The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

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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April 6, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 15

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

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

  News Items…
New Orleans Takes Important Step To Reclaim
   Historic City Neighborhood
America’s Oldest African American Neighborhood -- Faubourg Tremé
  Political Lines…
UTU’s Joe Szabo Picked As FRA Administrator;
   Joins NY State’s Karen Rae
  Commuter Lines…
The Cuts Just Keep On Coming!
  Conference Follow-Ups…
University Of New Orleans Conference
The New Orleans Statement on Sustainable Transportation
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Across The Pond…
Deutsche Bahn Chief Mehdorn Resigns In Wake Of Spy Scandal
  View From Europe…
Walk Before You Run
  Editorial…
Healing New Orleans/Helping The Gulf South
  Publication Notes …


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

Removing Interstate Highway Blight

 

New Orleans Takes Important Step
To Reclaim Historic City Neighborhood

By DF Staff And From New Orleans Citybusiness

NEW ORLEANS ---This city, still struggling to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005, is taking steps to undo even older damage inflicted on the Crescent City 50 years ago when a leg of Interstate-10 was rammed through the heart of its famed Treme neighborhood.

America’s Oldest African American Neighborhood
-- Faubourg Tremé

Faubourg is a French term that literally means ‘suburb’ or neighborhood. The Faubourg Tremé or as it is more frequently referred to, Tremé, is not only America’s oldest black neighborhood but was the site of significant economic, cultural, political, social and legal events that have literally shaped the course of events in Black America for the past two centuries. Yet, few outside of New Orleans except for scholars and historians know its enormous importance to Americans of African descent.

Treme geographically is that part of New Orleans that lies between North Rampart and North Broad and from Canal Street to St. Bernard Avenue. The area received its namesake from one Claude Treme, a model hat maker and real estate developer who migrated from Saugivny in Burgundy, France, and settled in New Orleans in 1783. Treme owned only a small portion of the area that bore his name and was in possession of that for just a decade.

In later years, free persons of color and eventually those African slaves who either obtained, bought or bargained for their freedom were able to acquire and own property in Treme. There are hundreds of examples of 18th and early 19th century ownership of large and small land areas in Faubourg Treme by free peoples of color.

New Orleans Jazz Band Struts their stuff.

The ability to acquire, purchase and own real property during an era when America was still immersed in slavery was remarkable and only in New Orleans did this occur with any regularity and consistency.

Today Treme is the locale for visitors and natives alike to celebrate the achievements of African Americans. Scholars and historians have shared their immense knowledge with New Orleans residents and now Treme is home to several museums dedicated to African American life, art, and history, as well as Armstrong Park, a memorial to the great jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

A neighborhood largely of black working class New Orleanians bounded by Broad, Esplanade, St. Louis, and Rampart streets, Treme abuts the French Quarter but is seldom scene by tourists. It was and is home to many of New Orleans’ jazz musicians and composers, restaurateurs like Dooky Chase, and countless legions of hotel and other service industry workers, but was split in two by the building of the I-10 loop that moves down into the City from Metairie and then back up to the Lakefront, to head east across the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain towards Slidell.

If taken down, to be replaced by the kind of broad, tree-lined boulevard that is typical of New Orleans, the city would join a small but growing list of American cities that have reclaimed urban neighborhoods from the random damage caused by the building of the Interstate Highway System and its tributaries half a century ago, such as San Francisco, which declined to rebuild the Embarcadero freeway following the Pretty Big One (earthquake) in 1989, thereby reviving its waterfront neighborhoods, New Haven, which is planning to take up the Route 34 connector to I-95, and others.

A scene from a Faubourg Tremé/Lafitte neighborhood

The Interstate Highway System, proposed by President Eisenhower in the early 1950’s in response to his experiences with the highly efficient German Autobahn during his march into Germany during World War II, was originally proposed to end in ring roads, as did the Autobahn, around the centers of cities, with large parking garages adjacent to rail stations and regular roads connecting to downtown.

Instead, the highway system was used as a tool of what was then called “urban renewal” to “clear slums” and other “blighted areas,” unfortunately in a way that actually made the blight worse

New Orleans CityBusiness Richard A. Webster reports:

“Since the day the Claiborne Expressway was constructed nearly 50 years ago, devastating the historic Treme neighborhood, Attorney Bill Borah has been shouting into the wind, ‘Tear down this monstrosity.’

