Vol. 8 No. 20
May 14, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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A weekly North American rail and transit update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

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

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

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

  News Items…
CSX in major proposal for East Coast infrastructure would
   expand capacity, eliminate grade crossings
  Business lines…
Florida East Coast to go private
Wiley Mitchell, former Virginians for High Speed Rail
   Board Member, will head state board
  Safety lines…
Six killed at California grade crossing
  Selected rail stocks…
  Freight lines…
Massachusetts EOT asks harvard to help with
   CSXT rail acquisition$
Peter Paul candy plant closing in Connecticut
Eliminate grade crossings NOW
When It Comes to California High Speed Rail,
   Don’t Be a Girlie-Man, Ahhhnold
U.S. Infrastructure: An economic disaster waiting to happen
  End notes…

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

CSX in major proposal for East Coast infrastructure
would expand capacity, eliminate grade crossings

By DF Staff and from Internet Sources

JACKSONVILLE --- CSX, the transportation giant that was formed from the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Western Maryland, Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac and others, is proposing a 1,200 mile Miami-Washington super corridor that would greatly expand shipping and passenger rail capacity and, for the first time in the history of American railroads, eliminate 100% of at-grade crossings along the route, Trains Magazine reported this past week.

Driven in part by a US Department of Transportation program for interstate corridor development, the project would permit passenger train operations at 110 miles per hour and freight operations at 50-70, reports the magazine, both of which represent order-of-magnitude improvements over current practices.

The announcement, related to a $6.4 billion multi-year company-wide investment effort brought praise from Federal officials and rail advocates, including Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman.

CSX’s plan reflects “a wise commitment to making the kind of funding priorities needed to improve its operations and better safeguard neighboring communities,” Joseph Boardman, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in a prepared statement.

“We look forward to learning exactly how and when the additional safety funding will be invested across CSX’s rail network,” he said. His comments were reported by Kiplinger’s Magazine.

National Corridors Initiative’s President James RePass commented: “CSX Transportation’s plans as reported in Trains Magazine represent a forward-looking view of ground-based transportation long absent in this country.”

“We encourage the Congress to respond positively to this and similar proposals which will be forthcoming in other regions, which will require the same kind of fundamental commitment to rail transportation that was given to highway investment over the past century,” he said.

Aside from major stock repurchase announcements from the company, The Trains report was the first positive piece of news for CSX in some time. The railroad has been strongly criticized by Federal officials and in the media for lax maintenance and operational practices, as recently as last month when FRA Administrator Boardman released a strongly-worded report on CSX rail safety that found thousands of violations in 23 states where CSX operates trains, including nearly 200 incidents where fines have been proposed.

The Trains Magazine report lists extensive improvements proposed by CSX: “Some 1,700 grade crossings would be closed, and some would be replaced with bridges. There would be four main tracks between Washington and Richmond, Va., on the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac, and three tracks between Richmond and Miami.

The plan would require a huge federal government investment.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation solicited applications from interested parties to “accelerate the development of multi-state transportation corridors of the future for one or more transportation modes. “The DOT will select up to five major transportation corridors in need of investment for the purpose of reducing congestion. The DOT is now choosing up to five finalists after the application deadline ended on April 2,” Trains reported.

If CSX is selected, it has a plan for turning its Washington-Miami line into a corridor of the future, according to Steve Dunham, chairman of the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons.

“CSX would complete a third track between Washington and Richmond, except where major, expensive projects are needed in Ashland Va., where two tracks run down the middle of the main street; Fredericksburg, Va., with its crossing of the Rappahannock River and elevated track above four streets; and the bridges over Aquia Creek and the Potomac River. The second step would be to tackle those bigger, more expensive projects,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The third step would be to build the additional track between Washington and Miami and to close or create alternatives for the 1,700 grade crossings. “The D.C. to Richmond Third Track Feasibility Study provides the path for completion” of the project north of Richmond, Jay Westbrook, CSX assistant vice president for public-private partnerships, said. The study calls for completing the capacity-expansion projects funded in 2000. The last piece of that group of improvements is to construct about seven more miles of third track north of Springfield and just south of the Potomac River.

If the Washington to Miami route becomes a federally funded corridor of the future, then the next steps, Westbrook said, are to set realistic expectations and seek consensus on the projects to be tackled first, reported the paper.

