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 The Cause
Help NCI Help You!

May 5, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 18

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

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

  News Items…
Urban Land Institute Study: 2008 Marks ‘Critical Juncture’ For U.S.
U.S. Chamber, Mobility Coalition Laments Transportation Failures
Obama’s Call For Rail Expansion Instead Of Gas Tax Holiday
   Welcomed By Friends Of The Earth
  Commuter Lines…
Active Uniformed U.S. Military Personnel Ride Free On CTA
   Starting May 1
  News From Amtrak…
Amtrak To Restore Full Coast Starlight Service
Regional Service Re-Launch Project Underway
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Freight Lines…
CSX Pursues Public-Private Partnership To Further
   ‘National Gateway’ Proposal
CSX/Florida Deal Still Uncertain
  Across The Pond…
German Express Train Derails After Plowing Through Flock Of Sheep
  Guest Opinion…
America Needs To Map A New Plan For Transportation
  Editorial…
Obama, Hillary, And John And That Pesky Gas Tax
  Photo-Op…
Some New Orleans Street Cars Up and Running!
  Publication Notes …


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

New Report Examines Major Issues and Trends; Cautions that U.S. System is Flawed

 

Urban Land Institute Study: 2008
Marks ‘Critical Juncture’ For U.S.

By DF Staff and From Internet Sources

WASHINGTON, APRIL 29 – The United States needs to create an entirely new way of developing and building infrastructure, overhaul its outdated regional infrastructure planning process and create a viable federal framework, or risk losing its ability to compete in a global marketplace, according to a new report co-published by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young.

‘Infrastructure 2008: A Competitive Advantage’ provides a snapshot of current and planned infrastructure investment in a variety of categories across the globe, with an in-depth look at the United States, China, Japan, India and Europe.

The report, the second in a new annual series, also touches on the infrastructure needs in several of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, highlighting the consequences of inadequate federal policy and guidelines that have resulted in “a mish-mash of disconnected regional infrastructure management approaches.”

“The status quo increasingly looks like a precarious option–relying on existing networks and systems will only hamstring future growth and compromise sustainability,” the report states. “2008 seemingly marks a critical juncture in a rapidly changing economic environment where new approaches to land use, infrastructure and energy efficiency will likely determine and possibly reorder the next generation of winners and losers–countries, companies, investors, and peoples.”

The pull-no-punches report says the United States is headed toward decline, and needs to wake up to the dire state of its infrastructure, but cautions that “political will may only emerge when people face imminent reward or immediate risk–a bridge collapse or a burst levee, and maybe not even then.” The report estimates that the U.S. has at least a $170 billion annual funding gap in addition to its outmoded land use and infrastructure models. “America heads for a crisis in the next 10 years if nothing is done,” warns the report.

“It is increasingly clear that the infrastructure funding gap will need to be addressed with public/private partnerships,” says Dale Reiss, Global Director of Real Estate at Ernst & Young in New York City. “If the U.S. fails to embrace this model, it could lead to our economy falling behind more of our global competitors.”

“Infrastructure investment and development are having stronger-than-ever implications for urban growth patterns,” says Richard Rosan, president, ULI Worldwide. “If we continue to minimize transportation infrastructure as a federal priority, we are setting our urban areas up for decline, rather than prosperity. This country simply cannot afford to keep treating infrastructure as an afterthought.”

The Infrastructure 2008 report was released at a press conference at ULI headquarters in Washington, D.C. and will be presented to ULI members at ULI’s Spring Council Forum this week in Dallas May 7-9.

The report identifies four stages of the infrastructure lifecycle and identifies the U.S., Canada, and Australia as “coasting on prosperity.” India, China and the United Arab Emirates are in the “growth and development” stage. The United Kingdom, the European Union, Spain, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Panama are in the “retool and revamp” stage, while Mexico, Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Russia are in the “inadequate investment” stage.

Highlighting the different approaches to infrastructure investment, the report makes clear the U.S. is falling behind and needs to “rethink accepted land-use models which led to rampant suburban growth during the last half century.” Since 1980, vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. increased 95 percent but road capacity only increased 3 percent, according to the report. Congestion also increased dramatically. For example, Washington, D.C. experienced an increase in annual delays from 10 hours to 60 hours from 1982 to 2005. The report also points out: “Traffic congestion costs motorists $78 billion a year in wasted fuel and lost time.”

