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 18, 2009
Vol. 10, No. 22

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

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

  News Items…
FRA’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Workshops
   Start May 20, To Tour Nation
Obama’s Sea-Change In Transportation Policy Advanced
   By Lautenberg, Rockefeller Legislation
Rail Liability Stumbling-Block Shows Signs Of Progress
   As GAO Hints At Need For New Policy
Liability Issue A Stumbling-Block In This Sale
  Corridor Lines…
FRA Awards Intercity Capital Grant For Planning
   Of Midwest Rail Corridors
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Off The Main Line…
Bride’s Train Has Flanged Wheels
  Event…
Move Massachusetts
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...  

 

[ Editor’s Note - This late addition was received after initial publication. We have added it here and sent a special notice given its importance. ]

 

A Letter to Stakeholders From FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo:

 

FRA’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Workshops
Start May 20, To Tour Nation

Dear Stakeholders:

As we begin to implement President Obama’s vision for developing a cohesive national intercity and high-speed passenger rail network. This vision was set forth in FRA’s Strategic Plan for High-Speed Rail (HSR) announced by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood, and sent to Congress that same day on April 16, 2009.

The workshops will be led by FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae or myself. Through these workshops, FRA is reaching out to the rail community in seven regions across the country to seek your input on the Interim Guidance we are required to issue on or before June 17, 2009, for the $8 billion in grant funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for the high-speed rail corridors program, intercity passenger rail grants, and congestion grants. The workshops will enable FRA to discuss the HSR Strategic Plan with key stakeholders such as state departments of transportation, regional planning authorities, metropolitan leaders, associations and labor groups (under the ARRA, these workshops exclude the participation of lobbyists).

We seek your input not only to provide us with your regional vision of high-speed and intercity rail networks, but to enable stakeholders to focus on the critical factors that will make this program a success for generations to come.

The goal of the workshop is to take the first steps toward determining how we can best partner together to make the Strategic Plan a reality. During the workshop, you will have an opportunity to share experiences, raise concerns, provide insights, and make recommendations on several key issues and questions, as well as hear those of your colleagues and representatives from a regional perspective. The workshop schedule will include the following:

  1. Introduction 10 minutes
  2. Overview of FRA strategic plan and next steps 30 minutes
  3. Amtrak presentation 15 minutes
  4. Q & A 35 minutes
  5. Regional presentation 30 minutes
  6. Break 15 minutes
  7. Working group break-out 1 hour
  8. Wrap-up 15 minutes

The workshops will be held 1:00 p.m. 4:30 p.m. on the following dates and locations:

  • Southeast Corridor: Charlotte May 20; Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel, 2800 Coliseum Drive, Charlotte, NC 28205
  • Florida Corridor: Orlando May 21; Marriott Orlando Airport 7499 Augusta National Drive, Orlando, FL 32822
  • Pacific Northwest Corridor: Seattle May 27; Seattle Airport Marriott Hotel, 3201 South 176th Street, Seattle, WA 98188
  • California Corridor: Sacramento May 28; Sacramento Marriott Rancho Cordova, 11211 Point East Drive, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742
  • South Central and Gulf Coast Corridor: Houston May 29; Marriott Houston Airport, 18700 John F. Kennedy Blvd, Houston, TX 77032
  • Midwest Region: Chicago June 1; Union Station, Union Gallery (off the Great Hall) 210 South Canal Street, Chicago, IL 60606
  • Northeast Region: Philadelphia June 2; The Westin Philadelphia, 99 South 17th Street at Liberty Place Philadelphia

Due to practical space and time constraints, I ask that you only plan to attend the event that is nearest to your location or proposed corridor. Please RSVP at the following Web site : https://survey.deloitte.com/wsb.dll/5644/FRARegistration.htm, and indicate which workshop you will be attending no later than 3 days before the scheduled workshop, after which confirmed attendees will receive additional details regarding the location and program. Those wishing to attend without a RSVP may do so as long as space is available. (Despite the name survey in the URL, the website is not a survey, but rather a means to track the number of individuals who indicate that they will be attending particular workshop sessions.)

In addition to participating in the workshop, I am inviting you and other members of the public to submit written comments to FRA by June 5, 2009, on issues that should be addressed in the Interim Guidance and specific recommendations on the criteria to be used in evaluating grant applications. FRA has created a public docket (Docket No. FRA-2009-0045) for the receipt of written comments. Please visit FRA’s Web site at: www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/2236 for information regarding the various ways in which you may submit comments to the public docket.

