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
 

Contribute To NCI

April 19, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 17

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

This E-Zine is best viewed at
1024 X 768 screen resolution

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

  News Items…
Streetcar Revival: Will Your Town Be Next?
Maglev To Hangzhou Runs Into Friction
Amtrak Runs On Time - Ridership Soars
  Book Lines…
The Electric Interurban Railways In America
  Commuter Lines…
Some New Jersey Bus Riders Get A Break, But Rail Riders
   Take A Hard Hit
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
STB Assesses Proposed Maine Line Abandonment
  Construction Lines…
S. Korean Railcars Being Built In S. Phila. For SEPTA
 
  Off The Main Line…
Take The One Less Car Challenge!
  Events…
“RUN” to Toledo!
Power of Place Summit
  Across The Pond…
No Fly Zone – Commercial Air Travel Within Europe Grounded
Destination: Freedom Reader’s Traveler Advisory
Keyword: Ash
  Editorial…
It’s The Infrastructure, Stupid
  Publication Notes …


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

Streetcar Revival: Will Your Town Be Next?

From The AARP Bulletin Print Edition

Writer: Christie Findlay

APRIL 1 -- Last winter during a heavy snowstorm in Portland, Oregon, an older couple reaped the rewards of living near a streetcar line. Ann Niles, 68, had to get to the doctor for a medical consultation, but bus service had been halted and driving was out of the question. So she and her husband walked one block from their home and got on the streetcar.

The appointment turned out to be a crucial step to Niles’ recovery. She had been misdiagnosed at a previous visit and needed a completely different treatment this time. On that snowy day, thanks to a streetcar, a medical patient was able to keep her appointment and get the proper medication.

Not all streetcar trips are this crucial, but the Mr. and Mrs. Niles will always remember how important it was to them that day. They had moved from Minnesota to Oregon several years before and had chosen to live close to transit. The streetcars run frequently---- going uptown to doctors and downtown to entertainment and shops and to the Pearl District, a former industrial area now bursting with art galleries and restaurants, lofts and new condos.

Portland Streetcar

Photo: Wikipedia

A streetcar at the PSU stop

“Portland isn’t alone,” the article continues. “American cities are experiencing a streetcar renaissance. Portland built the nation’s first new line in the 21st century. Tampa, Fla. (2002), Tacoma, Wash. (2003), Little Rock, Ark. (2004), and Seattle (2007) soon followed suit.

Residents say the streetcars have “injected new life into the neighborhoods.” They cost less in the long run, pollute less than other forms of transportation and create communities where people can get around and get together without a car.

“Since the streetcar opened,” Ann Niles says, “the neighborhood has completely taken off. The streets are full of activity. There’s dense development, and people are out walking their dogs or going to the parks. The streetcar helped create the neighborhood we want to live in.”

Interior of Portland Streetcar

Photo: Wikipedia

The interior of one of the units showing the on-board ticket vending machine.

Portland is already extending their streetcar line. They broke ground last summer for a 3.3-mile extension. The city funded the original $103.2 million line in part with a hike in the city parking garage fee and new property taxes created by surrounding development. Additional money came from city and state government as well as public land sales.

Times are changing. For decades 95 %, or more, of federal money for transportation has been used for highways that encouraged sprawl development far away from urban centers. Recently, more investment has been made in rail and bus transit for commuters from the suburbs to get to urban centers. Now, there’s a new emphasis -- make these urban centers attractive places to live, work and play a 24-hour city with diversity and appeal for all ages. Access to mobility without a car is crucial to the success of this movement, so the Obama administration is supporting so-called urban circulators, public transportation projects that help people get around within a community. Last spring such projects, if shovel-ready, were eligible for money from the federal stimulus package. Last December the administration announced $280 million for urban circulator projects, with an emphasis on streetcars. Announced in February, a new round of federal grants totaling $1.5 billion will help out several streetcar projects.

Streetcars “fit in very well with the concept of livable communities,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the AARP Bulletin last fall. “You’ll see neighborhoods really embrace the idea.”

At least 40 cities—Tucson, Ariz., and Detroit among them—have lines in the works, and the next one is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., by 2012. Encouraged by easier access to federal funding, as many as 40 more cities—from tiny Cripple Creek, Colo., to sprawling Los Angeles—are exploring the possibility of building new lines, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Streetcar advocates like Jim Graebner of the American Public Transportation Association are encouraged. “The return of the streetcar began with the success in Portland. Now, it’s almost like there are new projects every day,” Graebner says. “Thanks to the federal funding, 2010 may finally be the year of the streetcar.”


