convert to rapid transit, The Globe reported.

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MAINTENANCE LINES... Maintenance Lines...  

Slow Pace Of Catenary Repairs Threatens Region’s Economic Viability


A Northeast Corridor Bottleneck
To Remain Yet Another Decade?

By DF Staff

NEW HAVEN TO COS COB, CT -- The torpid pace of catenary replacement on the Connecticut-owned section of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which runs from New Haven to the New York border, looks like it is another 5-10 years away from completion, according to reports provided to Destination:Freedom by sources within the rail industry and government.

The existing 100-year-old overhead wires, or catenary, was installed by the New Haven Railroad more than a century ago to electrify the line from New York City to New Haven, and became the most successful high-speed commuter rail line in the country.

That electrification was supposed to be extended on to Boston in a project that was first proposed in 1912, but that project was set-aside during the First World War, and then forgotten for most of the 20th Century. It was revived by Congress in the 1970’s and given initial funding authorization, but then blocked by the new Reagan and Bush White Houses during the 1980’s.

It was not until the National Corridors Initiative was founded in 1989 that negotiations began again to re-start that project. In a September 1991 White House meeting with NCI Board Members, the Bush Office of Management and Budget reversed its opposition and agreed not to oppose appropriation of the first $125 million, long ago authorized by Congress. This appropriation was voted almost immediately after this reversal. The project was completed in 1999, cutting rail travel time Boston-New York from 5 1/2 -6 hours down to 3 1/2.

However, the original project goal was New York-Boston travel time of less than three hours, which has been made impossible by Connecticut’s failure to complete its section of the corridor modernization in a timely fashion. Originally estimated for completion last year, recent estimates have given 2015 and even 2020 as possible completion dates.

“The problem is, as usual, that no one is leading the charge on this matter. Connecticut has, and has had, funding problems of its own for a long time, and the Federal Government until recently was talking about breaking up Amtrak --- arguably making things far worse --- rather than goading Connecticut to get moving on this vital project.

More than a million Amtrak riders a year, and tens of thousands of Connecticut residents every day, suffer travel delays and slow service because of this [so-far] failed project. “It is just amazing to us that a fairly minor project that would cut another half-hour off of Boston-New York and Boston-Washington rail travel times languishes like this, when so many people are harmed by its absence, and when the economy of the region is under threat from more competitive areas around the world. “Connecticut needs to get moving on this, and not delay for another decade this work,” said RePass.

Metro-North Railroad operates the commuter line along the Connecticut-owned portion of the Corridor, but subcontracted the work to Connecticut’s DOT more than a decade ago.

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AMTRAK NEWS... Amtrak News...  

Amtrak To Stop In Castleton, VT.

From An Amtrak News Release

CASTLETON, VT (Dec. 30 ‘09) -- Amtrak began service in Castleton, Vermont, on January 2, 2010, after a 50-year hiatus of no service in the town. For several years Amtrak was stopping at nearby Fair Haven, but now that the Castleton depot has been renovated, the stop will move five miles from Fair Haven to the downtown location of the Castleton depot.

The Ethan Allen Express will make two stops a day at the recently renovated station starting Saturday.

The Agency of Transportation decided to switch the train’s daily stop between Rutland and Albany from Fair Haven to Castleton to meet growing and anticipated demand to Castleton State College and Lake Bomoseen areas.

The historically refurbished Castleton Depot, originally built in 1850, is replacing the small outdoor Fair Haven stop, which will continue to accept passengers through January 9, 2010.

“The new station is beautifully remodeled and will offer Amtrak passengers first-class accommodations,” said Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary David Dill. “Castleton is a perfect location for a train stop as the college is right down the street and picturesque Lake Bomoseen is just a stone’s throw from the village.

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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

Safety Experts Raise Concerns About Deep-Cavern
Rail Terminals Planned for Midtown Manhattan

By David Peter Alan

NEW YORK - The deep-cavern rail terminals planned for New Jersey and Long Island rail riders under Midtown Manhattan have been criticized as potentially unsafe places, in the event of a fire or other emergency situation. For several years, rail advocates in the New Jersey and the New York area have expressed concern for the safety of riders and transit employees trapped in the proposed deep-cavern terminals in the event of a fire, disturbance, terrorist attack or other catastrophic situation. One such advocate has called the proposed New Jersey Transit terminal a “terrorist’s delight” in the wake of the bombing of the London subway in 2004. Now, experts on safety and evacuation procedures have expressed their own concerns about the proposed deep-cavern terminals.

The Institute of Rational Urban Mobility (IRUM) has made these concerns known in an open letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on December 22, 2009. George Haikalis, President of IRUM, wrote to Napolitano: “While many rail stations have been built and operated around the world at comparable or even greater depths, these stations are “way stations” where only a small percentage of train occupants board or alight. This is not the case for the NJT project in New York. Those deep cavern stations are “terminal stations” -- multi-track facilities where all passengers must board or alight.” Haikalis added: “Thousands of riders would be at risk if a disturbance should break out 175 feet underground.” Both NJT and the LIRR have planned for thousands of riders to be present in the proposed facilities, which would be located, fifteen to twenty stories underground during peak commuting hours.