But few people listened and even fewer believed the chances of the city demolishing the elevated highway was anything more than a fantasy.

“ ‘People looked at me like I was crazy,’” Borah said. “ ‘I may as well have been having a conversation with my cat.’”

“But last week, Borah’s fantasy moved one step closer to becoming a reality when the city released its master plan. Included in the plan was a neighborhood revitalization project that calls for tearing down the expressway and redeveloping Claiborne Avenue into a tree-lined boulevard.”

“If the project survives another round of public hearings that are expected to take place by August, there is a good chance it will be included in the final version of the master plan bringing to an end 50 years of economic and cultural hardship in Treme,” Borah said.

“ ‘The Claiborne Expressway was a disaster and should have never been built,’” Borah said. “ ‘But when the city did it, there were no laws to stop it and there was no resistance to it. It was sold to the people as progress and an economic engine when in fact it killed businesses and ruined the black community around it.’”

“The fortunes of Treme, however, could soon be improved,” reports CityBusiness’ Webster:

“One proposal being considered in the master plan would tear down the Claiborne Expressway between Elysian Fields and the Superdome. A boulevard with two lanes for through traffic in both directions with a third outer lane for neighborhood access would replace the expressway. Oak trees would once again return to Claiborne Avenue where the only remnants of their existence for the past 50 years have been the crude paintings of trees on the cement buttresses holding up the freeway. Several proposals call for the neutral ground to be converted into a canal or a light rail system that runs from Jefferson Parish to St. Bernard Parish,” he wrote.

“The elimination of the Claiborne Expressway would open up 38 blocks of prime real estate in the heart of New Orleans to new development and retail opportunities. Property values around the reborn Claiborne Avenue would skyrocket and the blight that now mars the neighborhood would disappear as investors move in,” said David Waggonner with Waggonner and Ball Architects, one of a number of firms involved in post-Katrina planning.

For more information on this and other stories see http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

UTU’s Joe Szabo Picked
As FRA Administrator; Joins

NY State’s Karen Rae
From Internet Sources

Photo: United Transportation Union. 

Joseph C. Szabo (Left) and President Obama
UTU leader Joseph C. Szabo, has been nominated by President Obama for Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, Department of Transportation

Currently the Illinois State Legislative Director for the United Transportation Union, Joe Szabo as State Director Joe “…has provided vision and direction to rail safety and regulatory issues and worked with business and civic leaders in the advancement of freight and passenger rail service.”

Joe also serves on the Federal Railroad Administration's Rail Safety Advisory Committee participating in the development of federal regulations on rail safety. Prior to this, Joe served as the Mayor of the Village of Riverdale where he managed over 100 employees and budget of $9 million serving 15,000 residents. Joe was elected Mayor after serving ten years as a Village Trustee.

“This is a terrific choice for FRA,” said NCI President James P. RePass. “It has been my good fortune to meet and speak with Joe on transportation matters over the years, and he is the kind of person that gets things done. Along with Karen Rae of New York State, who is another superb pick, as Deputy Administrator, the FRA will have some real leadership in place, to go along with a strong staff of professionals at the agency.”

Karen Rae, deputy commission of the state Department of Transportation and the state’s point person on all things high-speed rail, will join the Obama administration as the Federal Railroad Administration’s Deputy Administrator, according to Railway Age magazine.

“It’s bittersweet,” said New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who has been advocating for high-speed rail for a number of years.

“In one sense, that’s a huge loss for New York because she’s such a competent administrator. In another, promoting one of our own to go on to run the federal initiative is great. It could be very good for New York State as well,” he said.

New York is applying for a piece of the $13 billion high-speed rail pie from the federal stimulus package, reported Railway Age.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

The Cuts Just Keep On Coming!

By David Peter Alan

If you look at the front page of almost any transit provider’s web site, you will probably see bad news; a notice of impending service cuts. Transit riders in all parts of the nation will soon lose some of their mobility, if that has not happened already. And fares are going up at the same time.