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Maglev To Hangzhou Runs Into Friction

By Qian Yanfeng for China Daily

APRIL 12 ---- “As Li Qingwei sat down to pen a letter of protest over the expansion of Shanghai’s magnetic levitation (maglev) rail link; he had a strange sense of deja vu. He and thousands of others had fought and won this battle once before.”

So begins the article for writer Yanfeng about tension between supporters of Maglev rail service vs. conventional High Speed Rail, a dispute which is also on-going in the United States although we are not on the verge of construction of a Maglev project.

Worker on Chinese Maglev construction project

Photo: Li Peng / For China Daily  

A worker at a section of the Shanghai-Hangzhou high speed railway construction site. The maglev will be far more expensive yet only 10 minutes faster than the high speed rail
Two years ago, residents in Shanghai took to the streets to show their disapproval of extending the line to Hangzhou, capital of neighboring Zhejiang province, and the project was shelved.

But the central government is anxious to boost high-speed rail travel across the country and last month, officials at the Ministry of Railways announced that the extension had won approval from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the nation’s top economic planning body.

The news caused a stir among the millions of residents who live along the proposed route, so officials now are tight-lipped about a time-table for construction. They say feasibility studies are still going on; yet, builders at the construction site indicated that some preliminary work has already been done. And, according to the Ministry of Railways, 10,000 km track are under construction.

In its latest rail development plan, the government is aiming for an 18,000-km network of high-speed rail, including the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev, by 2020. Pressure to keep building high-speed rail is fueled by the State Council’s 4-trillion-yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package earmarked for rail.

“Across the world,” the story continues, “Maglev is one of the more exciting yet controversial technologies being touted as the future of rail travel. With the use of sophisticated electromagnets, trains are suspended about 1 cm above a single rail to create a frictionless system.

“Services between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the city’s Longyang Road station — the first commercially operated Maglev link — travel at speeds of up to 431 km/h. The route, which in a car would take at least 45 minutes, takes the maglev just 8 minutes.”

Not everyone is in favor. Some disputes center on the cost; dissenters say that the high-speed rail is too expensive for ordinary citizens. Also, two lines will run between Shanghai and Hangzhou, regular high-speed rail and the Maglev line; Maglev will be much more expensive and only ten minutes faster. And why do we need two lines going to the same cities, people are asking?

Other questions such as noise pollution and radiation have not been answered, nor is the financing made transparent. Even though China’s national economy is booming (8% growth) in one year, individual incomes of ordinary citizens have not risen commensurate with the growing economy. Many workers cannot afford the tickets for a high speed train; yet some of the cheaper, slower rail projects have been canceled.

Officials with authorities in Shanghai and Hangzhou were unavailable for comment for this story.

“The government should open up more information to the public to build their confidence in its system, especially with investment projects in which residents have the right to knowledge,” said Yu Hai, a sociologist at Fudan University. “They should also refrain from pursuing economic development at the cost of public interests. Speedy decisions are the last thing we want in the case of the maglev project.”


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Amtrak Runs On Time - Ridership Soars

From STLTODAY.Com
Writer Ken Leiser

ST. LOUIS, APRIL 11-- Amtrak passengers are a lot happier with service these days. On time performance has hit 90% for the last six months, and, as a result, ridership has had a record pace.

“For years, Amtrak service in Missouri seemed mired in time delays,” writes Ken Leiser. “Disgruntled passengers would fume about arriving home hours late.”

That’s because Amtrak is using track owned by the freight railroads, and most of the time, delays were caused by the freight trains even though, by law, passenger trains are supposed to have priority.

It’s been more a problem of infrastructure than of the trains themselves. But thanks to investments in the main passenger rail corridors and other factors, on-time performance has improved dramatically in recent years. Improvements to the infrastructure have made it easier for freight and passenger trains to share the same track.

And more investments are on the way.

Among the fastest-growing corridors is St. Louis to Kansas City, which is served by the Missouri River Runner, the story continues. Its ridership has grown 15.8 percent between Oct. 1 and March 30 over the same period of 2008-09. Passenger train service between Chicago and St. Louis grew more than 10 percent during that period, according Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. The Texas Eagle, which passes through St. Louis, recorded 8.5 percent growth.

“Every train is up,” Magliari said. “Word is out that (the trains) are more comfortable than using your car.”

Despite the weakened economy, Amtrak trains have been filling up at a historic rate during the past six months. Nationally during that time, 13.6 million passengers boarded Amtrak trains. That is running 100,000 boardings ahead of 2008, Amtrak’s best year for ridership.