Numerous worldwide trends and issues are discussed in the report, including:

Infrastructure as a competitive imperative –

Expansion of infrastructure privatization –

Trends and issues in public/private partnerships relative to the U.S. –

The report notes that a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate proposes a national infrastructure bank, while other proposed legislation calls for “Build America Bonds” to pay for transportation infrastructure. A number of recommendations are included in the report, such as: breaking down government silos, focusing on deferred maintenance, and developing national and regional infrastructure plans. “Government needs to set a policy course that enables greater mobility and productivity as the nation’s population grows and concentrates in major gateways and mega regions,” the report concludes.

The proposed infrastructure bank might provide a solution to a weakening economy by funding job programs related to rebuilding infrastructure, states the report. “A jobs program can be a means to an end, a powerful tool for economic development, funding future infrastructure to increase employment and improve economic competitiveness.”

Another key finding: “Land use and transportation planning must be coordinated at state and regional levels… and transit authorities need to operate with common purpose.” And regional planning needs to align with national priorities.


Return to index
U.S. Chamber, Mobility Coalition
Laments Transportation Failures

By DF Staff and from the Internet

WASHINGTON --- “The U.S. transportation system is failing to keep pace with the demands of a 21st century economy and a piecemeal approach to improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure no longer works,” warns a study released this past week by the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition and the National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“If the United States declines to invest in transportation infrastructure and ignores the transportation needs of key industry sectors, our economy will become less productive and less competitive,” warned ATM Executive Director Janet F. Kavinoky. “Without an adequate transportation system, the nation’s economic growth is at risk,” Kavinoky added.

Meanwhile, global competitors have increased investment in transportation infrastructure. Economic powerhouses like China are building highways and rail lines, developing ports, and constructing airports while the U.S. transportation system erodes, the study said. As a result, “the margin of the U.S. competitive advantage is shrinking,” noted the study.

The study, The Transportation Challenge: Moving the U.S. Economy, attributed the poor performance of U.S. transportation system “…to the growing imbalance between supply and demand and the increasing age of the nation’s infrastructure.”

“Without investment guided by new policies, the U.S. transportation system will fall further behind the growing demand of five major economic sectors—agriculture and natural resources, manufacturing, retail, services, and transportation—that account for 84 percent of the U.S. economy,” the report’s sponsors said in a press announcement.

“Given population growth, shifting demographics and steady economic growth, a high performance transportation system is a necessity. The U.S. population is projected to grow from 300 million today to 380 million people in 2035, while the economy is likely to double over the next 30 years, as is demand for freight transportation. These changing demographics create a more global, a more urban economy with a more diverse and aging workforce,” it said.

“Expanding demand and shrinking capacity for both freight and passengers across every mode of transportation raises fears about increased congestion, less reliability, and higher costs,” they stated. The report urged policymakers “…to become much more strategic in planning and investing in the U.S. transportation system. If we do not, our transportation system will become a competitive disadvantage for U.S. industries, and it will be harder to sustain the growth of our regions and the national economy,” the report said.

The study made a number of recommendations to address the transportation problem.

“We must act now,” Kavinoky emphasized. “This report’s findings demand a rapid response. We must develop and implement a comprehensive plan to build, maintain, and fund a 21st century transportation system equal to the demands of a rapidly changing world and a robust national economy. We have only one option: Invest now, or pay later.”

A copy of the report and a report summary are available by visiting http://www.uschamber.com/transportationchallenge.


Return to index
Obama’s Call For Rail Expansion Instead Of Gas Tax Holiday
Welcomed By Friends Of The Earth

Instead of pandering with McCain-Clinton ‘holiday’ that won’t solve problem, Obama proposes real solution

From Friends of the Earth
http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/4/30/17129/8159

WASHINGTON, DC - May 1 –At a campaign event in Beech Grove, Indiana, Senator Barack Obama rejected a gas tax holiday and instead called for expansion of passenger rail service.

“With gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service,” Obama said, according to a press pool report. “We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it’s a perfect time to start talk about why we don’t have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have high speed rail. … [Rail] is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell.”

