Vol. 8 No. 10
March 5, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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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…
UK’s Rail Investigation Branch: Switch track at accident scene
   missing parts; Inspection may have been skipped as well
FRA administrator Boardman denies $2.3B Loan to DM&E:
   ‘Unacceptable Risk to Taxpayers’
  Commuter lines…
Chicago’s Metra budget seeks $1.4B for system maintenance,
   but hasn’t got the money
  Selected rail stocks…
  We get letters…
  End notes…

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


UK’s Rail Investigation Branch:

Switch track at accident scene missing parts;
Inspection may have been skipped as well

By DF Staff

THE UK ---A preliminary investigation of February 23’s fatal Virgin Rail Pendolino crash points to missing parts at a set of moveable “points” – what Americans call a “switch track” --- that forced a speeding Class 390 nine-car Pendolino high speed tilt train off the tracks, at Lambrigg Crossing near Grayrigg, Cumbria, in the UK’s Lake Country region.

More ominously, the Rail Investigation unit noted that a scheduled inspection of the switch track by Network Rail, a separate company that maintains the track, which should have routinely taken place a few days earlier, may not have actually been performed, but it could not confirm that at press time.

In response, Network Rail has taken responsibility for the accident: Network Rail’s Chief Executive Officer, John Armitt said this week: “Network Rail is devastated to conclude that the condition of the set of points at Grayrigg caused this terrible accident. We accept the RAIB report in all respects. We would like to apologize to all the people affected by this failure of the infrastructure.”

“Since 23 February,” the company said in a prepared statement, “Network Rail has been fully co-operating with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) in its investigation into the cause of the accident. RAIB’s initial report was published on 26 February and concluded that the immediate cause was the condition of a set of points close to the site. We now need to understand how the points came to be in this condition – and we will leave no stone unturned in our search for the facts behind this derailment. We will continue to co-operate fully with the investigators as they work towards more detailed conclusions.”

RAIB drawing of switch track

Drawing: RAIB  

RAIB drawing of switch track. The agency discovered that the “front stretcher bar,” along with hardware to attach it between the moveable points to keep the points track at the correct dimension, were both missing. No sign of deliberate sabotage was found.
The interim Rail Accident Investigation Branch report says in part:

“At 20:15 hrs [8:15 p.m. US style] on 23 February 2007 a Virgin Pendolino train, the 17:15 hrs from London Euston to Glasgow, derailed [past Lambrigg Crossing] in the vicinity of Grayrigg at a speed of approximately 95 mph.”

“All vehicles in the train derailed; the train came to rest with six of the nine vehicles down an embankment and at varying angles from their normal orientation.  One passenger lost her life in the derailment, and twenty two other people on the train were taken to hospital, of whom five remain in critical condition.  There was severe damage to the train set as a result of the derailment.

“The RAIB will publish a full report, including any recommendations to improve safety, at the conclusion of its investigation.  This report will be available on the RAIB website.” [ http://www.raib.gov.uk ]

The principal findings of the interim RAIB report were:

  • “Investigation of the lock and stretcher bars in the facing points [facing towards the moving train] at Lambrigg crossover showed that one of three stretcher bars was missing, and bolts that secured the lock bar and another stretcher bar were not in place – some of these bolts and the associated nuts and washers were found in the ballast, but others were not. However, the RAIB search of the area has not been completed. There is no evidence that the bolts had been wrenched free. Two of the stretcher bars were fractured; in one case the nature of the fracture surface indicates that it may have been consequential to the derailment. In the other case, the fracture surface indicates that it may have predated the derailment. The latter will be confirmed by further analysis.”
  • “There was therefore no complete stretcher bar in place between the switch rails immediately before the derailment. The left hand switch rail was free to move across close to the left hand stock rail whilst the right hand switch rail remained, correctly, against the right hand stock rail.”
  • “The marks on the crossover at Lambrigg indicate that at the time of the derailment both switch blades were in contact or very close to their respective stock rail. The train wheels were thus set on a course where the gauge was narrowing as the train moved forward. The train wheels, (which are rigidly mounted on an axle a fixed distance apart), could not follow the narrowing route and climbed over both switch rails, and then ran in a derailed state.”

