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

Contribute To NCI

February 22, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 9

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

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

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

  News Items…
US DOT Announces $1.5 Billion In TIGER* Grants
   For Transit, Rail
  Stimulus Lines…
Major Improvements To New York Penn Station Included
   In TIGER Grant Awards
  Commuter Lines…
New Jersey Transit Proposes Massive Fare Hikes,
   Along With Service Cuts
  Business Lines…
Billionaire Carl Icahn Backs High-Speed Rail,
   Would Make Trains In Arkansas
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
Freight Operations Moving West To Worcester As CSX
   Moves Beacon Yard Work Westward
 
  Events…
Urban Pathways To Liveable Communities - THIS WEEK!
WalkBoston
  Across The Pond…
Travel Advisory - Lufthansa German Airlines Pilots Strike –
   Expect Full Trains In Germany
  Commentary…
High-Speed Rail Grants Are A Political Balancing Act
   Part 4 Of A Series
  Opinion…
Train Collision In Belgium Underscores Need
   For Collision Avoidance
  Publication Notes …


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

US DOT Announces $1.5 Billion
In TIGER* Grants For Transit, Rail

*Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery

By DF Staff And From The U.S. DOT

WASHIINGTON --- On February 17, one year to the day that President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or “Stimulus Act” as it is popularly known, the U.S. Department of Transportation this past week announced $1.5 billion in “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” (TIGER) grants for over 50 high-priority, innovative transportation projects across the country.

“The projects, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), will create thousands of jobs all over the country and help get the economy back on track,” the DOT stated in its announcement.

Transportation advocates and economic development specialists favor transit and intercity rail oriented grants because they create not only immediate construction jobs, but permanently improve rail infrastructure, which is its primary benefit as those improvements permanently stimulate continued economic growth. Earlier this year the DOT announced $8 billion in intercity rail grants, much of which, while enabling better passenger rail travel times between scores of American towns and cities, will also improve the performance of the freight railroads whose rights-of-way and therefore capacity will be improved by many of the projects funded.

“The TIGER grant program targets major national and regional transportation projects that are in many cases difficult to pursue through other government funding programs. Selected projects must foster job creation, show strong economic benefits, and promote communities that are safer, cleaner and more livable, the DOT said.

For a complete list of grants and other information, go to: www.dot.gov/documents/finaltigergrantinfo.pdf.

The projects selected for TIGER grants are diverse. They range in size from under $4 million to over $100 million, and are found in both rural and urban communities from Alaska to Maine and Hawaii to South Carolina. The projects are distributed throughout 41 states and the District of Columbia.

Key Sectors for Investment

Major investments are being made in a number of key sectors of the economy, including:

Freight Rail: Eleven national freight projects will help get freight off America’s highways and onto rail. This investment will make our roads safer, the air cleaner, reduce traffic congestion and decrease our reliance on foreign oil.

Road and Bridge Repair: Thirteen highway infrastructure projects will make critical repairs to roads and bridges that are in dire condition. These projects include bridge repairs in Michigan, Indiana and Oklahoma and road work in Texas, Vermont and California.

Community Livability: Twenty-two livability projects are aimed at giving Americans more choices about how they travel and improving access to economic and housing opportunities in their communities. This includes new transit options in Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada.

The TIGER program takes a new, common sense approach to investing scarce federal resources on transportation projects of national significance. Unlike other federal transportation programs, TIGER funds are open to all types of projects, from roads and bridges to transit and rail. In order to receive funding, each project must show how it will help the United States meet its national goals, most importantly growing and rebuilding the economy.

Background

In 2009 Congress created the new $1.5 billion Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to fund transportation projects that “have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area, or region.” Since then, the TIGER program has been allocated another $600 million for fiscal year 2010, meaning at least one more round of project awards will be made.

The TIGER program has generated huge enthusiasm nationwide. The U.S. DOT received nearly 1,400 applications requesting more than $57 billion from every state and hundreds of communities across the U.S. Projects eligible for TIGER funding include highways, bridges, transit, passenger and freight rail, and port infrastructure.