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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...


Florida East Coast to go private

From Internet Sources

JACKSONVILLE --- Florida East Coast Industries Inc., a railroad and real-estate holding company, has agreed to be acquired by private equity funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group LLC for about $3 billion.

Including debt, the company valued the deal at about $3.5 billion.

Fortress is one of a growing number of hedge fund operators in the United States. Hedge Funds are privately held entities not subject to corporate reporting requirements.

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Wiley Mitchell, former Virginians for High
Speed Rail Board member, will head state board

From Virginians for High Speed Rail

RICHMOND --- Former state senator Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. of Norfolk was elected chairman of the Virginia Rail Advisory Board at the board’s April Meeting, Virginians for High Speed Rail, which meets in Richmond May 15, reports.

The Rail Advisory Board serves as advisors to Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board on usage of the Rail Enhancement Fund. In addition, the board advises the director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and its staff.

Mitchell, an attorney with Willcox and Savage, was appointed to the new Rail Advisory Board in July 2005 by Governor Mark Warner. A member of the Virginians for High Speed Rail Board, Mitchell worked for the establishment of the Rail Advisory Board and assisted with the legislation that created the board during the 2005 General Assembly session.

The Rail Advisory Board is the first and only Virginia board dedicated to rail advancement, VHSR reports. The Rail Enhancement Fund was established in the same legislation that created the Rail Advisory Board...

Virginians for High Speed Rail is a statewide nonprofit education and advocacy organization that seeks improved passenger and freight rail service. Prior to joining Willcox and Savage, Mitchell was senior general counsel for Norfolk Southern Corporation. Mitchell was a member of the Alexandria City Council from 1967 to 1976, and a member of the Virginia Senate, where he served as Minority Floor Leader, from 1976 to 1988.

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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Six killed at California grade crossing

From Internet News Sources and by DF Staff

RIVERBANK, CA --- Six people, mostly children and teenagers, died in a grade crossing accident this past week when the driver in a small SUV apparently panicked and tried to back away from a crossing gate that had come down on her hood, the California Highway Patrol reported, and her car was destroyed by a passenger train.

Maricruz Corral, 23, a young mother from Ceres, was killed along with five others including her children when the SUV she was driving straddled a set of tracks in Riverbank. She was hit by an Amtrak train.

The National Corridors Initiative has repeatedly asked that the closure, tunneling, or bridging of at-grade rail crossings be made a national priority, especially on heavily traveled passenger and freight lines; these projects are part of NCI’s “TransPlan 21” transportation plan for the United States.

“As we have said repeatedly, no one in their right mind would suggest that anyone allow a gasoline tanker truck to cut across the path of a 747 taking off, yet every day in America at 240,000 railway at-grade crossing, that is precisely the kind of stupidity we permit,” stated NCI President James RePass after the latest fatal incident. “We call upon Congress to step in and fund the creation of zero-at-grade-crossing rail corridors common to Europe and Asia, but virtually unknown in our [relatively backward] country, in order to boost not only the safety, but the speed and efficiency, of freight and rail passenger service. The Highway Trust Fund is the appropriate source for these funds, as it is the growing number of highway crossings of long pre-existing railway lines that is the proximate cause of these totally avoidable accidents.”

According to the Associated Press, “Corral’s young passengers included two boys in car seats, another boy estimated to be between 6 and 8 years old and two teenage girls. Her two sons were believed to have been in the vehicle. The other victims were thought to be members of another family. The AP reported that Corral’s husband, Lucio Rodriguez, said that his sons, 5-year-old Ivan and 3-year-old Anthony, were killed along with their mother. He was in the Mojave Desert at the time of the accident, and said he knew the news was bad when the California Highway Patrol sent a plane to bring him back.

According to witnesses, the AP said, the driver was trying to cross the tracks and was waiting for traffic in front of her to clear when alarm bells went off, signaling the approaching train. She tried to back up, and stopped again when the crossing arm came down and struck her front windshield, he said.

The AP reported that the train’s conductor told officers that the train would have missed Corral’s Geo Tracker if she had stayed where she was when the crossing arm hit her vehicle. The crossing arm also bounces when it hits something and would not have prevented the vehicle from moving forward.