Please note, additional sessions to aid states with the mechanics of applying for ARRA funds will be scheduled after these workshops, as will informational sessions for industry, labor, intergovernmental and other interested parties.

I look forward to working with you over the coming months to ensure the grant programs funded by ARRA are implemented successfully.

Sincerely,
Joseph C. Szabo
Administrator
The Federal Railroad Administration


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Obama’s Sea-Change In Transportation Policy
Advanced By Lautenberg, Rockefeller Legislation

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON, DC --- Continuing the sea-change in American transportation policy launched by President Barack Obama at The White House April 16 when he unveiled his proposal for an American High Speed Rail system, Senator’s John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, introduced “The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009” designed to “[establish] a comprehensive and unifying mission for the nation’s surface transportation system.”

Lautenberg, whose presence in the Senate over a generation has been a harbinger of transportation change through his work with the late Senator Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and Rockefeller, who has also served for a quarter of a century, span what more and more transportation experts are recognizing as a profound divide separating America’s nearly 100-year marriage to the automobile, toward a transportation system far more balanced and with far greater operating-efficiency potential, than the oil-and-concrete-dependent surface transportation system of the last century.

“This bill is a major step forward in American transportation policy-making,” stated National Corridors Initiative President James P. RePass, “and marks a real change in direction.”

“The United States’ population is projected to rise to 420 million people by 2050, a 50 percent increase from the year 2000. This growth will only exacerbate the congestion and mobility challenges that plague our national surface transportation system today. We need to establish a blueprint for a 21st century surface transportation system,” said committee Chairman Rockefeller. “This bill does just that. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on this blueprint as we move forward on reauthorizing and reforming the surface transportation programs.”

“A national surface transportation policy for our country is long overdue,” Senator Lautenberg said. “We need a transportation policy that reestablishes our leadership throughout the world when it comes to transportation – and meets our country’s transportation demands for generations to come. This legislation will establish a national policy that improves safety, reduces congestion, creates jobs, and protects our environment.”

Political observers are looking to see whether bi-partisan support begins to coalesce around this bill, which is essentially going to be the Senate companion to the House version of the bill now under development under the leadership of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN). Transportation bills have traditionally been bi-partisan affairs, but that changed under a Republican president, George Bush (I) and GOP-led Congress (both houses of Congress under GOP control 1994-2000; 2002-2006; House of Representatives, 1994-2006) whose more ideological members attempted to kill Amtrak or at last its long-distance trains and also opposed transit projects, which served largely urban areas.

“During those years moderate or pragmatic Republicans understood that there was no such thing as a Republican or a Democratic traffic jam, and Democrats worked with them to develop transportation policy. Now that it is the Democrats turn to control, for awhile, both house of Congress, we will see if the GOP’s more pragmatic leaders will step forward on this important reform and give it bi-partisan support,” stated NCI President RePass.

The surface transportation programs authorized under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) enacted in 2005 will expire at the end of this September. The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission created by SAFETEA-LU and other transportation policy experts have called for the creation of a cohesive national policy with performance-based outcomes, and a fundamental restructuring of the federal surface transportation programs. “The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009 establishes the foundation for making these reforms,” said the Senate leaders in a news release.

This introduction of The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009 follows President Obama’s proclamation of the week of May 10th as National Transportation Week in recognition of the importance of the transportation infrastructure to our nation’s economy and security.

Here is a summary of The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009, as released by its authors:

“The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009 would lay out a strategic, integrated plan that will address the challenges to our national infrastructure and federal programs.

Major Goals of The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009

The Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger has already weighed in, supporting the measure, and praising the senators’ “vision in setting the stage for the creation of a comprehensive integrated plan that addresses the challenges facing our nation’s surface transportation infrastructure.”


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News Analysis:

 

Rail Liability Stumbling-Block Shows Signs Of
Progress As GAO Hints At Need For New Policy

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON --- The issue of liability for death and/or injury resulting from rail accidents that involve commuter trains, which has blocked or slowed a number of new commuter rail projects in recent years, may be on the way to resolution, according to industry observers.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (formerly the Government Accounting Office) declares that contrary to the widespread assertion by freight railroads, over whose tracks commuter rail lines often operate, there is no set Federal policy requiring commuter railroads to indemnify or “hold harmless” freight railroads against liability claims that result from accidents on those lines.

