The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

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 26, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 4

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

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

  News Items…
House Appropriations Committee Stimulus Package Released;
   Reviews Are Very Mixed
  Amtrak News…
Pre-Inauguration Day Train
Passengers Rally To Preserve Ethan Allen Express
  Commuter Lines…
Rail Runner Riders Pack Trains To Santa Fe
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Financial Lines…
Buffett Increases Investment In BNSF
 
  Freight Lines…
BNSF Railway Furloughed 51 Workers
  Canadian Lines…
Metrolinx Launches Project To Expand GO And Build Rail Link
   To Pearson Airport
  Events…
Siemens Canada Added To High Speed Rail Canada
   Symposium Speakers List
  Editorial…
Stimulus? Not Quite
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...  

House Appropriations Committee Stimulus
Package Released; Reviews Are Very Mixed

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON --- The House Appropriations Committee released its $825 billion “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” was released by the U.S. Congress’ House Appropriations Committee this past week to decidedly mixed reviews by transportation advocates.

While the bill includes some $90 billion for infrastructure improvement projects --- $30 billion would go for highway projects, $10 billion for commuter rail/mass transit projects, and $1.1 billion for intercity passenger rail service --- the bill maintains the same roughly 3 or 4:1 ratio of highway spending to rail transportation of the past decade, and includes only $1.1 billion for Amtrak, whose Northeast Corridor alone has a capital replacement backlog of $6-$10 billion simply to get the Corridor back into proper operating condition, and contains nothing for the major corridor projects proposed around the United States, and in various stages of readiness, over the past 20 years.

Congressman James L. Oberstar (D-MN), Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and a long-time champion of leveling the transportation funding field by investing more in rail, cited a $21.5 billion shortfall in rail/transit/Amtrak funding in the bill compared to the minimum needs set out by the T&I Committee leadership, and noted:

“For more than a year now, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has worked to ensure that infrastructure investment programs play a key role in our nation’s economic recovery. Today’s hearing is but the latest step along what has turned out to be a long road to recovery…Yesterday [January 21], the House Appropriations Committee marked up the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’. Although Chairman Obey consulted with me extensively on the provisions related to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee programs, the legislation does not include everything I had proposed, in terms of either funding levels or provisions to ensure the timely and transparent use of funds. Therefore, there are still areas within the legislation that I hope can be improved before floor consideration next week,” noted the Chairman in a prepared statement

“In December 2008, I proposed to House Leadership that the economic recovery and jobs creation legislation include at least $85 billion for infrastructure investment, including $30 billion for highways and bridges; $12 billion for transit; $5 billion for rail; $5 billion for aviation; $14 billion for environmental infrastructure; $7 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and $10 billion for Federal buildings. In contrast, the Recovery and Reinvestment Act marked up by the Appropriations Committee yesterday includes approximately $63.5 billion [rather than $85 billion] for programs within the jurisdiction of this Committee, including $30 billion for highways and bridges; $9 billion for transit; $1.1 billion for rail; $3 billion for aviation; $6.9 billion for environmental infrastructure; $4.5 billion for the Corps of Engineers; and $7.7 billion for Federal buildings,” said Chairman Oberstar.

“According to an AASHTO survey of State DOTs,” noted Cong. Oberstar, “there are $66 billion in ready-to-go highway and bridge projects. According to APTA, there are $15.9 billion in ready-to-go transit projects. These are good projects, and they are ‘shovel-ready’,” he stated

Despite the ready-to-go project lists, and the assurances I have received from State and local transportation officials, some here in Washington are skeptical that [the original draft bill’s] 90-day deadline can be met. This skepticism is why the use-it-or-lose-it deadline was weakened in yesterday’s Appropriations Committee mark-up to, I believe, a simple 180-day deadline, with no penalty for failure to meet the deadline,” he said. “I realize 90 days is a tight deadline,” he continued. “However, this is a national emergency, and business as usual is not good enough anymore. If the purpose of this legislation is to be achieved, then we must set tight deadlines, and hold everyone accountable to them, both the Federal agencies and the State and local grant recipients.”

Rep. Dave Obey, (D-WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee that produced the bill announced this past week, called the package “the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy and begin the process of transforming it for the 21st century.” Democrats hope to approve the package by February and then send it to the Senate, in hopes that it will arrive on the new president’s desk by Presidents’ Day, February 16.

