Vol. 8 No. 14
April 2, 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...

  News items…
Federal highway orders state DOT giveback$:
    Transit, CMAQ, likely to be hit hardest
Part Two: Rail advocate leadership gathers in Chicago
  Legal lines…
Caltrans using lawsuits to fund roads
Feds vow to investigate NY railroad lines after problems
  Commuter lines…
Award winning Metro showcases Transit Smart Card
  Selected rail stocks…
  Freight lines…
Trestle fire repair work off to fast pace
Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports - A Maine Advantage:
    Good rails and ports
  Environmental lines…
New biofuel refinery to use CSXT, Allston yards
  Opinion…
Pulling a fast one on the public
  Editorial…
Oh for wisdom!
  End notes…


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

Federal highway orders state DOT giveback$:
Transit, CMAQ, likely to be hit hardest

 

By DF Staff and from the Surface Transportation Policy Project

 

WASHINGTON ---The Federal Highway Administration is ordering state Departments of Transportation to give back by April 18 a total of $3.471 Billion in “unobligated program balances” --- funds not yet committed for specific projects --- in a way likely to hit air quality and other non-highway project plans hardest, yet remain unnoticed by the public until after the deadline has passed.

In addition, by taking the highly unusual step of failing (so far) to publish in the Federal Register the March 19 order, sending it only to state DOTs directly, the FHWA has made it hard for journalists to cover the story, or for transit advocates to organize resistance to the so-called “rescission order”, which was part of legislation signed by President Bush February 15.

In an urgent bulletin issued by the Surface Transportation Policy Project this week, STPP said, “Please contact your Governor’s office, state DOT and state legislators immediately to register your concerns about this new round of rescissions, urging your state to ensure ‘balanced’ reductions among all of the program categories in satisfying this order.”

What is likely to happen, advocates for transit and rail believe, is that most state DOTs, which flex only a small portion of the eligible funds to non-highway projects in any event, will select funds from transit-eligible accounts for those rescissions, effectively blocking or postponing those projects.

The STPP states, “Importantly, neither Congress or the FHWA provided any guidance or instructions to the states in undertaking these rescissions (e.g., no public notification, no notice to affected program partners such as MPOs or local governments, no assessment of how state rescissions affect Transportation Improvement Programs [TIPs] at the metropolitan level, etc.), so it is even more crucial that you engage the rescission process in your state prior to this deadline.”

The FHWA order can be found at STPP’s site, www.transact.org/FHWAFY'07RescissionMemo$3.471B.pdf.
[ Requires the Adobe Actobat Reader – Ed ]

In addition STPP has prepared a chart showing how the three FY’06 rescission orders affected the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program (CMAQ) and Transportation Enhancements program, available at: www.transact.org/FinalFY'06CMAQandTERescissionsTable.pdf. which “shows that these two relatively small programs – representing less that 10 percent of annual spending authority to the states – absorbed a disproportionate share of state rescissions during FY’06. The chart also makes it possible to compare CMAQ and TE rescissions to each state’s total rescission amount for FY’06,” states STPP.

“The takeaway message on state decision-making,” states STPP, “is that often the program categories of particular interest to communities and their local elected officials (generally the smallest funding categories) are the last to get funded, but are often the first target for cuts when states are deciding on rescissions.”

The subject of the rescission order – indeed, the rescission order itself --- is complex. To learn more see STPP’s “decoder”, The Transportation Funding Loophole, at -- www.transact.org/library/oblimit.asp.

 

Chart courtesy STPP

Rescissions ordered by FHWA, by state

 


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Rail Funding List

Part Two: Rail advocate leadership gathers in Chicago

 

Marching Orders from Chicago

[ C ontinued from DF March 26, 2007. ]

By DF Staff

 

CHICAGO --- American rail and environmental leaders had three conferences in three days to attend earlier last week, and several hundred of them did, first to strategize on various regional transportation projects at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, then at a national summit at the Union Club of Chicago pulled together by the Texas and Iowa rail advocacy leaders, and the following day, March 24, at the Midwest Regional High Speed Rail Association’s annual meeting.