While Amtrak considers the car its primary competition, the rail service has captured about 16 percent of the combined air-rail market between Chicago and St. Louis, Magliari said.

“As hassles continue and worsen in other modes,” he said, “whether it is traffic or bag charges, we are in a position to capture more business.”


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BOOK LINES... Book Lines...  

Book Cover The Electric Interurban Railways In America (Paperback)

By George Hilton (Author), John Due (Author)

From Karl Kenyon On Sierra Club’s National Transportation Listserv

From 1900 to roughly WWII, light rail lines provided most of the transportation in cities large and small, supplemented by ‘heavy rail’ in large cities and commuter rail to the suburbs thereof. But a forgotten part of that history is the story of the interurban electric railways that ran between cities, with a one-car train roughly every hour that stopped on signal virtually anyplace in rural areas.

I think that it is time to get out the definitive history of that long forgotten industry:

“A wonderfully capable job of distillation.”—Trains (magazine).

Few economic, social, and business historians can afford to miss this definitive study...

From Karl: “Yes, I am prejudiced because I had a chance to ride the three great interurban lines that operated out of Chicago in the 1950s and early 1960s. Note furthermore that the South Shore Line still operates 90 miles to South Bend IN (www.nictd.com), although not as frequently as it did in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I also have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME (www.trolleymuseum.org) where they have collected roughly 200 cars, representing light rail, heavy rail, and interurban cars from many parts of the country.

Of course trolley fans often overlook the detail that during the heyday of the interurban, most rural highways were unpaved and thus cars were often mired in mud. Also, motor vehicle ownership was largely restricted to the upper classes.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Some New Jersey Bus Riders Get A Break,
But Rail Riders Take A Hard Hit

By David Peter Alan

New Jersey Transit is set to implement its plan of fare increases and service cuts announced last month. Hearings were held on March 25th through 27th around New Jersey and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. NJT management had proposed a fare hike of 25% across the board, with off-peak rail fares slated to rise 47%. A few off-peak rail fares were scheduled to increase by as much as 64%.

NJT had also planned to raise the local bus fare (and the fare on its Newark Light Rail and River Rail line in South Jersey) from $1.35 to $1.70. Management relented on the local bus fare and will increase it only to $1.50. In addition, fewer bus routes will be eliminated than had originally been proposed.

Rail riders were not so lucky. They will face the largest fare increase in NJT’s 30-year history. Off-peak rail riders suffered a 25% fare increase in 2005, while the largest across-the-board increase was 22% in 1982. Senior discounts and those for people with disabilities will still be offered, but the only “regular” riders who will receive any discount are commuters, many of whom ride at peak commuting times.

Rail advocates and ordinary riders were out in force to protest the fare hikes and service cuts. About 25 riders chanted “No more cuts” in a demonstration outside NJT headquarters in Newark. At the meeting of the NJT Board of Directors, where the fare hikes and service reductions were approved, many rail advocates and ordinary riders made their voices heard. They represented the Lackawanna Coalition, the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Sierra Club and NJT’s North Jersey Transportation Advisory Committee.

NJT Executive Director James Weinstein said that the agency had “stabilized state assistance” and thanked transit advocates for their comments. Although the advocates at the meeting did not appear grateful for the word of thanks, Weinstein said that raising the local bus fare to only $1.50 gave a break to 70% of bus riders and 52% of NJT’s riders overall. The other 48%, those on rail or interstate buses to New York City or Philadelphia, must pay at least 25% more than their current fare, effective May 1st.

Many commenters complained about the large subsidies given to automobile transportation, while transit riders were singled out to pay more. Suzanne Mack, Chair of the North Jersey Transportation Advisory Committee (NJTAC), expressed her concern that another funding crisis will occur soon, called for a dedicated source of funding for transit and recommended that a panel be convened to study transit funding. Her colleague, John Monaco, also complained that it was unfair to make only transit riders pay an increased user fee for transportation. William R. Wright, also a member of the NJTAC, said the current policy capped “a quarter-century of discrimination against the transit rider and the transit employee” and called for an emergency 25¢ user fee on each gallon of gasoline.

Other advocates agreed. Gary Johnson of the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) said that, since each penny added to the state’s gasoline user fee represents $50 million in revenue that could be used for transit operations, the amount that each motorist or trucker would pay for improved transit would be “a drop in the gas tank.” Daniel Chazin, an attorney and Lackawanna Coalition member, said he would gladly pay an extra $100 per year in gasoline user fees, because it would cost more than that to take a family of four from New Brunswick to New York City for the day under the new fare policy.