His remarks were welcomed by the national environmental group Friends of the Earth who said that Obama was proposing real solutions instead of a temporary fix which may turn out to be no help at all. “With Americans feeling pain at the pump, Senator Barack Obama is talking about real solutions, including stronger fuel economy standards and support for expanding passenger rail,” said Colin Peppard, Friends of the Earth’s transportation policy coordinator. “Rail is an efficient, cost-effective way to travel that also happens to limit global warming. Senator Obama deserves a lot of credit for his foresight and candor.”


Return to index
COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

Active Uniformed U.S. Military Personnel Ride Free On CTA Starting May 1

Source: CTA Press Release

CHICAGO, APRIL 30 -- The Chicago Transit Authority today announced that beginning Thursday, May 1, active U.S. military personnel in full uniform may ride free on CTA buses and trains.

On February 5, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance to provide free rides for active military personnel and disabled veterans on the CTA. The CTA is developing a military service pass, which will be an identification card similar to those used to allow senior citizens to ride free, and plans to introduce the card this summer and expand the program to allow disabled veterans to also ride free.

Should military personnel have any questions or experience any problems, CTA bus operators and customer assistants are available to assist and address any questions. Customers may also contact CTA Customer Service at 1-888-YOUR CTA (968-7282).

About the Chicago Transit Authority

The Chicago Transit Authority, commonly known as the CTA, operates the nation’s second largest public transportation system, covering Chicago and 40 suburbs. On an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken. Some 2,000 buses operate on 154 routes and 2,273 miles, with 12,000 posted bus stops. Buses provide about 1 million passenger trips each day. The CTA’s 1,190 rapid transit cars operate over eight routes and 222 miles of track, providing about 500,000 customer trips each day and serving 144 stations. CTA tracks raised several stories above.


Return to index
xxxxxx... News From Amtrak...

Amtrak To Restore Full Coast Starlight Service

Photo: Amtrak 

Starting next week, you’ll be able to ride Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train along its full route between Los Angeles and Seattle for the first time in more than three months, the company said this afternoon, as reported by Los Angeles Times Assistant Travel Editor, Jane Engle.

Amtrak stopped running the popular long-distance train in January after massive mudslides buried Union Pacific tracks near the small town of Oakridge in western Oregon. It later restored portions of the route, using buses and other trains to end-run the slide. Union Pacific has since cleared the tracks, said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham in Oakland.

The first train to run the full Coast Starlight route will leave Union Station in downtown Los Angeles May 6, Graham said. “We’ve been told we’ll be able to go at full speed,” she told me. “They should be on their regular schedules.”

Graham didn’t have an immediate estimate of Amtrak’s losses from the prolonged shutdown, which affected thousands of passengers. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: The company still plans to upgrade the Coast Starlight, adding flat-screen TVs to refurbished parlor cars and new arcade cars with video games, plus start full meal service at seats for coach passengers.

The rollout of the upgrade will start in late May, followed by the official launch on June 10, Graham said.

 


Return to index

Regional Service Re-Launch Project Underway

Source: Amtrak This Week Newsletter

The Marketing and Product Management department is working with a multifunctional team that includes NEC Service Operations, System Operations, OBS Service Standards, Food and Beverage, Mechanical, Transportation and Industrial Design to improve current Regional service, leading to an enhanced product and an ad campaign slated for mid-June.

Since it kicked off in October 2007, the NEC Regional Service _Re-Launch_ Project is focused on enhancing overall product quality by improving on-time performance, equipment and service features to grow ridership and revenue on Amtrak’s most heavily traveled service.

“We want to improve every area that touches our passengers to deliver a consistently satisfying travel experience to our expanding customer base,” said Patrick Pietrantonio, director, Product Management-East.

The June 2008 ‘re-launch’ will include a new product identity and advertising the new name, Northeast Regional, and logo will appear on both sides and the center of the Café car; implementation of tactical pricing offers; tighter OTP tolerances; restructured Business class amenities; adjusted seat inventory to better accommodate monthly and multi-ride ticket holders; new and improved menu offerings, and en route cleaning practices and processes.

