The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

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March 30, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 14

Copyright © 2009
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 10th Year

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

  News Items…
New Orleans Conference Highlights Rail As Catalyst
   For Economic Growth
  Stimulus Lines…
Amtrak In Ill. To Get $80M In Funds
  High Tech Lines…
ACN Speeds Customer Communications And Improves Efficiency
New Web-Based System Enhances Emergency Response Capabilities
  Maintenance Lines…
Track Work Season Begins On New York Division
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Photo Essay…
Light My Way; Train Headlights See and be Seen
A One-Sided Transportation Policy Hurts Even The Apparent Winner
  Publication Notes …

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

New Paradigm Needed In Transportation


New Orleans Conference Highlights Rail
As Catalyst For Economic Growth

By DF Staff

Transportation experts, rail advocates, developers, planners, and community leaders from throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Region converged last week on New Orleans for a spirited, intense, and information-packed conference last co-sponsored by The University of New Orleans Transportation Center and the Center for Urban and Public Affairs, and the National Corridors Initiative.

The conference, “Setting a Vision for Sustainable Development: the Louisiana Transportation Renaissance,” was opened by keynote speaker, the Honorable John Robert Smith, Mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, former Chairman of the Board of Amtrak. Mayor Smith’s story is the renaissance of his own city starting sixteen years ago when few people understood that a downtown area could be brought back to life by reviving a railroad station and attracting economic development around that station.

Mayor Smith, one of the first mayors in America to understand the potential impact of transit-oriented development as a tool for economic revival in an urban environment --- despite significant local opposition --- succeeded in getting a new, well-designed downtown station built. Opened just 10 years ago, it has already prompted $135 million in direct investment in the immediate station neighborhood, as well as a spill-over affect in other areas of downtown Meridian.

Representing more downtown investment in a decade than had been seen in Meridian in the previous 40 years, Mayor Smith’s railroad station and transportation center effectively reversed what had been a long, slow decline of the small Southern city, and brought that city back to life.

Dr. John Renne, Associate Director of the Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency at UNO, said the United States, having over-invested in highways for most of the 20th century, is at this point at a disadvantage competitively when compared with more modern, transit and rail supported economies such as those in Europe and Asia.

“The system is broken,” he said. Building only roads has led to more congestion over time, which led to still more road building, and increasing suburban sprawl, even as downtowns were being emptied out of middle and upper-class workers and families.

And now, he noted we’re not maintaining what we’ve built. When gas prices went up to $4.00 a gallon, we weren’t prepared. Household budgets were stretched to the limit by transportation expenses, which now surpass the cost of food for many families.

The good news is that some cities have had great success with their rail systems: Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas have built light rail systems that have spurred great economical growth in the rail corridors.

Louisiana’s Secretary of Transportation Dr. William Ankner spoke of the absurdity of depending on gas taxes to fund our transportation systems. “Think of this,” he said, “We are paying for transportation with the revenue from a non-renewable energy sources!”

We need a new paradigm in transportation, he said. We’ve always planned by modes which compete. We need to look at how transportation helps a community grow and plan integrated systems.

Kara Renne, a New Orleans planner, spoke of the “low-hanging fruit” ---- bike trails which can be built quickly for smaller amounts of money and can greatly improve mobility and quality of life while being environmentally friendly. New Orleans is aggressively planning expansion of the existing trails with federal stimulus funds and expects to complete 40 miles of bike lanes in New Orleans by the end of the year, noted Center for Urban and Public Affairs Director Dr. Billy Fields III. Moderator of one of the day’s several panel discussions

Optimism prevailed at the conference. Inspired by President Obama who understands the need for a world class rail system in America, advocates are encouraged that funding will be available for rail more than ever before. Developers and planners are now much more focused on the economic advantages of building dense, mixed-use neighborhoods near rail and transit in city and town centers.

Roberta Brandes Gratz, author of Cities Back from the Edge; New Life for Downtown and other important works on urban subjects, said “Cities only grow back to greatness when there is transit,” and she cited Toronto as an example of a thriving center where they saved their streetcar system.

Highways through cities have been destructive, she said. In Buffalo a huge area of the center city is still empty, caused by the construction of a highway, whereas in New York City, So Ho, Chinatown and Greenwich Village would not exist if Robert Moses had built his Lower Manhattan highway.