Metropolitan transit started in the private sector a century ago, but it is squarely located in the public sector now, and has been for several decades. With people making and spending less money, tax revenue has declined. Funds to operate transit, along with other governmental functions, have become scarce. As the nation’s economic picture deteriorates, every dollar spent on transit is a dollar that cannot be spent on something else, like schools or police.

There have been warning signals for some time. In 2004, at the APTA Commuter Rail Conference, former FRA Administrator Allen Rutter said that any expansion of rail corridors would have to be financed by the states. This writer and Eugene Skoropowski of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority in California both confronted Rutter with the fact that the states did not have money to spend on such projects.

There were sporadic cuts in 2006 and 2007, and more serious service reductions in 2008. New Jersey Transit instituted severe reductions on the Morris & Essex Line and less extensive cuts elsewhere.

Service was also reduced in Philadelphia and Cleveland.

The Transportation 4 America Coalition (T4America) has compiled data on pending service cuts and presented it on a map captioned “The United States of Transit Cutbacks.” According to their web site, www.t4america.org, many of the nation’s major transit systems are saddled by deficits. 85 transit systems are reported to be planning service reductions, fare increases or both.

Tri-Rail, South Florida’s commuter rail operation, is one of the most troubled, with a 12% deficit. Even the highly-successful transit operations* in Portland, Oregon, with a level of fare and schedule integration that are the envy of other states, has a debt level of 3%. Portlanders love their transit and many of them commute on bicycles for part of their route, but their enthusiasm still does not raise enough money to pay all the costs. Service cuts are planned for this September. *(One might be surprised to learn that Portland’s transit systems consist of a group of components owned by different political authorities.)

The nation’s largest transit system is far from immune from the pain. Andrew Albert, Chair of New York’s MTA Transit Riders’ Council said that the MTA has adopted a “Doomsday budget” with service cuts coming on subways, bus lines, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, along with substantial fare increases. Albert, who is also Vice Chair of the Rail Users’ Network, wrote in the RUN Newsletter:

“For over 30 years – as long as I’ve been monitoring transit issues in and around New York City – I have never seen as hideous a budget, or as many combinations of fare hikes/service cuts, as this budget presents.”

The picture does not look any better in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently announced a cut of $460 million in operating funds for transit. Bart Reed, Executive Director of The Transit Coalition in Los Angeles, called the situation “counter-intuitive, because most transit properties in California experienced record ridership gains in 2008.”

Los Angeles will be spared severe cuts, because a sales tax increase was recently enacted to increase transit service. But in the current crisis, according to Reed, this new source of revenue must be used to maintain current service levels and not for expansion.

Chicago rail advocate Fritz Plous said “we are still staring into the barrel of the same cannon” and expressed the hope that the second or third round of stimulus funding might help support transit operations. “Financing transit through gas taxes does not make sense, now that more and more people are riding transit rather than using automobiles,” he added.

Richard Arena of Boston, President of the Association for Public Transportation, says the MBTA is proposing fare increases and deep service cuts in June. The Massachusetts Legislature is considering providing additional operating support, but has taken a “reform before revenue” position, requiring that union work rules and management practices at the “T” be reformed before such support is appropriated.

The most severe cuts may be coming to St. Louis. The New York Times reported on February 2d that the city and its surrounding areas may lose 45% of their bus service, with several lines being eliminated completely. MetroLink light rail service will also be reduced.

There are some positive signs. President Obama mentioned transit positively in his State of the Union speech on February 24th, and he was directly responsible for securing $8 billion in high-speed-rail grants that were incorporated into the economic “stimulus” legislation just before it passed.

For the present, there is nothing in the economic recovery legislation that will give today’s transit riders a reprieve from the fare increases and service cuts that are looming throughout the nation. Congressman James Oberstar, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, campaigned to have Federal operating support for transit included in the statute. He did not succeed. Arthur S. Guzzetti, Vice-President for Policy at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), supported the Oberstar initiative and believes that Congress will need to revisit the issue soon. There was such support available in the 1970s, but the Reagan Administration eliminated it in the 1980s.

There are opportunities on the horizon. The 2003 TEA-LU legislation, which appropriates money for highways and the capital side of transit, expires this September. Transit managers, industry groups like APTA and citizen-advocates are actively campaigning to get transit as good a deal as possible in the upcoming reauthorization.

