The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

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

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May 12, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 19

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

  News Items…
House Unveils Its $14.4B Version Of Amtrak Reauthorization Bill
In Illinois: Progress Being Made, But Trains Still Far From Here
New Hampshire Senator Takes Aim At New York City Train Project
  Commuter Lines…
Mica Seeks To Save Florida Commuter Rail Project
Transit Puts Brakes On Busway Plans
  Business Lines…
Nardelli: High Gas Prices Needed To Sell Fuel-Efficient Cars
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
FECR Picks New Vice Pres.
  Editorial…
Legal Liabilities.
  Guest Editorial…
A Holiday From Gas Taxes --- Or From Reality?
  Publication Notes …


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

House Unveils Its $14.4B Version
Of Amtrak Reauthorization Bill

WASHINGTON --- House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders last week unveiled their version of a plan to reauthorize Amtrak, “The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.”

To be introduced formally this week, with hearings set for May 14, the bill would be the House companion to S. 294, a similar bill which passed the Senate in October of 2007. The Committee is chaired by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) a strong rail advocate. Its Ranking Minority member is Rep. John Mica (F-FL) who has written a section of the proposed bill that would open up the Amtrak system “to competition.” He is also a rail advocate (see related story) but a fierce Amtrak critic.

The bill would “authorize” Amtrak at a total funding level of $14.4 billion; unlike the highway system, which gets money from a gas-tax fueled Trust Fund, Amtrak has to ask Congress for money each year.

According to an APTA (American Public Transportation Association) summary, the “$14.4 billion dollar proposal would boost federal spending for Amtrak and high-speed rail service by providing $6.7 billion in capital grants and $3 billion for operating grants over the five-year span of the bill.  The legislation also creates a new program to provide $2.5 billion for intercity rail grants, as well as a provision for states or Amtrak to receive grants for the establishment of 11 high-speed rail corridors.”

APTA also reported The Amtrak reauthorization plan includes the core provisions of a bill that was introduced in March by Representative John Mica (R-FL), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to provide for competitive development and operation of high-speed rail corridor projects.  The legislation would provide for the solicitation of proposals for projects for the financing, design, construction, and operation of an initial high-speed rail system between Washington, DC and New York City.  The proposal also would establish a commission for reviewing the plans as well as requiring the Secretary of Transportation to provide Congress with the results of an economic development study of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service between Washington, DC and New York City. 


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In Illinois: Progress Being Made,
But Trains Still Far From Here

By Chuck Sweeney, Editor, The Rockford (Il) Register Star
May 5, 2008 Used by permission ©

( The drive to re-introduce rail service across America has been growing for two decades, but the results have been less than hoped; here is the view from Illinois, which has an active rail advocacy community, but nevertheless slow progress, due to the highway-centric way in which transportation is funded in America—the Editor )

Chuck Sweeney
ROCKFORD IL --- It was in 1997 that we started talking seriously about running commuter trains to Chicagoland. Any train, we were cautioned at that initial meeting in Belvidere, was 10 years away.

That 10 years expired in 2007.

Now we discover that the trains are still three to five years away. We are making progress, nonetheless, thanks to federal planning grants secured by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan. Last week, consultants released their route and ridership study that picked the Union Pacific line from Rockford through Belvidere, Huntley and Marengo to Elgin as the preferred route for commuter trains.

A lot of people are confused about where Amtrak fits into this picture. It doesn’t. Durbin proposed the reinstatement of Amtrak service from Chicago to Dubuque, Iowa, along the Canadian National line through Elmhurst, Genoa, Rockford, Freeport and Galena.

That’s the former route of Amtrak’s “Black Hawk,” a train promised by the late Bob McGaw when he ran for mayor of Rockford in 1973. McGaw delivered the train in just 10 months. McGaw, a Democrat, was a mayor who had clout in Springfield and knew how to use it.

The “Black Hawk” operated from February 1974 through McGaw’s two terms, but it ended in late summer 1981. The train was nifty in concept, but it was operated by a freight railroad (Illinois Central) that saw it as a nuisance and wasn’t particularly interested in running it on time. I know because I often took that train to Chicago.