Freight railroads have insisted that any passenger service, including Amtrak, which operates largely over freight railroads, indemnify them no matter who may be found ultimately to be at fault, the passenger operator or the freight railroad.

They have insisted on this practice even when they have sold rail lines outright to commuter rail operators, but have retained “trackage rights.”

In Massachusetts, this has prevented the unclogging of some commuter rail bottlenecks via the sale of a CSX rail line between Boston and Worcester, because CSX, while willing to sell the track to the state rail authority, has refused to do so until indemnified against any future liability claims. The GAO report, GAO-09-282 with the wordy title “Commuter Rail: Many Factors Influence Liability and Indemnity Provisions, and Options Exist to Facilitate Negotiations” which can be found in full at www.gao.gov/htext/d09282.html, investigated existing Federal law and policy and determined that there was, in fact, no single Federal standard, but a series of practices, procedures, and laws regarding liability that may or may not be dispositive, i.e., the “last word”, on the issue. It made no specific recommendations as to a solution.

Because both railroad businesses and passenger rail operators hate uncertainty, and because rail accidents tend to be quite serious and often, when passenger trains are involved, result in injuries (although seldom fatalities), there has been increasing resistance to new or expanded commuter rail operations where freight service is also involved.

The Congress addressed this problem in a 1997 law, the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, which required Amtrak to indemnify freight railroads against liability, even in the case of gross or willful negligence by the railroad, but set a cap of $200 million per incident on this indemnification; Amtrak was then able to purchase insurance for that amount.

Some freight railroads have maintained that this is adequate protection, and that they are automatically covered by the act as Amtrak is, when Amtrak is the contractor actually running the trains, as is often the case at commuter agencies. But others, like CSX, have been adamant in demanding 100% liability indemnification.

The GAO report noted the confusion on this issue, and also observed that the $200 million limit had not yet been tested in court. It also observed that indemnification by the taxpayer against gross and willful negligence by any private entity, rail or otherwise, was contrary to legal tradition under U.S. law, and that others have noted that such indemnification can lead in fact to reduced rail safety standards.

Photo: NTSB  

Wreck of Amtrak Train 52 Apr 18, ’02
Industry observers point to the April 18, 2002, Amtrak Auto Train accident on CSX track in Northeast Florida, caused by a kink in track that had been inspected just hours before by a CSX crew. Later reports said that a CSX crew’s tamping machine had broken down the previous fall when major track work was done, where the track work was then finished off by hand, using inadequate ballast to keep the welded rail from moving;

Shortly before the wreck a heavy freight train (coal) used the track. Immediately thereafter, an Amtrak passenger train used the same track. The train’s driver saw a misalignment on the track ahead and applied the brakes, but could not stop in time, and the train separated and then derailed just as some passengers were walking between those cars. Despite the contribution of CSX maintenance practices to the accident, as determined in the NTSB report, Amtrak had to pay 100% of the damages resulting from the ensuing lawsuits, which amounted to more than $100 million.

For the complete National Transportation Safety Board Report “Derailment of Amtrak Auto Train P052-18 on the CSXT Railroad Near Crescent City, Florida April 18, 2002” see: www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2003/RAR0302.pdf

CSX maintains that their insistence on 100% indemnification is fair, because the presence of the passenger train on its tracks is the sole reason why any risk to passengers is introduced at all; others contend that indemnification can lead to sloppy maintenance work, if the railroad knows that it can not be sued, no matter what.

Here is the conclusion of the NTSB report:

Probable Cause:

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the April 18, 2002, derailment of Amtrak Auto Train P052-18 near Crescent City, Florida, was a heat-induced track buckle that developed because of inadequate CSX Transportation track-surfacing operations, including misalignment of the curve, insufficient track restraint, and failure to reestablish an appropriate neutral rail temperature.”

Relative safety: the raw numbers:

Over the past decade a total of 98 passengers and crew have been killed while traveling by Amtrak; of these, 47 were at a bridge near Mobile, AL, knocked out by a barge using the wrong channel; a total of 73 of the 98 deaths were attributable to non-Amtrak faults, such as trucks across grade crossings. During the same period of time more than 400,000 people traveling by car or bus have also been killed in accidents; 386 have died in commercial aviation crashes.