Highway interests are also competing fiercely for every dollar in the pot, and they succeeded in keeping transit’s share down to 18% in 2003.

The battle lines are forming. Meanwhile, millions of transit riders will soon lose a significant amount of service and will pay more for the service they have.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition in New Jersey and a member of the New Jersey Transit Citizens Advisory Committee.


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CONFERENCE FOLLOW UPS... Conference Follow-Ups...  

Second Article On UNO Conference

 

University Of New Orleans Conference:
“Setting A Vision For Sustainable Development:
The Louisiana Transportation Renaissance”

By Molly McKay

NEW ORLEANS, MARCH 26 --- At. 4:45 pm, William Millar, President and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, took to the podium and ended the day with a rousing keynote address that stirred every soul in the room. And there was still a good crowd, after eight hours of speeches.

“Universities are a good place to air ideas and ask questions,” said Millar, obviously pleased to deliver a long list of good news statistics about the future of public transportation in America. “In 2008, there were 10.7 billion rides on public transit, the highest since1956, and up 4% from 2007. Thirty-eight percent of the population used transit last year, up from 14% in 1995, while auto use grew by 21%.”

“And on and on each year!” he said, “Growth is in the smaller communities, with populations of 100,000 to 200,000, as well as the cities. Even when gas prices plummeted by the end of 2008, demand for transit did not diminish.”

APTA wants to raise the dollar amount for transit to $123 billion in the upcoming Reauthorization Bill, double what it was in the last bill, he said. “Benefits from transit in the three E’s -- Economy, Energy and Environment -- more than justify such an increase: 383,000 jobs in the transit industry support 1.7 million jobs in the surrounding communities. A capital investment of $1 billion creates 30,000 jobs. . $1 billion spent in operations means 41,000 jobs. $1 billion invested in transit brings back a return of $6 billion.”

4.2 billion gallons of gas are saved every year in this country by transit use.

Environmentalists take note: “One person using transit saves more carbon than all the clean cars, clean fuel and household measures that one can do.”

More statistics can be found at www.apta.com.

“Policy changes are up to you!” Millar concluded, quoting the previous speaker Alexandra Evans from the Louisiana Recovery Authority. “Only 53% of households in our country have any transit, including one-hour headway services. 40,000 people a year are killed on our highways, 2.8 million injured. A person is 25 % less likely to die in a transit vehicle than a car.

“Talk to Congress! Give specific examples. Tell your story!”

Earlier in the day, Dike Ahanotu from Cambridge Systematics spoke of the dangers to public safety and growing congestion caused by America’s heavy dependence on transporting freight by truck. In truck accidents, 78% of fatalities are the occupants in other vehicles. Nodes of congestion are becoming corridors of congestion.

“ It is time for our 19th century rail infrastructure to be upgraded,” he said.

Presentations by speakers from the Louisiana Recovery Authority, AARP, the Center for Planning Excellence, the Office of Recovery and Development Administration, HRI Develoment Team and M.I.T.’s Economic Development Lecturer will be copied or summarized in subsequent issues of this newsletter


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The New Orleans Statement
on Sustainable Transportation

Adopted unanimously March 26, 2009 by the Assembled Participants.

Setting A Vision for Sustainable Development:
The Louisiana Transportation Renaissance

As we continue to rebuild the transportation system of New Orleans and approach the next Congressional transportation authorization, we have all heard about the crisis in the economy, and changes in the earth’s climate brought on by global warming, but we have heard little about one key element that underlies both of those issues: the movement of goods and people, our very freedom of mobility. Yet, few national issues offer a greater opportunity for imaginative change.

We speak to those possibilities, today. We are from all over Louisiana and the United States, gathered this day in New Orleans for the inaugural Setting A Vision for Sustainable Development Conference, to advocate for the renewal of that infrastructure.

The American people need rational choices when it comes to transportation, and those choices must be adequately and intelligently funded and maintained to make it all work. In particular, an efficient transportation system and robust rail, air, port, and highway components will sharply reduce both our dependence on foreign oil, and the price we pay for it. Highly fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly transportation modes, such as rail, non-motorized, and transit, should especially not be overlooked.

