Vol. 8 No. 9
February 26, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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www.nationalcorridors.org

Destination:Freedom
A weekly North American rail and transit update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKay
European Correspondent - David Beale
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

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

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  This week…
Virgin Atlantic Pendolino crash kills one,
   injures many on London-Glasgow run
California exec tells US DOT special committee:
   Create a matching program For rail investment
Amtrak submits record budget request
Regionalist Neal Peirce foresees “Era of the States”
  Off the main line…
British Prime Minister defends “Road Pricing”
  Commuter lines…
Illinois train ridership soars 38 per cent
California man dies in grade crossing accident
  Selected rail stocks…
  Freight lines…
CSX in $2 billion stock buyback
  Across the Pond…
Smoking prohibition soon for all trains
  Commentary…
Gene Skoropowski explains it all
  We get letters…
  End notes…


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News items...

Virgin Atlantic Pendolino crash kills one,
Injures many on London-Glasgow run

By DF Staff

 

LAMBRIGG, CUMBRIA, UK --- A derailment caused by a suspected switch track mis-alignment killed one and injured 77; five seriously, among the 122+ passengers and crew on board a high speed Virgin Rail Pendolino 370 train bound from London’s Euston Station to Glasgow Friday last just after 8 p.m.

The lead engines and two passenger cars in the nine-car Alstom-built set, using FIAT tilting train technology, were spread about after a set of “points,” as the moveable element that moves “switch tracks” are also called, near Lambrigg in the remote Cumbria region 275 miles North of London, when the 5:15 (Greenwich Mean Time) train derailed shortly after 8 p.m. Friday. The remainder of the train stayed mostly upright.

Virgin Rail President Sir Richard Branson, the transportation entrepreneur who also founded the popular Virgin Atlantic airline, was on vacation with his family in Switzerland when the accident occurred, and immediately flew to the site.

Virgin Pendolinoo High Speed Train Crash 2007

Photo: Cumberland (UK) Times and Star                 

While front cars ran off the track, most of the train remained upright on the rails
 

Two Photos: Virgin Rail

Personal comfort and service are established fixtures for Virgin Rail’s ridership.

 

“It is with deep regret that Virgin Trains can confirm that there has been one fatality in an accident that took place shortly after 8 PM on Friday 23 February 2007 near Lambrigg, north of Oxenholme in Cumbria,” said Branson’s spokesman. which won the operating franchise on this route after British Rail was privatized in the 1990’s.

While BritRail privatization was followed by numerous passenger deaths in rail accidents, this week’s accident does not seem to be related to that problem.

Fixed-price track maintenance contracts awarded in post-privatization England (privatization separated train operations from maintenance) to the now-defunct “Railtrack” infrastructure organization, which was paid to maintain track and related infrastructure on a fixed budget even as more and more operators were given route franchises, led to unaddressed wear and tear issues on rail lines. These lapses are now held responsible for those 1990’s accidents, many of them with fatalities. The British experience led American rail advocates, including the National Corridors Initiative, to oppose similar Bush-Administration privatization proposals for Amtrak, which, by separating operations from maintenance, would have led to similar accidents. Former Amtrak President David Gunn was fired in November 2005 because he refused to go along with the Bush plan.

The train involved in Friday’s accident was the 5:15 PM from London Euston to Glasgow Central, operated by Virgin Trains.

“The first thoughts of everyone at Virgin Trains are with the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives or been injured in this terrible accident. We will do whatever we can to offer assistance in the days ahead,” said Branson’s spokesman. Emergency services have issued the following number for friends or relatives concerned about anybody traveling on the train: 0800 056 0146 or from overseas 00 44 20 7158 0198.

Sir Richard Bransonn at train accident site

Photo: Jon Supey, Associated Press

Virgin Rail CEO Sir Richard Branson stands near the wreckage of Friday’s 5:15 PM train out of London’s Euston Station, near Lambrigg, Cumbria, UK, on the following day, Saturday Feb. 24. Officials were focusing on the possibility of a misaligned switchtrack that may have sent the high speed commuter rail train off the tracks, strewing carriages hurtling down an embankment and killing one passenger.