The environmental community was on hand, too. Kate Slevin, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign called the higher fares “a bad deal for New Jerseyans and a tax increase on the working people in the state” and suggested that $42 million in available Stimulus funds be used for transit operations. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, called the proposed NJT fares “a train wreck” that would take money out of the pockets and food off the tables of working people. He expressed the concern, seconded by other speakers, that that proposed fares would encourage people to use the highways instead of the train, which would increase pollution and congestion.

Other rail advocates noted other concerns. Patricia Winship, speaking for the Lackawanna Coalition, noted that her community of Mount Tabor had lost much of its rail service in the wake of reductions that occurred after off-peak rail fares were hiked drastically in 2005. The community fought to get those trains back, but did not get them all. She and other speakers expressed concern that the same scenario would happen again. Albert L. Papp, representing the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, criticized NJT management and elected officials in Trenton for a “lack of leadership” that created the current crisis in the first place. Joseph M. Clift of the Regional Rail Working Group said that the steep hike in the off-peak rail fare was a bad business move for NJT. He said that when he was Director of Planning for the Long Island Rail Road, increasing the off-peak discount from 25% to 33% substantially increased the number of riders and shifted many of them from peak-hour to off-peak trains, which reduced the need for costly peak-hour operations.

Still, all of the pleadings and arguments by the advocates and rail riders went unheard. The Board voted unanimously to approve the fare increases, even though several Board members expressed their dismay at the proposal. Board member Flora Castillo said “it pains me” as she voted for the drastic fare hike. Kenneth Pringle, a member who is leaving the Board, expressed agreement with Clift’s argument and said, “Motorists have obligations to contribute to transportation, too.” Still, he voted along with his colleagues to approve a plan that ran directly counter to Clift’s experience at the LIRR and that requires no additional contribution by motorists. This did not come as a surprise, since no NJT Board member has cast a dissenting vote on any issue since 2003.

In a closing news conference, Weinstein defended the new fares, claiming that only 5% of riders would be diverted from rail and onto the highways. He did not cite different numbers for peak-hour diversion, with 25% higher fares and crowded highways, as opposed to diversion at other times, with 47% higher fares and far less highway congestion. Several advocates expressed skepticism about his figures.

At the same meeting, the Board voted to pay $480,000 to a financial management firm to help NJT manage its parking lots and other assets during the next year. Douglas Krakauer, a speaker who is not affiliated with any transit advocacy organization, asked if this was “another payoff.” Board Secretary Gwen Watson reminded Krakauer that this was “a comment period, not a question-and-answer session.” No one else responded to Krakauer’s question.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, which opposed the fare increases and service cuts.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNI)

**

**

Canadian National (CNI)61.9760.93
Canadian Pacific (CP) 57.6757.51
CSX (CSX)54.4452.96
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)37.1234.61
Kansas City Southern (KSU)38.1838.37
Norfolk Southern (NSC)59.4757.91
Providence & Worcester(PWX)12.3511.89
Union Pacific (UNP)75.9575.75
** - Burlington Northern Sante Fe has been purchased by the Berkshire Hathaway Corporation.
       BNI closed in final sale at 100.21 and will no longer be reported here.


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FREIGHTLINES... Freight Lines...  

STB Assesses Proposed Maine Line Abandonment

From Progressive Railroading

APRIL 14 -- On Friday, the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Section of Environmental Analysis (SEA) released a draft environmental assessment of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd.’s proposed abandonment of 233 miles of track in northern Maine.

The SEA determined that the abandonment in Aroostook and Penobscot counties could divert as many as 73,344 truck trips annually to Maine’s highways, resulting in an additional 3.3 million gallons of fuel consumed each year. The agency estimated it would take four trucks to replace each rail car of freight.

However, the draft review found that the truck diversions would be within the level of traffic allowed by area roads, according to the STB.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic is seeking STB approval for abandonment because the line doesn’t generate enough revenue, according to the railroad. The Maine Department of Transportation and state representatives, who are trying to preserve the line, have asked the STB to study the abandonment’s impacts and hear from local shippers and residents.

In that regard, the STB has scheduled a public hearing for May 10 in Presque Isle, Maine, to gather feedback on the proposed abandonment and projected truck traffic increase.


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CONSTRUCTION LINES... Construction Lines...  

