The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

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

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May 24, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 22

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

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

  News Items…
Streetcars Continue Comeback, This Time In DC
  Commuter Lines…
Ottawa Closer To Replacing Bus Rapid Transit With Light Rail
  Off The Main Line…
Amtrak Police To The Rescue
Google Maps Now Makes Getting On The Right Train Easier
  Political Lines…
Oberstar Stymied On Transit Bill
Transit Officials Voice Concern On Climate Change Bill
FTA Administrator Rogoff’s Boston Speech Angers
   Rail Transit Advocates
Complete Text Of FTA Administrator Rogoff’s Speech
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Special Event…
Michael S. Dukakis Rail Blazer Award.
  Across The Pond…
New UK Government Turns Away From Airline Lobby
Tax Oil Now
Fix The Transportation Funding System
  Publication Notes …

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...  

Re-Inventing The American City Via Value-Capture:


Streetcars Continue Comeback, This Time In DC

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

WASHINGTON, DC---Our Nation’s Capital, which like most American cities in the 20th century destroyed its extensive network of streetcar lines in favor of buses, is about to reinvent its streetcar system on a grand scale.

What is different about this iteration of the swelling streetcar revival in America is that DC’s $1.5 billion, 37-mile project will take advantage of a new (to America) technique of generating on-going operating funds for the lines, “value capture,” which notes that the immediately adjacent properties to a streetcar line and its stops will contribute a certain percentage to the costs of operations and maintenance in exchange for the benefit the transit line brings to the properties.

Here’s “The Infrastructurist’s” take on the story (Posted on Thursday May 20th by Melissa Lafsky):

D.C.’s New Streetcar: Commercial Property Owners Will Foot Part of the Bill

Remember that whole idea of real estate developers paying for mass transit because it inherently increases the value of their property? Well, a miniature version of it is happening as we speak. The Washington Post reported that around a quarter of the cost of Washington D.C.’s new streetcar plan — which would run along 37 miles of the city and cost $1.5 billion — will be borne by commercial property owners along the H Street-to-Benning Road Northeast line.

The line, which would require six streetcars and would be the first in the system to be built, would receive an additional $60 to $70 million in public funds to get it completed. A lot is hinging on its performance — money for the remaining 37 miles won’t be requested until/unless that first line is a success.

This won’t be the first time in recent history that D.C. mass transit has been funded by private landowners: They paid about 1/4 of the price tag for the New York Avenue Metrorail station. And there’s good evidence to suggest that the initial investment is worth property owners’ while: A study by the Brookings Institution, Robert Charles Lesser & Co., and the advocacy group Reconnecting America found that the streetcar would increase the value of the revenue-producing commercial properties along the H Street route by $1.1 billion over 20 years.

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Ottawa Closer To Replacing Bus Rapid Transit With Light Rail

Could Ottawa Inspire Other Cities To By-Pass BRT And Go For Rail At The Beginning?

From Internet Sources Including CTV News Ottawa And Transport Politic By Yonah Freemark

Ottawa, Canada’s capital, at one time was the “gold standard” for bus advocates. A few years back, it was believed that building bus rapid transit (BRT) was an inexpensive way to introduce citizens to transit. Build the rights-of-way and buy a fleet of buses in the beginning, then, later on, convert the guide ways to light rail. To start with, the cost of buying buses would be less than train sets.

So, twenty-seven years ago, Ottawa invested in bus rapid transit (BRT). They built a series of transit ways leading into the city’s center, and today it is one of North America’s largest BRT networks.

Now they are preparing to replace it with light rail. Why? One might say the success of BRT has brought them to this conclusion. Ridership on the buses has risen to 240,000 daily riders, a volume so high that it puts 2,600 daily buses onto the downtown streets. If this trend continues, by 2018 the system will have literally no more capacity. By 2030, Ottawa would have to get a bus downtown every eighteen seconds to accommodate all the riders -- “an impossible feat,” according to the article.

Proposed Ottawa Alignment

Map Courtesy of The Transport Politic -  

Proposed alignment

Thus, for several years, the city has been considering light rail as a replacement to the bus system. The first plan fell through because it was going to run the light rail along the over-crowded downtown streets. The service could not have increased capacity or decreased commute time if it had to compete with downtown street congestion. Clearly, the light rail had to have its own right of way.

The present plan calls for using the existing bus transit ways for the rail, which does save some costs, but it also requires the construction of a downtown tunnel, which is estimated to cost $600 million. The light rail tunnel would eventually be connected to a train network serving the entire region.

O-Train type unit.

Photo: City of Ottawa

A newly repainted O-Train (Bomabardier Talent diesel MU - Deutsche Bahn VT-643 vehicle series). Circa 2008.

