Vol. 8 No. 13
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Rail advocate leadership gathers in Chicago
CHICAGO --- Leaders of the American rail advocacy community and its allies gathered in Chicago this past week to take stock of the rail scene and plan future actions, in an intense all-day session created by Texas Association of Rail Passengers Henry Wulff and Iowa Association of Rail Passengers Excursion Chair Eliot Keller.
Highlighting the problems faced by the American rail system, featured speaker Tim Gillespie, former Amtrak Vice President and current consultant for BGL Associates, was seven hours late to the conference because his train, the Capitol Limited, was delayed by freight traffic on the NS and CSX lines over which the Washington-Chicago train operates.
Despite Gillespies late arrival the mood of the conference was upbeat, as advocates look to a far more receptive Congress elected in November whose rail authorizing committees are now led by and are majority controlled by rail supporters, and whose other committees are likewise more favorable to rail.
Opening and moderating the day was Midwest High Speed Rail Executive Director Rick Harnish, who encouraged those in attendance to speak with a unified voice in making the case for rail. His advice was seconded by many of the days speakers and audience members, whose consensus was that rail advocacy needs to stress the broader benefits of better rail service, without dwelling upon the particular individual, specialized interests an advocate might have.
National Association of Rail Passengers President, George Chilson, elected to a second two-year sentence as he jokingly put it by his organization, echoed Rick Harnishs words and then, in an hour long analysis of the advocacy movement and what it faces, gave a text-book lesson in how to break down and solve problems of goal-setting, organization, and action. Chilson, a former General Mills executive, urged the attendees to understand power --- of both friends and foes --- and to set both long and short-term goals that are realistic.
We want modern trains, and we must seek a national rail system that, as the Interstate Highway advocates said in the 1950s, takes people from from anywhere, to everywhere.
Building a system will take public funding, support from Federal and state legislatures, and lots of salesmanship, Chilson said. Building alliances outside the rail advocacy movement is also essential, he said.
We also need to build allies within the rail community, he noted, and that includes the freight railroads: short of capital and faced with increasing demand, the freight railroads are going to need public investment too, he said, and passenger trains are the ticket to getting money for the freights --- and the freight railroads have got to be made to understand that.
Rick Harnish cited the success of the increased Illinois service achieved in just five months time that resulted from focusing on a single, achievable goal, and bearing down on it. Harnish built support by combining an intensive speaking tour of Illinois service organizations such as Rotary Clubs with some professional lobbying help, and an approach that said, What kind of rail service do you want? Heres how you can fix it.
Attorney and former Amtrak Reform Council member Jim Coston of Chicago, who put himself through college 35 years ago as an Amtrak employee, gave a fiery presentation on the way in which Amtrak service levels were deliberately cut back in the 1970s despite high demand, because highway interests had been promised that Amtrak would not survive more than a few years. Despite full, 18-car Broadway Limited trains every night from Chicago to New York, said Coston, and despite other service that was successful and sold out long in advance, word came down that no equipment was to be bought except to replace completely broken down rail cars and locomotives, and that under no circumstances was any real marketing to take place. The results were predictable.
Weve saved trains enough, said Coston. Now its time to grow them.
Tim Gillespie arrived just before the scheduled close of the conference but in time to give his own highly professional presentation on the growth of the rail political action committee he now advises, and some of the benefits it has already begun to earn. Despite the short time between founding of the Passenger Rail PAC and the 2006 elections, the PAC raised $25,000 to give to pro-rail Congressional and Senatorial candidates, Gillespie said. While tiny compared to the massive PACs of other transportation interests, it is seen as a start, Gillespie said, with growing support from an increasingly broad constituency, including environmental interests.
Details on the cause of Gillespies late arrival were unavailable at press time, but Amtrak trains have faced growing delays in recent years, now worsening, despite Federal law requiring passenger trains to be dispatched ahead of freight trains; outside of the Northeast Corridor and short stretches of track elsewhere, Amtrak does not own the track over which it must operate, and is at the mercy of the freight operators, as the Federal law is not enforced.
[ More next week on the Summit. ]
SACRAMENTO --- The fire may be out but the pain will remain, reports the Union Pacific Railroad regarding a huge trestle fire two weeks ago near Sacramento.