 

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, speaking after he visited the scene of Friday’s crash, said authorities investigating the cause told him they suspected a problem with the rail line. He also said lives were probably spared because the train ‘ a new model introduced in 2003 ‘ was “built like a tank”, reported the Associated Press

“If it had been any of the old trains, the injuries and fatalities would have been horrendous,” he told the press.

Cumbria police said an 84-year-old woman died of her injuries in the hospital.

Virgin Trains spokesman Lee West told the media that the train was traveling at 95 mph at the time of the accident.

The railway line here was opened in 1846 and was electrified in 1974. At first, part of the Lancaster and Carlisle line, it then merged with the London and North Western Railway. Later the rails were taken over by British Rail. Now Virgin Trains run the main line from Oxenholme over the high moors to Carlisle, a 45 minute journey. London Euston is the gateway to the 401 mile-long West Coast Main Line, with services to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, North Wales and Glasgow.

Virgin CrossCountry operates a complex network of routes radiating from Birmingham, and serving all major towns and cities from Aberdeen to Penzance and Glasgow to Brighton. Over 20 million customers were carried on Virgin CrossCountry in 2005, up from 10.4 million in 1994. The longest journey is the 704 miles covered by trains from Penzance to Dundee, which is also the longest direct train journey in Great Britain.

Courageous engineer praised by Virgin Rail’s Branson

The train driver in charge of last night’s 5:15 Virgin Trains’ service from London Euston to Glasgow Central, which became derailed near Oxenholme, has been praised for his courage by Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.

“The driver did an amazing job,” said Sir Richard at the site of the accident. “He stayed in his seat for a quarter of a mile to control the train as it came off the rails, and didn’t try to protect himself by running back into the coach behind. Regrettably he sustained quite serious injuries to his neck. I wish him well in making a full recovery,” said Branson.

“This is a very sad and horrible day, but last night the emergency services were brilliant. As a human being I’m here, and if my children had been on that train I would expect the company to come and learn from it and to show sympathy to the victims,” said Branson.

“The Pendolino performed brilliantly. We transport many millions of passengers and have spent a lot of money on Pendolinos. If you are going to have a massive accident, a Pendolino is the safest train to be in,” said Sir Richard.

“The train itself stood up remarkably well, it’s built like a tank. If this had been an old train the injuries would have been horrendous. Pendolinos have solid crumple (“buff” in American parlance) zones and most managed to walk away,” Branson said.

“The train has proved itself, is formidable and strong, and the basic fabric of the train stayed intact. Damage to the carriages is negligible, the lights stayed on and the windows didn’t break. As far as safety is concerned, rail is massively more safe than the car. I went to the hospitals this morning to talk to the doctors and I’ve seen some of the people who were on the train. We’ve been in the transportation business for 20 years and you always dread that you are going to get that kind of call,” he said.

The “Pendolino” is a passive tilt design that has been widely and successfully used in Italy since the 1970’s, which uses a high center of gravity pivot point to “lean” the trains into curves at high speeds, much as a motorcycle driver would do by leaning his body towards the ground. The original Pendolino “401” train was built by FIAT in 1975 for Italian State Railways, based on a 1970 design, which basically suspended the car bodies from a central pivot point high in the car’s cross-section. The Alstom-built trainsets purchased by Virgin for some of its British routes were based on the successful French Alstom Trés Grande Vitesse (very high speed) or TGV trains, as is the American Acela, but with FIAT’s passive tilt system, as opposed to the more complex sensor-and-computer driven active-tilt system used by the American version of the train. Both however are extremely strong trainsets, as Branson noted, physically. The American buffing strength is 800,000 pounds per-square-inch in the passenger car vestibules (“crumple zones” in Britain), far higher than Europe’s rail safety standards. US regulations are derivative of a regulatory diktat from early 20th century America, demanded and received by the Railway Postal Workers Union. RPO members were tired of dying in accidents that occurred all too frequently when their Railway Post Office (RPO) cars, usually the first car behind the locomotive’s heavy coal tenders, were invariably “telescoped” into splinters by the impact of the rest of the train when a wreck occurred.

In recounting his response to the accident, Sir Richard said, “I was on holiday with my family in Switzerland, noticed ten messages on my phone and thought that there was something wrong. I’m always concerned for passengers and at that stage some were still trapped on the train and we didn’t know how many were injured.”