The RAIB further noted that “there is evidence” that a scheduled “visual inspection” to have been performed Sunday, February 18, “may not have taken place”, although Network Rail’s inspection train did run over the crossing on February 21, two days before the crash. The inspection train takes and records automatic measurements and video images of track geometry and conditions, but both automatic and visual inspections of all track are periodically required.

In terms of maintenance, the RAIB said:

  • “The RAIB has carried out a preliminary review of the recent maintenance of the points at Lambrigg based upon documents provided by Network Rail.”
  • “This review indicates that all recently scheduled tests of the points took place on the Network Rail scheduled dates. The RAIB will further review when visual inspections were carried out. There is evidence that the last scheduled visual inspection on Sunday 18 February did not take place. The RAIB will carry out further investigation into the content of these tests and inspections.”
  • “Network Rail’s New Measurement Train ran over the site on Wednesday 21 February. This train records the geometry of the track and also takes a video record of the track. The RAIB is currently in the process of reviewing these records.”

In the UK, the Rail Accidents Investigation Branch, a government unit, was established as a result of a series of British Rail accidents that ended the lives of scores of riders, as well as the existence of the company responsible for track maintenance at that time, RailTrack. Network Rail was set up to replace the failed RailTrack organization, discredited when its maintenance practices were blamed for many of the fatal accidents.

However, members of the public, and union leaders, have demanded that rail maintenance and operations be put back into the public sector, so that profit-motive calculations do not enter into maintenance decisions.

In the United States, Bush Administration proposals to privatize Amtrak and split up its operational and maintenance functions have been bitterly opposed by union leaders and others, who point to the ongoing example of the British privatization experiment as a reason to keep service involving the public, and its safety when traveling by rail, in the public sector.

In England in the early 1990’s, under the Governments of Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major, the publicly owned BritRail was privatized by selling of its track and other infrastructure to a private business, RailTrack, and putting out its operating routes to bid. Private rail companies responded by bidding on routes and putting on additional trains, while RailTrack was saddled with a fixed price maintenance contract. The consequence of increased train frequencies without a corresponding increase in maintenance was a series of accidents.

Diagram or wreck

Photo: RAIB

The February 23 17:15 from London to Glasgow on the ground near Lambrigg Crossing. Numbers are in order of the consist before derailment.
On its website the RAIB states:

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) is the independent railway accident investigation organization for the UK.

The RAIB is concerned with the investigation of accidents and incidents on:

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FRA administrator Boardman denies $2.3B Loan
to DM&E: ‘Unacceptable Risk to Taxpayers’

By DF Staff
WASHINGTON--- Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman has denied a $2.3 billion loan application from the Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern (DM&E) railroad concluding it posed “…an unacceptably high risk to federal taxpayers,” according to the FRA.

The proposed Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan would have increased competition in the coal-hauling segment of the rail industry by creating a third major hauler from the Powder River Basin on the Montana-Wyoming border. Currently, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe serve the market with more than 80 trains per day. They opposed the loan.

Electric utilities and other shippers are pushing for increased competition in the freight rail business, to reduce their costs. Agricultural interests in South Dakota also favored the loan.

In a decision released today, Boardman found that while the DM&E Powder River Basin project “…met some of the RRIF program’s statutory requirements, there remained too high a risk concerning the railroad’s ability to repay the loan even with an appropriate combination of credit risk premiums and collateral.”

Boardman, the tough and highly regarded FRA chief who was formerly Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, said he was “…concerned by several factors, including the DM&E’s current highly leveraged financial position; the size of the loan relative to the limited scale of existing DM&E operations; and the possibility that the railroad may not be able to ship the projected amounts of coal needed to generate enough revenue to pay back the loan.”

Kevin Schieffer, President & CEO of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern (DM&E) Railroad, made the following statement today in response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision to deny the DM&E’s Federal Railroad Administration Railroad Rehabilitation Improvement & Financing program loan application:

“While DM&E is disappointed in the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision denying our loan application, we expect to move forward and will spend some time assessing alternatives to accomplish that objective. This project is too important to the future of our company, regional rail transportation and the many supporters in the agriculture and energy sectors, the communities we serve, and beyond who are relying on it. DM&E will make appropriate announcements about next steps in the process as it moves forward.”

