Vol. 8 No. 16
April 16, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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A weekly North American rail and transit update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKay
European Correspondent - David Beale
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

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

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News items…
First-ever summit of three New England states draws large crowd
Amtrak: Let Maine serve as model
  Safety lines…
NY Senator Schumer asks state DOT to accelerate
    grade crossing elimination
  Maintenance lines…
Capital investment in bridge aims to improve reliability
Single-Tracking to Begin on Susquehanna River Bridge
  High-Tech lines…
Amtrak launches new ‘whistle stop’ community website
  Off the main line…
Syracuse, Indiana depot to be rescued, restored
  Corridor lines…
Vermont State rail report sets goals
  Selected rail stocks…
  Freight lines…
Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports;
American Rock Salt looking for more sites
New England Central to increase Bellows Falls tunnel clearance
    for tri-level car carriers
The Ethanol Hoax
Exposing the corn-based Ethanol hoax as a solution to peak oil
  We get letters…
  End notes…

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

First-ever summit of three New England
states draws large crowd

By DF Staff

HARTFORD, CT, APRIL 12 -- A packed hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Connecticut, last Thursday was the scene of an historic, tri-state transportation summit where luminaries from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island convened to discuss how the New England states could work together in planning and building infrastructure. The event was hosted by Connecticut’s Senate President Don Williams with the support of House Speaker Jim Amann and organized by NCI President Jim RePass and board member John Businger, former state representative from Massachusetts.

“After a week of newscasts about a predicted dangerous snow/sleet/rain storm coming,” said RePass, “I had expected the key people from the  breakfast with Don Williams and Jim Amann (which really set a positive, collegial tone), plus a few others, to discuss the regional crisis in the presence of at most a couple of dozen citizens. Instead, we had a full room with few seats to spare.”

Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray from Massachusetts and Elizabeth Roberts, his counterpart from Rhode Island, spoke about the importance of working together as a region. Other speakers included investment banker Ned Flynn, a principal of First Albany Corporation, railroad union representative Dan Lauzon of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and Peter Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Left to Right:  Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray; Sierra Club Transportation Chair Molly McKay; Connecticut Senate President Don Williams, National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass, and Connecticut House Speaker Jim Amann.

Photo: NCI  

Left to Right: Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray; Sierra Club Transportation Chair Molly McKay; Connecticut Senate President Don Williams, National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass, and Connecticut House Speaker Jim Amann.

The overriding theme was the need for the northeast states to work together in revitalizing the underused rail infrastructure in the region and thereby help boost New England’s competitiveness in the global economy.

Kip Bergstrom, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council, explained how high speed commuter rail throughout the northeast from Philadelphia to Maine could make it possible for talented people all along the corridor to connect and communicate. From Connecticut, the trip to Boston or New York could be made in an hour, he said.

“A couple...could live in Old Saybrook....one could commute to Boston, the other to New York.” Connecticut stands to gain the most from a New York-Boston ‘super-region,’” he said. “The ‘gatekeepers’ will live in Connecticut....going form firm to firm across that whole space....and will tie that whole network together.”

If we did this, Bergstrom continued, “We’d blow the rest of the world away. Nobody would touch us.”

“I thought everyone participated with a common goal in mind,” RePass commented, “which was to find a way to work together as a region to rebuild it and make it competitive again. Several people commented about Kip Bergstrom’s presentation, which was highly creative and visionary as I knew it would be. Even my friend Peter Ruane, who has a strong highway constituency as you know, was positive, as long as we don’t pursue a ‘zero sum game‘ on funding. I agree with that myself. I thought RI Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts was just great. I hadn’t met her before.”

Tim Murray was terrific, said RePass. He is one of those political leaders who is just as nice in person as he seems in public. Tim is young and has a great future, and he fully understands and supports my position that a regional infrastructure entity of some kind is needed to successfully overcome our small states’ size. Ned Flynn’s very professional talk came backed up by many billions of dollars in actual projects: a serious man, indeed! The private sector is key to funding at least a part of what we do, and Ned can help us unlock it.