Here is the full press statement from the office Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI) summarizing the 258-page bill:

 

SUMMARY: AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT
AS PASSED BY THE FULL HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE

The economy is in a crisis not seen since the Great Depression.

Credit is frozen, consumer purchasing power is in decline, in the last four months the country has lost 2 million jobs and we are expected to lose another 3 to 5 million in the next year.

Conservative economist Mark Zandi was blunt: “the economy is shutting down.”

In the next two weeks, the Congress will be considering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. This package is the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy, and begin the process of transforming it for the 21st century with $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts and $550 billion in thoughtful and carefully targeted priority investments with unprecedented accountability measures built in.

The package contains targeted efforts in:

Saving Public Sector Jobs and Protect Vital Services

The economy is in such trouble that, even with passage of this package, unemployment rates are expected to rise to between eight and nine percent this year. Without this package, we are warned that unemployment could explode to near twelve percent. With passage of this package, we will face a large deficit for years to come. Without it, those deficits will be devastating and we face the risk of economic chaos. Tough choices have been made in this legislation and fiscal discipline will demand more tough choices in years to come.

Since 2001, as worker productivity went up, 96% of the income growth in this country went to the wealthiest 10% of society. While they were benefitting from record high worker productivity, the remaining 90% of Americans were struggling to sustain their standard of living. They sustained it by borrowing… and borrowing… and borrowing, and when they couldn’t borrow anymore, the bottom fell out. This plan will strengthen the middle class, not just Wall Street CEOs and special interests in Washington.

Our short term task is to try to prevent the loss of millions of jobs and get our economy moving. The long term task is to make the needed investments that restore the ability of average middle income families to increase their income and build a decent future for their children.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Unprecedented Accountability: A historic level of transparency, oversight and accountability will help guarantee taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and Americans can see results for their investment.

This plan targets investments to key areas that will create and preserve good jobs at the same time as it is strengthening the ability of this economy to become more efficient and produce more opportunities for employment.

Clean, Efficient, American Energy: To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will strengthen efforts directed at doubling renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient:

Transform our Economy with Science and Technology: We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, creating jobs in cutting-edge-technologies, and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment.

Modernize Roads, Bridges, Transit and Waterways: To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, and bridges, modernize public buildings, and put people to work cleaning our air, water and land: $30 billion for highway construction; $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long term energy cost savings; $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments; $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption.

Education for the 21st Century: To enable more children to learn in 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries to help our kids compete with any worker in the world, this package provides:

Tax Cuts to Make Work Pay and Create Jobs: We will provide direct tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, and spur investment and job growth for American Businesses. [marked up by the Ways and Means Committee]

Lower Healthcare Costs: To save not only jobs, but money and lives, we will update and computerize our healthcare system to cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help reduce healthcare costs by billions of dollars each year.

Help Workers Hurt by the Economy: High unemployment and rising costs have outpaced Americans’ paychecks. We will help workers train and find jobs, and help struggling families make ends meet.

Save Public Sector Jobs and Protect Vital Services: We will provide relief to states, so they can continue to employ teachers, firefighters and police officers and provide vital services without having to unnecessarily raise middle class taxes.

CREATE JOBS WITH CLEAN, EFFICIENT, AMERICAN ENERGY To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will make investments aimed at doubling renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient.

TRANSFORMING OUR ECONOMY WITH SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, create jobs in cutting-edge technologies and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy.

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

CREATING SMALL BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY

MODERNIZE ROADS, BRIDGES, TRANSIT AND WATERWAYS

To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs - rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing public buildings, and putting people to work cleaning our air, water, and land.

National Treasures: $400 million, including $200 million to address the deterioration of the National Mall, such as repair of the Jefferson Memorial’s collapsing Tidal Basin walls; $150 million to address the repair backlog at the Smithsonian; and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Clean Water

HELP WORKERS HURT BY THE ECONOMY

High unemployment and rising costs have outpaced Americans’ paychecks. We will help workers train and find jobs, and help struggling families make ends meet.

Helping Workers Find Jobs.