Also speaking was New Orleans Regional Transit Authority General Manager Justin Augustine III, who is also a senior executive at Veolia Transportation, a provider of management and other services to more than 5000 transit systems around the world. Augustine, a New Orleans native, gave a spirited description of future expansion of New Orleans streetcar system, which has become a symbol of the city and which has helped significantly in the post-Katrina recovery of New Orleans. Veolia operates NORTA under contract, as well as Jefferson Parish’s transit system and several others in Louisiana.

(More next week)

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STIMULUS LINES... Stimulus Lines...  

Amtrak In Ill. To Get $80M In Funds

From The Internet

CHICAGO, MARCH 26 - Stimulus money will help bring Amtrak facilities and equipment up to a state of good repair, improvements that the financially starved railroad has not been able to make for decades.

A report from the Chicago Tribune stated,

“Long-awaited upgrades to passenger rail stations and train repair facilities totaling $80 million will be invested in Amtrak’s Illinois operations.

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $1.3 billion for Amtrak projects nationwide. The money will go toward hundreds of initiatives, including modernizing train-repair shops, improving security at Amtrak stations and spending almost $91 million to rehabilitate damaged locomotives and train coaches and return them to service,” the report continued. “Some of the restored trains would be put into service in Illinois, where double-digit ridership gains have been recorded on many routes recently and seats often sell out, particularly on weekends.”

Other improvements include:

$50 million to expand Amtrak’s Chicago maintenance facilities and terminal near Union Station

$20 million to expand the building where trains are serviced and inspected in Chicago.

Some repair stations were built in the 1980’s and not updated or expanded for over a decade. Lack of storage and good repair facilities meant not being able to bring trains in for maintenance during the bitter cold winters of Chicago, causing equipment breakdowns on Amtrak’s aging fleet. Delayed and canceled trains in winter from frozen equipment plagued the railroad with problems for years, but now the expanded facilities will allow Amtrak to bring more trains into sheltered rail barns between runs and keep mechanical systems running to thaw equipment and prevent malfunctions.

Using the federal stimulus funding, Amtrak will also install more power switches and switch heaters in the Chicago rail yard, replacing less reliable heated manual switches that riders can identify by the flames they generate at track level.

These repairs and upgrades “will improve our four-season reliability, which has not been satisfactory to us or to our customers,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

- Jon Hilkevitch

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HIGH TECH LINES... High Tech Lines...  

ACN Speeds Customer Communications
And Improves Efficiency

From Amtrak Ink

Amtrak’s new Automated Customer Notification system sends automated voice and e-mail alerts to passengers advising them of schedule changes, service disruptions and other important information. In the short time since it has been operational, it has proven successful in improving both customer service and call center efficiency. “The previous callback process was slow and labor intensive. We used a printed manifest from which to conduct callbacks, placing one call at a time, and could only reach seven to nine customers per hour,” said Call Center Project Leader Jamie Sorensen. “It could take a team several hours to contact a train with 300 passengers.”

Shortly after going live last fall, call center staff used ACN to send about 4,000 customer notifications. By early 2009, due to several weather-related service disruptions as well as the huge number of passengers arriving at or departing Washington Union Station for inaugural activities, about 39,000 additional ACN messages were sent to customers. Sorensen added that the Inauguration Day-related messages alerted passengers to enhanced security arrangements at the station and other important tips regarding inauguration activities.

At press time, call center staff had employed ACN to disseminate around 43,000 messages, including more than 10,000 for Inauguration Day alone. Sorensen said that the volume of ACN messages will fluctuate based on on-time performance and overall service delivery, but the ACN system will continue to transmit information about schedule and other train changes.

The messages are created using an in-house program that gathers customer data from reservations in Arrow. The data is then formatted and sent to the ACN vendor, Omaha-based West Corp., which then immediately transmits the messages to the targeted customers.

“Calls that would normally take days to complete now require less than 30 minutes, and part of that time is simply setting the system up,” according to Michele Wethers, Customer Support Desk supervisor. “I also love the fact that each passenger receives the same message; with floor agents, the message can vary even when scripted.”

Sorensen also noted that, in the past, all contact records were paper-based, making it difficult to reference or assess performance. The new system creates electronic records, which can then be used for callback performance evaluation, and also updates the passenger’s reservation with information on the date, time and nature of the contact. In this way, agents can be sure to have all the latest information when assisting a customer.