Requirements to build 13 new stations with platforms long enough to handle six-car trains, along with tracks and electrification will bring expenses almost to the level of building a new rail line from scratch. The first phase will be 13 kilometers long.

Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien says he’s confident the federal government’s share of light rail funding will come soon. After an informal meeting with federal Transport Minister John Baird, O’Brien told CTV Ottawa that he believes “things are moving ahead.”

The cost of the first phase of the transit project ballooned from an original estimate of $1.4 billion to $2.1 billion because of the transit tunnel through downtown. The Ontario government committed its share of $600 million in funding late last year. The federal share is expected to be the same.

So far, the federal government has committed $200 million to the project. However, additional funding is crucial for the first phase to move forward.

O’Brien hopes the federal government will make an announcement about the funding before the end of next month.

Bus rapid transit never fully accepted:

Despite the busway’s apparent success and high ridership, city leaders have never been completely comfortable with it. The city also has a diesel multiple unit (DMU), 8 kilometer light rail system, called the O Train, which opened as a demonstration project in 2001. It has five stops and a daily ridership of 10,000 even though it does not go as far as the downtown center.

Long term plan (from Freemark’s article):

“Last fall the city announced its long-term transit plan, whose basic principle is the replacement of the city’s busways with light rail transit lines extending through downtown, and then east, west, and south, with a spur to the airport. The O-Train would be converted to electric operation and integrated into the broader system, allowing direct access downtown for people along that line. New busways would be built connecting the light rail corridors,” the article continues.

Construction would start in 2013 and service would open in 2018 ---- as long as political opponents don’t gain control of the mayoral seat in the 2010 election this fall.

A light rail loop across the river into Gatineau, Quebec, is also being discussed.

The expense of converting from BRT to light rail (in the range of $2 billion for Ottawa) begs the question, “Should Ottawa have invested in light rail in the beginning rather than Bus Rapid Transit?”

The city of Edmonton, which is smaller than Ottawa, installed a modern light rail line in 1978, including a downtown tunnel.

For other cities thinking of investing in busway corridors, Ottawa’s experience may be a “cautionary tale.” Savings in the short term may ultimately result in far greater expenses later on.

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

Amtrak Police To The Rescue

From Internet Sources

MAY 5 ---Boston Pops headliner Idina Menzel of “Wicked” fame and her “Private Practice” husband Taye Diggs were so flustered when they nearly missed their Boston Amtrak stop, they hurried off the train and left their BlackBerry behind.

But the PDA was back in the couple’s hands before Idina sang her first note at Symphony Hall that night, thanks to the ever-vigilant Amtrak Police.

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Google Maps Now Makes Getting On The Right Train Easier

Reported In ReadWriteWeb by Frederic Lardinois

MAY 21 --- Google now has biking directions on their maps and also more data about local public transit options. When you search for a train station in Google Maps, you can now see a list of transit lines that service this station and the next scheduled departure times for every line.

In blog posts on this matter, the comments were that the information worked well for larger transit stations in big cities like New York, but not so well for smaller train stations.

Google has a regular “drumbeat” of new features and partnerships announced almost every week, making it hard for competitors to keep pace.

ReadWriteWeb is an independent technology blog

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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Oberstar Stymied On Transit Bill

From An Article By Elana Schor On Politico.Com

WASHINGTON, DC, MAY 17 – “It was supposed to be a career-defining moment for Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). He finally held the gavel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, after four decades of waiting and had a like-minded president in office to help enact his sweeping vision for highways and public works,” writes Elana Schor.

But Oberstar was stopped in his tracks last spring when he circulated his plan for a six-year, $500 billion investment in roads and rail. Since administration officials could not figure out where the money would come from, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called for an extension of the 2005 highway bill.

“So, while the nation’s infrastructure continues to age and crumble, Washington is stuck with a neutered transportation chairman, a White House distracted by more pressing issues and congressional leaders who lack the political will to raise gas taxes for a new $500 billion measure. And Oberstar is left without the incredible power that once came with a Transportation chairmanship — picking and choosing where to send billions in highway pork,” the article continues.

Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore) and Janet Kavinoky, chief infrastructure lobbyist of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce both expressed their frustration at a White House that is not placing transportation on the high priority list. “I don’t know why they [the White House] don’t want to move forward” on a new highway bill, said DeFazio. “Somewhere in the bowels of the White House economic team, they said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to deal with transportation.’”

“There has to be some way for all of the disparate interests to get together and try to motivate action on this,” said Kavinoky. “Because regardless of what you’re looking for, you won’t be able to achieve that until the priority is put on transportation.”

For the Obama administration, an election year is not the time to raise the gas tax.