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Liability Issue A Stumbling-Block In This Sale

Boston Globe On The Internet

FRAMINGHAM, MA, MAY 14 --- Commuters that take MBTA’s rail service from Framingham to Boston, a section owned by CSX, have long experienced frustrations with frequent delays and unreliable service, according to a story in the Boston Globe by reporter Connie Paige.

One commuter, Dominic deSantis, who says he’s glad to have a train to get to work, but “he gets frustrated with its spotty service, and still has not forgotten the many icy mornings last winter when he waited in the drifting snow for the train to chug into the station long after the scheduled arrival.”

“The ridership would increase more if it were more reliable,” said deSantis, a Framingham resident who works for a wealth management company. “They need to get it up to 90-95 percent on time in order for more people to come on board, especially in these times.”

The problem is that MBTA has little control over its trains because CSX owns the track in that corridor and the freight trains often interfere with the passenger service.

A new development could bring a welcome improvement in service for commuters, the story continues: MBTA may be close to signing an agreement with CSX to buy their track. For years, the sticky issue holding up the deal has been the issue of liability.

“CSX, which even after a sale would continue to use the tracks, has maintained that the MBTA would have to assume liability in the case of an accident between one of its freight trains and a commuter train, regardless of its cause. CSX officials say that’s the industry standard.”

For a long time, CSX held firm to their position and no agreement for the sale could be reached. Then, in March 2008, the story continues, “the question of liability came to the fore when a freight train came loose from a lumber yard and rolled into the path of an MBTA commuter train in Canton, leaving about 100 injured.” CSX was blamed for the crash.

After that incident, US Representative James McGovern, along with a group of other legislators, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into the liability question. “The taxpayers of the state can’t be liable for everything, especially in a case of gross negligence,” McGovern said in an interview last month.

The report refuted CSX’s claim that it is standard for the commuter agency to assume liability no matter which side is at fault in the case of an accident. The report also cites a recent federal court opinion finding that “it is against public policy for commuter rail agencies, and ultimately taxpayers, to be obliged to cover damages in cases of gross negligence and willful misconduct by freight companies.”

The report, which also recommends requiring federal mediation and changing the law that governs rail lines, is serving as a bargaining chip, according to McGovern.

The Bay State and local officials feel that the liability issue has been resolved and are now hoping for negotiations to proceed quickly so that the $50 million sale can take place. The dispute has not been totally resolved but McGovern said it could be “within months.” He contends that any agreement should help not only the T but also CSX.

“It’s an important company, an important economic engine in my congressional district,” he said. “I want CSX to grow and prosper. I believe in expanded freight rail. My hope is that given the GAO report, CSX will work on a deal that’s good for CSX and fair in terms of the taxpayers.”

Connie Paige can be reached at connie_paige@yahoo.com.

[ Editor’s note: Two years ago I attended a meeting in Worcester, Massachusetts, where this issue was being discussed. Lt. Governor Tim Murray gave an impassioned speech on the importance of this rail service for both passengers and freight and the local economy, and urged the parties to reach an agreement soon. It is encouraging to learn that a resolution appears to be within reach.]


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CORRIDOR LINES... Corridor Lines...  

FRA Awards Intercity Capital Grant For Planning
Of Midwest Rail Corridors

US Dept. Of Transportation Reported In Early April That The Midwest Rail Corridors Would Receive An FRA Capital Grant For Planning

From Rail Magazine

“The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has awarded a $297,000 grant to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) for the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) to continue rail corridor planning, which may lead to the development of several high-speed rail corridors. MWRRI is a 3,000-mile system providing improved intercity passenger rail service that serves nine states with a combined population of 60 million people, using Chicago as a regional hub.

The MWRRI member states will match the $297,000 grant. The project includes an alternative routes analysis; system cost updates; equipment, train control and operational plans; and the preparation of public outreach materials. Corridors include Chicago-Porter, Chicago-Toledo-Cleveland, Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati, Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale, St. Louis-Jefferson City-Kansas City, Chicago-Quincy/Des Moines-Omaha, and Chicago-Milwaukee-Minneapolis/St. Paul-Green Bay.

