The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

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

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April 27, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 19

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

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

  News Items…
Chicago’s Downtown Revitalization Plan Moves Forward
Last Minute Letter For Rail Link Arrives In Time
  Advocates’ Corner…
Advocates Want Rail Projects Sped Up
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Personal Commentary…
On Being An Eyewitness To History
Memo To The Anti-Rail Lobby: Facts Are Stubborn Things
Rail Trends 2009
  Publication Notes …

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

Chicago’s Downtown Revitalization Plan Moves Forward

Sceptics Have Doubts About Cost And Lack Of Public Input

From Internet Sources

CHICAGO, APRIL 24 -- We spent the 20th century emptying out and paving over our city and town centers by routing the Interstate Highway system right down the middle of Main Street - a horror that President Eisenhower had not intended and filled him with dread. His model for the interstate highway system was based on the German Autobahns which facilitated high-speed travel but did not cut through the heart of the cities and make them die.

The Statue of the Republic in Jackson Park is a replica of Daniel Chester French’s The Republic, but is 1/3rd the size of the original.

Cities are the key to thriving civilizations. Today, all over the country, Americans are putting together plans to revitalize our broken city centers.

Chicago’s $15.5 billion proposal to rejuvenate its downtown is one of the most lavish, writes reporter Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune. It is “moving forward, despite uncertainties about the economy and whether the city will host the Olympics in seven years.”

“There has been relatively little public discussion about such a massive endeavor that is being launched in the heart of the city and will have a lasting impact through the six-county region and the state.”

Yet the Chicago Central Area Action Plan, a road map filled with visions and goals as well as dozens of specific projects, is expected to be approved by the City Council as early as next month.

The transportation projects, estimated at $14.2 billion, make up the bulk of the plan.

Major projects include a $2 billion West Loop Transportation Center which will connect with Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center served by METRA trains with CTA bus and rail lines, Pace buses, a proposed Carroll Avenue transit line and long-distance Amtrak high-speed trains.

“Improving access and making facility upgrades at Union Station were big priorities,” said Luann Hamilton, a deputy commissioner at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Express trains to O’Hare International Airport and Midway are included in the plan even though train service to the airports already exists. An airport “super station” in an area called Block 37 bounded by State, Dearborn, Washington and Randolph Streets has been postponed indefinitely.

Other projects include:

Constructing a landscaped cap over the Kennedy Expressway between Monroe and Washington Streets.

Revamping a section of Lake Shore Drive to soften the accident-prone Oak Street curve and build recreational paths.

Reconstructing the north-south portion of Wacker Drive from south of Lake Street to Congress Parkway.

Building dedicated bus-only corridors, mostly using abandoned railroad rights of way, to connect employment centers, visitor attractions and shopping from the West Loop to River North and Streeterville.

Tunneling a new West Loop rail line, called the Clinton Subway, connecting the CTA’s Cermak/Chinatown and North/Clybourn stations.

Expanding the river walk network along the Chicago River and water taxi service, as well as adding to the underground Pedway system.

City officials admit that the entire plan may never be completed but they note that large portions of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago were never done. Nevertheless, “we still consider that plan a success,” said Benet Haller, director of urban design and planning for the city.

Bloggers from the Chicagoist points out two glaring red flags in this multi-billion-dollar plan: “It reads like a lavish and bottomless wish list,” but “there has been relatively little public discussion” and there is no transparent plan to show where the state’s share of the money will come from. Even though the feds will fund 60%, that still leaves a large balance for the state to pick up and “the idea is being advanced even though it never resulted in a successful business model. “…all this from the city that chopped snowplowing this year, and toyed with the idea of outsourcing its pothole filling to a fried-chicken franchiser.”

As soon as the plan is adopted, engineering and planning work must begin immediately in order to reach either the 2016 or 2020 target, according to a draft report.

This plan will lead to economic development and land-use goals that were spelled out in a 2003 city report for the central area.

The time for implementation is now, the planners said. This year is the centennial of Daniel Burnham’s plan.

They said the public should not be intimidated by the immense price tags associated with the projects, despite a pattern of serious cost overruns associated with public works programs in the city.

“If you zoom right into the numbers, they look huge. But in the context of the next several state and federal capital plans, this bold plan with its aggressive transportation investments will help the central business district reinvent itself and grow,” said MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

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Last Minute Letter For Rail Link Arrives In Time

By DF Staff

The deadline was Friday, April 24, for Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-MA) to receive the letter requesting a $6 million for the North/South Rail Link. This money will fund preliminary engineering and design.

At 4:30 pm on Wednesday, the 22nd, the Congressman still had not received it.