Both freight and passenger service will be affected as trains are routed around the damaged trestle, portions of which collapsed into the river and wetlands area through which it runs.
However, repairs to re-open at least one of the two tracks on the trestle will be completed by the end of March, better than the months cited in early reports.
With the help of public and private partners, work is under way to restore bridge service to the area affected by last Thursdays train trestle fire near Sacramento. Union Pacific employees, State of California officials, and private contractors are working around the clock to replace the trestle that spans the approach to the American River, said the railroad.
The entire double track railroad trestle was destroyed by the fire the cause of which is still under investigation. Union Pacific has established a $10,000 reward fund for information leading to an arrest in connection with the fire, and railroad officials are working closely with local investigators. The trestle is a vital lifeline to the Sacramento and California economies, and immediate replacement is necessary to resume normal passenger and freight operations in the region, UP said.
The outrage will add about four hours to Amtrak trains using the route, Amtrak stated. Freight delays will be about two hours for the 90 miles added to the route by detours, UP said.
UP thanked the first responders whose combined efforts got the fire under control: We would not have been able to respond as quickly as we have without the help of our critical public and private partners and the dedication of our employees, said Tom Jacobi, Union Pacifics western regions vice president. The railroad would publicly like to thank first responders, our community neighbors, government officials and our employees for their cooperation during this endeavor. We were extremely relieved to learn no one was injured in connection with the fire, and we are employing all means possible to replace the trestle as safely and efficiently as possible.
Traffic going in circles as Kalamazoo
introduces first local rotaries
GRAND RAPIDS --- Grand Rapids, MI will get its first traffic circles --- a traffic form commonplace in the Boston area but less known in the rest of America --- later this year in an attempt to ease congestion and reduce fuel consumption.
Reporter Jim Harger writes: Get ready for roundabouts. Later this year, city motorists will see the first traffic circles, where drivers are expected to get through busy intersections without traffic lights and a minimum of fuss. City planners recently approved the citys first roundabout at Cherry Street and Jefferson Avenue SE. Construction is expected to begin in June, the paper reported.
Another two will be built later this year as part of a street-widening project along Wealthy Street SE at the Jefferson and Lafayette Avenue intersections.
Though full-sized roundabouts have been cropping up in other cities, they will be new to Grand Rapids streets, DeVries said. The city has installed miniature roundabouts aimed at slowing neighborhood traffic, wrote Harger.
Roundabouts, once considered archaic and a quirk of Massachusetts and other Eastern states traffic planners, have been making a comeback worldwide as traffic planners rediscover their benefits.
Public Works Director Patrick Bush said he became familiar with the circles when he worked for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, reported the Gazette, and added that he will continue to scout for intersections suitable for roundabouts.
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Improvements at Seattle yard in the works
About two years from now, the King Street Coach Yard in Seattle will take on a different look. Amtrak is dedicating funds over the next couple fiscal years to make incremental modifications to the yard that will bring it a step closer to the vision the company and its partners ultimately have for an efficient, full-service facility.
Photo: Amtral InkThe King Street Coach Yard in Seattle is due for improvements that will help expand capacity to alleviate congestion.
The series of projects is aimed at expanding the space and resources at the yard, providing a more productive and suitable work environment for employees, and creating a more efficient operation.The interim improvements will lead to better customer service for Amtraks partners at Sound Transit, Talgo and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), as well as passengers on Amtraks long-distance trains.
Amtrak Mechanical maintains Sounder equipment on behalf of Sound Transit, which provides commuter rail service in the Puget Sound region.
With the BNSF Railway main line running parallel to the yard, Amtrak trains must cross the two-track line when traveling between King Street Station and the yard.This can be time consuming and negatively impacts the operations of all trains. Realizing the desired operational efficiencies envisioned as part of the investments in the yard is dependent upon the completion of an ongoing project to relocate the BNSF main line to the east side of the maintenance facility, thereby eliminating the need for passenger trains to cross over it. The BNSF track relocation project is being funded largely by Sound Transit and is scheduled for completion in the spring/summer of 2008.