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California exec tells US DOT special committee:

 

Create a matching program
for rail investment

By DF Staff

 

LOS ANGELES --- Eugene Skoropowski, Managing Director of what may be the most successful rail corridor program in the country outside the Northeast Corridor, this week asked the Federal Government to support Congressional plans to create a Federal matching program for rail that mirrors similar support long given to highway development.

Legislation to do just that has been introduced in the Senate in a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-MS).

In testimony before US DOT Secretary Mary Peters in Los Angeles, Skoropowski, for eight years the highly regarded director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Operating Authority based in Sacramento, asked that an 80/20 match program like the one that built the Interstate Highway system be employed to rebuild America’s rail transportation system.

“If there is any message I want to deliver to you today, it is to please work to establish a federal capital matching program for states to develop, expand, and improve intercity passenger rail. It is our belief that such a federal matching program, on a par with highways (an 80% federal share and 20% state/local share) will generate nationwide development of this form of travel choice for our country. California and our sister states are just waiting for Washington to act on this, as the people are supportive, from coast-to-coast. Just look at the systems of transport already developed largely because of federal matching programs for them,” said Skoropowski.

“I do ask,” he added, “that in setting up a federal matching program, please to not penalize California and our sister states that have ‘gone it alone’ and invested 100% state dollars in successful intercity passenger rail systems. We did it because our voters said they wanted it, even though there was no federal matching program. Please allow us credit as ‘state match,’ for the federal capital share we would need to match once a federal funding program is in place.”

“And please, do not let the ‘nay-sayers’ tell you that Americans will not ride trains. If here in California, the automobile capital of the planet, we can entice drivers out of their cars and onto trains, think of what can happen in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and all across America, and possibly even in Texas,” he added.

For Skoropowski’s complete testimony see “Commentary” below, this issue.


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Amtrak submits record budget request

By DF Staff and from Internet Sources, Amtrak

WASHINGTON ---- Amtrak, invariably described in the press as the nation’s “embattled passenger rail service,” this week submitted a record $1.53 billion budget request to Congress, up from the $1.3 billion it is receiving this current fiscal year.

Amtrak, unlike America’s heavily subsidized highway system, or the even more heavily taxpayer-supported airline passenger system, has to go hat in hand to Congress every year for its support, which for much of the past decade was well below $1 billion a year.

Federal support has been so lagging that the Northeast Corridor, the system’s most heavily traveled route and one that is critical to the economy of the Eastern United States, was $6 billion in arrears on needed capital investment, due in part to Federal neglect, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report (now called the Government Accountability Office, for reasons of politics). The near 450-mile corridor from Washington to Boston is owned and or/dispatched by Amtrak, except for a 55-mile segment between the New York State Line and New Haven CT owned by the state of Connecticut and maintained by the state Department of Transportation.

Oddly enough, given the Bush Administration’s previous attempts to break up Amtrak and foist it onto the states, this Connecticut-owned, non-Amtrak-dispatched part of the Northeast Corridor is in the worst shape of the entire system.

The overhead wire and other infrastructure is more than 100 years old and is fundamentally of obsolete design, keeping Amtrak’s fast Acela Express 155-mph trains at under 70 mph, and even ConnDOT’s MU (multi-unit) commuter rail trains can not operate at their design speed without pulling down wires. As a result, capacity is reduced, and ridership is forced onto already jammed regional highways, lengthening trip times for millions of New York and Connecticut commuters. New management at ConnDOT has promised a faster pace of replacement for the old system than the previous leisurely schedule, which would take a decade.

The Amtrak budget request of $1.53 billion for the fiscal year that begins October 1 is twice what the Bush Administration, which has been so hostile to passenger rail that it sought to force Amtrak’s bankruptcy by proposing zero-funding of it three year ago, has offered. The Bush Administration is regarded by railroad professionals on a scale that ranges from “incompetent” to “malicious.”