S. Korean Railcars Being Built
In S. Phila. For SEPTA

From Philadelphia Inquirer
Staff Writer Paul Nussbaum

Philadelphia commuters, who have been putting up with outdated, crowded, worn-out rail cars, are about to get their due.

“In a refurbished factory tucked below Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia, 48 naked railcars are being formally dressed for their public coming-out later this year,” writes Paul Nussbaum.

“Gleaming stainless-steel bodies are slowly being filled with wiring harnesses, heating covers, lights, doors, and seats. Soon they’ll be adorned with the familiar SEPTA logo and rolled out the back door to try out their new wheels on a test track.”

Then the commuters will get their chance to enjoy their shiny new cars.

These are the first of 117 Silverliner V cars being assembled for SEPTA at the South Philadelphia plant by Hyundai Rotem USA Corp., a division of South Korea auto manufacturer Hyundai Motor Group. Three pilot Silverliner Vs were built in South Korea, delivered earlier this year, and are now being tested by SEPTA.

The 120 new Silverliners will replace 73 railcars built in the 1960s. SEPTA’s rail fleet now has about 350 cars; with the retirement of old cars and the addition of new ones, the authority will have about 400 by next year.

There have been years of delays, but now Hyundai is getting a foothold in the United States, hoping to use the Philadelphia plant to build cars for transit agencies around the nation.

Massachusetts has contracted to have Hyundai Rotem assemble 75 cars for Boston’s MBTA at the refurbished Weccacoe Avenue factory in South Philadelphia. A proposal is in the works to assemble 121 bi-level railcars for the Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s Metrolink. Those will be done in Colton, California, to save time and money, said Doug S. Dan, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Dan said Hyundai Rotem is losing money on the SEPTA deal, with each car costing $2.3 million, bringing the total price tag to $274 million.

“This is our first project in the U.S.,” he said. “We made the pricing to cover the costs at the time, but certain costs were underestimated.”.

But it’s their opportunity to tap into the vast U.S. market.

“We’re committed long-term,” he said, noting that the company had leased the South Philadelphia site until 2017. “This is a very important strategic location for Hyundai Rotem. We need a volume of work to maintain the workforce here.”

The plant now employs about 110 workers, including 20 administrators from South Korea. The American workers include engineers, electricians, mechanics, and laborers.

As required by law, the cars must be assembled in the United States and 60 percent of the components must come from U.S. sources, such as: brakes from Spartanburg, S.C., batteries from Cherry Hill, wheels and axles from Morton, and heating and cooling systems from West Chester.

The new cars will have wider doors, wider aisles, larger windows, electronic destination signs, automatic voice announcements of station stops, and public-address systems that can be accessed from SEPTA’s control center.

But they won’t have restrooms, and they will not eliminate the three-passenger seats that rankle many riders now. And the design of the engineer’s compartment is not resolved. SEPTA engineers want bigger cabs that extend all the way across the front of the train, not the ones Hyundai has designed that extend only halfway across the front of the train.

Dan said the Silverliners would be delivered with half-cabs. But he said they could be modified later to accommodate full cabs if that’s what SEPTA decides it wants.


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OFF THE MAIN LINE... Off The Main Line...  

Take The One Less Car Challenge!

From City Of Seattle Web Site

Ever thought about shedding a car, or wish you could try it for awhile to see how it goes? You’ve come to the right place! The City of Seattle’s One Less Car Challenge is building and connecting a community of people who want to save money, reduce stress and help the environment by living with one less car!

We provide personal, one-on-one support as you learn how to get around by bus, bike, foot or carpool; as well as some great incentives.

Our supply of program incentives is limited and will be available on a first come first serve basis, so if you’re interested in participating we encourage you to sign up soon.

There are two levels of participation you can choose from:


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EVENTS... Events...  

“RUN” to Toledo!

The Rail Users’ Network (RUN) will sponsor an outreach meeting on Friday, April 23d, in Toledo, Ohio, in cooperation with the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG).  The meeting will begin at 1:00 pm at the train station.  All rail managers and advocates, especially from northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan, are urged to attend.

There will also be late-afternoon and evening activities after the meeting, which we expect will include a tour of transportation facilities and dinner.  For attendees coming on an Amtrak train, we will be back at the station in time for you to make your connections to the East or toward Chicago.

Plans for activities after the meeting will be finalized before the next edition of D:F is published.  To find out more, please contact RUN Chair Richard Rudolph at rrueolph@fairpoint.net.