Follow-up will be key to moving things forward, RePass explained. The idea will be to create legislation to enact some kind of permanent body, get the same legislation into Mass and RI, and then debate it, refine it, and introduce it in all three states. Then there will be a conference for VT, ME, and NH, plus NY state and MA, to have the same discussion we had in Hartford.

One highly unifying idea which could precede the longer range planning is to introduce a regional high speed, electrified, 4-across-seating commuter rail service by acquiring the ultramodern doubledecker Bombardier trainsets of the type NJ Transit is buying. This type of seating is far more comfortable than the five-across seats on the Metro North cars, yet the passenger capacity of the Bombardier cars is actually higher.

These trainsets could be run from Route 128 all the way to Trenton, New Jersey offering a seamless ride on the line - Providence-New London-New Haven-Stamford-New York City-Trenton, at increasingly higher speeds as we get the catenary fixed from New Haven to the NY state line. We can use these trainsets to create an ‘employment corridor’ from Mass through RI and CT to NJ.

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Amtrak: Let Maine serve as model

Source: Maine Today and DF Staff

In a recent visit to New England, Amtrak’s new president and CEO, Alex Kummant is singing the praises of the Downeaster rail service, stating it is one of Amtrak’s most successful runs.

Kummant feels that Maine’s Downeaster offers a model that he hopes will be followed by other states.

According to Kummant, Maine’s subsidy for rail service, as well as subsidies from other nearby states, is critical to continuing passenger train service between Portland to Boston.

“Clearly, we are looking for the states to step up,” Kummant said while touring the train station at Portland. He later had lunch with business leaders in Freeport.

Kummant believes expanded rail service can be an economic development tool, and Amtrak is ready to work with local governments to help encourage commercial or residential projects that are centered on train service.

“We at Amtrak need to take a comprehensive view and make that part of our mission,” he said.

While the Downeaster is one of Amtrak’s most successful runs, it still loses money.

Speaking on the matter, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Patricia Quinn, said the Downeaster saw its passenger numbers jump by 30 percent last year, the highest percentage increase among Amtrak’s routes. Ridership is up another 7 percent in the current year, she said, and a fifth daily round trip is coming this summer to handle the increasing number of people riding the train,

The Downeaster makes about half of its annual $12 million operating cost from ticket sales, Quinn said. Of the rest, 80 percent is covered by a federal grant that is matched by 20 percent in state funding.

However an existing federal grant, which is aimed at reducing highway congestion and pollution, runs out in September 2008. The state can’t reapply for it, she said, so another funding source needs to be found.

Maine also is looking to expand service as far north as Brunswick, but a bond bill that would have provided $40 million to upgrade the infrastructure to handle passenger trails wasn’t included in a $295 million borrowing package. The measure, which was signed by Gov. John Baldacci, is going to voters in three elections between now and June 2008.

Kummant said it’s up to state leaders to decide whether rail service should move north, but it also will be up to the state to provide the capital funding needed for the rail lines.

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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

NY Senator Schumer asks state DOT
to accelerate grade crossing elimination

By DF Staff

HAVERSTRAW, NY – Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a strong rail advocate, has asked New York’s Department of Transportation to step in and accelerate the building of an overpass on State Road 9W, a major North-South roadway in the Hudson River Valley.

The Short Clove Road crossing is slated for replacement already. It is regarded as a poorly and designed and dangerous crossing by the state, but action was still some time away, according to the Senator’s office.

The grade crossing is on the heavily traveled CSX Rail main freight line that runs up the Western bank of the Hudson River. It is one of hundreds on the route, but seen as one of the worst.

“The replacement of at-grade rail crossings should be a national priority,” stated NCI President Jim RePass. “The National Corridors Initiative has called upon Congress to provide funding to bridge, close, or tunnel these crossings on an accelerated basis.”

“In addition, the nation’s top engineering school and transportation institutes could be investigating innovative bridging and tunneling techniques and modular construction systems that could help cut the cost of these expensive projects,” he said.

Sen. Schumer has been a consistent rail advocate since his election to office. Earlier this year, he signed a bi-partisan letter to the heads of the Transportation Appropriations Committee, to fully fund Amtrak at the level of least $1.4 billion for the current fiscal year.