OTHER IMPORTANT POLICY PROVISIONS

In a press release from Obey’s office, the portion allocated to public transit would break down as follows:


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AMTRAK NEWS... Amtrak News...  

Pre-Inauguration Day Train

From Amtrak Weekly Newsletter January 22

Amtrak was a part of history before Inauguration Day, transporting the president- and vice president-elect and special guests to the nation’s capital.

On Saturday, January 17, Barack Obama became the first president-elect to repeat Abraham Lincoln’s pre-inauguration train voyage from Philadelphia to Washington. 

The train, a private charter operated by Amtrak on behalf of the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), originated in Philadelphia, with stops in Wilmington, where Vice President-elect Joe Biden climbed aboard, and Baltimore.

The on-board crew was handpicked by the vice president-elect, a longtime Amtrak rider.

Private and public events managed by the PIC took place in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore.

Footage from the Whistle Stop Tour can be seen on the official White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov.

On Inauguration Day, the second phase of Amtrak’s inaugural operation culminated as people from all over the world flooded the capital. Ninety Amtrak trains operated to and from Washington that day.

The Mid-Atlantic Division Commuter Services group also managed additional MARC and VRE trains transporting people to Washington.

In total, roughly 8,000 passengers per hour came through Union Station during peak morning and afternoon travel.

A number of departments worked hand-in-hand with PIC, Secret Service and other agencies to ensure safe operations and augment security on both days.

Safeguarding the integrity of the right-of-way, executing the operating plans, maximizing the available fleet, managing the flow at Union Station, and volunteering at stations along the corridor were just a few of the many elements of making it all happen.

Scores of employees slept in offices and in sleeping cars in Washington Monday night to ensure adequate staffing.

“I applaud the efforts and tireless work by all our employees over the past several months to ensure our passengers made it to and from the Inaugural celebration safely and with minimal disruption,” said Chief Operating Officer William Crosbie. “We should all feel proud of our involvement in this historic event.”


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Passengers Rally To Preserve Ethan Allen Express

By Peter Hirschfeld and Stephanie M. Peters of the Rutland Herald

Photo: Vyto Starinskas of the Rutland Herald   

People attending a rally to save Amtrak service to Rutland wait for the train to leave Monday afternoon after passengers carrying skis and snowboards boarded the train to New York City.
JANUARY 20 -- Amtrak passengers struggled Monday afternoon to maneuver ski bags and bulky suitcases through a throng of more than 100 people gathered in the tiny James M. Jeffords Rail Passenger Welcome Center to rally to preserve the line.

With the Ethan Allen Express in jeopardy as the Legislature contemplates budget rescissions, the juxtaposition of train riders and advocates was confirmation of what the county’s business and political leaders have said since the possible cut was announced - the service is vital to the community.

One of many elected officials in attendance, Rep. Steve Howard recalled Sen. Jeffords’ fight to hold the state to its promise that if the region did not get an interstate, it would get train service.

“This is about jobs today and about jobs tomorrow,” he said. “Nobody understood that better than Sen. Jeffords.”

Eight-year-old Ian Suddarth, a second-grader at Barstow Elementary School and the youngest member of the Rutland Railway Association, earned the loudest cheers from the crowd when he shared his train-riding experiences.

“Every time I get on a train it feels like I’m starting a new adventure,” he said, as he intermittently peeked over a “Save the Ethan Allen” sign nearly as tall as he is.

The rally was organized by the Vermont Action Rail Network as a build up to a Wednesday evening public hearing before the Legislature, when all were invited to share their thoughts on the Douglas Administration’s proposal to trim $1.4 million from the Fiscal Year 2010 transportation budget by replacing Rutland’s train service with an Amtrak-operated bus route.

For Carl Fowler, a member of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council and general manager of the Rail Travel Center, a company that books tours by train, the state’s proposal to cut passenger rail service comes at an odd time. Ridership on the Ethan Allen Express, which connects Rutland and New York City via Albany, grew by 17.5 percent in Fiscal Year 2008. The recent spike caps 39 months of uninterrupted growth in passenger numbers on the 241-mile Amtrak route.

Fowler has advocated that the state could realize offsetting revenue increases with an increase in Amtrak ridership.