Commuter trains and Amtrak trains do different things. The former make many station stops, the latter do not. While we need both, Amtrak service is the quickest to begin, because Amtrak owns the trains and the tracks on the CN line are in good shape. An Amtrak study of 2007 said the CN line would need $31.6 million worth of upgrades from Chicago to Iowa. That would take state funding.

Commuter service on the UP line hasn’t seen passenger trains since about 1950 and the tracks west of Belvidere will need a major, multimillion dollar overhaul. The commuter service also will require voters to approve a tax, most likely a quarter-cent sales tax. Capital cost, according to the TranSystems study released last week, is $247 million.

New passenger rail services are sprouting all over America, from Florida to Minnesota, in Utah and Colorado, California and New Mexico. All have had strong backing from their state governors, legislators and a united effort on behalf of communities along the lines. We could use some legislative interest here.

On the pander front — When I talked Friday with 16th Congressional District Democratic candidate Bob Abboud, we discussed the proposed summertime “gas tax holiday,” during which the U.S. would repeal its 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax so that people could drive more and burn more gas. Abboud emphasized his skepticism over this gimmick being touted by presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

He called it a Band-Aid and dubbed it irresponsible, because it would reduce the federal road fund.

That’s why I wrote in Sunday’s column that Abboud was against the tax holiday. I learned Monday that he actually is for the temporary repeal, even though he doesn’t think it will do any good in the long term. I stand corrected and puzzled. U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan, is for the tax holiday, too. Like Abboud, Don says it’s a short-term thing.

(Reach Political Editor Chuck Sweeny at 815-987-1372 or csweeny@rrstar.com)


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New Hampshire Senator Takes Aim
At New York City Train Project

By DF Staff and from Internet Sources

WASHINGTON --- A New Hampshire Senator, long known for his anti-rail views has taken aim at another state’s proposed rail project, in a move that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) justified as a cost-cutting matter.

Gregg, who faces the voters again in 2010 and is in his third term as New Hampshire’s senior senator, is in trouble with some of his own constituents due to his continued opposition to commuter rail service between New Hampshire and Boston, and to funding Amtrak, whose successful DownEaster has been a runaway success. The DownEaster, the brainchild of TrainRiders Northeast Founder and NCI Board member Wayne Davis, connects Boston with Portland Maine, along with smaller towns in New Hampshire and Maine who have seen their downtowns come back to life, and their residential property values rise, after the train service which provides better access to jobs and for tourism, was introduced.

This past week Gregg successfully ensured failure of a “cloture” vote to cut off debate (60 or more Senators required) that would have permitted FAA funding for FY 2009, because it contained $2 billion in an amendment for a direct train link between Kennedy airport and New York City’s lower Manhattan, whose infrastructure and economy was badly damaged by 9/11, but which is recovering.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a supporter of the rail project, considers it a part of the $20 billion pledged to New York to rebuild after 9/11; Gregg considers it pork.

Gregg compared the rail project to Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” a controversial earmark in previous legislation that would have built a major bridge between the mainland of Alaska and a largely uninhabited island. It was inserted into a bill by a Republican legislator, and then removed when discovered by the majority Democrats.

The New York Daily News weighed in with a blistering editorial, which said, Gregg was breaking his pledge to aid New York in its recovery, and reminding him that “nowhere” in this case meant lower Manhattan Island. Gregg denied that, saying he was against the “train to nowhere” as he repeatedly described it in a speech on the Senate floor, because it was a waste of taxpayer money, and because of the tax method used to raise the funds for it.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

Mica Seeks To Save Florida Commuter Rail Project

By DF Staff and Florida East Coast Railway

WASHINGTON --- Florida Rep. John Mica (R-FL) is vowing to save a proposed commuter rail line planned for Central Florida which died in the Florida legislature last week.

Florida DOT had planned to lease a 61-mile segment of track from CSX, but furious behind-the-scenes work by lobbyists representing the interests of trial lawyers --- who oppose any limits on legal judgments --- succeeded in stopping the project, at least for now.

The provision objected to was one that exempted CSX from any liability, even in cases of negligence, if anyone traveling on the CSX track while in a commuter train is killed or injured

“CSX is disappointed that the Legislature has failed to endorse this important investment in Florida’s future. Today’s legislative action means that the company’s transaction with the state will not go forward this year, and regrettably, it does not appear that commuter rail will be available in Central Florida. CSX is reviewing its timeline for rail infrastructure modifications in Florida and studying other implications of today’s activity,” said CSX in a prepared statement.