Because projects must have a national or regional impact, states, regions and communities have worked together toward transportation solutions that have a significant impact on their transportation networks and in many cases would have been difficult to finance through existing formula programs. For the first time, federal funds are breathing life into a range of creative and cooperative proposals from States, regional planning agencies, local governments and public-private partnerships.

Project Evaluation

To review the nearly 1,400 TIGER grant applications received, the U.S. DOT created a unique, multimodal review process involving staff from every specialty within the Department. Each project was evaluated for its ability to help the nation achieve five simple but very important goals:

The TIGER evaluation process also relied on rigorous analytical work, including cost-benefit analysis. Projects that scored well against these criteria were considered for funding, the DOT stated.


Return to index
STIMULUS LINES... Stimulus Lines...  

Major Improvements To New York Penn Station
Included In TIGER Grant Awards

By DF Staff And From Progressive Railroading Magazine

NEW YORK CITY --- The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded $83.3 million to advance the long-running Moynihan Station Project.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program grant will pay for station platform extensions, westward from the current Penn Station platforms at Madison Square Garden, to a new station named for the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

It will be built using the shell of the existing large Beaux-Art Post Office on Eighth Avenue, which used to face, across the street, the magnificent 1910 Pennsylvania Railroad Station designed by McKim Mead & White and torn down in 1964 in an action seen today as one of the worst examples of architectural vandalism in American history. It was replaced by a station with low ceilings and almost no room for passengers, and by Madison Square Garden.

The destruction of the original Pennsylvania station is credited with inspiring the birth of the historic preservation movement in the United States, when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis took up the fight to save the next building on the vandal’s list, Grand Central Terminal. The restoration, completed in 1999, has re-made the station, technically a “terminal” because the lines to it end at that point rather than passing through.

The office of New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) made the official announcement this past week.

As reported in Progressive Railroading Magazine, the funding grant will go toward the project’s first phase, according to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). The work calls for expanding the west end concourse for Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) trains; creating 13 new concourse vertical access points to and from the platforms, and adding six elevators, stairs and escalators; constructing two new above-grade entrances; expanding and renovating the existing 33rd Street connector between Penn Station and the west end concourse; and upgrading Penn Station’s platform ventilation system. Work is slated to begin later this year and conclude in 2015.

The USDOT will award $1.5 billion in federal TIGER stimulus grants to transportation projects deemed to have a “significant impact” on the nation. Mass transit, freight and passenger rail, port, highway and bridge projects are eligible for grants, which are expected to be announced today by the USDOT.

Meanwhile, the town of Riverhead, N.Y., is using $3.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to rehabilitate and upgrade a LIRR spur. Last week, the Long Island town awarded a $3.5 million contract to Railroad Construction Co. Inc. NYSDOT appropriated the ARRA dollars for the project late last year.

The project calls for restoring and reactivating a line connecting the EPCAL Centre business park with a LIRR mainline. The spur — built by Grumman Corp. and abandoned in the 1990s — will be operated by New York & Atlantic Railway, which is under contract with LIRR to provide freight-rail service on Long Island, reported Progressive Railroading.


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

New Jersey Transit Proposes Massive Fare Hikes,
Along With Service Cuts

Labor And Rider Advocates Object

By David Peter Alan

Within three weeks of his start as the new Executive Director of New Jersey Transit (NJT), James Weinstein announced that a massive fare increase, along with service cuts, which could be implemented soon, possibly as early as May 1st. The move comes as part of an effort to eliminate a deficit that Weinstein said will approach $300 million during the next fiscal year, which begins in July. The move was largely expected, especially since Gov. Christopher Christie slashed NJT’s state subsidy by $32.7 million for this fiscal year. That cut alone would require a 5% fare increase if current levels of service were to be maintained.