Chief among the projects and policies debated were the marching orders developed over the course of the sessions, and summarized most succinctly in the final discussions of the summit Friday evening, lead by Henry Wulff of Texas Association of Rail Passengers and Eliot Keller the Iowa ARP, who called for and helped organize the summit conference along with Rick Harnish of the Midwest Regional High Speed Rail Association:

Saturday’s session heard from Anne Canby of the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a passionate Al Runte whose new book Allies of the Earth (Allies of the Earth: Railroads and the Soul of Preservation. By Alfred Runte. Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2006. xix +195 pp. Includes bibliographical references and index. Cloth, $29.95) is a call to arms for rail, NARP President George Chilson, who also addressed the Friday summit, Marc Magliari of Amtrak, former Amtrak Vice President Tim Gillespie, and Rick Harnish.


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LEGAL LINES...  Legal lines...

Caltrans using lawsuits to fund roads

The agency, long foiled by environmental litigation, is now filing its own legal challenges to obtain money for traffic improvements.

From Internet Sources

 

SACRAMENTO, MARCH 27 -- Caltrans, always in dire need of funds for transportation projects, is seeking to extract money from developers and cities based on a law that requires builders to mitigate the impact of their projects on highways.

Just as environmentalists have used litigation to stop projects which destroy wildlife habitats, pollute the air and contaminate water, now the Caltrans is using a similar law to raise money, reported the Sacramento Times staff writer, Evan Halper.

“Developers say the suits are extortion: Pay the state’s ransom or see projects bogged down in litigation indefinitely. Local governments complain that the state is trying to grab funds that should be going to their streets and to enviro-friendly transportation projects.

The state has challenged, or threatened to challenge, major projects in Sacramento, Fresno, Irvine and elsewhere, leading to settlements such as a $1.1-million agreement in Monterey County. In Fresno, builders have paid millions in fees over the past year.”

“ ‘It is very apparent that these lawsuits have become nothing more than a fundraising source for Caltrans,’ said Rex Hime, executive director of the California Business Properties Assn.”

Several months ago, voters approved $20 billion in borrowing for transportation projects, but experts say that the state needs to spend many times that amount if California is going to improve traffic conditions.

“Caltrans is recognizing we need to be more strategic and smarter” about raising funds for freeways, said Gregg Albright, a planning official at the agency. “There just isn’t enough of a revenue stream otherwise. The consequences of not doing this are significant,” he told the reporter.

Builders and taxpayer groups are mounting a backlash against the agency and lobbying Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to stop the lawsuits. They say that the impact fees are illegal, that they are demanded arbitrarily, and that Caltrans does not have the legal authority to make these demands.

Among the projects targeted for fees by Caltans are mixed-use high rise apartments and condos with shopping, public transit and bicycle paths, reclamation of a Superfund site into a community with 10,000 homes with restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Officials say these plans epitomize smart growth and will revitalize outdated areas of the city. Caltrans agrees but because construction would increase traffic on several major highways, the agency has extracted $75,000 in impact fees.

They have indicated they expect to also collect fees - possibly in the millions - from the other developers in the area.

“The city believes that what Caltrans is asking ... is unlawful,” said city attorney Eileen Teichert.

The first such lawsuit was filed in Irvine in 2003 where the city planned to convert the former El Toro Marine base into a park that would include new homes and stores. The state argued that the project’s environmental impact reports underestimated the number of car trips the development would generate.

A settlement was reached – if the project is approved, Caltrans will receive substantial fees.


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Feds vow to investigate NY
railroad lines after problems

DF Staff, Newsday.com and other Internet sources

MARCH 29 – The Federal Railroad Administration has agreed to investigate all passenger and freight railroad tracks in New York State at the request of Senator Hillary Clinton after a recent review of some of the tracks revealed hundreds of defects in the infrastructure and some safety violations.