In addition, the entire Northeast Regional fleet will have all table Café cars in all its trainsets. The Café cars are being centered in the consists to provide easier access for Coach customers, which account for 75 percent of Café car revenue. The Café cars will also undergo a number of interior cosmetic improvements, including more comfortable booth cushions. The project is being supported by service guides and training videos for OBS and T and E employees.

“The Regional service will improve significantly,” said Pietrantonio. “The impact we are looking for will come from a combination of incremental improvements in a variety of areas that will be noticeable to our customers and enhance their travel experience.”

Future plans include additional food service car modifications, more Amfleet coach overhauls, a capital program to increase fleet size, and a plan to operate variable consists to maximize market demand.


Return to index
STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)104.2499.75
Canadian National (CNI)54.5853.01
Canadian Pacific (CP)72.5867.62
CSX (CSX)64.1461.94
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)37.0236.87
Kansas City Southern (KSU)46.7943.66
Norfolk Southern (NSC)60.1960.13
Providence & Worcester (PWX)19.4020.07
Union Pacific (UNP)146.88140.59


Return to index

FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...

CSX Pursues Public-Private Partnership To Further ‘National Gateway’ Proposal

DF STAFF from CSX Reports
Progressive Railroading and other Internet Sources

MAY 2 -- At a news conference last week in Dublin, Ohio, CSX Corporation, a Florida-based railroad, announced the launching of their National Gateway initiative, a major expansion and improvement of freight rail lines and infrastructure that will create a freight transportation link between Mid-Atlantic ports and Midwestern shippers and receivers.

The plan calls for upgrading three existing rail corridors that run through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia:

In Ohio, CSX will build two new intermodal terminals will handle the trains with taller cargo cars.. Those terminals would be located in North Baltimore in northeast Ohio and in south Columbus.

In addition, 16 bridges need to be raised or rebuilt in order to accommodate “double-stack” trains, which have become the railroad industry’s most efficient means for transporting containerized freight. The company said that the “double stacks” use about the same amount of fuel to carry more freight faster.

CSX has requested that Ohio spend about $60 million to do the bridge work which would be on their Chicago-Pittsburgh-Washington main line in eastern Ohio. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland already has pledged to work with state and federal officials to support the gateway projects.

Similar requests have been made for such “clearance projects” along the same route in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia and on connecting routes in other eastern states. CSX estimated the combined cost of building terminals, raising bridges, and other improvements at $700 million.

CSX has committed $300 million to the initiative and plans to work with several states and the federal government to secure additional funding. $130 million is to be spent in Ohio, including $80 million for the new North Baltimore terminal and $50 million for expansion of the rail yard in south Columbus. One of the key purposes of the North Baltimore terminal would be sorting shipments received at Chicago from Pacific ports and placing them on new trains bound for destinations in CSX’s network. Such shipments today are often unloaded at the western railroads’ terminals, trucked across Chicago’s congested expressways and then reloaded onto trains at CSX’s Chicago yards. Other shipments bound for destinations only a day’s drive from Chicago stay on the trucks. CSX would like to capture that business, a goal that would be facilitated by new North Baltimore terminal.

The gateway would expand capacity for freight moving in and out of the Midwest, reduce truck traffic on congested highways and create thousands of jobs, CSX said.

“More and more, the nation is becoming aware of the tremendous safety, economic and environmental benefits that railroads create,” said CSX Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Ward in a prepared statement. “The National Gateway leverages those benefits to the fullest.”

In expressing his support for the “Gateway” plans, Governor Strickland said, “This is a major competitive advantage that can greatly benefit the citizens of Ohio, and the state of Ohio is committed to doing its part to help build this sort of needed infrastructure. In doing so, we’ll also be setting an example for other states around the nation.”

The North Baltimore facility, for which CSX hopes to break ground late this year and plans a 2010 opening, is expected to employ about 100 people. The total Ohio investment is expected to cost $190 million, and the projects could bring “thousands” of new jobs to the state by the time of completion in 2015, the company said.

“I think we both see that central Ohio is a key area for logistics development in the future,” said Ward.

After decades of cutbacks and business lost to trucking companies, railroads are making a comeback thanks in part to high oil prices. Ward said railroads can ship a ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel and one train can carry the load of more than 280 trucks.