ACN’s success was a direct result of excellent interdepartmental coordination. Principal Marketing Officer Allen Sebrell of the eCommerce team began the process by exploring different ways to automate the call centers’ outbound notification process, documenting initial requirements, and investigating vendor capabilities. After detailed system and implementation requirements were established by call center management and the Information Technology department, a request for proposals was issued, and West Corp. was selected as the outbound notification partner.

The next steps in ACN include upgrading the technology platform and integrating customer information from various sources, including, Amtrak Guest Rewards ® and other customer databases.

“Ultimately, we envision a platform that will be based on a customer’s preferred method of contact - e-mail, text message or phone - and deliver a variety of trip and train notifications, including proactively created messages like the one for Inauguration Day,” said Senior Director, Reservations Sales Mark Rose.

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New Web-Based System Enhances
Emergency Response Capabilities

Courtesy of Amtrak Ink

Slated for release in the summer, the Rail Incident Management System will enable a cross-section of users - from CNOC to Amtrak Police - to manage the entire life cycle of a rail incident, from preparation and planning, to education and training, to rapid response and recovery.

This real-time clearinghouse for information is expected to quicken response time, improve decision making, pre-define scenario planning and actions, and provide access to real-time information.

The system will be particularly helpful to “Go-Teams,” the group of company first responders to rail incidents, according to one of its trainers.

“The Go-Teams will be able to get on line wherever they are, whether they’re trainside, in their field crisis center or even in their hotel rooms, to provide and receive real-time incident information,” said Don Cushine, senior director, Systems Operations Support and Go-Team co-trainer. “We won’t have to wait for e-mail messages, spreadsheets or someone to shout over a conference line for the latest information.”

The Rail Incident Management System consists of five modules. Process Manager helps define contingencies and develops incident-specific plans. In the Learning Suite, employees are trained and tested. Crisis Alert notifies the appropriate staff by telephone, text message, e-mail or fax. Crisis Portal is a centralized, Web-based control center to manage the flow of information during an incident. Crisis Publisher updates Intranet and Internet pages.

“Right now, we have a decentralized assortment of response plans born from the experience and knowledge of our employees, ” said Chris Jagodzinski, senior director, System Operations. “Rail Incident Management System puts all the information together in a single, accessible place to better enable us to analyze and plan for an incident, educate our people, respond to the incident, stabilize the situation and evaluate our performance.”

The Rail Incident Management System was developed by IntraPoint, a Norwegian company that first came into prominence after two trains collided head-on near Oslo in January 2000, killing 19 people. NSB, the passenger railway, came under considerable fire for lacking communications procedures, insufficient access to emergency resources and no planned responses. Because of its successful implementation there, Jagodzinski said, several additional European rail agencies now employ it as well.

Jagodzinski added that while the Rail Incident Management System is now up and running for testing, it is currently being tailored to fit Amtrak's’s needs. By midsummer, it will be available with limited functionality.

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MAINTENANCE LINES... Maintenance Lines...  

Track Work Season Begins
On New York Division

From Amtrak Ink

The Production Engineering team will begin replacing more than 50,000 concrete ties along the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey starting in early April. This initiative is part of an ongoing effort to replace ties laid in the 1990s that have prematurely deteriorated. Replacing the defective concrete ties will improve on-time performance by reducing slow orders.

“Reducing slow orders is our number one priority,” said Jim Harris, director, Production Field Operations. “We can’t start on our other capital projects unless we first control slow orders.”

The Track Laying System will work in three areas:Track 2 between Hunter Interlocking, west of Newark, N.J., and Union Interlocking, at Rahway, N.J.; Track 2 between Union and Iselin Interlocking, at Metropark, N.J., and Track 2 between Iselin and County Interlocking.

“Amtrak and New Jersey Transit are working on revisions to our schedules, similar to the changes we made last year when the Track Laying Machine was between Monmouth Junction and Trenton,” said Jon Tainow, chief, System Operations. “There will be changes to Amtrak and NJT schedules, although most should be minor.”

Later this summer, the track-laying season in Connecticut will commence with work on Track 2 between Mill River, east of New Haven, and Saybrook Interlocking at Old Saybrook, Conn. Recently up for competitive bid, the contract for this work is being finalized, according to Harris. Currently, the TLM North team is preparing for this project by ensuring that all of the required 70,000 concrete ties are available by the July 6 start date.