Weinstein revealed the bad news at a meeting of the NJT Board of Directors on Wednesday, February 17th. Reductions at NJT would be accomplished through job cuts in management and in service, which he said would be preferable to fare increases. Managers will have to take pay cuts, and he will accept a cut in his own $261,000 annual salary. Still, he acknowledged that the proposed fare hike would average 23.5%, the highest in NJT’s 30-year history. Before Weinstein’s announcement, Patrick Reilly, General Chairman of the United Transportation Union, which represents rail crews at NJT, speculated that fares could go up by as much as 30%. Reilly also objected to Christie’s allegation of “rich union contracts” at NJT, saying that crews on other railroads in the metropolitan area are paid more.

Transit Users and Riders in NJ Get Slapped, Automobile Drivers Get A Freebie

Rail advocates and representatives from labor were at the meeting to protest the combination of fare increases and service cuts. They appeared again the next morning in Trenton for a hearing before the Assembly Transportation Committee, which focused on NJT’s financial situation. Now it’s clear that transit riders alone are singled out to pay more for mobility since the governor has ruled out any increases in New Jersey’s motor fuels tax or highway tolls. New Jersey’s gasoline tax has not been increased since 1988; yet fare increase for transit riders will be the seventh since the gasoline tax reached its present level.

“A 20, 30 or even 40% fare increase, which the Executive Director is talking about, is a huge tax on working families... It’s the wrong signal to be sending to working families of the State of New Jersey,” said Committee Chair John S. Wisniewski, a Democrat from Central Jersey. Rail advocates in New Jersey and elsewhere have consistently taken up the motto “A fare increase is a tax increase” since Garden State rail advocate William R. Wright first said it over 20 years ago. NJT Executive Director Weinstein disputed Wisniewski’s characterization, claiming that a transit fare increase was an increase in a “user fee” and not a tax. The distinction appears to be lost on Gov. Christie, who complained that tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike have been increased since the last NJT fare hike three years ago. Christie has never referred to the gasoline “tax” or highway tolls as “user fees,” leaving Weinstein to apply the term only to transit and not to the highways, which he oversaw as New Jersey’s Transportation Commissioner in a previous Republican administration.

Rail advocates at both meetings complained about the discriminatory effect of the proposed transit fare hikes and service cuts, while motorists and truckers continue to enjoy a low-priced ride with no loss of mobility. There were allegations that the proposed changes would discriminate against senior citizens, persons with disabilities and the poor, as well as people who have access to an automobile, but make an effort to use transit as much as possible.

Assemblyman Charles Mainor, a Democrat from heavily populated Hudson County, said, “Raising the fare would be a major blow to my constituents, and cutting down the service would also be a problem.” His district, located across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is home to a large concentration of transit riders.

A statement released by the Lackawanna Coalition said: “we must protest this decision to make transit riders suffer in a way that motorists and truckers will not.” Zoe Baldwin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said: “If fares are increased 30%, it will represent a 75% increase in transit fares since 2000. In the same period, the gas tax has increased zero percent.... The Motor Fuels Tax as a share of the price of fuel at the pump has tumbled from 15% to just 3% in the last decade.” John Costa, New Jersey Business Agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents NJT’s bus drivers, said “Let’s not play Robin Hood in reverse; to take from the poor and give to the rich.”

Weinstein said that some service cuts are needed because ridership is down 4% from last year. He said that he directed his managers to make the cuts “with a scalpel and not with a meat ax;” nevertheless, the cuts may be severe come spring. Week-end service on some lines could be in jeopardy some lines It has only been since November, 2009 that every rail line in the NJT system has had week-end service.

Rail advocates believe that there is a way to keep NJT’s level of service operating without undue fare increases. They propose scrapping the proposed deep-cavern terminal below 34th Street in Manhattan, which NJT pushed as part of the Access to the Region’s Core (“ARC”) Project during the administration of former Governor Jon Corzine. Building the proposed “ARC” or ”Mass Transit Tunnel” to reach the existing Penn Station would save $3 billion and bring NJT trains to a place where they could connect with Amtrak and other trains, according to rider advocates. They contend that the “Penn Station First” Plan would go well with the proposed Moynihan Station plan for the Post Office Building in Mahnattan, which received a boost last week in the form of a TIGER grant.