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Power of Place Summit

May 14, 2010 – Rhode Island Convention Center

Online registration now available. Visit the Summit Website Here

New Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities takes center stage with Keynote Symposium including high-ranking leaders from HUD, DOT, EPA and Smart Growth America. More than 20 workshops - see list of presenters below. Up to 500 expected to attend.

HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims will be joined by Therese McMillan, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration and John Frece, Director of EPA’s Smart Growth Program to discuss the status of the new Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities and the opportunities for applying its principles and resources to improve Rhode Island’s economy and enhance its quality of place. Smart Growth America President & CEO Geoff Anderson will moderate the symposium.

Highlights:


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

Installments by David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

No Fly Zone – Commercial Air Travel Within Europe Grounded

Trains Answer The Call – Record Passenger Volumes On Numerous Train Routes Seen

Hannover – An unprecedented grounding of nearly all airline traffic in western and northern Europe due to an ongoing volcanic eruption in Iceland and resulting ash cloud has placed a sudden demand on Europe’s various railroads that has tested the entire rail network from Shannon and Limerick Ireland to Warsaw, Poland, to Rome, Italy, as far as Sophia, Bulgaria and everywhere in between. Ironically the source country of this travel crisis, Iceland, has no rail system and its main airport remains open for the time being.

The ash cloud has, as of writing of this article, shut down airspace in two dozen European countries. Only Spain, Portugal, Malta and Greece still have fully open airspace, but even this could change in the next 24 hours. The disruptions began on Thursday. The 15th of April, as authorities closed airspace in Ireland and the U.K, both of which are directly downwind from the volcano in Iceland.

By Friday the no-fly zone has spread to much of France, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Belgium and Poland. Already by Thursday evening passengers in the UK began flooding Eurostar’s terminal in London’s St. Pancras station in hopes of taking a train to either Paris or Brussels and then continuing on to other European destinations by any transportation means available. The sudden rush on Eurostar train ticket counters prompted Eurostar to issue press releases that only confirmed ticket holders should appear at the rail stations. This move was misinterpreted by a few news agencies, including CNN International, as a possible sign that there were technical difficulties due to volcanic ash with Eurostar trains. In fact there were zero technical issues on Eurostar, only incredibly high demand.

But difficulties on the rail system in continental Europe did exist. A labor strike against certain TGV rail lines was underway in Paris and other parts of France and later on Saturday morning in Hamburg, Germany vandals torched a truck parked underneath a railroad bridge in the harbor city. The fire from the vandalized truck in turn severely damaged cables for the track signals between Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (central station) and Hamburg-Harburg station, thus severing rail corridor between northernmost Germany as well as Denmark from the rest of Germany and Europe for at least the rest of the weekend.

In Britain a window for trans-Atlantic flights to land and take-off from the airports in Prestwick and Glasgow opened up for a brief period over the weekend. But rail transit had to play a major roll with the moving of thousands of passengers to/from Manchester, Birmingham and London and southwestern Scotland. Recently completed upgrades to the so-called “West Coast Main Line” helped keep passengers moving reliably and quickly along this important rail corridor.

In the massive Frankfurt airport waiting lines for ICE trains to Cologne, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich at the airport’s high speed rail station approached 500 meters long as Germany’ flag carrier, Lufthansa, entered a total flight shut-down, the first time ever in the German airline’s history. Similar stories were repeated across western Europe, including Paris CDG airport, Amsterdam, London Heathrow and Gatwick, Copenhagen, Zürich and Milan.

Nearly all major European rail lines responded to the crisis by adding extra trains where they could and increasing staffing at train stations in or near major airline hubs. Ulrich Homburg, president and general manager of passenger train operations for Deutsche Bahn, stated that the rail company was doing everything possible to transport airline passengers by placing its employees on high alert and ramping-up staffing of stations, trains and call centers, as well as taking measures to increase and maximise the amount of rolling stock in operation over the coming days. With the volcanic activity in Iceland apparently intensifying, the well-developed rail network in Europe is proving to be an invaluable back-up to its traditional rival.


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Destination: Freedom
Reader’s Traveler Advisory

Check with your airline now, if planning to fly to or within Europe

D:F readers who may be planning to travel to, from or within Europe within the next week are strongly advised to check with their airline via the airline’s website or customer information telephone number prior to going to the airport. NCI staff strongly discourages our readers to go to the airport in hopes of re-booking, unless they have been in direct contact with their airline via internet or telephone about the present circumstances in Europe. Currently most flights have been indefinitely postponed or canceled due to the air safety precautions implemented due to the volcanic ash cloud spreading from Iceland to Ireland, the UK, continental Europe and Russia. Significant number of flights to North America, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East from various European hubs such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Zürich have been canceled. Likewise intra European flights have been canceled by the hundreds.