Return to index
CSX/Florida Deal Still Uncertain

MAY 1 -- The proposed 61.5-mile central Florida commuter rail project, negotiated by the state and CSX, is being held hostage to legislative maneuvering as some question portions of the negotiated agreement, including absolving CSX from any liability issues.

State Senate Transportation Chairman Carey Baker April 30 moved to strip the issue from the state Senate’s transportation bill due to concerns about liability and various amendments being attached to the measure. Later the same day, however, backers of the project said language might be restored when the bill goes to the state House; if the House approved the measure, the Senate would revisit the issue on a straight yes-or-no vote.

The political maneuvering affects not just the $641 million agreement with CSX but the state’s overall transportation program, including a proposed rental-car surtax to pay for commuter rail in both central and south Florida, and a 25% increase in Florida’s Turnpike tolls.

In a letter last week, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink encouraged legislators to review the state’s agreement with CSX, recommending a revision of the clause mandating that any state-run commuter operation pay for the cost of accidents involving commuter trains and passengers, even if CSX were at fault. The agreement in part calls for CSX to pay the state $10 million per year to use the commuter rail line up to 12 hours per day for its freight trains.


Return to index
ACROSS THE POND...  Across The Pond...

From David Beale, NCI Foreign Correspondent

 

German Express Train Derails After Plowing
Through Flock Of Sheep

 

ICE-1 Derails inside Germany’s Longest Rail Tunnel
After Freak Collision With Dozens of Sheep

 

FULDA – This past week has been a tragic one for transportation around the world with a train collision and derailment in northeast China leaving nearly 70 people dead and hundreds injured, a boat collision in Sydney, Australia which left five dead and several more seriously injured, and a bus accident in Hong Kong which killed at least 17 people. It started on Sunday evening (27th April) when a southbound InterCity Experss (ICE) running at 200 km/h (125 mph) headed for Munich collided with a flock of sheep gathered just inside the northern end of the 11 km (6.9 mile) long Landrücken Tunnel just south of the city of Fulda along the Hannover – Würzburg high speed rail line. The collision resulted in the death of at least 20 of the animals and caused the 14-car long ICE-1 train set to derail and run-up against the right-side tunnel wall over a distance of several hundred meters.

The train set remained mostly upright during the derailment due to containment by the tunnel wall, which several rail experts say prevented injuries from being far worse than they were. Of the 135 passengers on board, about 19 were injured, four of them seriously. A Deutsche Bahn spokesman stated that property damage to the train, tunnel and tracks was well over EUR 4 million (US 6 million) and still counting. The Fulda – Würzburg section of the high-speed rail line was closed for the rest of the week while salvage operations and repairs continued. Intercity trains between Fulda and Würzburg were diverted onto the “classic” rail line over Flieden, Elm and Jossa, with a resulting delay of 30 – 40 minutes for ICE trains operating on the Hamburg – Hannover – Fulda – Munich route. Local and regional passenger trains in the area were not directly affected by the incident and subsequent closure of the Fulda – Würzburg section of the Hannover – ürzburg high speed corridor.

Local prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the rancher who owned the sheep the day after the incident occurred. But the criminal investigation was suspended at the request of Deutsche Bahn management several days later. Investigators are trying to determine how the flock of sheep escaped from a fenced-in pasture and then wandered into Landrücken Tunnel, presently Germany’s longest rail tunnel. Investigators are also looking into communication procedures within the railroad’s operations center after learning that a northbound ICE train ran over one of the sheep at the tunnel’s northern portal a few minutes before the southbound train ran into the rest of the flock. The driver of the northbound ICE train applied emergency brakes as well as telephoned in a report of animals standing on the tracks seconds after hitting the animal with his train. Apparently this information was not relayed to the driver of the southbound train.

All photos by n-tv satellite / cable news channel.



Return to index
GUEST OPINION... Guest Opinion...

America Needs To Map
A New Plan For Transportation

By Jeff Gerritt, Editorial Writer
©2008 The Detroit Free Press. Used by permission

 

(Publisher’s Note: Jeff Gerritt is an editorial writer for the Detroit Free Press, one of the greatest names in American journalism and long one of America’s leading newspapers. We thought it significant that a newspaper whose namesake city is linked so strongly with the development of the American automobile should be taking such a comprehensive look at alternatives, and the need for the nation to create, at last, a comprehensive transportation policy)

 

DETROIT- APRIL 13 --- Our nation spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on highways, bridges, rail lines, buses and railroads that connect communities, shape patterns of growth and development, and sustain the economy. But there is no comprehensive national transportation policy to drive this titanic task.