Advocates flew into action. Calls poured into the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) urging the Secretary, James Aloisi, Jr., to get that letter to Washington immediately. By 5:30 that afternoon, word came back to Molly McKay, Chair of Sierra Club’s New England Transportation Committee, that the letter had been faxed.

But the Congressman couldn’t find it.

More nail-biting.

On Thursday, the letter arrived.

Former MA State Representative John Businger said he was pleased that this crucial step had finally been taken, but more pressure is needed to move the project forward. “What we need,” he said, “is for the high elected officials to fight for that $6 million to make this project a reality. Many years of environmental analysis have been done, making this project closer to shovel ready than most people realize.”

“The Link is the most significant New England regional rail project on the Northeast Corridor,” Businger continued, “making it possible for through travel by train from the southeastern states to northern Maine. Also, it will benefit commuters and businesses north, south, east and west of Boston by greatly increasing the pools of workers and work locations in the metropolitan region. Without the Rail Link, the gap on the Northeast corridor remains. Commuter and intercity rail will be limited to less than half its potential and the Northeast economy will not thrive.”

(Editor’s note: In January, 2009, at the Regional Transportation Conference by NCI and Sierra Club in New London, John Businger gave his presentation on the Rail Link based on this planning document. Below is the Executive Summary.)  (Adobe PDF)  

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ADVOCATES CORNER... Advocates’ Corner...  

Advocates Want Rail Projects Sped Up

New Haven Register
By Elizabeth Benton, Register Staff
Permission requested to reprint

NEW HAVEN, APRIL 23 — Mass transit advocates gathered at Union Station Thursday evening to identify ways to catalyze action on slow-moving projects, including the long-discussed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line.

The meeting was one of numerous discussions taking place across the country, facilitated by Washington, D.C.-based transit advocates Transportation for America.

New Haven’s meeting, which drew about a dozen participants, was organized locally by the National Corridors Initiative and the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Getting mass transit in Connecticut is painfully slow,” said state Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, pointing to bureaucratic and attitudinal obstacles, including what he described as a long-time focus solely on highways at the state Department of Transportation. “That focus has only recently shifted to address mass transit,” he said.

The state is “in a better position now than it has ever been” to launch a New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line, he said.

The conversation Thursday mirrored, on a smaller scale, a hearing held last week in New Haven by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn, on transit issues, including the New Haven-Springfield rail line.

State DOT, Metro-North Railroad officials, business leaders and local elected officials all attended that hearing.

A north-south commuter rail line has been a top transit priority for both Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly, and the DOT is conducting an environmental assessment.

“It is finally happening. We are moving to the next level on this project,” said Michael Piscitelli, director of the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.

President Barack Obama announced last week that $8 billion in federal stimulus money would be directed to developing a nationwide high-speed rail system.

Meeting participants Thursday discussed ways to secure some of that money for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line.

“We’re preaching to the choir here. We’ve got to be leaders,” said Molly McKay, Transportation Chair of the Connecticut Sierra Club.

McKay plans to use input from Thursday’s meeting to draft a letter to Rell pushing for increased transit funding.

With Connecticut facing competition for the stimulus funds, a draft outline of the letter to Rell recommends that Connecticut emphasize the project’s ability to benefit the entire region.

Meeting participants also discussed expansion of bus lines, bike safety, the transportation needs of the elderly, and funding sources for transportation initiatives, including new taxes.

Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)67.1468.17
Canadian National (CNI)40.7741.76
Canadian Pacific (CP)35.2034.58
CSX (CSX)30.9731.38
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)27.7226.92
Kansas City Southern (KSU)16.7016.85
Norfolk Southern (NSC)37.7937.79
Providence & Worcester (PWX)11.1010.75
Union Pacific (UNP)49.1348.29

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PERSONAL COMMENTARY... Personal Commentary...  

On Being An Eyewitness To History

By James P. RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

On April 16 as I sat in the second row of Room 450, a small auditorium in the Executive Office Building immediately adjacent to the White House, as a guest of President Barack Obama when he announced the launching of the most ambitious rail program in American history since the building of the Transcontinental Railroad (completed exactly 140 years ago May 10), many thoughts coursed through my mind.

The first: that I was thrilled to be an invited participant on a history-making day, in the presence of a remarkable young man who is so genuine, and so completely comfortable in his own skin, that he puts everyone else immediately at ease. At the same time, he unflinchingly ventures into areas, both foreign and domestic, that others have not dared address, or worse, whose footsteps have been ponderous. This is an intelligent and courageous man.