With thousands of air travelers across Europe looking for alternative means to get either to their final destination or an intermediate point, nearly all ICE, TGV, Thalys, Eurostar Italia and Eurostar (Channel Tunnel) trains are running at 100% or more of capacity. Expect long lines at intercity train ticket counters and standing-room only trains on numerous rail routes. If booking via internet, try to also reserve seats at the time you buy train tickets (seat reservations are a separate transaction to the train ticket / fare on many intercity trains). It is important to keep in mind that this is an act of mother nature and that there is no reason to lose one’s cool due to travel delays. Many have it far worse in various airports across Europe. Rental cars, as was the case in the USA just after the 2001 attacks on Sept. 11, are currently in extremely short supply all across Europe.

 

Keyword: Ash

Why is volcanic ash considered such a serious hazard to airliners?
And why is it not a similar threat to trains and automobiles?

Volcanic ash – essentially little more than sand and small glass particles – has become infamous in the aviation world for its ability to quickly render modern jet aircraft nearly impossible to fly within an hour or so of exposure. Flights operated with B747s in 1982 by British Airways near Indonesia and in 1989 by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines near Anchorage, Alaska, respectively, attracted the most mainstream media attention when they lost power in all four engines after flying unknowingly through volcanic ash clouds. In both incidents the pilots were able to restart two of the engines only minutes away from a powerless landing / impact with the ground. But the issue is not limited at all to B747s, volcanic ash is a deadly threat to any turbine powered airplane, from a Beechcraft 1900 regional turboprop to an Airbus A380 intercontinental mega-jet and everything in between.

Normally the air in which aircraft spend most of their time, i.e. air a thousand feet to forty thousand feet above the ground is relatively clean and free of airborne sand, dust and grit, although in this day and age it may be contaminated by other pollutants such as SO2, NOx, carbon soot and various hydrocarbon compounds. But particulate contamination has a significant effect on commercial aircraft and their turbine engines. One of the effects of volcanic ash, a form of particulate contamination, has, can best be described by “sand blasting” or “grit blasting”. This grit blasting effect quickly erodes the leading edges of fan and compressor blades in jet engines and turboprop engines. The reason is the speeds involved. The aircraft hits the relatively stationary volcanic ash particles at a speed of 150 meters per second (340 mph) or faster. The ash particles act like a powerful abrasive grit blast at this speed, with the ability to actually remove metal from the narrow leading edges of the compressor blades in turbine engines. The compressor blades of the engine are, of course, spinning at many thousands of RPM, thus increasing dramatically the metal-removing capability of this airborne grit. The result of this dramatic erosion in the compressor blades is a significant reduction of the compressor’s efficiency in a short period of time, which can starve the engine of air or lead to an aerodynamic stall of the compressor, which causes the engine essentially to “back fire” with the likelihood that the engine then shuts down completely.

Another nearly equal threat to turbine engines from this airborne sand and grit is the likelihood that the particles, mostly silicon dioxide, the base material of common glass, will melt in the high temperatures of the turbine engine’s combustor and turbine. As most modern aircraft turbine engines have air cooled turbine blades, this phenomenon poses a very dangerous problem, the ash can either melt inside or simply clog the air cooling circuits in the turbine blades, which will quickly cause the turbine blades to overheat to the point where they either crack or melt. Obviously with the turbine blades either cracking apart or melting away from overheating due to loss of cooling by ash-clogged cooling circuits, the engine will quickly loose power.

Trains are in general powered by diesel engines or electric motors. In both diesel engines and electric motors, cooling air velocity is substantially lower than in aircraft turbine engines. In diesel engines, combustion temperatures are likewise significantly lower than in a modern aircraft turbine engine, while peak temperatures in electric traction motors are many hundreds of degrees below the melting point of volcanic ash, in-fact just slightly hotter than a common hair dryer. In addition, a diesel engine is not dependent on small, fragile compressor blades for its power. Even the turbocharger in train engines is a centrifugal design which is not nearly as sensitive to erosion induced problems as the bladed axial-flow compressors in jet engines and turboprops. And in most rail applications both the intake air for diesel engines, and the cooling air for electronics and traction motors is cleaned by either filters or centrifugal dust/ particulate separators or both. The reciprocating engines (gas or diesel) in automobile engines are similar to diesel engines in trains as far as sensitivity to airborne sand and grit, in other words, as long at the air filter is not clogged, there is no issue with operation in volcanic dust.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

It’s The Infrastructure, Stupid

We have all in recent days been transfixed by the horror of the April 5 Massey Energy coal mine catastrophe at Montcoal, West Virginia. The news media has been filled with stories about the tragedy, loss of life, and unbearable suffering visited upon the families of 29 miners, in the worst mining disaster in America in 40 years.