“That leaves the entire transportation industry, from bridge builders to bike boosters, waiting in vain for a breakthrough that might jump-start Oberstar’s efforts. Meanwhile, stimulus infrastructure dollars have not stopped construction unemployment from topping 20 percent, and some insiders are bracing for a funding impasse that lingers indefinitely,” says Schor in her analysis.

The White House has talked to Oberstar, but they don’t have a plan for financing the future of transportation, he said. “Right now, we’re looking at bake sales,” quipped his spokesman, Jim Berard.

Oberstar himself remains at a loss for how to pay for his bill without a gas-tax hike.

The White House, while aligning with Oberstar’s policy reforms, is still looking to put off the new bill until spring 2011. LaHood “shares Chairman Oberstar’s goal,” spokesman Olivia Alair wrote in an e-mail and is working on “a set of principles that we hope will bring us closer” to a new bill.

Former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s infrastructure reform project, also expressed his frustration at the Administration’s opposition to moving the transportation bill forward more quickly.

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Transit Officials Voice Concern On Climate Change Bill

Reprinted From Passenger Transport
The Source For Public Transportation News And Analysis

By John R. Bell, Program Manager-Communications

The presidents of four of the largest national transportation-related organizations discussed their concerns about the Kerry-Lieberman climate change bill with reporters on May 19 in a conference call and vowed to keep advocating that 100 percent of transportation revenues be invested back into the transportation system, as has been the practice for the last 50 years.

APTA President William Millar said the American Power Act is a missed opportunity to fund the “green” benefits public transit brings. “We’ve shown conclusively that public transportation is part of the solution to reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing emissions,” he said. “But this proposed climate and energy bill misses the opportunity to invest significantly in public transportation, which can be one of the most effective means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.... Specifically, this climate change bill diverts 77 percent of revenues away from surface transportation during its first year.”

“Traffic congestion needlessly wastes 2.8 billion gallons of fuel per year, increasing emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America.

This bill “actually makes the problem worse” because it would renege on “the decades-long promise that transportation user fees will be dedicated to making needed highway and transit improvements,” Sandherr said. “The last thing we can afford is to take the ‘trust’ out of the Highway Trust Fund.”

Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said that the bill, as written, would undermine public trust in the funding of surface transportation. “This is nothing but a user fee paid by transportation system users, and as such it should be dedicated entirely to the maintenance of the transportation system—namely, the Highway Trust Fund,” he said. “This approach will make it much tougher to get the long-term authorization.”

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, agreed. “The proposal they’ve made would preclude action to move forward vital highway and transit authorization legislation,” said Horsley.

Millar was optimistic about persuading the senators to re-craft the bill. “We don’t intend to let up! America’s roads, bridges, and transit systems are falling apart in many cases.” These problems will only worsen in the near future.

Ruane supported that sentiment: “I kind of like the odds. ... Quite frankly, [the authors of the bill] need our support to get this done.”

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FTA Administrator Rogoff’s Boston
Speech Angers Rail Transit Advocates

By DF Staff
BOSTON—A speech by FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff which seemed to dismiss rail-based urban transit systems as too costly, and advocated Bus Rapid Transit as a solution in its place, has alarmed transit advocates in New England who are fighting for improved transit systems not reliant upon highways, or fossil fuels, in a region of the country already deemed a Federal “Non-Attainment Area,” for much of the year, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In particular, the 11,000 member Sierra Club of Connecticut has come out squarely against a proposed New Britain-Hartford “Busway” that they say would destroy an existing rail right of way, and cut off a large portion of Central Connecticut from the proposed and funded, renewed New Haven-Springfield intercity rail line championed by among others House Appropriations Rail Subcommittee Chair John Olver (D-MA) and other key New England delegation Congressmen.

Speaking before an audience at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank invited by the conservative business group Mass Inc., and the consistently anti-rail Rappaport Institute, Rogoff spoke in support of buses as a preferred alternative to rail transit. He said:

“Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this -- Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive. Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a “special” bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet. Once you’ve got special buses, it turns out that busways are cheap. Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.”

Ignoring the fact that the life-cycle capital costs for rail-based transit equipment are a fraction of those for bus-based systems, or that above-the-rail operating costs of rail-based transit systems are a fraction of those for bus-based systems, Rogoff continued:

“Communities deciding between bus and rail investments need to stare those numbers in the face. Some communities might be tempted to pay the extra cost for shiny new rails now. But they need to be mindful of the costs they are teeing up for future generations.”

Rogoff’s speech elicited a broad, angry response in New England, where Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s commitment to increased rail-based transit investment has been a center-piece of his Administration. Patrick, an early and vocal advocate for the candidacy of Barack Obama, could not be reached for comment. However, several of his key supporters were said to be “livid” about Rogoff’s speech.