Central Florida commuter-rail supporters are preparing to spend as much as $52 million in the next year to keep their plan on track, despite the Legislature’s rejection of the deal last week.

“The project is alive and well,” U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, said at a news conference reported the Orlando Sentinel.

“The $52 million would be used to buy right of way around stations and to design rail cars, signals and stations. Half would come from federal funds, and the other 50 percent would be split evenly between state and local sources. Already, more than $41 million has been spent on the project,” the Sentinel reported.


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Transit Puts Brakes On Busway Plans

From Internet Sources

VICTORIA, B.C., MAY 9 -- The Victoria Regional Transit Commission has decided to take another look at one transit project, the Douglas Street busway, in favor of planning for the entire region instead of taking just one step at a time. BC Transit recommended that a full business case be developed to include what a regional transit corridor would look like connecting the booming West Shore with downtown Victoria.

“We had originally planned to develop incrementally, which is why we were focusing so much of our attention on Douglas Street,” said BC Transit senior vice-president Ron Drolet said Tuesday. “We’re now changing the scope and the scale of the project and increasing the consultation with the public.”

“We need to step back and look at more than just Douglas Street before we move forward with this,” said Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe. Local residents, who thought the busway was a done deal and had been decided without their input, will be about the expanded process, he said.

The province, which had been asked to contribute $25 million to the busway project, demanded a regional plan before it would commit the funding.

At a public meeting last month, 31 stakeholders – ranging from business owners to downtown residents – shared their opinions on the 3.1-kilometre stretch of Douglas Street under discussion (downtown to the Town & Country shopping centre). Those who could not attend were invited to write letters.

The majority of comments received were opposed to the busway in its current form, though the reasons for opposition were split. Some thought the loss of parking and left turn options on Douglas would hurt business. Others believed buses shouldn’t be used at all, advocating instead for a light rail system, which was only considered as an option for years down the road, reported the local news story from vicnews.com.

One resident, Bill Draper, commented that it wasn’t sustainable to continue running diesel fuel buses when the region’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially by 2020. He said rail is the way to go and suggested it could be developed alongside the Galloping Goose Trail to mitigate the impact on vehicle traffic. Draper added the extended studies around the transit corridor are a step in the right direction, because the light rail option was excluded from initial reports. He suspects the transit commission will find light rail more effective in the long term.

At the next meeting, June 20, rail will be incorporated into the discussion, and the $6.6 million in funds for the Douglas Street bus project will be frozen until development can begin. The work already done on Douglas Street will be incorporated into the larger plan.

“We have to do it right, even if that means delays,” Lowe said. “Obviously we would like to move forward with this as quickly as possible, but it’s cheaper to do it right the first time than to have to rip it all up again.”

Transit user Erik Kaye, who spoke in favor of the busway, urged BC Transit to look at this as a question of how, not if, it will work.

“Not all business owners will be happy with any decision for change, but this is essential for our region and needs to be completed as soon as possible to address the regional growth,” Kaye said.


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BUSINESS LINES... Business Lines...

Nardelli: High Gas Prices Needed To Sell Fuel-Efficient Cars

Execs criticize move to suspend tax amid push for greener living

Photo Courtesy of Google.Com  

MAY 1 -- The proposal to suspend the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gas tax, being promoted by senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton, is coming under sharp criticism by auto industry executives. In a story by Detroit Free Press, writer Sarah Webster reported that Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli and AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said the nation needs high gas prices to encourage people to buy smaller, more energy efficient cars.

Now that the government has mandated that industry make the fuel-efficient cars, suspending the gas tax sends the wrong message to consumers.

Jackson, the nation’s largest dealer with 321 dealerships and a longtime critic of the nation’s deficient energy policy, told the Free Press, “I’ve never heard of a plan that says, ‘I want you to use less of something but I’m going to reduce the price. ”

That demonstrates “zero intellectual honesty,” he said.

Clinton is proposing to make up for the loss of tax revenue by imposing a windfall tax on oil profits, a move opposed by the oil companies.