The Amtrak-funded yard improvements include the construction of a new warehouse for the maintenance of Cascades equipment, new tracks for Sound Transit trains, an extension to the wash track, and a new locomotive sanding and fueling station.
To make room for new tracks and ultimately a locomotive shop, the trailers that currently house all of the employees who work at the facility from Mechanical and Engineering to On-board Service and Train & Engine crews will be demolished and space will be created in the existing warehouse.
To increase service capacity, the existing Cascades maintenance and servicing building will be expanded so that more work can be done inside, under the roof.The plans also include a second track and replacement of the existing wheel lathe that will accommodate locomotives and accelerate overnight servicing of the Talgo trainsets. In addition, the building will provide office space for Talgo employees responsible for managing Amtrak Mechanical personnel that maintain the Cascades equipment.
The changes to the yard, while incremental, will mark a significant improvement for our employees and yield greater operational efficiency, said District Superintendent Kurt Laird.The improvements are scheduled for completion in the spring of 2008. During a visit to the yard in October, Amtrak President and CEO Alex Kummant affirmed his commitment to bettering the condition of the facility.
Under a separate agreement, Amtrak will fund equipment modifications to the two Amtrak Cascades trainsets, standardizing the fleet in accordance with WSDOT-owned trainsets. Components such as automatic door sensors and new seats will enhance the traveling experience.
In other news in the Northwest,WSDOT has allocated $15 million for track improvements at the King Street Station that involve the installation of additional crossovers and other track modifications designed to support more passenger train movements at the station, while simultaneously aiding the movement of freight trains.
In addition, plans for ongoing renovations to the historic station, which is now owned by the city of Seattle, are still being finalized.The city plans to convert it into a multi-modal transportation hub and potential commercial center.
Train à Grande Vitesse
France gets party going early
for new Paris-Strasbourg TGV
PARIS --- While America copes with a passenger rail system nearly put out of business by the petroleum-oriented Bush Administration, the French are celebrating the christening of its latest and fastest high speed rail line, the new Paris-Strasbourg TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse).
All images: raileurope.comTraveling at high speed between Paris and eastern France: A TGV train conducts tests on the new line near Metz.
The simply named TGV stands for train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train. But German ICE trains will also run on the line between Stuttgart and Frankfurt and Paris, dramatically reducing travel times.
The arrival of the TGV in eastern France has also necessitated the construction of new train stations like this one in Louvigny.
France has just christened a new high-speed rail line between Paris and the eastern part of the country that will also reduce travel times between Germany and the French capital. About 100 kilometers of the line are still under construction, but that didnt stop the French from throwing a dazzling spectacle with the lengthiest display of fireworks the world has yet seen.
Frances latest high-speed rail line, TGV Est (East), will begin service June 10 and is expected to change travel patterns within France and beyond. Traveling at a standard operating speed of nearly 200 mph (320 km/hr), the fastest in Europe, TGV East will reduce travel times between approximately 30 destinations by one-third to one-half, and the frequency of TGV service on these routes will increase 15-20%., according to a press statement by SNCF, the French rail authority.
Designed to speed eastward connections from Paris to the regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace, the new line also provides direct service between these regions and Ile-de-France, Northern, Western and Southwestern France, as well as to Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Imagine stepping onto a train in Paris and 45 minutes later being in Reims, in the heart of Champagne country. Or going from Paris to Strasbourg, on the German border, in just 2 hours, 20 minutes (currently more than 4 hours), to Metz or Nancy in just 1.5 hours (instead of 3 hours).
Travel times from Lorraines capital, Nancy, directly to Lille in northern France is just 3 hrs, 20 min. to catch the Eurostar train to London.
Today, the Nancy-Lille trip requires 4 hours - plus transferring from one Paris train station (Gare de lEst) to another (Gare du Nord); after June 10 it will be a direct connection with no need to change trains.
Photos: High-resolution photos of French TGVs are downloadable by the media at www.raileurope.com/presspix.
Has Tysons missed the train?