One reason for the increased request, Amtrak said, is increased ridership across the entire system, which has in turn accelerated wear and tear on an already stressed and undercapitalized infrastructure. Elsewhere in the United States Amtrak operates over tracks owned by others, notably the major (“Class I”) freight railroads Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, and Norfolk Southern. Amtrak’s trains are usually a minor part of those railroads’ overall traffic, but the freight railroads, too, are having difficulty maintaining track and right-of-way in the face of strongly increased demand. This is because railroads are very capital-intensive businesses, and Wall Street does not see the kinds of return on investment it wants to support stock prices strongly enough to permit sufficient capital investment by railroads in their own infrastructure. One railroad, CSX, this past week in fact announced a $2 billion buyback of its own stock (see related story below), effectively saying to Wall Street investors: “We can make a better return by buying back our own stock than investing directly in our own physical plant.” While for obvious financial reasons the stock buyback is the logical thing to do, CSX, and other railroads, are effectively giving up monies needed for future capacity growth to earn a short-term return on investment. That is one reason truck traffic continues to grow faster than rail freight traffic (except for commodities), and is expected to double by 2020.

According to Amtrak in a letter accompanying the budget request to Congress, Amtrak has increased both efficiency and revenues since 2005. Long-term debt has fallen from nearly $4 billion in 2002 to less than $3.5 billion, Amtrak reported. Amtrak accumulated massive debt in the early years of the Bush regime when it was effectively put on a starvation diet, forcing it to mortgage assets to meet operating expenses. This practice only stopped when then-newly-appointed Amtrak President David Gunn threatened to shut down all Amtrak rail service unless Congress agreed to provide Amtrak a minimum of $1 billion, or slightly more, per year. Gunn, who turned around many of the operating problems at Amtrak in his three years at the helm, was fired in November 2005 when he refused to agree to the Bush-appointed Amtrak Board plan to dismantle Amtrak and sell off its pieces.

Technically, Amtrak is not requesting an increased operating subsidy this year, pointing out in its letter to Congress that it is capital funding that is mostly needed, and that increased efficiencies can keep the operating subsidy at the same level as in the current fiscal year, $485 million.

One bright spot in the process is the furtherance of the state matching grant program, which encourages states who want new or better Amtrak service to help underwrite the costs. New Amtrak President Alexander Kummant has supported this “corridor” concept, which Maine, for example, has used successfully to restore rail service Boston-Portland after a decades-long gap. The matching program would provides $100 million/a year; Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-MS) have proposed legislation to permanently fund Amtrak, and expend the matching grant program.

Amtrak critics have for many years demanded that it break even or make a profit, despite the fact that transportation systems of all kinds, all over the world, require large government investment and/or other direct and indirect subsidies to work. The Hong Kong subway system, for example, is cited as an example of a profit-making rail system, but its profits come not from rail operations but from real estate allocated to the system as it was being constructed --- a policy concept America could adapt as well.


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Regionalist Neal Peirce foresees
“Era of the States”

WASHINGTON, DC --- Washington Post Writers Group National columnist Neal Peirce, regarded as the dean of American journalism on the issue of regionalism, sees principles of American governance as emanating from the individual states, rather than being developed in Washington.

In a column published nationally February 25, Peirce writes:

“If you’re wondering where American governance is headed, don’t look to Washington – look to the states. We’re into one of those classic times, repeated through our history, when the federal government retrenches, trying to cut taxes, leaving decisions to the private sector.”

“The Democrats controlling Congress may prefer a more activist course,” Peirce writes, “but the Bush administration’s program of deep tax cuts and penchant for military over domestic spending will leave its mark for years to come. Even a Democratic president, should one be elected in 2008, would be seriously restrained by deep debts run up by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Bush era deficit spending.”

“But check the states, writes Peirce. “And start with global warming – likely the most serious single challenge of this century. While Washington debates what to do, roughly half the states have already responded by requiring or urging utilities to move toward renewable, non-polluting sources such as wind and solar. California recently became the first to enact a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, aiming to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The Northeast states, from Maine to Maryland, are also moving to adopt a regional compact to cut carbon dioxide emissions significantly,” notes Peirce.

On other issues that might be considered the bailiwick of the Federal government, such as health insurance, the minimum wage, mandatory sentencing laws, predatory loan practices, Peirce sees the states as way out front of the Federal government in responding to citizens concerns and needs.