An investigation of the fiery crash in Oneida, NY, when cars train filled with propane burst into flame, revealed that a defective switch track on the CSX main line was to blame. (DF March 19)

Another broader report covering the 23 states where CSX owns tracks, prompted by a number of derailments across the country, revealed safety problems in all areas of performance including track, hazardous materials, and on-track equipment.

In New York State alone, the report cited 376 defects and 13 violations.

“After the alarming results of the FRA’s recent report on CSX, we must do everything we can to ensure the safety of railroad tracks all across the state,” Clinton said in a statement.

With revenue never quite enough for capital improvements, keeping their infrastructure in a state of good repair has always been a struggle for the freight rail industry, but today, with soaring demands to expand service, this problem is now critical. Not only is it a safety concern, it also makes on-time performance impossible both for freight and passenger rail, namely Amtrak which must run almost all their trains except the Northeast Corridor on freight rail tracks. Tracks in many places are so worn that Amtrak trains that normally run at 79 mph are forced to slow down to 20 mph.

The industry has long resisted federal subsidies, fearing the restrictions that might follow.

But Alexander Kummant, President of Amtrak, says they need government help to make the capital investments necessary to cope with soaring volumes. Their infrastructure has become maxed out with the increased demand for coal and the growing reliance on rail, he said.

Many of the lines are single tracked, forcing both passenger and freight trains to sit on sidings waiting for other trains to pass.

The freight industry has big plans for expanding capacity and is lobbying for federal tax credits for investments in track and other infrastructure needed for expansion.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Award winning Metro showcases
Transit Smart Card

DF Staff, Cubic Corporation press release and other Internet Sources

Photo courtesy of Cubic Corporation  

Cubic smart card ‘BREEZE’ designed for MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority)
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) showcased their new fare collection “smart card” at a five-day workshop of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) held in Los Angeles last week.

The “smart card,” called TAP (Transit Access Pass) and made by Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation (AMEX: CUB) offers two options: a permanent plastic card for regular commuters and residents and a temporary, “Limited Use” paper version designed for visitors.

The Limited Use cards - provided by German manufacturer Greece & Devrient and French manufacturer ASK - are a recyclable paper-based product designed for short term use by occasional riders including tourists. The recent launch of the Cubic-designed Breeze smart card system for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) marked the first transit system in the U.S. to introduce both a full-featured and Limited-Use smart card as their fare media, making MARTA an all smart card system.

Attendees and select Metro employees at last week’s APTA conference were issued a free paper Limited Use card to use during their five-day conference.

“The APTA conference is the perfect opportunity to showcase our new system as fare collection and revenue management professionals representing transit agencies around the U.S. will be in attendance,” said Jane Matsumoto, project manager for Metro. “We will be rolling out the TAP smart cards incrementally and expect them to be in wide circulation across L.A. county, hopefully within several years, making absolutely certain that we do this gradually and carefully to ensure the smooth transition to a fully smart card-capable system.”

By summer 2007 TAP cards issued will exceed 35,000 in number, including those used by University of California, Los Angeles students, select businesses and Metro staff.

The plan is for LA County and eleven other independent transit operators in the area to join the Universal Fare System, furthering the goal of a seamless system for the region. Soon public transit commuters from surrounding cities and communities will be able to travel across the county switching from one transit operator’s system to another using one smart card to pay for fares.

Last October, APTA named Metro the Outstanding Transportation System of 2006.

Besting major transit agencies in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Metro received high praise from APTA President William Millar. “We get a chance in my job to go all over the country, in fact all over the world, and to watch the progress you’ve been making over the years here in L.A. is nothing short of spectacular and wonderful.”

Metro’s county supervisor Gloria Molina praised the “9,000-plus men and women working at Metro who earned it by tending to the unique needs of Los Angeles.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)80.4382.64
Canadian National (CNI)44.1446.11
Canadian Pacific (CP)56.4556.12
CSX (CSX)40.0541.65
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.6962.40
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.6126.77
Kansas City Southern (KSU)35.5836.35
Norfolk Southern (NSC)50.6051.97
Providence & Worcester (PWX)17.7018.07
Union Pacific (UNP)101.55104.20


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Trestle fire repair work off to fast pace

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —Three days after a spectacular fire devastated a rail trestle on the Union Pacific line (D: F March 19 and 26), workers had extinguished and hauled away the smoldering timbers and started preparing the ground for driving the steel pilings.