Complete Text Of FTA Administrator Rogoff’s Speech:


Here is the complete text (as prepared for delivery) of FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff s speech,
delivered to a conference organized in Boston by Mass Inc. and the anti-rail/transit Rappaport Institute:

Speech by: FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff

Next Stop: A National Summit on the Future of Transit

Thank you for that kind introduction.

And special thanks to:

  • The MBTA Advisory Board,
  • MassINC, Harvard’s Rappaport Institute,
  • and the 128 Business Council

for hosting and sponsoring this national summit.

You have done Boston and America a great service; calling us together, you are highlighting one of our most important national challenges, one that needs a lot more attention by

  • the public,
  • the press, and
  • government officials at all levels.

It’s also extremely encouraging to see so many representatives of the business community here today.

The Hub’s corporate executives can be very proud of the leadership you have shown:

You have long recognized that public transit can’t be taken for granted.

You have recognized that transit is not just a way to get your employees to work; it is a vital part of the economic progress of Greater Boston.

I’d like to see business communities in every city in America stepping up to the plate the way you have. So thank you for leading the way.

We are all here to talk about the future of public transit. When I speak about the future, I like to start with the most fundamental question: Why is public transit important?

President Obama has given his answer.

He’s made clear that public transit systems are critical to the nation’s ability to

  • lower greenhouse gas emissions,
  • reduce our dependence on foreign oil,
  • and put America back on the path to sustained economic growth.

As he said last year,

“Global climate change and our reliance on foreign oil have also created tremendous national security challenges. To solve these problems and create new economic opportunities, we must make our transportation system cleaner and more efficient.”

As President Obama’s Federal Transit Administrator, that charge requires me to approach my job every day with the basic question:

  • what must public transit systems be and do to help the nation reach the President’s goals?

First and foremost, they have to attract and keep riders. That’s very obvious, but it is far from easy. I’ve seen all the studies on rider attitudes, and I ride Washington buses and Metro trains almost every day.

I know that transit riders – especially those who have other options – will only put up with so much. There is a point where:

  • dirty stations,
  • unreliable service,
  • slowed train speeds,
  • inoperable escalators, and
  • worries about safety push riders back on the highway.

And for those who can’t afford other options, they are forced to live every day with

  • grim conditions,
  • missed appointments, and
  • a poor quality of life.

That’s not what equal opportunity and fairness are all about.

So our transit systems must be safe, reliable, and efficient.

Next, as the organizers of this conference put it, transit systems must be sustainable to meet society’s needs now and for the future.

So are we there yet?

No – we aren’t even close.

This morning, you heard from some of the leading General Managers in our industry. These are the heroes of public transportation. I know each one of them and they’ve taught me a lot.

As you heard at their panel, they know better than anyone that public transit systems are not where we want them to be…that, unless things change, public transit may actually hinder rather than help support the President’s goals for the environment and the economy.

I can also tell you that under each of the GMs’ fine business suits you will find the scars from brutal battles they’ve fought with their local and state governments to get the resources they need.

And don’t be fooled by their cool outward demeanor. I know that they are some of the best living and breathing examples of stress management you will ever want to meet.

There is plenty of stress to manage.

Imagine having to maintain service to millions of riders every day, and to trying do so in the face of obstacles that would wear out and stymie lesser people. In fact, when you consider the daunting conditions they face, these General Managers are nothing short of miracle workers.

For years, while General Managers may have known the full magnitude of those conditions, the nation did not. But since 2009 FTA has been gathering information to help make the country aware of the challenges transit systems face… challenges that make it extremely difficult for public transit to support the President’s environmental and economic goals.

As many of you know, last year we conducted a study at the request of a number of legislators who asked us to look specifically at conditions of our largest rail operators. One of the legislators who requested that report was the then-Junior Senator from Illinois. A guy named Barack Obama. So that report took on an even higher priority for us.

When completed, the report revealed a backlog of deferred maintenance at our seven largest rail operators of no less than $50 billion dollars.

The number was certainly eye-popping. But upon reviewing the results, Secretary LaHood insisted that we expand the study to take a hard look at the entire transit industry. In doing so, Ray LaHood was staying true to his insistence that we address transportation challenges with our eyes wide open.

We are in the midst of finalizing this new report, but I’m happy to say that today, for the first time, I can share some of our more noteworthy findings.

First, when you expand the universe of transit agencies studied from the seven largest rail operators to 690 separate rail and bus systems, the estimated funding shortfall to bring the entire transit system in a state of good repair grows from $50 billion to $78 billion.

When you think about attracting and keeping riders, keep in mind that bringing assets into a state of good repair is NOT the same as bringing them into pristine new condition.