As I observed the proceedings, along with NCI’s Chairman and former Amtrak chairman John Robert Smith, who had the rare honor of being personally introduced from the podium by the President, I could not help but think back to my other visits to the White House, and other Presidents such as Richard Nixon nearly 40 years ago, who grasped my hand with a nervous bonhomie that betrayed an insecure and, I thought, oddly frightened man, or Jimmy Carter, a cheerful and brainy man who unfortunately was not, as it eventuated, a good listener, or George Bush (I), a friendly and genuine man but one whose philosophy on infrastructure investment (“read my lips: no new infrastructure” was in effect what he said) did much damage to the country: among other things, the Katrina levies that failed were built on his watch, under his drastically cut-back, Potemkin-village Corps of Engineers budget, in the early 1990’s.

The second: after 20 years of work --- my group, The National Corridors Initiative was founded in April 1989 as a response to my frustration, as a shuttling Northeast Corridor businessman, in dealing with America’s [even-then] third-world ground transportation system --- was to wonder: when will the political attacks start.

That’s because, very early on in our efforts to develop support for investment – both public and private --- in a balanced American transportation system, I had learned to expect a number of things.

From the news media, it was a generally dismissive attitude towards our work, with one reporter persisting repeatedly in calling (in print) NCI and its allies, like the National Association of Railroad Passengers, “rail enthusiasts” largely interested in riding “choo-choo’s,” until I demanded and got a meeting with him and his editor. I told them that his description was both a) insulting and b) inaccurate (we are mostly business people who would like to have a transportation system in America that allows us to occasionally get home and see our kids).

Things got pretty heated (reporters are the most thin-skinned people on the planet, who often dish it out, but can seldom take it) but by the time I left there was little doubt that I had gotten my point across, and that I would be more than willing to get that point across again, up close and personal, any time, any place.

I also learned to expect something else: that arrayed against us was a highly sophisticated and well-funded dis-information campaign with expert skills in statistical manipulation and the selective use of data, funded largely by oil companies. These so-called “think tanks” --- actually disguised propaganda arms of the oil lobby --- with their paid-shill “fellows” invariably would release a “report” every time Amtrak was about to issue its [growing] ridership numbers, for more than 35 years). I soon learned to expect a flurry of op eds every time a pro-rail development made the news, and I was not disappointed this time, either: three days after the President’s historic announcement, The Boston Herald, a well-written local paper whose op pages are reliably if curiously libertarian --- and undermining of their own readership base, which is traditionally blue collar --- published an Op Ed piece High-speed train to Nowheresville, which we will deal with elsewhere in this issue of Destination:Freedom.

Well, those and other attacks from the Usual Suspects will come. But this time, the Commander-in-Chief is not only on our side, he is leading the charge, and the world is about to see a different America, competitive and highly mobile but independent of foreign oil, in the years ahead. It will be energy-independent, and powered by new sources of energy --- already cost-effective, but systematically torpedoed for most of the last three decades. Building this new energy and transportation infrastructure will also create home-grown industries, help end this recession, and make future recessions far less likely. You read it here first.

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Memo To The Anti-Rail Lobby:
Facts Are Stubborn Things

By James P. RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

Elsewhere in this issue (“Eyewitness to History”) is our reporting and commentary on April 16th’s historic announcement by President Obama of his new high-speed rail initiative for America.

In that article we touch on the expected attacks to that program, which will largely be initiated by the fake “think-tanks” populated by oil-lobby-paid “scholars” whose research, backed by a bogus use of statistics that would make a pathological liar blush, is largely financed by the no-tax greed-heads and their dupes who have hijacked the largely culture-war-oriented Libertarian Movement and a big chunk of the current [rump] Republican Party.

Misrepresentation of the facts, and of our and brother organizations’ motives, have been a constant struggle, with one local reporter persisting in repeatedly calling (in print) NCI and its allies, like the National Association of Railroad Passengers, “rail enthusiasts” largely interested in riding choo-choo’s, until I demanded and got a meeting with him and his boss. I told them that his description was both a) insulting and b) inaccurate (we are mostly business people who would like to gave a transportation system in America that allows us to occasionally get home and see our kids).

Frankly it took me a while to figure out. This campaign has been one of the programs of the laughably mis-named Reason Foundation, and others, and other shills for the petroleum industry, who are counted upon to shoot down, hopefully upon launch, any attempt to wean America off of its oil dependence.

So, when I read the April 19 Op Ed piece in the Herald High-speed train to Nowheresville this week, while disappointed, I was not surprised to read the same disinformation and half-truths I have dealt with for years.

Here are the Herald’s op-ed’s claims, and our rebuttal.