“If they could get 30 more passengers a day on the Ethan Allen, that alone generates enough revenue to accomplish the Governor’s cost-saving target,” Fowler said. And getting more people on the bus, he said, could be as easy as revising bus schedules. “I have been advocating for an extended period of time that the state ought to look at coordinating train service in the state with surviving bus lines, Fowler said.

He said a modest increase in the train’s marketing budget would also reap measurable returns.

“A weekly ad in daily newspapers simply carrying a schedule of the train and a quick summary of round-trip fares would make an incredible difference in utility. People know the trains exist, but they have no idea where the hell they go,” he said.

The Rail Advisory Council, a committee formed to steer rail policy in Vermont, recently came out 9-to-1 against the proposed cut. Its disapproval underscores the nearly unanimous opposition against Amtrak cuts among elected leaders and economic officials in Rutland.

“I’m amazed at the unity on this issue,” said Tom Donahue, head of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce. “It crosses party lines, it crosses demographics. There’s just total agreement that this is a bad idea.”

Donahue said the Administration’s proposal needs a fuller vetting before lawmakers agree to the plan. He questions the accuracy of the figures contained in the Agency’s proposal, and said the “bustitution” may prove more costly than current estimates project.

“I think the important part now is to point out that the state might not even save any money doing this,” Donahue said. “If it turns out that this isn’t going to save anything, and may even cost money, then I can’t believe there would be any further support for it.”

Numerous organizations and businesses in Rutland have also voiced concern over the plan. A spokesperson for the Rutland Regional Medical Center said the train represents a key element in its recruiting efforts.

Fowler said that cutting train service now jeopardizes any future expansion of rail. “If they take the train off now with a plan to bring it back in five years, as rational as that may sound it’s unlikely to be accomplished,” Fowler said. “If we lose the five cars assigned to the Ethan Allen Express, they will be reassigned virtually instantaneously.”

Key lawmakers in the Legislature’s transportation committees have thus far been noncommittal on the Administration’s Amtrak proposal. Rep. Rich Westman, chair of the House Transportation Committee, emphasized that legislators will have to mine cost savings in the 2010 budget, but said he will withhold judgment on the Amtrak measure until he hears from interested parties at the public hearing which was scheduled for last Wednesday.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

People packed on the Rail Runner over the weekend.

Rail Runner Riders Pack Trains To Santa Fe

From The Internet

ALBUQURQUE, JAN 19 -- Despite the drop in gas prices, demand for transit remains high. The Rail Runner, a commuter train in the metropolitan Albuqurque-Santa Fe area, packs in so many riders that some passengers are forced to stand for the whole ride.

“A massive game of musical chairs is how a lot of passengers start their ride. Open seats are rare during some morning rides to Santa Fe,” reports Jeremy Jojola in this story for KOB-TV. “The unlucky, and there have been many, have to stand for more than an hour.”

“They need to add more cars for starters,” said one rider.

On Saturday, January 17, 5,500 passengers rode the Rail Runner. That’s up 1,000 from the previous weekend.

Lawrence Rael of the Rail Runner says the crowds prove the need for expansion of the train service to Santa Fe.

“If folks will be patient, give us a couple of more months, we’ll see what we can put together,” Rael said.

“It could even mean Sunday routes to Santa Fe,” he said. “It’s possible they could announce that sort of service before the end of this year.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)63.3263.66
Canadian National (CNI)33.6934.35
Canadian Pacific (CP)30.3631.14
CSX (CSX)28.8429.83
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.5526.80
Kansas City Southern (KSU)16.9017.79
Norfolk Southern (NSC)34.1537.81
Providence & Worcester (PWX)14.4014.10
Union Pacific (UNP)42.5040.42


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FINANCIAL LINES... Financial Lines...  

Buffett Increases Investment In BNSF

From Financial News on the Internet

Despite the struggling economy, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation disclosed last week that it had increased his Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. stake by nearly 16% with the purchase of more than $271 million worth of BNI shares.

Burlington Northern’s stock has plunged 21% since Buffett’s last investment in October 2008 and Buffett’s rail investments overall have declined drastically since the drop in energy prices, but Buffett’s latest purchase indicates that he believes oil prices are not going to stay this low for very long.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe engages primarily in the freight rail transportation business. It transports various products and commodities, including consumer, industrial, coal, and agricultural products. The shipments of consumer products include automotive, such as motor vehicles and vehicle parts.