[ First, let me begin by introducing myself. I am Parris Glendening, and I serve as the president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C., which is part of Smart Growth America. From 1995-2003, I was Governor of Maryland, and for more than 20 years before that I served at various levels of local and county government. I am excited about being part of the network of contributors here at Planetizen and participating in the discussion. ]
In 1956, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower shepherded the Interstate Highway into existence, fulfilling a decades-long aspiration to link the nation with highways that could move both people and materiel as efficiently as those he had seen in Germany. Later, he would warn us against the military-industrial complex, but with a bit more foresight he might have warned against the asphalt-industrial complex, as well.
The so-called interstates, as we all know now, not only linked states but became the be-all of our urban transportation networks, and in most metro areas they are strained to the brink. Fifty years into Eisenhowers project, today our cities are in desperate need of a new national vision for transportation.
Some cities and regions didnt wait and dreamed a vision of their own, only to see it squashed by obtuse federal policies. Consider the case of Metrorail and Tysons Corner, Virginia:
Tysons Corner is a suburb of Washington, D.C., just outside the Beltway. The once-sleepy crossroads is now one of the main employment centers of the region, home to the equivalent of one-third of the office space in D.C. proper. Several years ago, the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority and Virginia officials began planning a Metrorail extension through Tysons Corner and Fairfax County to Dulles Airport. But while the service was welcome, the plan to run it on an elevated track provoked a groundswell of opposition among business owners, citizens, and local leaders.
Opponents proposed that a tunnel constructed through Tysons core would assist it in a transformation from a traffic-clogged, auto-centric, disconnected office park and shopping mall to a walkable and people-centric place. They noted that the neighborhoods in the close-in D.C. region that have experienced the most investmentand become more urban places where daily needs and trips can be accomplished without the use of a carhave overwhelmingly been in areas where Metro runs underground.
Unfortunately, support for the tunnel came after preliminary plans were submitted and the Federal Transit Administration had agreed to provide $900 million for the elevated track, at the encouragement of Virginia Congressmen Tom Davis and Frank Wolf.
In late 2006, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine announced his support for a tunnel option, buttressed by several privately-financed studies that showed the feasibility of a tunnel; including improvements in tunnel-boring technology, less-intrusive construction, and the future benefits for the competitiveness of Tysons Corner as traffic gets worse and increasing numbers of people seek out places where they can live, work and playwithout an exclusive reliance on the automobile. But FTA officials and Reps. Davis and Wolf told Gov. Kaine that any alteration to the previously approved plans would result in potentially losing the $900 million in federal funding.
The core of the problem is a fundamental flaw in the system of funding at the FTA, which elevates short-term number-crunching over community impacts and long-term benefits.
FTA officials told Kaine that switching to a tunnel would jeopardize the federal funding, even if Virginia found other sources to cover the more expensive, but longer-lasting tunnel option. Never mind that the tunnel would be far less disruptive to businesses and residents during construction, or that it would spur many times as much investment along the corridor, or that it would simply help make Tysons a more people-friendly place to be. It cost more, and that was the end of that.
There is something wrong with a federal system that encourages local officials to submit a flawed plan rather than risking their funding. Shouldnt the most important thing be to do it right, considering the long-term impact of the decision? Fairfax County officials learned their lesson from several missed opportunities with Metro over the last 30 years, including at least one missed opportunity to bring rail to Tysons.
Fairfax County Supervisor and Metro board member Dana T. Kauffman told the Washington Post several months ago that I regret my son may pick up a planning text where Fairfaxs long-awaited rail extension is highlighted as a failed attempt at service and economic development. It cant only be about the here and now."
In places like Bethesda, Maryland and elsewhere in the D.C. region, Metro lines placed underground have helped to spur investment in some neglected areas and create distinct places where cars are an option, but are not mandatory. In a book about Metros history, The Great Society Subway by Zachary Schrag, Cleatus Barnett, a Montgomery County, Md. representative understood the multi-generational impact of their decisions: We were building these lines for eternity. Youre not going to pick them up and move them if you put them in the wrong place. They are there forever. And dont tell me anything about the cost. If it costs more, it costs more, but thats what were going to do.
The federal government should be an ally in helping to ensure that projects like the Tysons tunnel get built. Not since the days of Ike have we been in a more desperate need of a clear federal vision that will catapult us into the next century of mobilitymobility that results in competitive places of which we can all be proud.
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