Schumer said, “The new Democratic Congress will fight to ensure that Amtrak receives the funding it needs to survive and grow.

“It’s time to stop playing games with Amtrak and instead put it on a path to growth,” Schumer said. “The power outages and accidents we are seeing are a direct result of budget cuts and poor leadership. Amtrak is more than just a train service. In New York, we count on Amtrak for jobs, economic growth, vacations, you name it. I will continue to fight to ensure that Amtrak receives all the funding it needs to keep New Yorkers moving on the rails quickly and safely.”

America’s passenger and freight rail systems have been allowed to deteriorate below third-world standards by the Federal government’s failure, compounded by state transportation departments that are largely highway-dominated. Recently, for example, Vietnam announced it would be building a high speed rail system.

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MAINTENANCE LINES...  Maintenance lines...

Capital investment in bridge aims
to improve reliability

Source: Amtrak Ink

The biggest engineering project of the spring is underway on the Susquehanna River Bridge, as part of a multi-year capital project to extend the life of the 100-year-old structure by another 20 to 25 years. Located halfway between Baltimore and Wilmington, the 4,154- foot-long bridge is a key rail link on the busy Northeast Corridor.

The project, preparations for which began mid-February, involves upgrading Track 2 of the two-track open deck bridge with new ties and continuous welded rail (CWR).With the installation of 3,184 new ties and about a mile of new CWR on Track 2, the $4.5 million undertaking will result in a completely new bridge deck, following similar work already completed on Track 3 in September 2005. Track 2 is slated to be returned to service in the first week of June.

“As one of Amtrak’s largest bridge tie replacement projects in decades, our work on both tracks of the Susquehanna Bridge is a big piece of our aggressive plan to raise the infrastructure to a state of good repair,” said Chief Engineer Frank Vacca. The bridge ties have reached the end of their life cycle; not replacing the ties would lead to slow orders which reduce the speed of trains and adversely affect on-time performance on the corridor.

A crew sets new ties in position on the Susquehanna River Bridge.

With the help of a backhoe, a Bridge and Building crew sets new ties in position on the Susquehanna River Bridge.

Bridge and Building employees install grating for a new walkway.

Four Images: Amtrak Ink  

Bridge and Building employees pause the installation of new ties on Track 3 as a train crosses the Susquehanna Bridge last summer.
After six weeks of extensive preparation, the actual revamping of Track 2 will run from mid-April through the first week in June.To accomplish this,Track 2 will be taken out of service for about 50 consecutive days. Crews will work on the bridge seven days a week, with an additional set of crews on the bridge at night for about half that period. In addition, over the course of 24 nights (during which time there is no revenue service) starting mid-April through mid-May, a series of three-hour windows will put Track 3 out of service to run two trains to remove the old ties and unload the new ones.

The complex job calls for the expertise of about 60 to 70 Engineering department employees from the Track, Bridge and Building, Communications and Signals, and Electric Traction disciplines.The System Production Bridge Rehab and System Production Track gangs will be replacing old rail and bridge ties with new bridge ties and CWR.

The Bridge and Building crews and the department’s work boat will be on hand to shuttle some materials to and from the bridge by water. In addition, a new piece of equipment that wasn’t used for the upgrade of Track 3 will be put to the test — a specially designed “bucket” boat used to work on the underside of bridges that includes a manlift that rises 60 feet in the air.

The Electric Traction group will be responsible for de-energizing and grounding Track 2 for the duration of the project and Track 3 during the night outages. Because of the single- track operation, C & S crews will be on stand-by duty at the interlockings on both ends of the bridge to troubleshoot any problems on the open track.

Because of the nature of the job, bridge work not only requires special know-how, but also unique safety precautions. For example, a lifeline mounted along the majority of the bridge span will serve as a fall restraint system for certain operations. Comprising a steel cable to which a harness is attached, the lifeline keeps employees wearing the harness from falling off the bridge.

Furthermore, the bridge’s swing span doesn’t provide the benefit of a lower footwalk that the rest of the bridge offers. Consequently, crews will build 280 feet of solid planking below the swing span to serve as fall protection.