“The hot new issue,” writes Peirce, “is immigration. Much of the press attention has gone to conservative efforts like Georgia’s 2006 measure requiring police officers to check the legal status of anyone they arrest and imposing sanctions on firms that employ undocumented workers. Similar punitive bills have been debated in Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas. But there’s another side: several states have taken steps to provide college benefits to children of undocumented residents – young people who will be a major chunk of our workforce of the future.”

For the full column click on: http://www.postwritersgroup.com/peirce.htm.

Neal Pearce, a seminal thinker in American intellectual history who often writes about transportation and the need for a regional approach to it, is a founder of the National Journal and former political editor (1960-69) of Congressional Quarterly.

He is the author of 12 books including “The Book of America: Inside Fifty States Today” (W.W. Norton & Co., 1983; Warner Books, 1984). His latest book is “Citistates: How Urban America Can Prosper in a Competitive World” (Seven Locks Press, 1993). “I'm trying,” Peirce says, "to report the best - and worst - of what's happening in our states and communities, to cross-fertilize ideas, to show the amazing new forces at work at the local level, even as the federal government retrenches. Reporting and commentary from the grass roots are needed to give focus, and a national perspective, to what's happening.” He is chairman of the Citistates Group, a network of journalists and speakers who believe that successful metropolitan regions are today's key to economic competitiveness and sustainable communities.


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

British Prime Minister Defends “Road Pricing”

By DF Staff and from Reuters

LONDON --- British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week defended proposals for an all-England road-pricing system in the face of massive opposition from British motorists.

According to Reuters reporter Michael Holden, Blair wrote an email response “to almost 1.8 million petitioners who oppose the plans: saying that this latest attempt to control massive highway congestion in England is not a “stealth tax.”

Blair, reported Reuters, said no final decision had been made on the proposals, aimed at cutting congestion forecast to cost 22 billion pounds a year in lost time in England alone by 2025.

As is even more true in the United States, there is a surfeit of automobiles: “…already some 28 million vehicles on the roads of England -- more than one for every two people -- and road transport accounts for more than one-fifth of emissions of the main global warming gas carbon dioxide,” wrote Reuters.

The British plan would track automobiles via satellite tracking, much as many cell phones today can be tracked via GPS systems already in place, and charge people a tax for every mile they travel, “…to cut down on pollution and traffic…

Drivers in London already pay £8 pounds (US $15.60) a day to enter the “city centre,” the densest and most congested part of London, in a fee imposed by London Mayor Ken Livingston, a colorful left-winger known for his completely unedited comments on a wide number of subjects.

In its report Reuters cited a government-sponsored report on transport led by former British Airways CEO Rod Eddington, which said that charging motorists to use roads was the only way “…to stop the country grinding to a halt.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Illinois train ridership soars 38 per cent

QUINCY AND CHICGO, IL --- Nearly 40,000 passengers took Amtrak between Quincy and Chicago during the first three months of service by a second daily train, the Herald-Whig of Quincy reported this past week.

Senior Writer Doug Wilson wrote, “That's up from nearly 29,000 passengers during comparable months the previous year, a 38 percent increase.”

“‘These numbers demonstrate the demand for Amtrak in Illinois,’” the Herald-Whig quoted Gov. Rod Blagojevich as saying, adding that the state “‘did the right thing when we doubled state support for passenger rail.’”

Blagojevich proposed an increase to $24 million a year for Amtrak route subsidies last year, up from $12 million each year since the mid-1990s. Lawmakers passed the funding, which allowed Amtrak to add two trains to the Chicago/St. Louis corridor and one train each to the Quincy/Chicago and Carbondale/Chicago routes, the paper reported.

Passenger figures released by the state show there were 39,879 passengers along the Quincy/Chicago corridor from November through the end of January. There were 28,812 riders in the same three months of the previous year.

Ridership on two other Amtrak routes is even higher, reported the paper. The St. Louis route has nearly twice the number of passengers and the Carbondale route has nearly a 70 percent higher passenger count.

“However, those statistics don't take into account that the St. Louis route went from one round-trip train to three,” noted reporter Wilson.

On a per-train basis, the St. Louis ridership went to a little more than 21,000 riders per train during the quarter. The Quincy trains averaged about 20,000 riders each and the Carbondale trains averaged nearly 28,000 riders, the paper said.