But, just three years ago, in 2007, six miners were killed in another disaster, this one at the Crandall Canyon mine in Emery County, Utah, owned by a subsidiary of Murray Energy.

In 2006, 12 coal miners were killed in a methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia owned by International Coal Group, and another five were killed in an explosion at the Kentucky Darby No. 1 Mine in Harlan County, Ky.

In 2001, 13 miners were killed in explosions at a Jim Walter Resources Inc. mine in Brookwood, AL; in 1992 eight were killed in an explosion at a Southmountain Coal Co. mine in Norton, VA; in 1989, 10 miners were killed in an explosion at a Pyro Mining Co. mine in Wheatcroft, Ky. [source: Wikipedia]

The list, all too sadly, goes on, and on. But why? To paraphrase and shift George Stephanopolous’ famous phrase from the1992 Clinton campaign, “It’s the infrastructure, stupid.”

The coal-mining tragedies of April 5 in West Virginia, and all the rest of them, are not isolated events. They are the result of a generation of an increasingly rigid “Government is the Problem” political ideology first promoted successfully by Ronald Reagan, and then carried forward though his paler successors.

Ronald Reagan was in many ways a great President, and a confident and capable leader, and at the time of his first election (1980) America was reeling from “stagflation,” high unemployment, and his predecessor Jimmy Carter’s flaccid response to Iranian terrorism, for which we are still paying a horrible price.

President Reagan believed, as did many in both political parties at that time --- which is why he won election, and re-election, so handily --- that too much regulation of private industry was the cause of our economic woes. And there was a lot of truth to that. But as Americans often do --- “in America, nothing succeeds like excess” to quote that eminent economist, Mick Jagger --- we proceeded to swing the de-regulation pendulum so far to the right that, over time, essential protections against predatory and oligopolistic corporate behavior disappeared almost entirely --- again, with both parties collaborating.

The most famous example of the consequences of blind de-regulation was and is the collapse of America’s, and nearly the world’s, financial structure. No one was minding the store, not even the store-keepers, when Goldman Sachs and others of their breed essentially bet the currency of the world using financial instruments too easily manipulated by those in the seat of power on Wall Street, which could and did bring that house of cards collapsing down around everyone’s ears.

The mining disaster of April 5, and other recent such disasters, are a direct result of a generation of anti-government policy that has now become deeply embedded in the enforcement mechanisms of the various regulatory bodies, whose staffing and ability to enforce the law have been eviscerated.

Want proof? Two days after the Montcoal catastrophe the New York Times ran a lead story, “Mines Fight Strict Laws by Filing More Appeals” [New York Times April 7, 2010; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/us/07company.html], detailing how despite the passage of tougher mining inspection laws, actual fines paid had declined dramatically as mining companies, knowing agencies are undermanned and understaffed after decades of ideological anti-governance Presidential leadership, have used the courts to thwart safety.

The infrastructure of our economy is not simply comprised of the roads, rail lines, barge systems, and air transport systems, and corporations we use to bring goods to market; it is in the way we integrate those industries. Gutting the ability to regulate industry safety is no longer a viable option. Reagan was indeed right --- there was too much regulation of business, especially some major industries, such as rail, which until 1980’s passage of the Staggers Act were utterly crippled by the heavy hand of government --- but his vision of a free and vibrant economy, as inspiring as it was and is to many, cannot be the only criterion by which we guide our nation. We need to build up the regulatory infrastructure needed to keep things in balance, or the Montcoal’s will continue to happen, and in other industries as well. Recent “talking points” that, with blatant dishonesty, liken Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)’s financial industry reform bill to the previous forced “bail out” of the banks need to be seen for what they are, a lie. Indeed, the bill needs to go farther than it does.

Continuation of the Reagan-Bush era’s anti-governance policy in the 21st Century is not freedom from government. It is irresponsibility and a gross dereliction of duty that can and does put the lives of our fellow Americans in danger. And that must stop. Teddy Roosevelt knew that a century ago when he broke up the trusts, and President Obama knows it now, and should be just as bold.


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