Eliminating the overly-expensive “deep cavern” terminal from the plan is the “litmus test” of credibility for the Christie Administration, since the governor campaigned on a promise to curb wasteful state spending. Weinstein says that NJT is moving forward with the “ARC” Project. Still, advocates note that the original project, which was under consideration during his previous tenure as the state’s Transportation Commissioner, called for a connection to the existing Penn Station and an option to go to Manhattan’s East Side.

NJT plans to hold hearings about the proposed fare increase on three different days and at eight locations in New Jersey and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. The hearings will be scheduled for sometime in March, so the fare increase can take effect in May. Managers can expect to hear from many frustrated riders. Rider advocate Albert L. Papp, a Director of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, expressed some of that frustration at the NJT Board meeting last Wednesday: “The State is broke. NJT will have to raise fares – cut services, and yet the tunnel project goes on (to date) without any gubernatorial, legislative or Board oversight. What’s wrong with this picture? Will riders be ‘thrown under the bus’ so a vast and costly monument to certain individuals’ egos will proceed apace?”

Weinstein has promised increased transparency in the way NJT handles the fare increase, service cuts and other issues. So far, he has received high marks form legislators and advocates, in anticipation of that transparency. Nonetheless, the answers to Papp’s questions will come soon, and the riding public won’t like them.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, which represents rail riders on NJT. He drafted statements and participated in the hearings mentioned in this article.


Return to index
BUSINESS LINES... Business Lines...  

Billionaire Carl Icahn Backs High-Speed Rail,
Would Make Trains In Arkansas

From Arkansasbusiness.Com, Columbus Business First, Associated Press And DF Staff

FEBRUARY 18 --- Billionaire Carl Icahn has merged his company, American Railcar Industries, Inc, based in St. Charles, Missouri, with US Railcar LLC, a Columbus, Ohio-based company that aims to re-establish passenger train manufacturing in the United States.

Icahn’s plan is to back a start-up company that would build trains to run on President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail network. He sees this as a way to challenge international manufacturers that dominate the market. The venture, to be called US Railcar Co., will design, manufacture and sell medium-speed passenger rail cars that will travel between 70 and 90 mph.

The US Railcar joint venture will focus on medium-speed cars, not high-speed ones, and will build them at American Railcar’s plant in Marmaduke, Arkansas, where ARI has a tank railcar manufacturing plant. Rail industry veteran Michael Pracht will serve as president and chief executive.

This plan was announced just after US Railcar lost its bid for $8.7 million in stimulus funding to build a rail-car manufacturing plant in Gahanna, Ohio. The funding would have been a key boost for the planned $14.6 million plant on a brownfield site east of Port Columbus International Airport.

Barry Fromm, CEO of Value Recovery Group,*** told Columbus Business First he has not ruled out building a rail manufacturing facility in Gahanna if it makes sense financially. He believes there could be a market boom in the coming years as states spend $8 billion in stimulus funding for passenger rail projects. Ohio received $400 million to pay for development of a passenger rail system connecting Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland.

DF staff interviewed a resident from Fayetteville, Arkansas, David Orr, who said there has been very little in the business news about this plan. When asked if he knew of any incentives by the state of Arkansas to attract a manufacturing plant, Orr said he did not know of any and added, “Given the anti-tax attitudes out here, that would surprise me.”

About American Railcar Industries, Inc.

American Railcar Industries, Inc. is a leading North American designer and manufacturer of hopper and tank railcars. ARI also repairs and refurbishes railcars, provides fleet management services and designs and manufactures certain railcar and industrial components. ARI provides its railcar customers with integrated solutions through a comprehensive set of high quality products and related services.