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California man dies in
grade crossing accident

By DF Staff and from the Sacramento Business Journal

SACRAMENTO--- Amtrak trains were limited to one track this past week as the California Highway Patrol investigated a morning collision between a sport utility vehicle and a train, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told reporters.

The driver of the vehicle, a 41-year-old Davis man, was killed when the train struck his vehicle shortly after 9 a.m. at a crossing on a private road with no gates, according to published reports.

The passengers were loaded onto buses and transported to Sacramento, Magliari said.

The National Corridors Initiative has called for all at-grade rail crossings to be closed, bridged, or tunneled, starting with those routes upon which passenger trains travel.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)83.9182.61
Canadian National (CNI)46.4146.63
Canadian Pacific (CP)55.7755.59
CSX (CSX)40.4240.67
Florida East Coast (FLA)63.7064.11
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.0027.00
Kansas City Southern (KSU)34.0434.00
Norfolk Southern (NSC)50.9551.18
Providence & Worcester (PWX)17.5017.40
Union Pacific (UNP)103.88101.73


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX in $2 Billion Stock Buyback

JACKSONVILLE, FL --- CSX Corporation (NYSE: CSX) has announced that its Board of Directors voted to authorize the repurchase of up to $2.0 billion of the company’s outstanding common shares. The program, which represents approximately 11 percent of the company’s total market capitalization, is expected to be completed by year-end 2008.

The Board has also increased the quarterly dividend on the company's common stock by 20 percent to 12 cents per share. This dividend increase follows the 54 percent increase previously announced on July 18, 2006, the company said.

“We believe that at current price levels, CSX shares are an attractive investment and that the strong transportation environment in 2007 will propel growth in earnings and free cash flow,” said Michael Ward, chairman and CEO of CSX Corporation. “The new repurchase plan and dividend increase highlights the Board and management team’s continuing confidence in CSX’s prospects for long-term growth and shareholder value creation.”

“As demonstrated by our recent record results and our expectation for continuing profitable growth, CSX is successfully executing on its strategic plan and delivering value to shareholders,” said Oscar Munoz, executive vice president and CFO. “Our significant free cash flow provides the financial flexibility to return capital to our shareholders while investing in our business for long-term growth.”

CSX Corporation, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is a leading transportation company providing rail, intermodal and rail-to-truck transload services. The company’s transportation network spans approximately 21,000 miles with service to 23 eastern states and the District of Columbia, and connects to more than 70 ocean, river and lake ports, CSX said.


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

 

Smoking prohibition soon for all trains

BERLIN - (HAZ / dpa) - The German federal government will proceed with introduction of new regulations which will end smoking of cigarettes and other tobacco on all trains, busses and taxi cabs in Germany.  The cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel completed a draft rule which will be introduced to the German Parliament at the end of February.  If passed, as expected by government observers, smoking in all trains and busses throughout Germany could become illegal as soon as July of this year.

Included in this legislation proposal is an increase in the minimum age for purchase of tobacco products from 16 years to 18 years.  The proposed law comes as several German cities including Hannover have mandated smoking prohibition in numerous public areas and buildings and introduced restrictions on smoking in bars and restaurants.

A number of state and regional governments have already passed legislation or regulations which make smoking in local and regional trains and busses illegal.   The German state of Lower Saxony prohibited smoking in all local, commuter and regional trains and busses as of June 2004.  Smoking has never been allowed on the Hannover S-Bahn network of EMU commuter trains since the start of services in May 2000. 

Currently, however, smoking in intercity and intercity express (ICE) trains in Germany has continued to be permitted, although in separate smoking sections.  The newly introduced legislation will end that exception.


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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

 

Gene Skoropowski explains it all…

[ Herewith the testimony of Eugene Skoropowski, Managing Director of the highly successful Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, one of the nation’s leading rail operations experts, to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, February 21 & 22, 2007, chaired by US DOT Secretary Mary Peters at Los Angeles. It comprises such a good history of CCJPA and even more, an eloquent description of why America needs intercity rail, that we run it in its entirety here, with a special recommendation that our journalist readers, and others who want to understand this issue, take a close look ]

 

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission today. My name is Eugene K. Skoropowski and I am the Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) based in Oakland, California. I have been in this position for nearly eight years, and I have nearly forty years experience in railroad construction, operations, and maintenance. Virtually all of my railroad experience is in the provision of passenger rail service.