But now that CAFÉ standards have been increased, the public is already starting to purchase the more economical vehicles, and the auto industry wants that trend to continue!

[Editor’s note: The new law tightens Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that regulate the average fuel economy in the vehicles produced by each major automaker. The current CAFE standard for cars, set in 1984, requires manufacturers to achieve an average of 27.5 miles per gallon, while a second CAFE standard requires an average of 22.2 miles per gallon for light trucks such as minivans, sport utility vehicles, and pickups. The new rules require that these standards be increased such that, by 2020, the new cars and light trucks sold each year deliver a combined fleet average of 35 miles per gallon.

Raising fuel economy by 10 miles per gallon nationwide will deliver real benefits. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, estimates that it will save 1.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2020--about half of what the United States imports from the Persian Gulf. That should deliver a reduction in greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 28 million of today’s cars and trucks off the road.]

The Detroit News reported that “cars outsold light trucks in March.” [One auto industry insider said that this was only the second time that has ever happened in some two decades.]

Here are their numbers for March 2008 sales performance for a spectrum of cars, trucks, SUVs and hybrids:

Cars

Chevy Cobalt: Down 23.8%
Dodge Caliber: Up 10%
Ford Focus: Up 24%
Honda Civic: Up 18.3%
Honda Fit: Up 73.8%
Hyundai Elantra: Up 11.1%
Kia Spectra: Up 41.3%
Mitsubishi Lancer: Up 32.7%
Nissan Sentra: Up 21.4%
Nissan Versa: Up 34.2%
Toyota Corolla: Down 21.3% (mainly due to the changeover to the 2009 model)
Toyota Yaris: Up 83.2%
VW Jetta: Up 19.7%

Hybrids

Honda Civic Hybrid: Up 44.3%
Toyota Prius: Up 16%

Trucks and SUVs

BMW X5: Down 41.9%
Chevy Silverado: Down 23.5%
Chevy Tahoe: Down 34.2%
Dodge Durango: Down 38%
Ford Explorer: Down 14.8%
Ford F-Series: Down 23.8%
Honda Pilot: Down 23.6%
Hummer H3: Down 32.6%
Lexus LX 570: Up 156.1%
Nissan Titan: Down 44.9%
Toyota Sequoia: Up 19.8%
Toyota Tundra: Up 16.8%

[ Note: “Some companies adjust percentages due to selling days. 2008 had two less selling days than 2007, so the percentages may appear higher.” ]


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)103.47104.24
Canadian National (CNI)54.6254.58
Canadian Pacific (CP)73.1272.58
CSX (CSX)63.2464.14
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)37.6137.02
Kansas City Southern (KSU)45.9046.79
Norfolk Southern (NSC)61.9060.19
Providence & Worcester (PWX)20.0519.40
Union Pacific (UNP)146.28146.88


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...

FECR Picks New Vice Pres.

Source: Florida East Coast Railway

JACKSONVILLE, FL, MAY 7 /PRNewswire/ -- Florida East Coast Railway,LLC, (FECR), announced the appointment of Todd Biscan as Assistant Vice President- Sales for FECR. Mr. Biscan will lead the FECR sales team – both carload and intermodal sales. Previously, he was AVP-Sales for FECR Intermodal and Highway Services.

“Todd’s industry experience and dedication to FECR will serve him well in his new position,” said Charles Patterson, Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of FECR and RailAmerica, Inc.

Mr. Biscan has been with the FECR for over eight years, with more than 20 years experience in the railroad industry. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from the University of Central Florida.

About Florida East Coast Railway and RailAmerica:

Both FECR and RailAmerica are owned by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group, a leading global alternative asset manager with approximately $40 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2007. RailAmerica is a leading operator of North American regional and shortline railroads. RailAmerica operates 41 railroads in 23 states and 3 Canadian provinces and has information available on developable sites of various sizes on each of the railroads it operates. FECR is a regional freight railroad that extends along a 351-mile corridor between Jacksonville, FL and Miami, FL with exclusive rail access to the Port of Palm Beach, Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale) and the Port of Miami.

Fortress is headquartered in New York and has affiliates with offices in Dallas, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Rome, San Francisco, San Diego, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...