In addition to an upgraded bridge deck, the project will result in walkways and handrails on both sides of the bridge, which according to Structures Program Director Bill Linaberry, “will provide easier access and a safer working environment for employees doing any maintenance or troubleshooting on the bridge in the future.”

A train crosses the Susquehanna Bridge last summer.

With safety harnesses that are connected to rail trolleys, Bridge and Building employees install grating for a new walkway with the help of a Geismar Crane operated by the Track department.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make capital investments of this magnitude on a bridge as busy as the Susquehanna without some service disruption.With 100 scheduled passenger trains and another dozen or more freight trains crossing the bridge every day, establishing an operating plan that would cause the least disruption to the corridor is crucial.

Working with Engineering, the Transportation department devised a plan to accommodate the single-track operation.The plan is complicated because northbound trains, which normally travel on Track 2, would incur delays that would cause significant scheduling problems up the road if they were diverted to the open Track 3. In order to keep northbound trains on schedule to reach timesensitive slots in New Jersey and contracted slots over Metro-North Railroad in New York, the flow of traffic will be reversed between Baltimore and Wilmington.

“That is, northbound trains will operate on what is normally the southbound track and southbound trains will operate on what is normally the northbound track between Baltimore and Wilmington,” said Senior Director, Network Scheduling Ben Cornelius. Consequently, northbound trains are expected to incur very minimal delays, or none at all, and to make their scheduled slots farther north.

Because southbound trains will be required to make five crossover moves to travel on Track 3 over the bridge, about 10 minutes will be added to the schedules of almost all southbound trains for the duration of the project.

In addition, MARC commuter trains will be affected.To accommodate those passengers, some Amtrak trains will honor MARC multiride tickets at Perryville and Aberdeen. At press time, additional Amtrak schedule changes, and details of the MARC cross-honoring agreement and schedule adjustments were still being finalized.

“Thanks to the work we’d already done on Track 3 in 2005, by the beginning of the summer, we’ll have new rail and ties on both tracks, which will contribute to the reliability and on-time performance our customers expect on the NEC,” said Deputy Chief Engineer, Structures, Jim Richter.

Work planned for FY ’08 and ’09 on the actual structure itself would put the entire bridge in a state of good repair for the next two decades.

Single-tracking to begin on Susquehanna River Bridge

Source: ‘Amtrak This Week’ Employee Newsletter
April 9 Edition

Northbound Track 2 of the Susquehanna River Bridge on the Northeast Corridor will be taken out of service this coming Saturday, kicking off the replacement of old track with over 3,000 new ties and about a mile of continuous welded rail, and resulting in a completely new bridge deck by the first week in June.

To accommodate the track work, the Transportation department devised an operating plan that would have the least effect on revenue service.To keep the northbound trains on schedule to reach slots in New Jersey and contracted slots over Metro-North in New York, the flow of traffic will be reversed between Baltimore and Wilmington.

This means that the schedules for all southbound Acela Express, Regional and long-distance trains will be modified between Wilmington and Washington, from April 14 through June 3. Approximately five minutes will be added to the schedules of southbound trains at Aberdeen, and about 10 minutes will be added to arrival and departure times at Baltimore, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, New Carrollton and Washington. In addition, the schedules of northbound Acela Express Trains 2122 and 2124 are slightly modified between Wilmington and New York. During this period, the southbound schedules published in the Spring/Summer System Timetable for points between Wilmington and Washington will NOT be valid.

Considered the biggest engineering project of the spring, the work is part of a multi-year capital project to extend the life of the 100-year-old structure;Track 3 was upgraded in September 2005. Because the bridge ties have reached the end of their life cycle, not doing this work would result in slow orders that would negatively affect on-time performance.


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Track department employees put stick rail in new tie plates on top of new ties. The stick rail becomes the inner rail guard when the Continuous Welded Rail is installed.

HIGH-TECH LINES...  High-Tech lines...

Amtrak launches new ‘whistle stop’ community website

Source: Amtrak

Amtrak has launched a new website for travelers to share their train travel experiences. Christened Whistle Stop, the site, found at whistlestop.amtrak.com. The new addition to Amtrak’s online presence includes feature stories on Amtrak routes with photos taken from the trains along those routes.