The smell of the burned creosote-soaked logs still lingered but the speed with which contractors worked to rebuild the century-old structure was impressive, luring “a steady stream of onlookers with toddlers and family dogs in tow who scampered up the bank of a levee to view the staging grounds for reconstruction,” reported Chris Bowman for the Sacramento Bee website.

Robert Hughes, a state Fish and Game spokesman who has observed the activity since Friday afternoon, marveled at the pace of the railroad contractors.

“These people are fast; they’re rolling,” Hughes said against a backdrop of hard-hatted workers assembling a giant crane for the pile driver. The diesel-powered driver will pound into the ground bunches of 60-foot-long columns to anchor a more fire-resistant trestle of concrete and steel.

“Union Pacific is able to bypass the numerous and time-consuming government environmental permits because the reconstruction simply replaces rather than expands the railroad crossing”, Hughes said.

“The new structure will have two tracks and occupy the same 1,400-foot-long path as the timber trestle did in the American River Parkway near Cal Expo.

“While no environmental impact reviews are required, Fish and Game officials have stationed themselves at the site to keep a close watch on the around-the-clock operation.

“We’re here to make sure it’s cleaned up properly and to make sure it is restored as close as possible to what it was before the fire,” Hughes said.

The parkway, a floodplain, is a prime bicycling route through the heart of metropolitan Sacramento and a wildlife corridor for various mammals, birds and insects that depend on riparian vegetation for at least a portion of their life cycle.

Workers were expected to finish a rail connection in Marysville within a week that will provide a detour for freight traffic from the Pacific Northwest. The 90-mile detour will delay the traffic from two to 24 hours, depending on sorting at the Roseville train yards. It will carry double the normal amount of train traffic on those tracks.


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Selections from this week’s

Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports

 

A Maine Advantage: Good rails and ports

 

Chalmers (Chop) Hardenbergh, publisher and editor

E-mail: C_Hardenbergh@juno.com

To subscribe go to: www.atlanticnortheast.com

 

PORTLAND --- Maine offers “well-developed rail, and ports, among the strongest on the East Coast,” said Jonathan L. Sangster, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis Consulting, which advises companies on relocations.

He was expanding on remarks he made on 21 March to a Portland forum on the tax situation in Maine sponsored by Portland law firm Bernstein Shur, and chaired by former Maine Governor Angus King.

Maine Rail Map Overview

 


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At the forum, he said taxes are only one of the challenges that Maine faces. The top concern of most companies is the work force in the area. Maine’s work force rates high in quality but low in quantity, making it unlikely the state could land a major manufacturing facility. Also, Maine’s overall costs are higher than the national average, but he said the state’s higher-education resources, its access to ports and railroads, and the upcoming availability of the Brunswick Naval Air Station to business development are all assets. Still, Maine’s best bet might be to nurture the businesses that are already here. “Home-grown and built from within is a wonderful way to grow your economy.”

Speaking two days later, he noted that a combination of rails and ports “ strategically position you,” though opportunities have not worked within state to locate anyone. He has visited the state three times in the last eight months, and said he is “more excited about opportunities I see.” He cautioned, though, that the state should not “pretend to be something you’re not, focus on your strengths and assets.” {ANR&P discussion 22.Mar.07; Portland Press Herald 22.Mar.07}


[ DF Note: The National Corridors Initiative is working with the elected leaders and citizen transportation activists in the New England states, upstate New York, and Eastern Canada to create support for an integrated, full-scale, high-speed regional transportation network for both freight and passenger service, which among other things would create wider employee/employer pools in New England by cutting travel times. The first of a number of planned interstate summits of senior elected leaders will take place April 12 in Connecticut ]
Meanwhile at Augusta Maine legislative committee voted down proposed LD 626, which would require lights at all grade crossings. It was voted ‘Ought not to Pass’ by the Maine Joint Transportation Committee.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LINES...  Environmental lines...