For the purposes of this study, assets that are in a “state of good repair” are those that are brought to what was called the “marginal” range. They were brought to a score of 2.5 with a score of 1 reflecting assets in “poor” condition and a score of 5 reflecting assets in excellent condition.

Fully 29 percent of all transit assets – rail, bus and paratransit – are in poor or marginal condition.

Those are the statistics, the national numbers – but behind the statistics are frightening stories that appear on riders’ newspapers, computer screens and smart phones all too frequently.

  • Just three weeks ago here in Boston, the “T” experienced a cable fire that sent 20 passengers from two different stations to the hospital for smoke inhalation.
  • Last month in Cleveland, urgent repairs were suddenly needed to shore up a crumbling wall at the RTA’s Lee Road station. Buses were called in so the rail passengers could bypass the station.
  • Also last month, the system I ride, Washington Metro, discovered three cracked rails along the Red Line in a single week.
  • The Chicago Transit Authority discovered a potential defect with a component of the signaling system. As a result, Orange line trains are being slowed to 35 mph between Midway and the Loop while repairs are made to the signaling system.
    Clearly, unless we can bring the nation’s transit systems into a state of good repair,

  • we won’t get the riders we need to cut oil consumption and greenhouse gases,
  • the sustainability of our transit systems will be in jeopardy; and
  • the economic vitality of our cities will be undermined.

So these are the problems, what about solutions?

Before I talk about what the Obama administration is doing to attack these problem, I want to share my observations on what it’s really going to take to reverse these trends.

I’ve been working on transportation issues for almost my entire professional life, more than 20 years as an advisor in the U.S. Senate, and now as FTA Administrator.

Increasingly, I have become convinced that the solutions to these problems – removing the barriers between what public transit is and what it should be -- are not about engineering. And they are not just about economics, as important as dollars are. Instead

  • They are about honesty;
  • They are about political guts: in particular the guts to say “no” when everyone around the table wants you to say “yes.”
  • They are about telling truth to power

Let’s start with honesty:

Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this -- Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive.

Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a “special” bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.

Once you’ve got special buses, it turns out that busways are cheap. Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.

A little honesty about the differences between bus and rail can have some profound effects.

Earlier I pointed out that our new estimate for the deferred maintenance backlog for the entire transit universe is roughly $78 billion. But you should know that fully 75 percent of that figure is to replace rail assets.

Now let’s remember that the majority of transit trips in this country are still done by bus. When it comes to delivering actual transit service, Americans take 21 percent more transit trips every year than rail trips. That said, fully three quarters of the funding backlog we face in achieving a state of good repair is associated with under-funded rail assets.

Communities deciding between bus and rail investments need to stare those numbers in the face. Some communities might be tempted to pay the extra cost for shiny new rails now. But they need to be mindful of the costs they are teeing up for future generations.

Is Bus Rapid Transit a workable option for every corridor – no. There are some corridors with the kind of densities and destinations where only rail makes sense.

But Bus Rapid Transit is a fine fit for a lot more communities than are seriously considering it.

Another simple truth – we have to be honest that ignoring deteriorating conditions at our transit systems, runs the very real risk of losing riders.

  • Discomfort,
  • inefficiency,
  • unreliability,
  • worries about safety – drive people away.

Ironically, every study ever conducted will show that, from a safety perspective, passengers are far safer riding even our most fragile transit systems than driving on the highway.

But that doesn’t necessarily influence the choices commuters make.

And then there is the fact that some riders don’t have a choice. They don’t own a car – most can’t afford one – and they are completely dependent on the transit system to get to work, to shopping, to school, to day care.

What does deteriorating transit conditions mean to them?

It means risking the loss of a job because they can’t get to work on time.

It means risking their spot at the day care center because they can’t pick their kid up on time.

For some parents, reliable transit service is the difference between seeing their children awake – or not.

It’s the difference between having the chance to supervise homework – or not.

For some people, reliable transit service is what makes it possible to work a full day and go to school at night.

Put simply, when it comes to transit dependent populations, the reliability of our transit systems is a central measure of whether our society truly respects and honors the contributions of all citizens. It goes to the center of what President Obama talks about when calling for a society based on fairness and respect.

Closely tied to honesty, of course, are the guts to say “no.”

I’m now concluding my first year as Administrator. I meet with a great many transit general managers. While these meetings are all different, they often follow a certain pattern.

I start off the meeting by asking how things are going.

They express gratitude for the new Recovery Act funds but then go on to explain that the

  • downturn in municipal revenues,
  • the downturn in sales tax receipts,
  • the cutbacks in the city and state levels,
  • has necessitated service cuts.

Sometimes we talk about serious service cuts of 20 percent or more. We talk about:

  • route reductions
  • layoffs
  • furloughs
  • Significant chunks of capital reinvestment being deferred as they use Federal capital dollars for preventive maintenance to close operating gaps.