***[ Value Recovery led a group that bought US Railcar LLC’s assets from the former Colorado Railcar Manufacturing co., which ceased operations in late 2008. ]


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

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)100.21100.21
Canadian National (CNI)53.1951.39
Canadian Pacific (CP)49.7748.84
CSX (CSX)46.7744.90
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)31.9031.04
Kansas City Southern (KSU)33.9232.39
Norfolk Southern (NSC)51.0148.48
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.4812.38
Union Pacific (UNP)66.5763.41


Return to index

FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

Freight Operations Moving West To Worcester
As CSX Moves Beacon Yard Work Westward

From Internet Sources And From The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

BOSTON — CSX Corp. is set to begin discussions with officials in Worcester, Westboro, East Brookfield and West Springfield about plans to shift more freight operations out of Boston to freight yards in those communities, the Worcester Telegram reported this week.

The changes come as part of a plan to expand commuter rail service on the Boston to Worcester line and to raise bridges between Route 128 and New York to make room for double-stacked freight trains, wrote T&G reporter John J. Monahan.

Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey B. Mullan said the project will not only give the city access to expanded commuter rail, but will also make Worcester the freight rail hub for all six New England states with east-west and north-south rail connections with access to highways, Monahan reported.

“This transaction makes Worcester a very significant new England regional hub for rail because it would become the significant termination point for much of what CSX does and all of the collateral benefits that come with that,” MassDOT CEO Mullan said.

“These are large job-producing activities,” he said, which should attract many new shipping and receiving jobs from trucking operations that will locate nearby.

He said the state has put out bids for work for 14 rail bridges between Westboro and the New York line that have to be repaired or raised to accommodate double-stacked freight cars and free up more rail time for commuter trains. That work is expected to cost the state about $25 million, while CSX is expected to complete other repairs and bridge elevations over the next two years to accommodate double-stacked freight cars.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, who has headed up efforts to expand commuter rail service, said the developments mean another step toward a goal of getting up to 25 daily commuter trains in and out of Worcester over the next few years. The work is being completed according to an agreement reached between CSX and the state last October after years of negotiations.

LG Murray said the project holds numerous benefits. It will bring more jobs to the region and use of double-stacked freight trains will reduce truck traffic on highways. He said the expanded commuter rail service should help redevelopment plans in downtown Worcester and areas adjacent to downtown while also reducing traffic congestion and polluting emissions.

More commuter rail service, he said, will also give workers more options in the job market and lower commuting costs.

State officials said CSX will be moving freight operations from its Beacon Park yards in the Allston section of Boston to existing rail yards in Central and Western Massachusetts. That would mean more freight activity at the company’s rail yards along Franklin Street in Worcester, as well as smaller sites the company owns in Westboro, East Brookfield and West Springfield.
Mr. Murray said the deal, which also involves state purchase of the property rights to the Boston to Worcester rail line from CSX and state takeover of dispatching and maintenance of that line, is going to be reviewed by the federal Surface Transportation Board. State officials expect to receive approval next month.


Return to index
EVENTS... Events...

 

 

Day #1 attendees are invitation-only and must request an invitation from Rails-to-Trails on their website. See link at center page.

Day #2 attendees should register with NCI
(name, title, affiliation, address, phone, email)
and mail a check for $90.00 payable to
The Northeast Corridor Initiative (*)

NCI Connecticut Office (*)
c/o Molly McKay
8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT. 06355

 

Urban Pathways To
Liveable Communities

Building Partnerships For
Healthy Neighborhoods

Feb. 25 & 26, 2010
New Orleans, LA

 

Click Here For
More Information

 

Sorry... NCI no longer accepts credit cards
because of high fees.

PayPal Services Are Pending

Please note: The draft public schedule is subject to change.

Please check www.railstotrails.org/conference for the latest information and to pre-register.

 

** The Northeast Corridor Initiative is NCI’s original name. Since the completion of the electrification project, which gave us the Acela, we have expanded to a national scope, but our bank account is still in the original name at this time.

Note: New Orleans is located in the Central Time Zone. Unless otherwise indicated, conference events take place at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine’s Bowers Auditorium, 1555 Poydras Street.