“The message for the public is, when you come to a crossing, controlled or uncontrolled, do not proceed until you can safety cross the tracks,” the conductor said.

None of the 70 passengers or crew members aboard the Oakland-bound train were injured, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said, according to a CBS News report of the accident.

“One person was ejected from the car. The others remained inside and were pronounced dead at the scene, Mayotte said. The car was dragged more than half a mile down the track after the collision and became wrapped around the front of the train,” said CBS News

The four-car train was traveling from Bakersfield to Oakland when it collided with the vehicle about nine miles northeast of Modesto. The train’s speed was not immediately known, Graham said.

The passengers boarded another train headed to Modesto, where Amtrak arranged to have buses take them to their destinations, she said.

California had the second highest number of deaths at highway-rail crossings in 2006, with 36, according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety organization based in Alexandria, Va. Texas led all states with 42 fatalities, reported CBS.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI) 89.9690.44
Canadian National (CNI) 51.6951.40
Canadian Pacific (CP) 66.7764.71
CSX (CSX) 45.3946.01
Florida East Coast (FLA) 83.6174.46
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR) 27.4027.21
Kansas City Southern (KSU) 38.8138.59
Norfolk Southern (NSC) 55.2253.92
Providence & Worcester (PWX) 20.3919.91
Union Pacific (UNP) 116.90116.64

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FREIGHTLINES...  Freight lines...

A selection from this week’s
Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports e-Bulletin
By Chalmers (Chop) Hardenbergh, publisher and editor
e-mail: C_Hardenbergh@juno.com
To subscribe go to: www.atlanticnortheast.com

Massachusetts EOT asks harvard
to help with CSXT rail acquisition$

BOSTON --- Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation would like Harvard to pay for the purchase of CSXT rights-of-way in the state, according to a top Massachusetts Administration official.

EOT Secretary Bernard Cohen has been negotiating hard with CSX to buy its rail lines west to Worcester, south to Fall River and New Bedford, and north to Somerville, a deal that over time would allow the state to improve and expand commuter rail and MBTA service.

Harvard versus Boston University EOT envisions a major passenger facility in the area, but only one. Harvard and Boston University would each like that facility on its campus. But Harvard does not want to help the state, facing a billion dollar transportation shortfall, to purchase the lines from CSXT. EOT is then saying, perhaps BU should get the passenger facility. “Competition is always good,” a state official told Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey. “That is the world be live in.” Harvard has not yet said no. “Harvard’s mission is not to be in the railroad business,” said Kevin Casey, the university’s director of government relations. “But we are interested in continuing to talk to achieve mutual goals.” Joe Mercurio, BU’s executive vice president, understands well the competition. “It doesn’t make sense to have two full stations.” {Boston Globe 2.May.07}

Peter Paul candy plant
closing in Connecticut

NAUGATUCK---Hershey will close its Peter Paul candy pliant in Naugatuck, reports Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports.

The plant employs about 200 people making Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars. About 150 jobs will move by the end of the year to a plant in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, where the candy will still be manufactured, Hershey spokesman Kirk Saville said. The Naugatuck plant has been in town for more than 80 years, 20 of them as part of Hershey.

On 30 April, Hershey announced it was closing plants in Oakdale, California, Reading, Pennsylvania and Smiths Falls, Ontario as well. Hershey announced a restructuring plan on 15 February that would cut its work force by 1,500 (about 11%) and production lines by one-third. It is shifting some work to contractors and a plant being built in Mexico, and has formed joint ventures to begin making its products in China and India. The California and Connecticut plants both are operating at less than 40% of capacity, Saville said. {AP in Hartford Courant 26.Apr.07 and 1.May.07}

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EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

Eliminate grade crossings NOW

The death of six members of two California families this past week in a completely needless grade crossing accident (see related story) once again re-enforce the need for Congress, and the Administration, to create, fund and implement a comprehensive, aggressive nationwide grade-crossing closure program for the United States.

The US Department of Transportation is studying the issue, and that is a step forward, but the deaths continue.