Author of this article, Ryan Freund of Freund Investing, offers this advice: “If you believe Buffett knows what he’s doing, you could ride Buffett’s coattails and invest in Burlington Northern (which Buffett now owns 20% of), knowing full well he will guard his $4.6 billion investment vigorously. Who knows, it might be one of the best (and safest) bets on the market today. Not to mention you get a solid 2.5% dividend while you wait for the economy to turn around.”

Disclosure: Freund Investing Managing Member Ryan Freund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Freund Investing has a solid Disclosure Policy.


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

BNSF Railway Furloughed 51 Workers

From Aberdeennews.Com Via Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D., JAN 23 -- Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. announced that it will cut its work force by 2,500 employees nationwide because of dwindling rail traffic.

In Edgemont, 51 workers were furloughed last week.

Spokesman Gus Melanos (meh-LOH’-nuss) said that employees with more seniority are allowed to “bump” those with less seniority for available jobs throughout the system, so the number of employees affected can vary from location to location.

The Edgemont jobs involve conductor, brakeman and engineer positions.


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CANADIAN LINES... Canadian Lines...  

Metrolinx Launches Project To Expand GO And Build Rail Link To Pearson Airport

Canada News Wire

TORONTO, JAN. 21 - Metrolinx wants input from the public on their revised proposal to expand service on the Georgetown GO Line to Etobicoke, Bramalea, Brampton, Georgetown, and to and from Toronto Pearson International Airport.

“We want to hear from communities along the corridor. Listening to the public will be fundamental to the success of this very important transportation project,” said Rob MacIsaac, Chair of Metrolinx.

There will be four months of additional time for the public to comment during the formal environmental assessment process.

The Georgetown South Service Expansion and Union Pearson rail link will require 28 km of new track and other improvements to deliver important new services, such as:

“Addressing the limited rail capacity in the Georgetown South corridor permits expansion of GO services,” said GO Transit Board Chairman Peter Smith. “This proposed project will lay the foundation for future enhancements,” said GO Transit Board Chairman Peter Smith.

All interested parties will have a variety of opportunities to get involved. Open houses in February will be one part of Metrolinx’s commitment to ongoing community consultation. For more information, please visit www.metrolinx.com, call 1-866-658-9890, or email info@metrolinx.com.

The Georgetown expansion is part of the GO Transit Rail Improvement Program (GO TRIP (www.gotransit.com/gotrip/index.asp) a $1 billion-dollar expansion initiative funded by the federal and provincial governments and local municipalities through the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund. The Union-Pearson link component of the project will be financed and operated by a private sector operator.

Metrolinx is a Crown agency of the Province of Ontario. For more information visit their website www.metrolinx.com.

Background:

Georgetown South Expansion and Union-Pearson Rail Link

The proposed Georgetown South rail corridor expansion and new rail service between Union Station and Pearson International Airport is one of the first big moves to be implemented from the new Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). It will make it easier to get around the region, create construction jobs, spur economic growth for businesses and communities in the GTHA, ease the social and economic burdens of traffic congestion, and reduce air pollution.

What is the need?

GO trains on the Georgetown South corridor are operating at capacity. The new tracks and other improvements will allow for more GO train service to meet the demands of residents, businesses, travelers and visitors to our region. We need more frequent rail service to help give people more travel options and reduce congestion:

Currently the cost of congestion in GTHA amounts to an astounding $6.0 billion a year. The impact of excess congestion costs travelers $18 M per day stuck in traffic and accidents cost society $1.0 M per day.

We need a world-class rail service to Canada’s largest airport: Every year five million people travel between Pearson International Airport and downtown Toronto. By 2020, that number is expected to increase to approximately nine million. The airport rail service is expected to take 1.2 million car trips a year off our roads.

Public involvement:

Metrolinx is committed to open and transparent public consultations in the work it undertakes. There are multiple ways to get informed and engaged in the process:

For more information, visit www.metrolinx.com, call 1-866-658-9890,or email info@metrolinx.com.

Metrolinx is a Crown agency of the Province of Ontario.


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EVENTS... Events...  