Return to index

 

WalkBoston

Thursday, March 11, 2010 Meet At Back Boston’s Bay T Station

Please join WalkBoston for their Annual Meeting and Celebration ….. it’s their 20th!!

At 4:15, join WalkBoston co-founder Ann Hershfang for a South End walk exploring traffic calming measures that transformed the neighborhood in the 1970s. Meet and finish at Back Bay T station -- then we’ll take the T to the party!

At 5:30, Annual Meeting and 20th Anniversary Party! We’ll be at the offices of WilmerHale at 60 State Street, 26th floor.

Help us celebrate our Golden Shoe award winners:

And our guest speaker Lisa Wong, Mayor of Fitchburg. Mayor Wong will discuss “Fit & Fun in Fitchburg,” her innovative measures to get Fitchburg walking and active.

$20-$100 suggested donation; please renew or join WalkBoston if you haven’t already!

RSVP by March 5 by calling 617-367-9255 or email rsvp@walkboston.org


Return to index
ACROSS THE POND... Across the Pond...  

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

Destination: Freedom Travelers’ Advisory

 

Lufthansa German Airlines Pilots Strike – Expect Full Trains In Germany

Bonn – As this week’s edition of Destination: Freedom goes to publication release, all indications pointed to a general four-day long strike by all Lufthansa mainline pilots. The strike is planned to begin on Monday, 22nd of February through the following Thursday. All mainline Lufthansa flights will be canceled during this period, including long haul flights to Asia, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as inter-European flights and domestic German flights. Some Lufthansa subsidiary airlines such as Lufthansa City Line / Lufthansa Regional,Euro Wings, Lufthansa Italia, BMI (formerly British Midland), Swiss International and Austrian Airlines are not directly affected by the pilot strike at Lufthansa.

Affect on Train Travel:

With nearly all Lufthansa mainline flights shut down for these four days, many domestic passenger will attempt to travel within Germany via Deutsche Bahn (DB) Inter City, Inter City Express and Euro City trains. Likewise a number of Lufthansa passengers who would fly to nearby cities outside of Germany such as Brussels, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Zurich, Basel, Strasbourg, Lyon, Amsterdam, and even Paris, Milan and London can be expected this week to try to travel by train instead. In these cases trains not only from DB will be affected by higher passenger loads, trains from Swiss state railways (SBB), Austrian State Railways (ÖBB), French State Railways (SNCF), Thalys and other train companies could also experience much higher passenger loads during the Lufthansa pilot strike.

D:F readers who are planning to travel this coming week within Germany or between Germany and one of the other bordering countries or cities mentioned above by train should be prepared to see significantly higher volumes of train passengers and standing-room only conditions on a number of intercity trains. D:F readers who have tickets with Lufthansa for travel next week should check with the Lufthansa website or with the Lufthansa call center to find out about refunds / credit and alternative travel arrangements.


Return to index
COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

High-Speed Rail Grants Are A Political Balancing Act,
But They Should Improve Our Rail Service

Part 4 Of A Series
By David Peter Alan

The Need For A National Rail Plan

New Jersey rail advocate William R. Wright began his railroad career in 1949. His first job was to help refugees who were displaced in Europe to settle in this country by planning their travel to the place where they wished to settle. The Official Guide to the Railways was about three inches thick then, and he said that it was all he needed to route anybody from a port of entry to essentially anywhere else in the country. Trains went almost everywhere then.

Over the next 22 years, one passenger train after another was taken off the rails, and the Official Guide shrank to about one inch thick, with very little space taken up with passenger train schedules. Most of the few remaining trains were discontinued when Amtrak started operations on May 1, 1971.

Surprisingly enough, the long-distance passenger train network in the United States today is actually smaller than it was when Amtrak got started nearly 39 years ago. It is true that there has been growth, but only on some emerging corridors, particularly in California. A few other corridors have expanded service, but our rail map is substantially the same as the rail map in 1971, although some routes have disappeared and others have started service since then.