It’s all very grim.

But then we get to the second part of the meeting. The consultants start to get excited and the glossy brochures come out. And the next thing you know, the general manager wants to talk about their new plans for expansion -- the spanking new rail service to communities not yet served.

In fairness, many of these new communities have been waiting for a long time to get rail service. Indeed, many were promised rail service as part of a sales tax referendum that was passed a decade ago. The other communities got service – but now those are more expensive than originally forecast – and the sales tax is taking in far less than expected.

At times like these, it’s more important than ever to have the courage to ask a hard question: if you can’t afford to operate the system you have, why does it make sense for us to partner in your expansion?

If you can’t afford your current footprint, does expanding that under-funded footprint really advance the President’s goals for cutting oil use and greenhouse gases? Does it really advance our economic goals in any sustainable way?

Are we at risk of just helping communities dig a deeper hole for our children and our grandchildren?

Might it make more sense for us to put down the glossy brochures, roll up our sleeves, and target our resources on repairing the system we have?

Along these lines, I mentioned telling truth to power. To me, that includes the uncomfortable situation of calling someone out when their behavior isn’t responsible.

My favorite example is the Douglas Branch of the Blue Line in Chicago. The Douglas Branch was build about 110 years ago. In its heyday, the late 1970s, annual ridership on the Douglas Branch reached five million, on infrastructure originally designed to allow speeds up to 55 mph.

But by 2001, the Douglas Branch had deteriorated to the point where trains could operate no faster than 15 miles per hour over half of its length. Runs that were designed to take 25 minutes were taking up to 45 minutes. So guess what? Annual ridership was cut in half, to 2.5 million.

This story does have a happy ending. Eventually, the Douglas Branch was largely rebuilt with the help of FTA funds. The reconstruction was completed in 2005, on time and under budget. Ridership is back up to 4.5 million, proving that the ridership was always there.

Still, the question has to be asked, how and why was the Douglas Branch allowed to just rot on the vine? Where were the policymakers at all levels that allowed conditions to deteriorate so far?

When it comes to calling out the truth – I want to praise Governor Patrick for requesting the D’Alessandro study.

It paints a very honest, if grim picture of what needs to be done here in Boston.

It’s an important step in turning things around.

It allows for the kind of “eyes wide open” discussion that we need to have all over the country.

So I’ve spent a good bit of time outlining the challenges and problems we face.

Well, what is the Obama Department of Transportation doing about them?

What specifically are we doing at the FTA to address them?

What are we doing to help achieve the President’s goals for healthy, sustainable transit systems?

First and foremost, we are busily administering a record level of Federal investment in our transit system. That record level was made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Recovery Act boosted Federal transit funding by 80 percent in a single year. And a great deal of the credit for that belongs to the foresight and vision of Chairman John Olver from the 1st District.

The Recovery Act delivered more than $735 million dollars in transportation funds to Massachusetts.

Almost $330 million of that amount was in the form of Recovery Act dollars just for public transportation here in the Commonwealth. And more than $250 million of that amount was for transit investments in the greater Boston area.

We have created and saved hundreds and hundreds of jobs.

We are stepping up at the Federal level to make the investments at a time when the Commonwealth and local communities are ill suited to make them.

Earlier, I talked about the findings of our new study on the State of Good Repair. That study indicates that more than 6,000 of the nation’s almost 72,000 buses are in need of replacement, having exceeded their useful life.

But we also know from our own grant reporting system that the Recovery Act is going to replace more than 12,000 transit vehicles. This will include a lot of buses as well as paratransit vans.

So this may be one area where we look back in a few years and discover that the Recovery Act has really alleviated a major shortfall.

Earlier this month, under Secretary LaHood’s leadership, the entire Department of Transportation has established the State of Good Repair as one of just five strategic goals for the Department’s future direction.

This is not just about the State of Good Repair of Transit Systems. It is about the state of good repair of:

  • Our highways;
  • Our runways;
  • Our ports;
  • The air traffic control system.

When it comes to our 2011 budget for transit, we are also putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to the State of Good Repair.

In a budget that grows by only 1 percent in 2011, the Obama Administration has reordered priorities so that our new State of Good Repair initiative for both rail and bus systems will grow by 8 percent. That budget request is currently before Mr. Olver’s Committee. It is the largest boost in formula funding for any Federal transit program.

In the past few weeks, FTA published several notices of discretionary funding availability, including $775 million specifically to address the SGR of bus systems.

We understand that state of good repair is not just a rail problem – it’s a problem for buses too.