Speakers today have highlighted both the tremendous strain on transportation system and the opportunities for using targeted investments to rebuild our communities. To manage these constraints and capitalize on the potential, we call for:

  1. An Accountable Transportation System that meets the needs of a 21st century economy.
  2. Prioritized investment that helps to build a world-class, sustainable transportation system.
  3. A seamless, intermodal transportation system that helps to build communities in an environmentally sound, sustainable manner.

[ *Setting A Vision for Sustainable Development: The Louisiana Transportation Renaissance was convened March, 26, 2009, in New Orleans, by the Gulf Coast Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, the University of New Orleans Center for Urban and Public Affairs, and the National Corridors Initiative (www.nationalcorridors.org).Readers comments and suggestions are welcome.]


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)66.5261.97
Canadian National (CNI)38.9937.31
Canadian Pacific (CP)31.9632.22
CSX (CSX)29.4527.41
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)24.3823.46
Kansas City Southern (KSU)14.2013.97
Norfolk Southern (NSC)37.3734.88
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.4010.00
Union Pacific (UNP)46.0943.00


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ACROSSTHEPOND... Across The Pond...  

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

Former Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn.

Photo: DBAG  

Former Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn.
Deutsche Bahn Chief Mehdorn Resigns
In Wake Of Spy Scandal

Secret Investigations of Company Employees Sparks Widespread Backlash
Rüdiger Grube Nominated for Position

Berlin – a long simmering controversy resulting from Deutsche Bahn – German Railways – secretly investigating and spying on many thousands of company employees finally proved to be too much for its high profile and blunt-talking chairman, Hartmut Mehdorn, to survive. The rail transport and logistics concern was the latest in a string of large German employers which were involved in unauthorized spying on employees for signs of corruption or misbehavior. Previously German telecom giant Deutsche Telekom, supermarket chain Lidl, and several insurance companies had been involved in similar allegations of spying on employees. In all cases civil libertarians as well as employee unions reacted angrily to the findings of secretive spying on employees.

In DBAG’s case the matter was elevated to the highest levels of the federal government, which is still DBAG’s one and only share-holder. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had been supportive of Mehdorn, was seen to be less than enthusiastic to keep Mehdorn in the top position at DBAG, with her own re-election campaign less than six months away.

Mr. Mehdorn lead DBAG from 1999, as the company was starting its fifth year as a stock-held company, after the 1994 merger of Deutsche Bundesbahn of West Germany and Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany. Previously Mehdorn was a senior manager in Deutsche Aerospace and its predecessor MBB (now Airbus and parent company EADS). His signature issue was the effort to take Deutsche Bahn all the way public with a stock market IPO. But politics and the global economic downturn conspired to place the IPO on ice indefinitely.

Mr. Mehdorn oversaw many changes to the company during his tenure at the top, most notably the drive to increase the company’s activities in integrated logistics and freight handling, which resulted in the company starting to compete against its one-time customers such as DHL / Deutsche Post, Kuehn and Nagel, Hapag Lloyd, and United Parcel Services. During this period DBAG bought European trucking giant Schenker Logistics, BAX (formerly Burlington Air Freight previously owned by the BNSF railroad), British rail freight operator EWS and numerous other rail freight and logistics firms. The period also saw some maddening name changes or “re-branding” to DBAG’s subsidiaries: the rail freight division went from the name DB Cargo, to Railion, to DB Stinnes Logistics and now to DB Schenker Rail.

Dr. Rüdiger Grube, currently the director of corporate development at automobile and truck maker Daimler, has been nominated to replace Mehdorn. Like Mehdorn, Dr. Grube is a former employee of EADS and has had ties to Airbus, as does Mr. Mehdorn. Several German political figures including Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück made their desires public that they would like to see the giant rail and logistics firm re-focus on its core business of passenger rail transport, instead of the intense focus on intermodal freight and global logistics, which have been priorities under Mehdorn’s leadership.


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VIEW FROM EUROPE... View From Europe...