A few of the old private railroads still ran a handful of passenger trains in the 1970s, but no longer. Today, every train in America, except for tourist excursions, is part of the public sector. Amtrak operates every intercity train in the nation including corridors, although some regional agencies have a hand in these operations, such as the Downeaster trains between Boston and Portland, Maine. All commuter rail and local rail transit is operated by state or local transit agencies. Even the Alaska Railroad is owned and operated by the State of Alaska.

This is not a criticism of public operation of trains and rail transit. The private sector got out of operating both modes in the 1950s and 1960s, so there was no other alternative. Unfortunately, though, many rail and transit decisions are made for political reasons, rather than for reasons that benefit rail and transit riders.

One of these decisions was the refusal to develop a national system of trains that would connect with each other to take people beyond state lines. With a few small exceptions the entire $8 billion allocated by the Federal Railroad Administration under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program will go toward rail lines that are wholly contained within one state. Only through an occasional accident of geography, such as the Washington corridor crossing the Columbia River to get to Portland or the Illinois corridor crossing the Mississippi River to get to St. Louis, would a new line be considered “interstate” if just barely so.

Many rail advocates believe that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to encourage the growth of rail passenger services across state lines, under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They do not see how the states can get together and operate truly interstate trains successfully. History supports their argument. While some commuter rail agencies cross state lines to reach a terminal (New Jersey Transit into New York City or SEPTA from Philadelphia into New Jersey and Delaware), there have been few attempts to establish interstate long-distance trains by agreement among the affected states.

The Lake Shore Limited was omitted from the original Amtrak network in 1971, and the five states along the route (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois) requested that Amtrak operate the train. It came back in the middle of June of that year. The states could not agree on funding so, by the time 1972 was five days old, the train was gone. It came back later in the decade as part of the basic Amtrak network. There was also an initiative during the early 1990s to run a train between New Orleans and Mobile. It lasted for about a year. There is still talk of establishing a passenger corridor along that part of the Gulf Coast, although the part of the Sunset Limited that ran east of New Orleans to Florida was discontinued in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has not returned since (see D:F, January 25, 2010).

The one interstate operation that has been somewhat successful is the Downeaster service between Boston and Portland, Maine, even though the trains leave from North Station in Boston (trains to New York and south use South Station) they have attracted good ridership. Maine is enthusiastic about the operation, and Massachusetts is also supportive. New Hampshire, which has no other trains except for one stop on the Vermonter, is far less so. The three states argue about funding and scheduling, but the line continues to operate and has even added one daily round trip recently.

In 2007, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) released its “Grow Trains” campaign for expansion of the nation’s intercity rail system. The plan has many good ideas, and it looks like a massive interconnected network, compared to today’s skeletal Amtrak system. Ironically, nearly every proposed “new” train on the NARP map actually ran during the 1960s and was discontinued since then.

Other organizations of national scope, including NCI and the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) join NARP in calling for more long-distance trains, as well as development of corridors. Some advocates, including Chicagoan Fritz Plous;, have analogized a long distance train to a series of corridors strung together. He is correct to an extent; many trips taken on long-distance trains are less than 350 miles (560 km) in length, about the length of a corridor. For example, most of the line from New York to New Orleans can be broken down into a series of corridors, while most of the route of the Lake Shore Limited is comprised of the Empire Corridor (New York-Buffalo) and a potential Midwest corridor between Chicago and Cleveland.

Long-distance trains connect corridors, but only a handful of organizations like NARP are actively pushing for more of them. Fortunately, many members of Congress vote for Amtrak funding, so their districts do not lose the one or two trains that run there. Amtrak is a skeleton and it is not financially healthy, but it is alive and ridership keeps increasing.

Maybe a time will come when transportation professionals and elected leaders will recognize that “essential rail service” is at least as important as “essential air service” and that the nation needs more of the former.

The Federal government has committed itself to some support for expansion of the passenger rail network, mostly through incremental upgrades of intrastate corridors, which is a start. The next step would be to look toward connecting the new and upgraded corridors (and the existing ones, too) with more long-distance trains. This change of policy would improve travel convenience for Americans and for visitors to our nation in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner.