The RRIF is designed to help railroads invest in infrastructure, supplanting investment capital because return on investment in the railroad business is too lengthy, usually, to attract sufficient capital to build capacity.

Boardman cited concerns that the application did not sufficiently address how the railroad would handle potential cost overruns and schedule delays with the Powder River Basin construction project.

Boardman reached his final decision after reviewing the DM&E application using the criteria set by Congress for the RRIF loan program and following an environmental review of the proposed project.

DM&E had applied for the RRIF loan to finance construction of a new 280-mile rail line to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal mines and to reconstruct approximately 600 miles of existing track in South Dakota and Minnesota.

In a related story, this past week TXU Corp., the largest electric utility in Texas, said a group of investors would take it private for $32 billion. Analysts expect the deal to kill eight of the 11 coal-fired plant the utility had planned over the coming years, which could significantly affect Powder River coal fortunes in the long term.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Chicago’s Metra budget seeks $1.4B for system
maintenance, but hasn’t got the money

By DF Staff and from Internet Sources

CHICAGO --- Passengers are at a record level on Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system but maintenance continues to fall behind, the Naperville Sun reported this week.

“Nearly 80 million passenger trips were provided last year in the six-county region - a 5.2 percent increase from 2005. Based on ticket sales, this is the highest number recorded in the 38-year history of passenger rail service in Northeastern Illinois, Metra officials said,” reported the Sun

“With 15.8 million trips in 2006, a 2.7 percent increase from the year prior, the Burlington Northern Sante Fe line continues to be the system's busiest route. ‘This surge in ridership highlights the need to continue to maintain and expand our commuter rail system,’ Metra Executive Director Phillip Pagano, the Sun quoted him as saying.

Despite seeing a record number of passengers in 2006, “Metra's additional rider revenue does not offset the company's near $269 million deficit in its 2007 operating budget,” the Sun said. “More than $250 million is required annually just for system maintenance. But only $231 million is planned for in the 2007 capital budget, assuming more than $60 million will be received from the additional state funding. Under advice from the Regional Transportation Authority, the blanket organization for Metra, Pace and Chicago Transit Authority, Metra prepared a budget that anticipates additional operating funds from the state allowing for the increase in its capital budget,” the Sun reported.

Transit systems across the country are reporting a surge in ridership, which has not always been followed by state and local support for maintenance. The Federal government also does not willingly fund operations costs, focusing on capital projects primarily for its appropriations.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)77.5383.91
Canadian National (CNI)43.9146.41
Canadian Pacific (CP)53.7555.77
CSX (CSX)36.1740.42
Florida East Coast (FLA)59.3463.70
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)25.5528.00
Kansas City Southern (KSU)31.3534.04
Norfolk Southern (NSC)46.3450.95
Providence & Worcester (PWX)17.6217.50
Union Pacific (UNP)97.82103.88

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor,

In Destination Freedom of 2-26-07, Amtrak is described as submitting record budget request of $1.53 Billion for FY2008. This is before special funding of strategic investments of $150 Million. In FY 2007 Amtrak requested $1.598 Billion with another $275 Million in strategic investments. In FY 2006 Amtrak requested $1.82 Billion. In short the FY2008 request does not qualify as a record request.

Destination Freedom should monitor news reports that make such claims since it falsely inflates Amtrak’s losses and unfairly minimizes the gains that Amtrak has been making in the last five years. One pet peeve is the AP reporter who continually points out that Amtrak’s debt now exceeds $3.5 Billion (in each of her news articles about Amtrak) without noting that Amtrak has now paid down over $500 Million of its debt since 2002 without substantially incurring any new debt.

Sure, I believe Amtrak could use more money than it is requesting. But lets monitor the news items and make sure that they are using the correct facts before we go ahead and repeat them.

Steve Musen
Warwick, RI


Point taken and we will endeavor to do better in the future. We also have a pet peeve about journalists propagating incorrect data ( See:
http://www.nationalcorridors.org/PressRel10022006.html ). Time for some of our own medicine. – Ed.

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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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