The CCJPA is a special purposes district covering 8 counties in Northern California. The member agencies are six transit districts stretching over a 170 mile long major rail corridor owned by Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), and interconnecting three major metropolitan areas: San Jose, Oakland/San Francisco, and Sacramento. The purpose of the CCJPA is the management, improvement and expansion of intercity passenger rail service along this route. Today, I will address all three California intercity rail services.

The Capitol Corridor is one of three state-supported intercity passenger rail corridors. The three are the Pacific Surfliner route in Southern and Central California, connecting San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara- San Luis Obispo; the Capitol Corridor just mentioned; and the San Joaquin route, connecting our Central Valley from Bakersfield to Fresno-Modesto-Stockton to Sacramento and Oakland. This intra-state intercity passenger network is operated by Amtrak and includes dedicated connecting buses that extend service coverage to virtually all parts of California, urban, suburban and rural. This integrated network connects to Amtrak’s long-distance trains, and has provided our people, and people who visit here with a real travel choice in moving around our state.

This statewide passenger rail system did not ‘just happen’. The voters of California in 1990 approved propositions that established the intercity passenger rail program, and authorized billions of dollars to build it. To date, the State has invested more than $1.7 billion of its own capital funds to build this system, and it has take 15 years to build it. California has ‘delivered’ what the voters mandated. Last November (2006), California voters approved an additional $400 million to continue to expand this intercity passenger rail program.

The results are quite ‘eye-opening’. In 1990, California had only a handful of Amtrak trains, almost all longer distance national network trains tying our state to the rest of the country. Today, three of Amtrak’s top five busiest routes are in California. After the busy Northeast Corridor, the Pacific Surfliner is the nation’s second busiest Amtrak route, the Capitol Corridor is the third busiest, and the San Joaquin route is fifth busiest, and soon could overtake New York’s Empire Corridor as the fourth busiest.

Although it is not recognized in Washington, or in most other parts of the country, California now generates 20% of all the riders on the Amtrak system. This has happened not because Washington or Amtrak provided a funding source to help us to build what we have, but because Californians decided for themselves at the ballot box that intercity passenger rail was a worthwhile investment, and that intercity passenger rail must become an integrated part of our state’s transportation system. I know from contacts with our sister states all across the country, that sentiments are the same in almost every state.

California’s intercity passenger rail network has continued to grow, year after year, because of the availability of capital funding. California owns its own fleet of passenger cars and locomotives. We operate the cleanest diesels available. We have a constructive working relationship with the private, host railroads over which our services operate, primarily Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway. We have made significant investments for the provision of our passenger services, and the freight railroads and California’s ports have also benefited from these public capital investments.

To sustain this intercity rail program, the state provides $75 million per year in operating support for these three Amtrak-operated services. This operating support has not increased in the last 6 years, yet passenger use of all three services has skyrocket. In the case of the Capitol Corridor, the state provided funding support in 2001 to increase our frequency from 14 to 18 daily trains. We currently operate 32 daily trains on our trunk between Sacramento and Oakland, the same frequency as the much-touted Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York, with 14 trains extending to/from San Jose. The increase from 18 to 32 trains has been self-financed from passenger revenue growth. This was only able to be done, however, because of the initial; capital investments made by the state.

Our state has established a goal of achieving 50% farebox recovery from passengers of the annual operating costs of our intercity service, and all three services are now accomplishing that goal, and the share borne by the riders is increasing annually as ridership and revenue continue to grow. There were 463,000 riders on the Capitol Corridor in 1998. Today there are more than 1,302,000. We have also implemented many unique-to-California travel ‘assists’ to riders to provide flexible travel options, by partnering with our state’s regional transit operators. In Southern California, the Metrolink-Amtrak Rail-to-Rail flexible ticketing program allows riders to use multiple services on a single ticket. In Northern California, the Transit Transfer program allows passengers on our Amtrak-operated trains to connect ‘free’ to local transit operations.