This is not stimulus money. The grant is made under FRA’s FY 2008 Capital Assistance to States – Intercity Passenger Rail Service Program. This is a separate authority from the grants for high-speed rail under the Recovery Act (ARRA). Guidance for competitive grants under the new authority is still under development.

www.dot.gov/affairs/briefing.htm


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)67.1472.76
Canadian National (CNI)39.0942.87
Canadian Pacific (CP)34.9939.01
CSX (CSX)27.6731.02
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.1330.52
Kansas City Southern (KSU)14.7917.01
Norfolk Southern (NSC)35.0838.01
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.3511.50
Union Pacific (UNP)46.5851.44


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

Image: WCVB-TV   

The Bride and Broom alongside the MBTA commuter train that served as their chapel.
Bride’s Train Has Flanged Wheels

By Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster

Weddings in the modern world have taken many forms and have run the gamut from themed services in costume to bungee jumping at the “I do.” This time it was something rail advocates can appreciate – taking the plunge on a moving train.

This is exactly what Scott Miller and Lauren Richie of Massachusetts did this past week, opting to exchange vows in full wedding attire on an MBTA commuter train bound for Boston.

The couple met about five years ago when both were going through the endings of other relationships. Both were daily commuters on the Worcester/Framingham line into Boston, and as any regular rider will tell you, the regulars always board the same coaches, and talk to the same people and camaraderie is developed.

This writer experienced this for several years traveling from Boston to North Billerica on the Lowell line several times a week, though that was mostly the after-work crowd that would tell stories of their long day at the office.

As fate would have it, the happy couple eventually started dating and fell in love. The decision to marry on the train line where they met was a unique choice.

The train was a regularly scheduled commuter service and all passengers including all members of the wedding party had tickets. The bride and groom and their respective parties boarded at different stations and had just 30 minutes between the remaining stations on their journey to conduct the ceremony in a coach set specially aside for the event. After the knot was tied they detrained and walked to the reception at the home of one of their parents.

The entire operation had a rail theme. The invitations looked like tickets and a schedule and the wedding music played on the train was “Don’t Stop Believin’” which is about people who meet on a train. The “Railroad House Band” a bluegrass ensemble played at the reception.

We wish them well and happy commuting – which they still do.


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Move Massachusetts

 

Membership Meeting

Friday, May 29th, 8:15 - 9:30 AM
Brown Rudnick
One Financial Center, Eighteenth Floor, Dewey Square, Boston
(across from South Station)

If You Can Make It There, You Can Make It Anywhere:
NYC’s Transportation Transformation and the Power of Coalition Politics
with
Noah Budnick
Senior Policy Advisor
Transportation Alternatives

For more on the ongoing revolution in NYC transportation: http://www.transalt.org

All Interested Parties Are Invited to Attend & Participate
Coffee, Tea and Juice will be served.
Please RSVP by return e-mail to movemass@usa.net
to be added to the visitor’s list for building services.
Photo ID is required for entry to building.

 

Dan Wilson
Executive Director
Move Massachusetts
PH 617.720.4334
FX 617.720.0404


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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

Dear Editor

In your response to the editorial, I was disappointed that you didn’t correct the misstatement “Europeans drive almost as much as we do,” (Quoting the Boston Herald in DF Vol. 10, No. 19 in “Memo To The Anti-Rail Lobby: Facts Are Stubborn Thing" by Jim RePass). Although they drive a lot, Europeans drive about half as much as we do (Western and Central Europeans, that is - Eastern and Southeaster Europeans much less than that, of course). See: http://dataservice.eea.europa.eu/atlas/viewdata/viewpub.asp?id=3018

Graham Katz
graham.katz@googlemail.com

Chart provided by David Beale from above URL
The reader makes a good point.

Other sources of data and statistics I was able to access for Europe also show that in Western Europe (roughly defined as the 15 EU member states during the 1995 - 2004 period) the population travels via automobile or bus on the average of 9400 to 15,000 km per adult annually, varying from region to region and country to country.

Assuming his data for the USA and Canada is correct (which I did not verify, but seems plausible), then people residing in western Europe drive approximately 1/3 to 1/2 as much as people in the USA drive.

In the city of Hannover, Germany (which is fairly representative of many mid-sized German cities) automobile ownership per person is 25% to 35% less per capita than in similar-sized American cities such as Portland OR or Denver CO.

This also suggests that trips by automobile per person are also about 30% less than in similar-sized cities in the USA, thus again implying that the reader’s statement is correct.

David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent
Germany


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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