The sheer stupidity of existing, virtually criminal, practices regularly brings us evening news reports of yet another family destroyed wiped out or breadwinner and/or mother killed. Coupled with improved maintenance practices, the elimination of grade crossings --- 100 per cent of which should be bridged, tunneled, or closed, as proposed in CSX’s visionary Miami-Washington super rail corridor project --- may yet forestall the day when the headline is not merely about yet another grade crossing accident, but about some far more serious --- and preventable --- incident involving freight rail cars and hazardous materials

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When it comes to California High Speed Rail…

Don’t be a girlie-man, Ahhhnold….

It seems that the same pack of fraudsters and paid oil lobbyists who eight years ago killed High Speed Rail in Florida, and have made sure America’s Amtrak remains chronically underfunded, are homing in on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, quoted recently (via a spokesman) of being in favor of high speed rail, “but not yet”.

Governor Schwarzenegger, an adept politician, is quoted by his representatives as saying what the people are crying for is “more superhighways”.

Aside from the fact that there is no such sentiment --- the people in California, and elsewhere, are no longer being fooled by the oil industry, currently extracting $3.50 a gallon from Americans and heading North --- the argument for high speed rail along the spine of California is so strong that not even the oil lobbyists are speaking publicly. Instead, they are meeting quietly with the Governor, feeding him the same line of nonsense they gave former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush eight years ago when he killed that state’s Florida’s Overland Express Project [faced with crushing congestion and ever-higher local taxes as the bill for its exclusively highway-based, sprawl-only land use planning comes due, Florida is today reviving rail. Finally.]

No, Governor, the lies you are being told about the cost of rail are just that, lies.

Many years ago, Governor, you built stone walls in Beverly Hills using your back and hands, helping to pay your bills while feeding your American dream. Those stone walls you built so many years ago are still standing. That may seem like a modest thing, but it is not. Those walls are a monument to a man with a dream that would not be denied. But they are more even than that. Those stone walls are infrastructure, and infrastructure is the sinew and muscle of a strong, prosperous society.

Those stone walls still bear witness to a courageous and determined young man who once worked with his hands on the streets and hillsides of Los Angeles. They are a part of your legacy, and an important part of the reason so many Americans of both political parties admire you. So too will be the high speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco --- the first dedicated, modern, world-class rail line on the North American continent, if you can get it done. It will bear witness to the vision and courage of those who believe in and work for the future, and make that vision real. Immigrants built this great country, Gov. Schwarzenegger. You are in the unique position as Governor of our largest and most dynamic state, of proving, beyond a doubt, that that is still true.

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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

U.S. Infrastructure:
An economic disaster waiting to happen

From the Urban Land Institute

A major new report ---- (http://www.uli.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&section=Policy_Papers2&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentFileID=27598) --- released this week by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young revealed shocking statistics on the state of transit infrastructure in the U.S., including:

A Threat to Economic Growth:

Beyond the inconvenience of longer commute times due to poor upkeep of roads and transit systems, these numbers signal real economic trouble. The loss in time and productivity will slow economic growth, drive job losses, and result in the U.S. becoming less economically competitive globally. 

Around the world, our economic competitors are investing heavily in infrastructure to strengthen their economies, yet the U.S is spending less than 1 percent of its GDP on infrastructure.  Contrast that with India, which spends 3.5 percent on infrastructure, or China, which spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure in its quest for economic growth.

The U.S. infrastructure neglect is not limited just to transit.  In order to comply with safe drinking water regulations, the U.S. must spend ten times its current budget for replacing aging systems.  The power grids are also a mess and poor transmission networks are resulting in loss of electricity and extremely inefficient power delivery.

The False Promise of Privatization:

The report emphasizes that the recent hype around privatization of public assets like roads won’t solve the problem-- and could make it worse.   Another new report released this week, also highlights how states have been wasting taxpayer money by outsourcing and experimenting with other forms of privatization that have just added to costs. 

Looking Forward:

There is simply no way around it- the current level of infrastructure investment cannot sustain current economic activity, let alone allow our states to grow competitively in the global economy.  Any further delay investing in infrastructure will only result in much greater physical repair costs and even greater costs from job losses. 

The first step is facing up to the need for new revenue. The reality is that the gas tax, when adjusted to inflation, is half of what it was in the 1960s.  Road tolls aren’t paying enough for overall infrastructure upkeep and other revenues are not making up the slack.  New revenues need to be combined with better planning to reduce road congestion and promote more efficient public transit. 

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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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