Walk Before You Run

Planning New High-Speed Trains Is Good – Funding And Maintaining Existing Passenger Rail Transit Is Priority Number One

Hannover – From my view point 4000 miles away from the American East Coast, I get a rather cloudy and mixed picture on the current trend of rail transit in the USA. The picture I have is fuzzy not because of lack of news sources in the USA. The internet makes it easy to get news and opinions from such sources as varied as Railway Age Magazine, National Association of Railroad Passengers, Amtrak, MSNBC, Fox News, Reuters, New York Times, and numerous others – including local transit agencies such as SEPTA, MARTA, CTA, MBTA and New York’s MTA. Even most local news papers and TV stations in the USA have fairly comprehensive websites that anyone anywhere in the world can view, something that was not possibly as recently as sixteen years ago when Bill Clinton was in the first months of his presidency.

Certainly the picture of American passenger rail transit is far brighter in the medium and long term of 2 – 4 years into the future as of today than it was just four short years ago. Aside from an apparently pro-rail transit president now in the White House and a mostly pro-rail transit Democratic lead Congress, a string of local transit initiatives and referendums on the ballot in numerous cities and counties across the USA have mostly succeeded for public and rail transit, something like almost 2 to 1 in the past two elections according to my quick count. When one considers the often fierce, richly funded and highly organized opposition which targets many of these local transit proposals and referendums for defeat, it is all the more impressive that so many have passed in the past 4 – 5 years.

But despite the recent victories, the overall struggle is far from won. The next challenge: maintaining currently existing transit services in the face of declining state and local budgets and falling ticket revenue caused by the steep economic downturn which began to hit hard in mid 2008. This is where the picture coming out of the USA becomes very cloudy for me. News reports and stories in the past weeks and months, some even here in Destination: Freedom, show that many local and regional transit authorities across the USA are under financial pressure like almost never before. From Miami to Boston, and from Los Angeles to St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia, and many places in between, the pressure on regional and local rail transit to cut services and raise fares is growing.

This development is not showing up on the radar screen of the big news media outlets such as CNN, NBC, Fox News or USA Today. Instead the mass media discusses the coming era of fancy new high-speed trains, real or imagined, in the USA. Much of the discussion is usually wrapped in the context of the merits of the recently enacted Stimulus Package, which does in-fact allocate a significant amount of money to planning and building future high-speed rail corridors. Even this discussion, as is typical for today’s mass media, has become part reality – new high speed trains from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area or St. Louis to Chicago – and part right-wing conservative fantasy / urban legend – a high speed monorail from Disneyland to Las Vegas, despite no such project within the Stimulus bill.

It is from the websites of the local news media across the USA as well as from numerous industry websites that the picture of a very troubled American transit system emerges. Operational budgets, which are not qualified to get Stimulus Bill money, are coming under the axe, as local property and sales tax revenues shrink but demand increases. Tax policies of the past four decades still very much determine in 2009 how much tax money will be spent on transit or on highways. The irony of the Stimulus Bill: money to build a new station or rail line (i.e. shovel-ready) is a good possibility – but money to pay for the fuel, labor cost and maintenance expenses of an existing service under threat due to a significant recession-caused decrease in local tax revenues is unlikely.

Two countries in Europe offer examples of how to handle this dilemma: Great Britain and Germany.

In Britain years of conservative rule during the late 1970s through to the mid 1990s had brought nearly all forms of public transit, especially intercity rail transit, to its knees. While most of its neighbors on the continent were investing billions of dollars per year in their long distance rail systems, Britain placed its national railroad on a decades long starvation diet, culminated by a poorly planned and hastily executed privatization scheme in the mid 1990s which crippled the country’s passenger rail system and lead to a series of deadly rail accidents.

After the Conservatives lost power in the late 1990s, an all-out effort began to re-invest in the British rail system with public funding and oversight. Focus was placed on sustaining and improving existing services by repairing and upgrading existing infrastructure and replacing old rolling stock from the 1960s and 70s with modern equipment. The only all new rail corridor built in this period was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), now called High Speed One. The vast majority of resources were invested in keeping existing services in place, followed by incremental expansion of these services as things improved. For the past five years the picture of passenger rail transit in Britain is a success story, with passenger volumes steadily increasing along with improved reliability and safety compared to the situation just 12 short years ago. It is only just now that Britain is beginning to plan for new rail systems such as the proposed “High Speed Two” new rail corridor from the London area to Scotland via central England and the British Midlands, and Crossrail, a future underground heavy rail line which will connect London’s extensive suburban train network all the way through the central city area.