When I speak of the need to have the courage to say “no”, we had to make that choice when it came to not to recommend funding for the Sacramento South Corridor Project in our FY 2011 Budget. We did so even though we did recommend the project for funding in 2010.

Sacramento has been hit by a “triple whammy” that has undermined funding for the system. First is the overall downturn in the California economy. Second is the fact that the Governor successfully eliminated State transit operating assistance last year. It was restored only partially this year at a reduced level after the courts found the Governor’s action to be illegal. But a whole year of state funding was lost. Third is the fact that Sacramento has taken a big hit on fare box revenues because so many of its riders are State employees commuting to work. A very great number of those employees are now on furlough and aren’t traveling to work.

We at the FTA are also looking at innovative ways to better ensure that expanding systems will have the money down the road to maintain those expansions. One idea that has been successfully used for a new transit mall in Portland is the financing of a sinking fund. Sinking funds are commonly used to ensure the later repayments of bonds. We are seeing if they can be used to ensure the availability of funds for SGR. By approving a transit expansion with a sinking fund, we would at least have the confidence that the expansion will not worsen the project’s SGR needs.

The FTA is also using $5 million that was set aside last year to expand the use of Asset Management by transit agencies of all sizes. Asset management will be a critical tool to ensure.

And finally and importantly - we’ve also done a great initiative that really is inextricably linked to the area of state of good repair and that is rail transit safety.

Back in December, Secretary LaHood, on behalf of the President, transmitted the first comprehensive public transportation bill sent to Congress that was solely about public transportation. It was a comprehensive, and we think, very balanced transit safety bill, focused specifically on rail transit safety in the early years.

Right now, many people may not appreciate the fact that my agency is prohibited by law from issuing safety regulations of any kind. This came to a head, unfortunately, following the WMATA crash last June, but, in fact, the agency had been focused on a number of very serious concerns and accidents not just at WMATA but at the CTA in Chicago, Muni in San Francisco and other agencies spread around the country.

We do believe that there is a path forward to allow a reasonable, balanced, federal regulatory regime that isn’t going to be about recreating the FRA rule book that will be this thick; but is really about just making sure that all of our grantees are engaged in best practices when it comes to safety management systems and asset management.

So we have also found room within a very tight budget of just one percent growth to fully fund the first year’s deployment of that safety initiative.

Let me conclude by saying something you don’t hear too often in discussions of public transit policy. I believe that ultimately the choices we face are moral choices.

That is we must remember that decisions we make now will be a choice between one set of values and another, between one kind of future and another for our children and grandchildren.

One choice is to use just enough scarce funds to let the public transportation sputter along for another year. That’s tempting to some political leaders. Unfortunately, that choice will leave our children and grandchildren with a system that can’t attract riders and is burdened by a sea of debt.

The other choice is to take a cold look at the facts. That might mean spending money on the unglamorous but absolutely vital work of repairing and improving our current systems.

You know, there is always a big press event with lots of cameras, microphones and political leaders, when we open a new light rail line. We need to think about how we generate the same attention and excitement when we repair the retaining wall, replace rail ties, or refurbish a bridge so that more passengers are able to travel by rail more quickly. I will make the commitment that the next time I come back to Massachusetts that will be the next event that I participate in. We should all make similar commitments.

At the same time, we must find more rational, reliable ways to fund our great transit systems.

If we do, we can ensure that our grandchildren enjoy efficient, safe, comfortable systems that protect the environment, serve the economy and will be around for a long, long time.

End of FTA Administrator Rogoff’s remarks

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNI)



Canadian National (CNI)56.3859.12
Canadian Pacific (CP) 53.0157.35
CSX (CSX)51.0955.03
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)34.9837.69
Kansas City Southern (KSU)34.8838.85
Norfolk Southern (NSC)54.8158.29
Providence & Worcester(PWX)12.9512.39
Union Pacific (UNP)69.7574.18

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EVENTS... Special Event...  

Michael S. Dukakis Rail Blazer Award.

The award will be given at the 2010 APT Annual Meeting, which will be held at the beautiful Downtown Harvard Club on Tuesday, June 15, 2010. The meeting will start at 6:30 PM.

In honor of the Governor Dukakis award

Keynote Speaker at the APT Annual Meeting will be Gene Skoropowski.  His informative talk is:

“High (& Higher) Speed Rail – Challenges and Opportunities”

Early Bird Pricing has been extended until Monday, May 24.

Hurry, space is limited!!

Individual & corporate sponsorships for the meeting are still available.

For further details --- APT Hot-line: 617.482.0282    e-mail:

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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

New UK Government Turns Away From Airline Lobby

Changes aviation tax rules and scraps runway plans – shift towards rail?