Tainow added that the TLM work in Connecticut will cause more significant schedule changes than in New Jersey because that section of the NEC only has two tracks and there are as many as 15 miles between interlockings.

“Both Amtrak and Shore Line East will probably have to cancel some service, and we’ll work closely with MBTA in the Boston-Providence area so that adjusted Amtrak services still mesh with the expanding MBTA services in the area,”Tainow said. “We’re approaching this TLM project with the premise that there will be two schedule changes, on July 6 when the work begins between Mill River and Guilford and then on Aug. 26 for the period when the TLM is between Guilford and Saybrook.”

Transportation is expected to issue a number of service updates, added Tainow. On April 20, the Northeast Corridor schedule will be updated, followed by additional weekend schedule updates in early summer to accommodate the track work in New Jersey. Because of the changes, service schedules for Acela Express, Northeast Regional, Empire Service, Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian and Vermonter are not published in the Spring- Summer Timetable but will be available via virtual timetable cards on

The Track Laying System involves a number of steps. The first step involves cleaning and removing excess shoulder ballast, the ballast placed between and under the ties to give stability, and provide drainage and distribute loads. A vacuum train then cleans the cribs, or spaces between the ties in the areas not accessible to the shoulder cleaner, such as bridges and platforms. A destroyed tie removal gang then comes through, removing those ties that cannot negotiate the TLM conveyor belt. Then, using the TLM, old ties are removed via a pick-up wheel and the “OT,” or old tie belt, and conveyor-fed to a car designed to accumulate the old ties for pick up by a gantry crane. New ties also staged on the accumulator car are then transferred to the “NT,” or new tie belt, and conveyed to a tie gate where they are placed into the track bed.

The rail is then heated to the Amtrak standard of 110 degrees and de-stressed to prevent track buckling. It is then clipped, or secured, to the new concrete ties to hold the de-stressed rail length. New ballast is distributed, the track is surfaced and stabilized, and the area cleared of deteriorated concrete pieces and other debris.

In other rail tie news, Metro-North will also be replacing concrete ties on its Hudson Line between Beacon and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., requiring adjustments to nearly all Empire Service trains between New York City and Albany between April 6 and July 3.

Also, a wood-tie gang is returning this spring to complete its work along the Springfield Line between Berlin and Mill River Interlocking that began last fall. While some cancellations this spring and summer are possible, the work already accomplished last year will result in reduced trip times on the Springfield-Hartford segment in April by about 10 minutes.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)61.9755.06
Canadian National (CNI)37.3133.91
Canadian Pacific (CP)32.2229.75
CSX (CSX)27.4124.24
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.4621.00
Kansas City Southern (KSU)13.9713.52
Norfolk Southern (NSC)34.8830.46
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.0010.33
Union Pacific (UNP)43.0038.69

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PHOTO ESSAY... Photo Essay...  

Light My Way


Train Headlights – See and be Seen

By David Beale

Hannover – Train headlights in Germany and elsewhere in Europe have evolved over the years, just as other technology in rail transportation has changed. In most examples headlights on trains are less for the train driver to see at night and more for others potentially in the way of the train to immediately recognize that there is something on the tracks probably headed in their direction, when they see a set of white lights arranged in a triangle pattern. This week we look at the old and familiar triangle headlight pattern in use for over a century in Germany and a number of other countries in Central Europe.

Electric locomotive 111 104 in Fulda, Germany in 2002. From the period of the late 1920s through the mid 1970s most locomotives, DMUs and EMUs in Germany had very simple headlights, essentially little more than a standard household 60W light bulb in a simple reflector housing and a plain clear glass lens, three of which were mounted on the front of the train in a triangle pattern. This configuration remains in widespread use today on older equipment such as the 218 series diesel locomotive and the 111 series electric locomotive, both of which are used primarily on regional and commuter trains.

All Photos: Deutsche Bahn AG

Diesel locomotive 218 154 at the end of a major overhaul in Deutsche Bahn’s works in Bremen in 2005.

By the early 1980s the EBA (Germany’s equivalent of the U.S. FRA) revised its lighting regulations to allow for automotive style “high beams” lights in addition to the standard headlights, as well as the use of diffuser type lenses for the lower/outer headlights, which were required by authorities in other European countries. More recently train builders have started using multi-color LED (light emitting diode) arrays for the standard headlights, thus solving a number of issues with one significant advance in lighting technology:

  1. Ability to change headlight intensity and light color in order to meet varying headlight regulations in a number of EU countries.