Four safety and security experts signed off on the IRUM letter. They are Glen P. Corbett, Chair of the Department of Fire Protection Management at John Jay College in New York, John Fruin, Ph.D., author of the book Pedestrian Planning and Design, rail planner Herbert Landow, who worked on pedestrian access and egress issues for both NJT and the LIRR, and fire protection consultant Jake Pauls. Haikalis and the experts supporting him took issue with NJT’s contention that a mezzanine to be located 155 feet below street level could be considered a “point of safety” in case of emergency. Haikalis said that, if service is delayed, as many as 6000 to 8000 people could be left on the platforms and all of them would need to escape to street level. “Bringing these people to the street in a timely manner will be a challenge,” he added.

NJT Deep Cavern

Image: NJT Blog

An artists rendition of a possible configuration for a deep-cavern station.

New Jersey Transit plans to locate its proposed deep-cavern station below 34th Street on the West side of Manhattan, between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. Riders would descend to a mezzanine level 155 feet below street level, and then go up or down another twenty feet to upper-level or lower-level tracks, which means all riders would traverse 175 feet of vertical distance. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has begun construction on a similar deep-cavern terminal 152 feet below street level for the Long Island Rail Road, on Manhattan’s East Side near Grand Central Terminal. The depth of the proposed “East Side Access” terminal for the LIRR is the same distance as the height of the Statue of Liberty. Both terminals would be stub-ended, since New York City’s water tunnel lies between the proposed locations for the ends of each of the lines, so they cannot be extended to connect with each other.

In the letter to Napolitano, Haikalis requested “that you conduct an independent fire safety assessment of these two projects, and of their alternatives, at once.” The letter was also sent to USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, New Jersey Governor-Elect Chris Christie and New York Governor David Peterson.

Rail advocates in the region and around the nation prefer the “Penn Station First” plan, which would direct any new tracks into the existing Penn Station instead of building the proposed deep-cavern terminal; at a later date the line would be extended from Penn Station to the East Side at a later date, and eventually operate through-running trains between New Jersey and Long Island, or between New Jersey and Westchester or Connecticut on Metro-North.

Although construction has already started on the LIRR project, Haikalis argued that safety concerns are more important than continuing construction on the current plan. “When it comes to passenger safety, it is never too late to change direction. Only about 20% of the LIRR deep cavern station project has been completed.... The NJ Transit deep cavern station has yet to go into construction,” he said.

Haikalis, who is a civil engineer and transportation planner, is also Chair of the Regional Rail Working Group, which also supports the Penn Station First plan. It is similar to Alternative “G” prepared by Parsons Brinkerhoff as part of the original Access to the Region’s Core (“ARC”) study. He said: “The risks imposed by the deep-cavern designs are unwarranted, given that safer, more passenger-friendly and less costly options are available, and have been carefully designed by well-respected consulting engineering firms.”

Joseph M. Clift, also a former rail planner, a member of the Regional Rail Working Group and chair of the Technical Committee of the Lackawanna Coalition, raised the safety issue in a statement to the NJT Board of Directors on January 6th. Referring to the possibility of a terrorist attack or other emergency, Clift said, “We’re not saying it’s going to happen, but shouldn’t we be prepared?” In response, NJT officials told reporter Larry Higgs of the Asbury Park Press that, “in an emergency, every passenger can get from the platform level to the mezzanine in six minutes during rush hour with trains on all six tracks. From there, it is 150 feet to the street.”

The rail advocates remain unconvinced. Robert Hingel, a firefighter in Millburn and Vice-Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, has expressed his concern that it would take police, fire and other emergency responders too long to get down to the platform level in case of emergency, just as it would take too long to evacuate everyone from the platforms to the safety of the street in such a situation. It now appears that recognized experts agree. The IRUM letter, written and submitted in cooperation with the experts, has not raised a new issue. Instead, it shows new credible support for an argument expressed by rail advocates in the region for years: that the tunnel builders for NJT and the LIRR are out of their depths.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition. The Lackawanna Coalition did not participate in the preparation of the IRUM letter although the organization supports the ideas contained in it.

Larry Higgs’ report in the January 7th edition of the Asbury Park Press can be found on the paper’s web site, The IRUM letter can be found on the organization’s web site, A summary of the Alternative “G” plan for Access to the Region’s Core can be found on New Jersey Transit’s ARC web site, and under “Library” for the 2003 MIS Summary Report. NJT never released the original MIS Report, which was over 1600 pages in length, to the public.

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SERVICE LINES... Service Lines...  