Given the energy and environmental challenges of this new century, such an uncharted course is shortsighted, wasteful and practically suicidal.

Developing new transportation policies for the new century will take the kind of commitment and vision that, more than 50 years ago, assembled the interstate highway system. Like President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the next president must harness the national will to meet critical new transportation needs centered in America’s cities.

The deadly collapse last year of a four-lane bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis put a glaring spotlight on the nation’s aging highways and bridges, and the need for a plan and commitment to rebuild them.

Any national transportation plan must also include a greater investment in intercity rail and transit systems that relieve congestion, conserve energy, preserve air quality and lower the enormous costs of maintaining and expanding highways. Building transit systems also creates jobs and enables entry-level workers without cars to get from central city neighborhoods to suburban employers.

The next six-year federal transportation bill, taking effect in October 2009, must also ensure a fairer return to the nation’s urban areas, and more flexibility in how local governments spend federal transportation dollars. A new study by the Environmental Working Group found that commuters in 176 metropolitan areas paid $20 billion more in federal gas taxes than they received in federal Highway Trust Fund money from 1998 through 2003.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan transportation policy and revenue study commission provided a solid, if sobering, blueprint. To fix the nation’s flagging highway and rail systems over the next 50 years, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission recommended more than double the spending, up to $340 billion a year, by federal, state and local governments. That investment would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars of development.

In the long run, federal and state governments must find better ways to pay for transportation. Automobile fuel efficiency has doubled since the 1950s. Gas tax revenues trail the rising cost of maintaining roads and bridges. Still, shifting to other revenue sources, such as odometer charges, tolls and peak hour congestion fees, will take years, maybe decades.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is draining rapidly, requiring an immediate boost in the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. The commission’s recommendation of 25 cents to 40 cents a gallon, through gradual annual increase of 5 cents to 8 cents, is reasonable.

In any case, higher gas prices are inevitable. Global oil production is near its peak; the era of cheap and abundant fossil fuel is over. The nation’s economic, environmental and security interests demand less dependence on foreign oil.

If only there were more trains

On a recent Thursday morning, Chris Lucander, a 51-year-old bank executive from Grosse Pointe, drove to the Dearborn train station with his two teenage children to catch an Amtrak train to downtown Chicago. He could have flown or driven, but he figured a 5 1/2 -hour train ride was the most sensible and least stressful route to the Windy City, where he planned to spend two days with his kids, taking in museums and shows.

“Driving can be a hassle and, since 9/11, flying has become a pain,” Lucander said, seated comfortably in coach class, a Wall Street Journal in his lap.

A one-way ticket from Detroit to Chicago costs $27, a lot less than a tank of gas. With better connections and travel times, Lucander would take the train more often. High-speed service could eventually cut travel time between Chicago and Detroit to 3 1/2 hours, but travel times and connections to most other places are now far less convenient.

For the first time in decades, the average American motorist is driving less. Rising energy costs will make intercity rail increasingly important for moving people and goods, yet America’s railroad system would embarrass Bulgaria. America needs a policy that will get more people like Lucander out of their cars some of the time.

Amtrak will serve a record 26 million riders this year, but Congress has consistently given the railroad hundreds of millions of dollars less than it needs to pay for capital improvements, including the replacement of worn track, repairing bridges and rebuilding rail cars.

Shortsighted cuts

President George W. Bush even tried to end federal assistance for passenger rail service. For next year, Bush has proposed cutting Amtrak by 40%, giving it half the $1.67 billion the agency is requesting. Amtrak spends $500 million a year on debt service alone. Bush’s proposed $800 million for Amtrak would require the railroad to cut a large share of its 22,000 miles of service.

Put in perspective, the $1.67 billion Amtrak is requesting for the entire year is little more than the cost of one large planned highway project in metro Detroit: rebuilding seven miles of I-94 in that city.