Siemens Canada Added To High Speed Rail Canada Symposium Speakers List

 

High Speed Rail Canada, a citizen’s national advocacy group dedicated to the education and implementation of high-speed trains in Canada, has finalized the line-up of guest speakers for their high-speed rail symposium. Mario Péloquin, Siemens Director of Mobility, Siemens Canada, has agreed to speak at the FREE.

 

PUBLIC SYMPOSIUM on HIGH SPEED RAIL

January 31, 2009
Noon to 5 pm
Region of Waterloo Council Chambers
150 Frederick Street
Kitchener, Ontario

Mr. Péloquin will be speaking on Siemens Velaro high speed trains which are now is service in Russia and Spain.

Paul Langan, Founder of High Speed Rail Canada states, “Siemen’s Velaro high speed trains are innovative and are running in countries like Russia that has harsh climates. If these high-speed trains run reliable in Russia they could be a contender for service in Canada. Mr. Péloquin’s vast experience in this field should prove for an entertaining presentation.”

Pre-registration is necessary to ensure a seat at the symposium. Only 35 seats remain. To view the list of guest speakers and to register for the symposium go to the High Speed Rail Canada website at http://highspeedrail.ca. Contact Paul Langan - 519-654-0089


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Stimulus? Not Quite

The stimulus package released by the House Appropriations Committee is designed to boost the economy by injecting $825 billion into it, including abut $65.5 billion in transportation spending.

That should be good news, and in many senses it is, but it also perpetuates the vast overspending on highways that has brought us to our current state of transportation gridlock not only on the highways themselves, but on the rail systems. They not only do not earn enough rate of return to build sufficient new capacity to keep up with demand, but are continuing to force shipments to trucks because of lack of said capacity. And, of course, intercity passenger trains running on these crowded tracks are often shunted aside and made late, despite laws saying the contrary, to make room for the revenue-earning freight trains that the railroads need to survive. Will the current collapse un-crowd the tracks? Certainly, in the short run. But if we believe this country has a future, that can’t be allowed to last.

For decades we have overspent on new highway capacity while failing to pay the costs of basic maintenance, and the proposed new law does nothing to correct that. “Shovel-ready” highway projects now on the books are the products of the same flawed system that has skewed our transportation system into the lopsided mess it is, while Europe and now Asia – and even some African countries --- out-invest us and are getting ready to take more jobs from these shores. China put a $100 billion railroad modernization program in place before the current crisis. Just what are we waiting for? The other night we ate in a Vietnamese restaurant which, in the tradition of oriental restaurants generally, gives out “fortune cookies” with the bill. The advice on the slip of paper in my dining companion’s fortune cookie: “Learn Chinese.”

Good advice.

Let’s make this a real stimulus bill, in two specific ways:

  1. Vastly increase the amount budgeted for rail construction --- commuter/transit, and intercity, to a level that levels the transportation funding field at last, and;
  2. Add a section to the stimulus bill that explicitly waives the requirement for an environmental impact study of any kind regarding any project that includes the re-laying of new track on existing or former railroad rights of way.

The first provision is important; the latter provision is critical. There are tens of thousands of miles of railroad rights-of way in America that used to have two, three, or more tracks that now have one, or two. The maintenance of way department of the railroads could begin re-laying those tracks tomorrow if they had the capital, which they do not. We need on an urgent basis to find a way to invest public funds in private freight railroads in a way that benefits both them, and the public, in a way that is fair. It won’t be easy, there will be fistfights, but it can be done. Don’t require a “study” to see if rail might be a good idea on a right of way that has had rail on it for the last 100 years. We have got to get away from process, and get back to leadership in this country. We have a chance to do so with our new President, but the odds are that even he, as bright a man as he is, has never had to think about the nuanced failure of our transportation funding system, which has been the real enemy of American progress for sixty years and more. Well, there are some pretty smart transportation folks around the country who do understand that problem. Let’s visit The White House, shall we?

As for the backlog of broken bridges and potholed roads across this great land, and countryside as well as in cities and towns, by all means, get out the asphalt truck, and more, and hire the brigades it will take to put those city streets, as well as those Interstate bridges, right again. But by all means listen to Gil Carmichael, former head of the FRA, and build that steel-rail “Interstate II” he has been talking about for the past decade, and more. The rights of way are already there.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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