  2. Lower electric power consumption for the three headlights from approximately 120 watts or more to under 25 watts.

  3. Significant improvement in life and reliability compared to filament / incandescent light bulbs, thus lowering maintenance costs.

  4. Red “tail light” function built in, thus simplifying design and assembly of the light fixture into the train.

Photo: Deutsche Bahn AG

A new Alstom “Coradia” EMU as DB series ET 440 in Bavaria in summer 2008. Both the LED matrix headlights and halogen incandescent high-beam headlights can be seen clearly in this photo. The ET 440 is yet another example of the expanding use of articulated car body designs in DMU and EMU train sets in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, whereby two cars share a single wheel truck between each other.

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OPINION... Opinion...  

A One-Sided Transportation Policy Hurts
Even The Apparent Winner

By David Peter Alan

It appears that the Obama Administration and Congress are pushing for reform on many fronts. They are talking about rail, and high-speed (or at least higher-speed rail). The nation has a long way to go before we have a truly balanced transportation policy, but the new grants for rail infrastructure improvements constitute a start.

The effects of the old policies will be with us for some time to come. I was reminded of that when I read a piece entitled “Flying Doesn’t Have to Be Such a Bummer,” by noted rail journalist Don Phillips, which appeared in the January issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Phillips made a foray from the rail scene to the airline world and found an industry that was eliminating trips and cutting customer service, except for a few high-spending regular travelers.

Phillips began by recounting the story of a young woman who was not a frequent airline traveler or a “first-class” customer. She had been stuck at New York’s LaGuardia airport for two days, with no immediate hope of release. He commented: “Few things in life are as unpleasant as an intrusive medical examination, a divorce or a trip by air. Of the three, only the airline trip seems to be getting worse. Infrequent fliers traveling on cheap tickets must pay for checked luggage. Meals and even free soft drinks seem to be fading into history.”

Phillips attributed this unhappy situation to a combination of high fuel prices and the current global economic downturn. He reported that the airline industry is currently shrinking for the first time in history, and that airline people claim that current consumer demand cannot support the sort of fare increase that would help defray increased operating costs.

For decades, Congress and government regulators believed that the airlines could do no wrong. Even in September, 2001, when the airliners were knocked out of the skies and only Amtrak trains provided intercity transportation, Congress and the Bush Administration responded by giving the airlines billions of bailout dollars while rewarding Amtrak by keeping it on a starvation diet that nearly killed it.

The Federal government began promoting air travel in the 1920s and stepped up its support of that mode in the 1940s. Even today, Federal transportation officials talk about “essential air service” with no mention of “essential rail service,” although that attitude may finally be changing.

At the same time, our government did everything it could to eliminate passenger rail service, at least outside the Northeast Corridor region. The legislation that created Amtrak simplified the process for discontinuing trains, while even wasteful and inefficient short-haul air service was encouraged because the airlines kept getting generous subsidies. Environmentalists point out that any trip 500 miles or less should be served by rail as those short plane trips are the most polluting of any transportation mode.

Now, circumstances have caught up with the airlines. Fuel prices jumped last year, and Americans are more conscious of the environment than they were a few decades ago.

The airlines will not die completely, but some have had their day. There is still excessive airline capacity that the carriers can no longer afford to operate, and that customers do not want. Many reluctant passengers still fly because of the lack of appropriate rail service.

For the moment at least, customers must still make the best of a bad situation. Chicago rail advocate Steven P. Hastelis told this writer: “Using the airlines feels like taking a Greyhound bus. You use it because you have to, not because you want to.” Hastelis said this while he waited out a two-hour departure delay at O’Hare Airport for his plane to New York. He prefers the train, but Amtrak only operates one daily train from Chicago to New York, and he could not accommodate the schedule.

Airlines have their place, but if rail is utilized effectively, it will lead to a cohesive transportation system using long-distance trains, commuter rail and local transit. All have their place, and their utility can be maximized through competent planning and judicious scheduling. Trains can pick up and drop off passengers all along their lines, while air service cannot. A balanced transportation policy would make best use of rail where it is available and best use of air where it is most useful, i.e. overseas destinations or coast to coast trips across the country.

Maybe the day will come when an old advertising slogan will apply to reluctant air travelers: “Next time, take the train!”

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2009 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.

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