Where do we go from here? That is the question for discussion in the next article in this series.

David Peter Alan is an ardent supporter of long-distance trains, as a NARP Council member and RUN Board member. He has ridden every mile of the current Amtrak system and several lines that Amtrak no longer operates. He was also on the last run of the previous incarnation of the Lakeshore Limited on January 4th and 5th, 1972.

More information about the “Grow Trains” campaign is available on the NARP web site, www.narprail.org in the “Resources and Links” section.


Return to index
OPINION... Opinion...  

Train Collision In Belgium Underscores Need
For Collision Avoidance

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

Collision-Proofing Of Passenger Trains No Guarantee Of Safety

Hannover – The deadly collision of two commuter trains in Halle, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium on the morning of 15th February showed once more that the industry needs fail-safe equipment and processes that absolutely prevent high speed collisions of trains. The rush-hour head on collision between two EMU train sets has left, according to latest counts, 18 dead and well over a hundred injured, a number of whom are critically injured. The investigation is still ongoing into the factors which caused the collision. On Wednesday (17th Feb.) investigators removed the event recorders from the two trains. Event recorders are devices which record vehicle speed, brake and throttle position and certain other parameters, and are installed in nearly all trains, trucks and buses per European Union regulations. More may be learned by investigators once they have studied the information stored in these event recorders. One of the train drivers survived the collision, but with life-threatening injuries, therefore it is questionable if and when investigators will be able to get his story.

Photo: dpa Press Service  

Collision proof? The old, heavy steel cars of the AM70 EMU train sets survived the collision surprisingly intact. But nearly 20 people died and well over one hundred were injured, a dozen critically.
One thing is certain, two trains traveling in opposite directions were on the same track at the same time. Some eye witnesses stated that one of the trains ran a red signal light, which would be the most likely explanation of how the collision happened. The trains involved were 30-plus year-old AM70 electric multiple unit commuter trains, many of which will soon be retired from service and scrapped as new Desiro ML electric train-sets are delivered to Brussels commuter rail network. Reports also indicate that at least one and perhaps both of the trains involved in the collision were not equipped with ATP – automatic train protection (called PTC in North America), although the rail corridor through Halle was fully equipped with Belgium’s version of ATP. Unfortunately both the rail vehicle and the track / signal infrastructure must be equipped in order for an ATP system to be effective.

The collision took place on a stretch of rail line southwest of Brussels where a number of rail lines run together along 3 – 4 pairs of tracks. The rail line was extensively upgraded and refurbished over a decade ago with the latest track signaling, overhead cantenary and rail switches and in order to provide a set of high-speed tracks from Brussels to Paris and London. The collision in-fact caused a substantial number of TGV, Eurostar and Thalys high-speed trains to be canceled over several days as rescue workers and investigators occupied the tracks in order to access the accident scene.

This collision demonstrates again, slightly over a year after the deadly Mertolink train collision in Chatsworth, CA, the futility of building heavy, stiff, crumple-resistant car bodies in passenger train operation as the prime defense against death and injury. The old AM70 EMU train sets are known for their heavy steel car body construction and even resemble EMU train sets used over a generation ago in the New York City and Philadelphia areas by Penn Central and the Long Island Railroad. Photos from the accident scene in Halle in-fact show that nearly all of the cars of the AM70 train sets remained more or less intact after the collision, but despite this nearly half of the passengers in the trains were either killed or injured. Although this collision happened far from the USA, it is yet another tragic real-life experiment that shows the USA is still heading down the wrong track by requiring passenger trains to be built to unusual and extraordinary collision proof requirements. After Chatsworth and now Halle, there is more than enough evidence that this onerous and expensive requirement needs to be abandoned and financial support and resources need to be prioritized for implementing full train protection system on passenger rail lines, be they in Belgium, or in California or anywhere else.


Return to index
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 editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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.