MBTA Exercises Option With MBCR For Commuter Rail Service
Launches New Customer-Focused Improvements

By DF Staff From An MBTA Press Release

Boston, MA -- The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has announced that it will begin a procurement process in 2012 for a new contract to operate commuter rail services, and, in the interim has exercised the final option on the contract with Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR) to operate their commuter rail system until July 1, 2013. In exercising the option, the MBTA ensured that commuter rail riders will continue to see improvements in service, reliability and safety. The MBTA also announced a series of immediate customer-focused improvements targeted at enhancing the riding experience for the tens of thousands of commuter rail users who depend on the trains every day.

“We are at the beginning of new era of customer-focused transportation in Massachusetts,” said MassDOT Secretary Jeffrey Mullan. “The people who rely on the commuter rail everyday will see that our number one focus in on implementing immediate improvements to their riding experience.”

The customer improvements begin tomorrow morning when a new real-time passenger information system is launched on the Greenbush, Kingston/Plymouth, and Middleboro/Lakeville Lines. For the first time ever, customers on the train platforms will be provided with ‘real time’ arrival information. Displayed in a countdown format on easy-to-read electronic message boards, the information will provide minute-accurate train arrival times to customers waiting for their trains.

Made possible by recently installed Global Positioning Satellite equipment on each train, the new passenger information system will be introduced next week on the Worcester/Framingham and Lowell lines. By the middle of February, customers on all thirteen commuter rail lines will be provided with the ‘next train’ arrival information.

“In the past year, we have seen long-awaited improvements in on-time performance, air conditioning and other important changes to enhance our customers’ experience but we can and must do more,” said MBTA Acting General Manager William Mitchell. “We will continue to focus squarely on strengthening our commitment to customer service and making additional improvements for commuter rail riders.”

MassDOT and the MBTA also announced that by the end of the summer (2010) the commuter rail system’s very popular WiFi service will be expanded to every train on every line, making the MBTA the only commuter rail operator in the country to offer WiFi service on every passenger coach of every train. The installation work begins this spring, and before the end of the summer, all 410 coaches in the commuter rail fleet will offer WiFi service.

In conjunction with the ‘next train’ countdown, the MBTA is preparing to launch a communications system that will allow commuter rail customers to get the same real-time information on their radios. By tuning to a specific frequency on a radio’s AM band, customers in the parking lots can stay in their automobiles until the train’s arrival is nearing. In some cases, the radio information will also be available to motorists approaching certain stations. Before the end of the January, this new customer service initiative will be available at the busy Anderson Regional Transportation Center on I-93 in Woburn. In the following weeks, the radio system will be installed at all commuter rail stations that offer fifty or more parking spaces.

The MBCR is a business collaboration of Veolia Transportation of North America, Bombardier Transportation, and Alternate Concepts Inc. (ACI). ACI is a Boston-based transportation firm whose owners and senior staff formerly served as senior managers at the MBTA and have a working knowledge of the system and its history.

In November of 2009, the MBTA became a part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation under the banner “MassDot” as a part of a state-wide reorganization of the state’s transportation system under one agency.

For transportation news and updates visit the MassDOT website at, the MassDOT blog at or follow MassDOT on twitter at

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)98.9598.60
Canadian National (CNI)56.7454.36
Canadian Pacific (CP)55.4054.00
CSX (CSX)52.3848.49
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)32.3432.64
Kansas City Southern (KSU)33.8633.29
Norfolk Southern (NSC)54.3652.40
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.6110.75
Union Pacific (UNP)68.0463.80

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EVENTS... Events...


Urban Pathways To
Liveable Communities

Building Partnerships For
Healthy Neighborhoods

Feb. 25 & 26, 2010
New Orleans, LA

Click Here For
More Information

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EDITORIAL... Editorial...


Leadership Needed

President Barack Obama’s ambitious and visionary plans for a new national high speed rail system to put America back in world-class shape transportation-wise are going to go badly aground fairly soon if the Administration doesn’t take action soon to seize the lead again on this issue.

Few economic stimulus projects have a greater reward than does transportation, and America’s rail system --- freight and passenger --- needs billions and billions of dollars in upgrades just to make us competitive with Europe and Asia.

President Obama has taken the first step with an $8 billion package, but it is going to take more than money to make this happen. It is going to take leadership, from the very top, to galvanize all the forces that need to work together to make that happen.

The President has about as much on his plate as a human being can stand, and maybe more so --- but there is help nearby. Vice President Joe Biden is a forceful and knowledgeable rail advocate. Is there a Constitutional impediment to putting Joe In Charge? We read the Constitution the other night --- no kidding --- to find that out, and there don’t seem to be any barriers to that assignment, as long as it is not compensated separately from his Vice Presidential paycheck. We’re not Constitutional lawyers – but you are, Mr. President! How about it? We’d bet Joe Biden would jump on this --- we know he is already helping all he can. Make it official, Mr. President, and let Joe do it.

And while you’re at it, put Mike Dukakis back on the Amtrak Board. He’s a natural, and has always been one of the most knowledgeable political leaders in America when it comes to transportation.

We know everyone feels they can give advice to the President. It must get tiresome. But, is this such a bad idea? Let’s get this railroad built in our lifetime!

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2010 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

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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.

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