The first three feature stories on Whistle Stop focus on three of Amtrak’s most popular long-distance routes: the Adirondack (Montreal - New York), the Empire Builder (Chicago - Portland/Seattle) and the Southwest Chief (Chicago - Los Angeles). These features are first-person travelogues by professional writers that provide readers with detailed descriptions of what passengers may experience when traveling on these trains. The first-hand accounts of life on board include descriptions of the sights to be seen from the train as well as activities on board the train. For those wishing to share their own stories of rail travel, the Rider Memories section allows users to post their own accounts of adventures on the rails with the ability to also attach pictures.

The best stories submitted will be posted on the Whistle Stop site for others to read. “This new site provides customers an opportunity to communicate with Amtrak, sharing not only their travel stories, but also suggestions for types of content they find useful and interesting,” said Kathleen Gordon, Amtrak’s Senior Director, E-Commerce. “This will allow us to see the Amtrak experience from the customer’s perspective.”

The Whistle Stop site will also include articles that highlight Amtrak’s environmental initiatives, demonstrating Amtrak’s efforts to protect the environment and the positive impact of train travel. Other tidbits and trivia will also be included, and future plans call for the development of travel tips, activities for family travel and expanded destination information. New ideas for the site will be welcomed, allowing the site to grow and evolve based primarily on input from users.

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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

Syracuse, Indiana depot to be
rescued, restored

From Internet Sources and the Goshen (IN) News

SYRACUSE, IN---A long-disused passenger train depot, out of train service since 1971, could be rescued and restored by a citizens’ committee, reports David Johnson of the Goshen News.

“A committee has been formed to raise funds and coordinate renovations to Syracuse’s pre-1920 train depot, just north of the tracks off of Huntington Street. Committee members will also seek funds for relocating the building and continued maintenance,” reported the paper.

“Organizer Martha Stoelting contacted a construction firm that gave an initial estimate of $330,000 for transportation and renovations. The aged brick structure has boarded up windows and a partially caved-in roof,” wrote the Goshen News. “The cost would vary depending on the distance the building would be transported, according to Stoelting.”

“The group plans on hiring a professional grant writer to gain money from one or several organizations, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana and the National Register of Historic Places.

They also hope to gain donations from their community. ‘If people know about this they might express some interest,’ said committee member Kathleen Johnston,” according to the News.

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CORRIDOR LINES...  Corridor lines...

Vermont State rail report sets goals

By DF Staff

MONTPELIER ---The Vermont State Rail Report has been released in full version, and sets the following broad objectives:

The executive summary can be seen at: www.vermontrailroads.com/Documents/Executive%20Summary.pdf.

The full report can also be downloaded from that site. It is at: www.vermontrailroads.com/Documents/VT_SR&PP.pdf.

[ Above links require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. - Webmaster ]

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)90.6982.72
Canadian National (CNI)47.7444.29
Canadian Pacific (CP)59.5355.76
CSX (CSX)42.4640.96
Florida East Coast (FLA)64.3463.36
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.4326.77
Kansas City Southern (KSU)37.6735.65
Norfolk Southern (NSC)53.8950.98
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.6417.74
Union Pacific (UNP)109.78103.20

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...


Selections from this week’s Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports e-bulletin


American Rock Salt looking for more sites

By Chalmers (Chop) Hardenbergh, publisher and Editor
E-mail: C_Hardenbergh@juno.com
To subscribe go to: www.atlanticnortheast.com


RETSOF, NY --- “We are always looking for more stockpile sites,” said American Rock Salt’s Don Holman, vice-president of marketing, on April 10.

Holman said the company has the most stockpiles in the Northeast of any company, and the mine at Hampton Corners NY has the largest annual output in the United States. “We are supporting a lot of operations” in 12 snow belt states. With ARS since it began in 1997 [see ANRP issue 01#12A], Holman was able to “combat the decline in rail tonnage and recapture some of the business.”

Additional sites permit the company to offer lower drayage to final users, and therefore bid a lower price when states and other entities ask for bids to supply road salt. Ideally, a salt pile site will lie at least 70 miles away from another site. “More sites broaden out the load, as no one knows year to year where it will snow.”