Via Aviation Industry News / United Business Media

London – The new UK coalition government, which became effective May 12, will impose new legislation on the aviation industry, including a change from the tax per passenger to a tax per aircraft and axing plans to expand Heathrow airport. The new tax rule has been welcomed by many airlines, including budget carriers who had been forced to pay higher tax in line with their higher load factor, despite being more efficient carriers. The new system will create a more level system and the basis for fairer competition; however legacy carriers, whose passenger and load factor figures have plummeted during the recession, will be hit with higher bills.

Further bad news for the legacy airlines is the government’s decision to scrap plans for a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport. The former Labor government had readied the industry for the airport’s expansion, citing the promise of economic growth as the reason behind its decision. Heathrow currently runs at 98 per cent of its capacity and its owner, the Spanish investment group, Ferrovial, has been pushing its argument for expansion against the concerns of environmentalists, who have staunchly opposed the development. The new government, formed from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, has ruled that better high-speed rail links between existing airports will be a substitute for an additional runway at Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick, the London area’s main airports.

Keyword: Runway

Runway - the large paved strip of land which fixed-wing aircraft take-off from and land upon, is a major part of the infrastructure of all airports. Runways are to aircraft what tracks are to trains – they generally can only be used or occupied by one aircraft at a time, and they tend to cost a lot of money to build. In fact building a runway is a huge complex project that can run well into the many hundreds of millions of dollars and take two years construction time for strip of concrete that is perhaps two miles long and 120 – 160 feet wide – about the same width of both sides of a typical LA multi-lane freeway.

London’s Heathrow Airport has only two runways, and the airport is therefore limited to how many aircraft can depart and arrive there because of this limitation. While Heathrow’s European competition, such as Paris CDG, Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt/Main, Zürich and Brussels have three, four, or even five runways, Heathrow has survived on two runways for decades. A third runway has been proposed for the airport going back to the 1970s, but high investment cost, stiff resistance from local neighbors, environmentalists, and even some low-cost airlines operating from other London area airports has prevented the plans from moving forward.

Aside from a third runway, another piece of major transportation London Heathrow is missing is a train station which is on a major rail corridor, as Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Copenhagen airports are on. Passengers arriving at Heathrow are basically stuck at the end stations of an airport express train, which heads to Paddington Station in central London, and at the end of the London Underground city subway system. Both are great, if one is going to be staying or visiting only in the London area. This is of course more than a number of major American airports can offer to their passengers, but still London Heathrow has a rail connectivity problem with other parts of the U.K.

There is no such thing as a one-seat ride from Heathrow to other major U.K. cities beyond London. Time will tell how the new British coalition government will provide much needed leadership to now use the resources, which were going to be allocated to a third Heathrow runway, for providing a smooth and integrated rail connection from Heathrow to much of the rest of England, Wales, and Scotland.

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EDITORIALS... Editorials...  

Tax Oil Now

What are you waiting for, Mr. President?

Change You Can Believe In is in danger of becoming perceived as Business As Usual, and the Tea Party People --- who YOU invented, except you apparently don’t realize it --- are going to eat your lunch --- and your Presidency --- unless you show the leadership you were chosen to demonstrate in the historic election that ordained you.

That means taking bold steps, not merely calling for new Commissions and Studies, especially since we already know what those commissions and studies will find: that the major oil companies have been writing and “enforcing” their own rules and regulations for decades.

For example, you must take away all control of the [pathetic] response to the Deep Horizon blow-out from the people who caused it, and turn the task over to the US military. It may not be a perfect match, but the Defense Department has vastly deeper resources than the Suits who are every day explaining why they Haven’t Quite Yet Figured Out What To Do, But Will Get Back To You Tomorrow. The environmental holocaust that British Petroleum Corporation has created, on a scale literally unknown in human history, has only just begun to be understood and we will have decades to analyze and endure the result of their hubris, but in the meantime, Send In The Marines, or the engineering equivalent. And put yourself in charge. Explicitly. Lead, Mr. President. Lead NOW.

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Fix The Transportation Funding System

Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration has raised some serious hackles, in a speech he made in Boston this past week, when he called for choosing buses over rail as a transit option, in many circumstances.

The fury with which his speech was greeted by those in the rail advocacy community is certainly understandable.

Rogoff, who was and is one of the brightest lights in the American transportation firmament, has been a bit provocative --- a bit? --- in his speech, but the fundamentals underlying his assertions do illustrate the problem. They do not give the solution, however.

Until and unless we change the way we fund transportation investment in America, until we learn to use “value capture” as a way of providing cash for the long-term operating costs of rail transit, so that maintenance costs are indeed covered from the outset [see related story about DC’s new streetcar system] we will face exactly the dilemma outlined by Peter Rogoff. It’s up to us to make Value Capture a household word --- and to help the FTA promulgate it.

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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