Clearly, California has ‘delivered’ what the voters mandated back in 1990, and what the voters reaffirmed last November. However, even California cannot continue to make 100% of the capital investments in passenger rail ourselves. We need a federal partner for these capital investments, the same way that we have a federal funding ‘partner’ for our highways, public transit, waterways & ports, airports and air traffic control systems, etc. The only component of our nation’s transportation system that has no federal matching program for capital investment is intercity passenger rail service. An excellent report on this issue was prepared and published by AASHTO in 2002, but has received far too little recognition, and no action.

If there is any message I want to deliver to you today, it is to please work to establish a federal capital matching program for states to develop, expand, and improve intercity passenger rail. It is our belief that such a federal matching program, on a par with highways (an 80% federal share and 20% state/local share) will generate nationwide development of this form of travel choice for our country. California and our sister states are just waiting for Washington to act on this, as the people are supportive, from coast-to-coast. Just look at the systems of transport already developed largely because of federal matching programs for them.

I do ask, that in setting up a federal matching program, please to not penalize California and our sister states that have ‘gone it alone’ and invested 100% state dollars in successful intercity passenger rail systems. We did it because our voters said they wanted it, even though there was no federal matching program. Please allow us credit as ‘state match’, for the federal capital share we would need to match once a federal funding program is in place.

And please, do not let the ‘nay-sayers’ tell you that Americans will not ride trains. If here in California, the automobile capital of the planet, we can entice drivers out of their cars and onto trains, think of what can happen in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and all across America, and possibly even in Texas.

The President has called for reducing our dependence on oil. The scientists say we are polluting the air, mostly with auto exhaust, and this is accelerating climate change on our planet. Intercity passenger rail can provide a travel option that does not exist for many Americans, and it is a travel option that is environmentally responsible, improves mobility and helps reduce our oil consumption.

If I can digress for a moment, I’d like to give you real-world examples from two Capitol Corridor riders that underscore the importance of our intercity passenger rail services. Robert Conheim, from Auburn, California, stated that before he started taking the Capitol Corridor train regularly in 2001 to Sacramento, he drove. He racked up 30,000 miles per year on his car just making this regular trip. Since 2001, riding the train, he chalks up barely 3,000 miles per year on his car IN TOTAL. If we are to heed the President’s call for reducing our oil dependency, passenger trains are one sure-fire way to do it.

Anne Lawrence, a professor at San Jose State University showed up unannounced one day at my office bearing a large gift. She said, “you don’t know me, but what you have done has saved my job and my sanity. You added an additional morning train to San Jose that allows me to give up driving on Interstate 880.” (I-880 is the main artery from Oakland to San Jose, and is known for its trucks and hopeless congestion during weekday peak travel periods). She presented our office with an assortment of coffee for our staff as a ‘thank you’ for simply doing what we have been charged to do. This illustrates how important passenger rail is and can be to the quality of life of our people.

Washington folks need to understand how much intercity passenger rail service means to the people of this country, and how supportive they are of its expansion and improvement. I hope I have conveyed some of that understanding to you today, based on our actual experience here in California. Thank you. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor,

Are term limits crippling political support for public transportation? In my observations of term-limited California elected officials, almost none of them has a career path that will let them stay in office long enough to support a project from inception to completion. While they cannot hope to gain political credit for successfully completing a project they can certainly exploit local opposition to projects in the near term (before their second and last election). The latest example is our governor: expousing carbon fuel reductions and axing the high speed rail ballot in the same week. Inconsistent, yet he gets credit for saving taxpayers dollars right now, and he is long gone before a revenue trip runs on a statewide system.

Just a thought, you always seem to find global themes for many of your articles, maybe this has some application.

Michael E. McGinley P.E.


Dear Editor,

To David Beale

Thank you for your article about the use of current technology to solve our energy problems. As an American who loves to ride trains and is planning to build a straw bale home with a pv solar system on the roof, I agree totally.

For transportation, I don't know why electric cars are not being more agressively pursued since solar power can run them. The only reason that I think Hydrogen is so popular is that the gasoline giants could create a hydrogen infrasturcture, similar to the gas infrastructure and they would still make money.

You are right. The American mind set must change. Our lives must change. I wish more people could read your column.

Donna Niell
Madera, California


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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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