In Germany many regional and local train services, which are dependent upon local government funding for survival, began to suffer in the early 1990s as the nation’s rail system focused on several high profile and high cost projects including construction of three new high-speed rail lines and reunification of the rail network in the east and west of the newly reunified nation. The recession of 1992-94 compounded this problem for a number of regions, which were dealing with high unemployment and lowered tax revenues.

A number of rail advocacy groups mobilized to save a number of local rail lines which were threatened with closure. Some routes were saved, others unfortunately were lost. The massive project in Berlin to build a north-south rail connector and a new main rail station in the city center originally envisioned a number of expensive extras such as a new high speed line to Leipzig, complex grade separated “on- and off-ramps” for high speed trains and other features which would have cost many additional billions of dollars or euros, thus leaving less for other rail transit projects around the country. Again rail advocacy groups such as ProBahn and VCD spoke up with a clear message that they were all for new rail system projects such as the recently completed project in Berlin or the planned Stuttgart 21 project, but not if these projects will jeopardize existing local and regional rail services.

Here in Hannover the results of these grass roots actions are plain to see. Fifteen years ago two rail lines in Hannover were on the close-and-abandon list. Deutsche Bahn did not see justification to keep the rail lines operating unless the state government took over financial responsibility. At the same time Deutsche Bahn was spending huge sums of money to buy new ICE train sets, building a high speed rail line from Hannover to Berlin and another high speed rail line from Frankfurt to Cologne, as well as building the multi-billion dollar Berlin Hauptbahnhof and related north-south Berlin rail connection.


Photo: David Beale

Deisterbahn in action – a pair of ET 424 train sets operating as S1 S-Bahn leave Bad Nenndorf underway to Barsinghausen, Weetzen and Hannover on a sunny Saturday in April 2009. The Deisterbahn is a mostly single track (with passing sidings in several stations) rail line in the southwestern suburbs of Hannover, linking Haste with Weetzen. In Weetzen, the Deisterbahn merges onto the Hannover – Hameln – Padeborn mainline. There are two trains in each direction per hour on Mondays – Saturdays, one each way per hour on Sundays. The trains are highly used, standing room only is not uncommon during weekdays and during some hours of the day on weekends.

Today, one of the two threatened rail lines, the “Deisterbahn” is no longer under threat. Thanks to grass roots efforts, it remains in operation and has become an integral part of the region’s S-Bahn commuter rail network. The “Deisterbahn” is unique because it forms a suburb-to-suburb rail corridor, the first and so far only such rail line in this area.

The other rail line under threat of closure two decades ago, the “Heidebahn” from the northern Hannover suburb of Langenhagen northwards to the northern Germany towns of Walsrode and Soltau is under a new threat, this one related to the growth in rail freight traffic to and from Hamburg and Bremen. The mostly single track and non-electrified “Heidebahn” looks like an attractive alternative route to the existing Hannover – Hamburg and Hannover – Bremen rail lines, both of which support heavy volumes of freight trains, local passenger trains and intercity passenger trains. The Heidebahn offers a third path from Hannover to these two port cities for freight trains, but the question remains what will happen to existing local DMU operated passenger services, if DBAG will begin increasing the number of freight trains on this line dramatically. Local groups and grass root organizations are again becoming active to ensure that the existing, if limited, passenger train services on this route remain in place, despite any plans to make the rail line in rural northern Germany a preferred rail freight corridor.