The Herald: “[The President’s plan] …is not so much a plan as a statement of intention to plan and to finance planning. The only money being released (no amount specified) will be for shovel-ready projects (including purchase of equipment and infrastructure) that have completed preliminary engineering and all environmental review. It’s doubtful there are many like that.”

The Truth: That is totally false. The freight railroads, where tens of thousands of miles of tracks have been ripped up and sold to save operating costs over the past decades, and whose existing rights-of-way have room for and will largely house the new high speed tracks (110 mph and above) have a minimum of $17 billion in shovel-ready projects that could be implemented over the next three years, and work can begin almost literally tomorrow: what the freights have to do is put back track where it used to be, largely in an existing right of way, which requires minimal design work and is exempt from most if not all environmental review.

The Herald: “Truth be told, high-speed rail is mind-bogglingly expensive; the European trains so praised by the president all eat large subsidies (about $88 billion per year overall). The $8 billion in stimulus money and the $1 billion a year (which isn’t much!) proposed in the president’s budget for the next five years wouldn’t pay for even a third of the $45 billion line California wants to build to connect the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.”

The Whole Truth: Rail is expensive. So are other transportation modes --- highways, airports, marine ports: that is, everything else. We are 300 million people living on a big chunk of the North American continent and literally anything we do to build any kind of infrastructure system that is nationwide will cost billions, especially when rebuilding one of those modes --rail --- where dis-investment has been rampant for most of the past eight or nine decades. Who’s kidding whom here??

The Herald: “The president said high-speed rail would relieve highways and airways ‘clogged with traffic.’ Despite their splendid trains, Europeans drive almost as much as we do. If congestion is the problem, Obama ought to focus on renovating some of the freight railroad bottlenecks. That would draw many trucks away from truly clogged highways at a reasonable cost.”

And Nothing But the Truth: Duh, yup. That’s what the President’s program will do, because the existing freight railroads will play an integral part in it, and Obama very much understands --- and said so --- that transportation is a system, not an undifferentiated mass. NCI has always said that. And the President unequivocally “gets it.”

The Herald: “High-speed rail is supposed to produce fewer earth-warming gases. This is hard to believe - unless the trains are to be powered by electricity generated from nuclear reactors and hydroelectric plants. Amtrak and private automobiles emit about the same amount of carbon dioxide per passenger mile.”

The facts: Do believe it ---rail is far less polluting than other transportation modes, and by a wide margin, There are massive data on that; go look it up; second, and this is just our opinion, but an informed one, we are going to wean ourselves off of oil over the next 10-20 years. It won’t be overnight, but then the mess we are in wasn’t created overnight, either. We are going to have lots of electric cars, and lots of wind turbines, and lots of cheaper and cheaper solar power. Either we will build all that, or the Chinese will, and we can all go to work for them. Your choice.

The Herald: “Travelers have been sold this rug over and over. Remember the claims for Acela? It ambles from New Haven to New York City (about a third of the journey from Boston to New York) slower than the best trains of 1951.”

Once Again, The Whole Truth: Every train between New Haven and the New York State line can be forced to “amble” because the State of Connecticut, which owns that stretch of the Northeast Corridor, has allowed Metro North (their contracting commuter railroad) to take nearly two decades to replace the 100 year-old catenary on that stretch, and they are still not done. The Pyramids may or may not have taken less time to build, but the Transcontinental Railroad certainly did (it took three years, and they did it with hand tools and blasting powder). And, oh, re “the best trains f 1951”: the catenary was 39 years old then, not nearly 100 as it is right now. I don’t know about you folks at The Herald, but I can’t do all of the things, at my current age, that I could do at 39. I can’t even remember what they were…

The Herald: “We await projects showing reasonable costs and subsidies. Such projects will be few and far between.”

NCI: Watch this space.

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EVENTS... Events...  

Rail Trends 2009

Save the date today.

RailTrends 2009, a too-important-to-miss two-day summit for Railroaders, Suppliers, Equipment Lessors, Finance Institutions, Shippers and Consultants, is October 6-7 in New York City.

Mark your calendar now, October 6-7., 2009

Presented by Progressive Railroading magazine, RailTrends 2009 will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the railroad industry as well as detailed, critical insight on leasing and finance from industry experts, analysts and investors, and rail shipper perspectives.

Sign up to be notified when registration opens.

For more details on the event and the exciting new venue, visit

RailTrends, 2100 W. Florist Ave., Milwaukee WI 53209

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2009 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, intermodalism, transportation-oriented development, and current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending large images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size. Descriptive text which includes location and something about the content of the image is required. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your web site or e-mail address.

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, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

Destination Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

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