But finding a site is made difficult because many potential locations, even those which once hosted industrial activities, are not only hard to permit environmentally, but also are near residential areas which arouses the negative reactions of neighbors [but only those who never drive their cars in winter, of course-editor].

American Rock Salt cannot quickly and readily change sites. Holman said building a suitability facility requires a substantial initial outlay, and “a number of years to pay back.” Every year “we have five or six opportunities at any one time” for additional sites.

What about using federal pre-emption to create a salt pile on railroad property? Holman noted that VRS had used pre-emption to retain a salt facility in Riverside, Vermont [see 05#04B]. Also a salt pile in Pittsburgh recently used federal pre-emption to avoid local regulation. American Rock Salt would have supplied the proposed VRS facility in Wallingford Vermont [see 03#06A, 05#01A] which is apparently not built [editor].

Looking for the good site

American Rock Salt (ARS) is looking for good sites in New England: “that would broaden our base.” ARS now has Gallo’s facility in Taunton [see 07#03B], which it started in 2001 [see 01#11A], and a facility on CCRR [our ANRP Directory #1078], as well as one in Hartford [#571] on CSO. It’s difficult to find cost-competitive sites, particularly those served by short lines, said Holman. Nevertheless, ARS has succeeded in rebuilding the rail in New England by “successfully competing with foreign salt” coming through the ports.

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New England Central to increase bellows falls tunnel clearance
for tri-level car carriers

MONTPELIER, VT--- Charles Hunter of NECR told the Vermont Rail Council April 4 of a likely 13 May target date for starting construction again on the tunnel at Bellows Falls, which will increase clearance enough for tri-level auto racks, later than anticipated [see 07#01B]; because of the late cold, the ground has four feet of frost. Hunter should have a target date for completion by end of next week, perhaps the end of June. {e-mail to ANR&P from correspondent Chris Parker}.

In the 2006 period when work was occurring in the tunnel, Springfield Terminal turned its trains short of White River Junction, at Bellows Falls or Brattleboro [see 06#10]. But in early April, according to one rail observer, ST ‘has already operated to White River Junction twice this week.’

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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

The Ethanol Hoax

By Nicholas von Hoffman

[ Posted only on the web version of The Nation, April 9, 2007 ]

Reprinted with permission

The other day the French, who we Americans know cannot do anything right, sent one of their trains hurtling down a railroad track at 357 miles per hour. France has more than 1,000 miles of high-speed railroad track. The United States does not have one inch.

The United States sticks with its climate-warming, congested and inefficient Eisenhower-era transportation system. It was back then that the modern federal highway was begun and it was decided--perhaps by default--that cars and airplanes would be the nation’s people carriers and choo-choos would chug off to the nearest transportation museum.

Americans, who seem to spend an ever greater percentage of their waking hours bragging about how much better they are than everybody else, have not noticed they are falling behind. It is, for example, the French, the Japanese and the Germans who are competing to sell a high-speed railroad system to the Chinese. Visiting American tourists will enjoy the ride.

Fewer of them are enjoying domestic air flight. Air travel in the United States has become a slow, exasperating, sometimes humiliating, sometimes painful and always uncomfortable experience. Even Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would classify what the airlines put children and older people through as torture.

Personal miseries aside, consider the contribution our transportation chaos makes to global warming. Actually, it is something we try not to consider or act on at all. Here we are after thirty years of warnings about what carbon dioxide is doing to life on the planet and the United States has no plan or program for curtailing its own magnificent donation to what Al Gore calls earth’s “fever.”

Hey, no Al Gore, please. Do not listen to that man. He’s a politician. He’s doing it to get elected even if he is not saying so. Listen to George Bush, who has gotten himself elected and is running the country on the premise that carbon dioxide is nothing but the bubbles in the beer he no longer drinks.

The Bush position is: Why should we do something if the Chinese are not doing anything? As long as they are ruining the earth, we must do it first and bigger. Bush is hardly by himself on this one. It seems almost every major industrial group in the country is as committed to inaction as he.