In the USA a similar grass roots effort needs to come into play again. It makes no sense to plan an all new high speed rail line from Miami to Orlando for example, when the local rail system in Miami, Tri-Rail, is seriously threatened with death by current, but most certainly temporary, economic problems. The same can be said for many other cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and numerous others. High-speed rail in Europe is a success, because it offers direct connections via local and regional rain systems at all the main cities to thousands of smaller cities and towns. Likewise in the USA, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is successful, because of the numerous commuter rail systems which exist all along the route from the northern end of the line in Boston, to the southern end in Washington DC. Take away these connections, and high speed rail becomes little more than an expensive shuttle train of limited use to much of the population. Like a tree trunk needs branches to live, a high-speed rail corridor need local trains and transit to work. The picture should be clear, in this current economic environment, priority to sustaining currently operational public transit has to be given at the federal and state levels.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Healing New Orleans/Helping The Gulf South

By Jim RePass, President, National Corridors Initiative

Over the next few weeks Destination:Freedom will be reporting on the results of our recent New Orleans conference, which we helped to organize for the University of New Orleans, and which was held on March 26.

A conference of the Gulf Coast Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, the University of New Orleans Center for Urban and Public Affairs, and the National Corridors Initiative (www.nationalcorridors.org), Setting A Vision for Sustainable Development: The Louisiana Transportation Renaissance yielded nine intense hours of discussion and debate by people not only from Louisiana, but from the rest of the Gulf South, plus nationally-known experts in the United States transportation community such as American Public Transportation President William Millar (see related story).

One of the objectives of our conferences is to produce new ideas and proposals for strengthening America’s transportation system, especially its long-neglected rail system which in many ways has been allowed to deteriorate compared to others around the world; one outcome of the New Orleans conference was the New Orleans Statement (see related article) which summarizes the goals and objectives of what we are seeking to do in America, and have been seeking to do these past 20 years.*

And one specific idea which was inspired by the theme of the conference – Sustainable Transportation --- we’d like to propose here: build an evacuation system for New Orleans and the Gulf South that is sustainable, resilient, and cost-effective.

Here’s what we propose:

Amtrak is about to get funding, at last, to replace its aging Superliner fleet of intercity double-decker passenger cars, and to grow that fleet in response to demand, and to President Obama’s commitment to build Intercity Rail in America.

As these cars come out of service, why not release them to a Gulf Coast Evacuation Authority, staffed by professionals under the policy direction of a joint body whose members are appointed by the Governors of the Gulf-states (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, perhaps other states in the Hurricane Zone). Refurbish them to a decent standard using local labor --- people who can also benefit from training on these cars to become professional mechanics, HVAC technicians, welders, computer diagnosticians, and so on --- and then position the trainsets at New Orleans, Mobile, Houston, Pensacola, and so on, until a fleet of trainsets capable of moving --- and also housing and feeding, at least for a few days --- several thousands of people on very short notice is in place.

This approach would solve several difficult problems, and is far less costly than the last-minute purchase of thousands of airplane seats or bus seats (and to what destination?) for evacuees every time a hurricane threatens, many of whom are elderly, infirm, and can not be easily moved or fly without great risk and discomfort.

In addition, this fleet of refurbished trains, in order to keep them in running condition, should be used regularly to transport paying customers to sporting events throughout the Gulf South.

This resilient evacuation service, totally mobile and flexible, would be operated by professional rail operators, aided by volunteers/retired railroad professionals, with in addition, for hurricane evacuation purposes --- medical professionals assigned to each train from each geographic region as needed, in advance, so that we do not heedlessly lose elderly or ill evacuees.

The capital costs of these trainsets has long ago been paid; the rehabilitation and staffing costs should be relatively modest, and revenues from sporting event operation should help defray the costs, as well as providing regular real-life usage for the trainsets and their crews so that they work when needed

We’ve already had preliminary discussions on this proposal with Louisiana officials, with the USDOT, and with Amtrak, and while this idea is still just a proposal by NCI, the unanimous reaction --- literally --- has been, “That’s a great idea.”

Next steps?

 

*The National Corridors Initiative was founded 20 years go this month to seek the re-start of the stalled Northeast Corridor Electrification Project (NECIP) approved and authorized by Congress under President Jimmy Carter, but then blocked by Presidents Reagan and Bush for 11 years. We were successful in this effort in September 1991 when the Bush White House Office of Management and Budget agreed at our third White House meeting to cease blocking attempts in Congress to fund the embargoed project. It was started at once, completed in 1999 at a total cost of $2.7 billion, and has cut Boston-New York travel time from 5-6 hours, pre-electrification of the New Haven-Boston segment of the Northeast Corridor, to 3 1/2 hours today).


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