Local rail service is equally vital to the country’s economic and social needs, and for reviving the nation’s cities and metropolitan regions. Even so, cities can barely afford to maintain existing systems. In Chicago, more than 150 people were injured in 2006 when a train car on the aging L lurched off the rails. Nearly 25% of the Chicago Transit Authority’s track is so raggedy that trains made to go more than 50 m.p.h. must sometimes slow to 5 m.p.h.

The federal government’s six-year transportation bill, funded mostly by the federal gas tax, remains heavily weighted toward highways. The current bill -- SAFETEALU -- guarantees $286.4 billion, with only 15%, or $45.3 billion, for transit. Bush has also proposed shifting $3.2 billion from the mass transit pot to the highway program.

The Federal Transit Administration can fund only about one in five of the projects that meet its stringent standards. In theory, the feds pay up to 80% of construction costs, but most approved projects now end up getting only 50% or 60%.

Denver sets an example

Federal transit dollars can revitalize a region, as Denver is demonstrating. By 2004, the Mile High City had become one of the nation’s most congested cities. Facing gridlock, eight counties in the 2.5-million Denver region approved a 0.4-cent sales tax increase -- 4 cents on $10 -- to pay for a regional rapid transit system called FasTracks. It’s a $6.1-billion program to build, over 12 years, 122 miles of light and commuter rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, 57 transit stations, and 21,000 parking spaces at bus and rail stations.
The century-old Union Station in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) District will serve as the region’s transit hub and center for more than $500 million of office, retail, hotel and residential development.

So far, the Regional Transportation District has built 35 miles of rail.

Denver’s business community paid for the $3.6-million campaign to pass the sales tax increase, which voters approved 58%-42%. The tax generates nearly $170 million a year to build and operate the system.

Denver’s conservative suburban communities weren’t a natural constituency for the nation’s largest mass transit project. However, besides the need to reduce congestion, the region had two advantages. First, it had developed a regional approach to issues in the late 1980s, when nine counties passed an arts tax to support Denver’s cultural institutions. Second, the region had confidence in the competence of local government. RTD had run, since 1969, a reliable, safe and efficient bus system that suburbanites trusted with their tax dollars.

The complex FasTracks funding package included sales tax bonds, community contributions, private investment, low-interest federal loans, and nearly $2 billion in new-start money from the Federal Transit Administration. FTA paid 55% of construction costs on three major lines.

Potential to reshape cities

Today, mass transit is reshaping the driving and development patterns of metro Denver.

A southwest rail line, extending 8.7 miles from downtown to the southern suburbs, has attracted a sizable slice of peak hour commuters, reducing traffic by 38%. Altogether, light-rail lines carry 62,000 passengers a day, 15% more than projected.

Sandeep Bohra, 25, an electrical engineer who lives on Denver’s east side, gave up his car three months ago. He formerly drove an average of 60 miles a day, spending nearly $50 a week on gas and $225 a month to park near his downtown office. Now he rides bus and rail to work, to visit friends, shop at suburban malls or attend Nuggets and Broncos games. He said transit trips are similar to drive times -- and faster during rush hours.

“I don’t miss the car or the stress,” said Bohra, who also walks more and smokes less since giving up his car. Downtown Denver, connected by a free shuttle bus, has turned into a delightfully dense and walkable urban neighborhood, with clubs, hip lofts, coffee shops, million-dollar townhouses and high-end retail.

Billions of dollars of retail, residential and office development has started around new transit stations on a rail line connecting downtown and the southeastern part of the region. Over the next 50 years, Denver expects to gain 250,000 residents within a half-mile of the city’s transit stations, thereby curbing sprawl.

“There are two ways to get smart growth: You can legislate it, which doesn’t work well, or you can make these permanent investments in transit,” said RTD General Manager Cal Marsella. “Developers move to these station sites because it makes good business sense.”

Transit managers in Denver aren’t trying to replace the automobile, but to give people more choices, said Marsella, who drives two miles daily to a suburban park-and-ride and then takes the bus 20 miles to his downtown office.

Change federal priorities

With a little help from the federal government, local governments can develop successful regional transit systems. A country spending more than $120 billion a year in Iraq can’t afford to neglect its own mobility needs.