Legal Liabilities

It is time --- indeed, it is long past time --- for Congress to address and deal with the question of legal liability, and how it should be apportioned when accidents happen on commuter rail trains operating over someone else’s railroad tracks.

This past week’s defeat in Florida of a bill to govern a new Central Florida commuter rail system was stopped by lobbyists representing the Trial Lawyers, a powerful group which wants absolutely no limit on damage awards, and which opposed a clause in the bill which would have exempted CSX railroad, from whom the commuter rail track would have been leased, from any liability in the case of an accident causing death or injury.

The issue of legal liability, and how to deal with it, is a major block to the development of commuter rail in America, much of which operates now, and will operate in the future, on lines leased from the freight railroads, or via trackage rights or similar agreements.

It is understandable that the freight railroads don’t want to bet their entire net worth on the outcome of a single negligence trial, and damage awards in a multi-victim accident could hit the millions, and even billions, fairly quickly.

It is equally understandable that the Trial Lawyers want no interference with their livelihoods, although it is certainly the case that the perception of some trial lawyers as ambulance chasers is a fairly common one.

Airplanes have been flying for 100 years, and have somehow dealt with liability. Perhaps we could learn something from that industry, or at least create a Congressional Joint Committee to look into the matter, and resolve the issue. We are going to have commuter railroads in America, and a lot more of them if gas hits $5, $7, or $10 a gallon as it well could in the near future.


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GUEST EDITORIAL... Guest Editorial...

A Holiday From Gas Taxes --- Or From Reality?

By Robert Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association, New York

(This editorial appeared in May 5 edition of Spotlight on the Region, published by RPA. Used by permission)

It’s now been 35 years since the first Arab oil embargo provided America with a wake-up call about the dangers associated with the nation’s over-reliance on oil imports from countries that don’t really like us. Since then Americans have been in a permanent state of denial about the dangers that our energy profligacy has created for our economy and environment. We now know that our excess fuel consumption is undermining not only our national defense, the value of the dollar and the well-being of the U.S. economy, but the health of the world’s climate as well.

So what have our policy responses been to this challenge? Over the past three decades, cars and trucks have gotten larger and less fuel efficient, total vehicle-miles traveled have burgeoned and we have taken virtually no steps to develop alternative fuels or alternatives to ever-longer commutes on increasingly crowded highways. Consequently, the nation’s energy supply has gone from one-third to two thirds reliant on foreign oil. America’s energy and tax policies have been stuck in the 1950s, when we were the world’s largest petroleum exporter, instead of the largest importer that we are today.

With oil hovering around $120 per barrel and gas prices exceeding $4 per gallon, political leaders are looking for scapegoats, not real solutions, to the mess that is our national energy policy. Most are blaming greedy oil companies and commodity speculators for high prices, not the nation’s wasteful use of energy, growing consumption and competition from China and India for scarce resources.

Presidents and Congresses from both parties can fairly share the blame for ducking this issue and continuing to pander to voters instead of proposing real solutions. The last serious presidential candidate to propose raising gas taxes to limit consumption and fund alternative energy research and mass transit was Senator Paul Tsongas in his 1992 presidential bid. His campaign ended in the Michigan primary, when voters resoundingly rejected his proposed 50-cent a gallon gas tax increase. Since then we’ve gotten only gauzy promises for increased ethanol production or energy independence from both Republican and Democratic candidates – responses based largely on results of focus groups, not on the urgent need to reduce the nation’s over-consumption of imported oil.

The bipartisan failure of leadership on this issue reached a new level this week with the announcement that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was joining John McCain in calling for a “gas tax holiday” for the summer. This “holiday” will save the average U.S. family anywhere from $0 to $70 over the course of the summer, depending on whose estimate you use, and speed the bankruptcy of the transportation trust fund, already expected to move into deficit by the end of 2009. It won’t do a thing to focus the nation on what we really need: national energy and related tax policies designed to reduce oil consumption and oil imports and put us on the track to an alternative energy future. This isn’t just a national issue: proposals to suspend state gas or petroleum taxes are circulating in the legislatures of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. What America and the region really need is leadership, not pandering on an issue that is fundamental to the nation’s future security, competitiveness and the success of global efforts to manage climate change.


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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.

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