The global-warming nay-sayers would have us believe there is a one-shot, magic cure that will preserve the earth in a coolly livable form without our having to do anything or change our ways or spend any money. For the time being the magic cure is ethanol.* Ethanol will stop global warming, and as an added plus, it will make the agribusiness interests richer and insure that the GOP carries the corn-growing states of the Midwest. Talk about living happily ever after!

In a few years the articles and books about the ethanol hoax will begin to appear, and we will learn who got rich while the earth got warmer and almost nobody--at least nobody important, nobody with influence and power--took note. The effects of global warming are all around us. Anybody with a backyard garden knows about them, but the garden lobby does not swing a heavy club.

So here we are, like the polar bear marooned on his little melting iceberg, snuffling here and there, looking out across the warming sea, hoping to God somebody throws him a fish. Well, bless us all, but are we truly too dumb and too selfish to save ourselves and our children?

*[ Editor’s note: von Hoffman’s piece links to a Christian Science Monitor commentary on ethanol which I have summarized below. ]

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Exposing the corn-based Ethanol hoax
as a solution to peak oil

Corn lobby’s tall tale of a gas substitute

The Christian Science Monitor

Americans are excited about the possibility that Ethanol, which in the U.S. is derived from corn, will solve the gasoline problem because it is a renewable fuel and does not contribute to greenhouse gases. President Bush predicts ethanol will replace gasoline, and Congress has mandated nearly doubling its production.

“But so far, ethanol is more politics than promise.”

Over the next five years, $5.7 billion in federal tax credits will be a boon to the ethanol market and make Midwest corn growers very happy. Supporters of ethanol say it will help to cure America’s addiction to fossil fuels.

But there are serious concerns that show ethanol may not be the energy efficient solution many are hoping for: the net energy gain from corn-based ethanol is modest - the libertarian Cato Institute says it takes the equivalent of seven barrels of oil to produce eight barrels of corn-derived ethanol. Argonne National Laboratory, which studies ethanol for the Department of Energy, is more generous: for each unit of energy to grow, process, and transport corn ethanol, it yields 1.35 units of energy.

It gets significantly lower miles per gallon than gasoline and is more expensive. How will this help Americans at the pump when this fuel will necessitate more frequent fill-ups?

The Sierra Club says, although it will reduce carbon emissions, it is actually worse than gasoline in making smog. On top of that, builders of the nearly 200 ethanol manufacturing facilities under construction or planned may power their facilities with coal because it is less expensive than natural gas. This would wipe out or reduce any greenhouse gains of ethanol.

There are other ways. In Brazil, where ethanol is made from sugar, the plants are powered by cane-stalk residue. This makes for a cleaner process but uses up enormous amounts of land acreage (no small consideration if the US greatly ramps up production).

Another alternative for America instead of sugar which may not grow as well as it does in Brazil’s tropics, is energy-efficient cellulose which comes from agriculture and forestry products. Prairie switch grass is another possibility touted by President Bush, but that is years away.

Despite the downsides of corn based ethanol, America is focusing on a big increase in production and is shutting out competition by imposing high tariffs. This keeps US ethanol prices high and protects the industry from competition with more energy efficient varieties. Arizona Republican Congressman John Shadegg is rightly bucking the US ethanol lobby by proposing a temporary suspension of these tariffs.

Ethanol does hold some promise for the United States but not if political distortions support only the corn based version.

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor,

I noticed a slightly ironic phenomenon presented in the April ninth edition of your newsletter.

The newsletter often decries the sprawl caused by developments which inevitably spring up along new or improved highways. However, such developments are viewed favorably when taking place next to High Speed Rail lines. From a strict energy usage standpoint this is somewhat ridiculous. Even if high-speed rail is twice as efficient as the automobile, it will encourage many commuters to double the distance they commute, thus saving little energy. Granted, many people other than commuters ride new high-speed lines, but I see high speed rail as no panacea for solving transportation problems. Just as new highways induce more automobile travel, high-speed lines can induce more travel in general.

I am not trying to detract from the development of high-speed rail, but I do feel it should be analyzed much more carefully as a tool for solving transportation issues.

Joseph Renze

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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, governor’s offices, and transportation professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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