The nation needs a plan from the next president that rebuilds aging transportation networks and helps metropolitan regions build and maintain transit systems that reduce congestion, get people to jobs, improve air quality and conserve energy. That will require the vision and courage that built a great interstate system more than 50 years ago, and the commitment and resources that today are rebuilding another country.


Return to index
EDITORIAL... Editorial...

Obama, Hillary, And John
And That Pesky Gas Tax

 

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ---We new it was going to happen sooner or later.

The price of gasoline is going through the roof, even more precipitously than even environmentalists and infrastructure advocates like us would have predicted, and it is causing a lot of pain. That’s understandable, when truckers are already spending $4.00+ for diesel fuel, and automotive gasoline isn’t far behind.

But we were nevertheless hoping that this year’s crop of Presidential candidates would avoid the temptation to demagogue the energy issue by calling for a cut in the 18.4 cents-per-gallon Federal gas tax. Well, we were two-thirds wrong.

Last week both Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, and Hillary Clinton of the Democrats, called for elimination of the gas tax as a way to ease the pain, at least for the summer.

Hmm, let’s see, $4.00 (or thereabouts) per gallon minus 18.4 cents per gallon equals about $3.82 per gallon, or a saving of 4.6%. Well, not bad, really, almost 5%....except that you’ll never see it in your pocket.

The price of gasoline is controlled by an oligopoly of three or four major oil companies in the United States, whose vertical immigration --- oilfield-to refinery-to pump ---almost guarantees that the consumer will pay prices in excess of what he might in a truly competitive marketplace. Elimination of the Federal gas tax will swiftly be made up by sudden “supply shortages” or “market bottlenecks” that require “price adjustments” ---- and that 18.4 cents, paltry as it is, will no longer go to build roads or transportation, but instead go straight into the pockets of the oil companies.

Aside from the fact that the Highway Trust Fund – which needs to be a Transportation Trust Fund --- is almost broke, the Federal gas tax not only should NOT be eliminated, it should be doubled, or tripled.

Most politicians are terrified of proposing any kind of tax increase, lest they suffer the wrath of the mob as incited by talk radio hosts and the like. But the fact is, a gas tax of 50 cents is needed now just to begin to dig away at the huge overhang of un-maintained, decrepit highways and bridges, create a truly modern passenger rail system, modernize the air traffic control system, and, ultimately, integrate all the modes of transportation into a seamless, cost-effective web.

Please, folks, no more nonsense over gas tax “repeal”; Obama, who wickedly and accurately called the proposal “a Shell game,” wins the debate on this issue, anyway. Stay tuned…


Return to index
PHOTO-OP... Photo-Op...

Some New Orleans Street Cars Up and Running!

By Jim Repass
NCI President & CEO

 

The St. Charles Line is up and running to what New Orleans natives call the “Rivervbend” (Carrollton Ave. at St. Charles) and is being heavily used. The St. Charles cars were NOT damaged by Hurricane Katrina: they were in their old car barn a block off of Carrollton Ave, where they have lived for decades, and stayed dry along with the rest of Uptown New Orleans, Tulane University, Audubon Park and Zoo, St. Charles Avenue, the Garden District, Magazine Street, and the French Quarter. The overhead trolley wires, or “catenary” as it is commonly known, were blown down; that, and not damage to the cars, is what has taken so much time to fix.

It was the new and reproduction Canal Street cars, in a separate barn near the Mid-City district, which went under water; they were ruined.

The original early 1920’s Perley A. Thomas streetcars built in North Carolina at what is now the Thomas Bus Company survived the Katrina and Rita hurricanes, and are being used now not only on St. Charles Avenue, but on Canal Street, the City Park extension from Canal, and the Riverfront lines that serve the French Quarter (near where the Streetcar Named Desire used to run, a block over). In other words, New Orleans’ 80-year-old streetcars have saved the day. It’s a great American story that will be written some day. The original green streetcars -- now back in service --- were taken off the Canal Street line and replaced by buses in 1964; this mistake was reversed only recently, and ridership soared until Katrina. It is quickly building back, even with a limited streetcar supply.


END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2008 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 editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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.

|| Top of Page || Past Newsletter Editions || NCI Home Page || Contact Us

  || page viewings since date of release.