New biofuel refinery to use
CSXT, Allston yards

GREENFIELD, MA --- A biodiesel refinery plans to use the CSXT Allston Transflo Terminal, said Larry Union, president of Northeast Biofuel, the company building the facility [but see article below]. Located on Silvio Conte Drive on a 26-acre site in the Greenfield Industrial Park, the $5.8 million facility will break ground in May and be ready within five or six months. Some of the product is going to Co-op Power, the majority owner, which will wholesale the biodiesel to local distributors.

The plant will receive by truck from Allston carloads of yellow grease, a product from rendering plants, and previously used oils, and turn it into biodiesel. Eventually, the plant will produce 10 million gallons per year.

Why Allston?

Union said that the owners wanted to locate in the Greenfield area, and could find no suitable site on ST, which has the only rail lines in the area. To transload the raw material requires heat in winter. Union had hoped to use the Transflo in Westfield on PVRR, but that closed in 2006 [see 06#06B] and CSXT moved the heating equipment to North Haven. Could Northeast Biodiesel and Yankee Candle share the latter’s new facility in Holyoke, your editor asked? [See 06#12B.] Union will talk to Mike Rennicke of PVRR. Allston [our Directory #228] is preferred over the Transflo site in North Haven, Connecticut [#644] because Massachusetts rules permit heavier trucks than do Connecticut’s.

Future rail use

Union would much prefer to have his own siding with direct rail; the refinery will have its own boiler to supply its own heat to melt the raw material. But Union realizes that at 50 or even 100 carloads a year that is hard to justify on direct cost. He anticipates that if the company builds another facility, it would do so on rail. {ANR&P discussion 26.Mar.07; Nancy Gonter in Springfield Republican 24.Mar.07}

More on the Yankee Candle facility

Yankee Candle opened in January. The company is delighted with the temperature and quality of the steam piped under the city streets, as it enables the worker to get virtually all of the wax out of the railcar.

Rennicke said that because Superior Carriers (the trucking company) and Yankee had invested so much money [see 06#12B] in the facility, Yankee has the exclusive right to use it for three years. Had it become a public facility, Yankee feared that other candle-makers in the area would also use it.

However, Yankee is open to other, non-competing uses such as biodiesel. In addition, Rennicke is talking about asphalt and wax for a waxed paper manufacturer. And the steam is much better than produced by CSX Transflo’s equipment when it was located in Westfield. {ANR&P discussion}


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Pulling a fast one on the public

The decision of the FHWA to hold back official Federal Register publication of its March 19 “rescission” notice to state DOTs (see story above) fits the Bush Administration’s long-standing hostility to transit and rail, which will be most impacted by the $3.471 Billion give-back.

It is an obscure and arcane mechanism for reducing the Federal deficit, which should be tackled by reforming the pro-billionaire tax policies of President Bush, not by the stealth removal of funds that could be used for non-highway transportation projects, programs already under-utilized by the largely highway-oriented state DOTs.

Thanks to the Surface Transportation Policy Project for calling attention to the issue; readers should do their part by contacting their governor’s office, and demanding that this “rescission” isn’t used by state DOTs to starve out the few transit projects actually getting money from the states.


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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

An Editorial from ANR&P

Oh for wisdom!

Reports out of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Transportation say that the agency will hire a new manager of rail. Ever since Dennis Coffey, who had worked for the B&M, left EOT’s rail unit in 1998, none of his successors has had rail experience: Siobhan Norton (1999-2003), Maeve Vallely Bartlett (2003-2006) was general counsel Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (2003-2006), Michael Gleba (2006) had some background in transit.

EOT should look outside the ranks of state government for its next manager of rail. With someone who actually worked for a railroad, EOT might be able to navigate the difficult situations with, for example, the operating agreement for Massachusetts Central. The Commonwealth in general, and EOT in particular, desperately needs an active pro-freight-rail policy. Hiring someone who has gained knowledge, and we would hope wisdom, of freight railroads would help.


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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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