Vol. 8 No. 23
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Famed Curitiba Bus System hits a roadblock
Curitiba, Brazil ---The renowned fast buses of Curitiba, long used as an inspiration for those promoting bus rapid transit in American and other cities, has hit a road block in its home city, The New York Times Magazine reports.
A runaway success when introduced in the early 1970s by a radically progressive mayor, Jaime Lerner, the bus system installed in Curitiba uses innovative ticketing, boarding, and routing systems to allow the bus system to approximate the speed and capacity of fixed-guideway systems such as streetcars, light rail, or commuter rail, without the expense of installing track.
In the United States, as state DOTs have gotten increasing push-back from taxpayers about ever-more-expensive proposed road systems, even as road congestion has gotten worse, bus rapid transit has been promoted by highway advocates as a way of providing urban transportation while avoiding the construction of rail. Bus rapid transit systems have been constructed in Pittsburgh, PA and proposed for Hartford-New Britain, CT, but the concept remains controversial and, to most transportation experts, unproved.
The system worked in Curitiba, until fairly recently, observes The New York Times, but has become less successful as the city has grown and become less homogenous. In a lengthy article in the May 20 New York Sunday Times Magazine, Arthur Lubow writes:
The efficient buses that zip across the Curitiba metropolitan region are the most conspicuously un-Brazilian feature of the city. Instead of descending into subway stations, Curitibanos file into ribbed glass tubes that are boarding platforms for the rapid-transit buses. (The glass tubes resemble the fosteritos that Norman Foster later designed for the metro in Bilbao, Spain.) Curitiba has five express-bus avenues, with a sixth in development, to allow you to traverse the city with speedy dispatch, said Lubow.
In the early 1970s, most cities investing in public transportation were building subways or light-rail networks. Curitiba lacked the resources and the time to install a train system. [Mayor Jaime] Lerner says that compared with the Curitiba bus network, a light rail system would have required 20 times the financial investment; a subway would have cost 100 times as much. We tried to understand, what is a subway? he recalls. It has to have speed, comfort, reliability and good frequency. But why does it have to be underground? Underground is very expensive. With dedicated lanes and not stopping on every corner, we could do it with buses. Because widening the avenues would have required a lengthy and costly expropriation process, the planners came up with a trinary system that embraced three parallel thoroughfares: a large central avenue dedicated to two-way rapid-bus traffic (flanked by slow lanes for cars making short local trips) and, a block over on each side, an avenue for fast one-way automobile traffic, writes Lubow.
When the bus system was inaugurated, it transported 54,000 passengers daily. That number has ballooned to 2.3 million, in large part because of innovations that permit passengers to board and exit rapidly. In 1992, Lerner and his team established the tubular boarding platforms with fare clerks and turnstiles, so that the mechanisms for paying and boarding are separated, as in a subway. To carry more people at a time, the city introduced flexible-hinged articulated buses that open their doors wide for rapid entry and egress; then, when the buses couldnt cope with the demand, the Lerner team called for bi-articulated buses of 88 feet with two hinges (and a 270-passenger capacity), which Volvo manufactured at Curitibas request.
Unfortunately, writes Lubow, the trends of bus usage are down. While the system has expanded to cover 13 of the cities in the metropolitan region, charging a flat fare that in practice subsidizes the trips of the mostly poorer workers who live in outlying areas, bus ridership within the Curitiba municipality has been declining. We are losing bus passengers and gaining cars, says Luis Fragomeni, a Curitiba urban planner. He observes that, like potential users of public transport everywhere, many Curitibanos view it as noisy, crowded and unsafe. Undermining the thinking behind the master plan, even those who live alongside the high-density rapid-bus corridors are buying cars. The licensing of cars in Curitiba is 2.5 times higher than babies being born in Curitiba, he says. Trouble. Because cars are status symbols, attempts to discourage people from buying them are probably futile. We say, Have your own car, but keep it in the garage and use it only on weekends, Fragomeni remarks. And the public-transport system must be upgraded continuously to remain an appealing alternative to private vehicles.
That competition is very hard, says Paulo Schmidt, the president of URBS, the rapid-bus system. During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitibas trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.
Light rail in Curitiba? Thats a trend in the United States, with dozens of cities racing to restore the systems destroyed by the National City Lines anti-rail conspiracy pf the 1930s and 1940s. Bus rapid transit has been fighting an end-game battle against them, with a well-financed anti-rail campaign, but in city after city after city this past decade, rail has been winning.
Boos and cheers for STS and related companies
Around New England - It was a week for boos and cheers for Springfield Terminal System and its related companies Pan Am Rail and Boston and Maine this past month.
[ NCI Editors Note: Springfield Terminals President David Fink has won consistent praise for his operation of the Amtrak DownEaster on the Boston-New Hampshire-Portland run, but the company got hit with a swirl of bad publicity over other matters ]:
Springfield Terminal - New Hampshire: Unpaid Property Taxes
25 May, Nashua---THE CITY OF NASHUA PLACED LIENS ON 11 PARCELS OWNED BY THE BOSTON AND MAINE CORPORATION, according to a review of tax records by a reporter. The ST sister company owes to Nashua a total of $58,325.89 for 2006 taxes.
Typically, tax collectors place liens in April or May on properties that have unpaid tax bills from the prior year, although the state deadline isnt until September.
Westminister, Deerfield, and other towns also report unpaid taxes and other bills [see below].
Springfield Terminal - Maine: New Customer
29 May, Old Town. - THE NEW USERS OF THE GREAT WORKS MILL WOULD LIKE BOTH INBOUND AND OUTBOUND RAIL, said Dan Bird, a spokesperson for Red Shield Environmental.
Springfield Terminal advised the company about re-using the rail yard; Red Shield workers brushed it out and tightened some spikes. Because the yard was used up to March 2006, no significant work was needed, per Bird.
Pulp for ethanol will drive rail
In March, Edward Paslawski, chair of Red Shield Environmental LLC which bought the mill in 2006 said the company would partner with the University of Maine to produce ethanol and other biochemical products, in conjunction with a restart of the plants pulp mill. RSE Pulp and Chemical would make ethanol by distilling a by-product of the pulping process.
Springfield Terminal - Massachusetts: Fire Starter
29 May, Westminster - THE FIRE CHIEF HERE WOULD LIKE CLEAR AUTHORITY TO HALT Springfield Terminal TRAINS during times of high fire danger.
In addition to halting train movements, MacAloney said Massachusetts law permits him to seek compensation from a person or entity whose negligence has started a fire. Burning embers from ST locomotives started fires recently.
The chief argues that Springfield Terminals poor engine maintenance and failure to install equipment which would significantly decrease the production of embers constitutes negligence.
However, he has not had the chance to test that theory. In the only case brought by the Town of Westminster about fire costs, Springfield Terminal settled out of court.
MacAloney also reported that Springfield Terminal has not paid its property taxes to the Town.
The fire chronology
23 April: Springfield Terminal locomotives started fires. Springfield Terminals Ed Motte told Westminster Springfield Terminal will respond to requests to stop locomotive movements in the future.
4 May: Chief issued notice of Red Flag Day, asked Springfield Terminal via faxed letter to cease all rail operations between noon and 7 PM.
4 May: Springfield Terminal attorney Clinton Wright declined, citing federal law and the founding fathers [sic] recognition of the importance of ensuring the uninterrupted flow of interstate commerce.
8 May: Chief issued another notice of Red Flag day, asked Springfield Terminal to stop all west-bound trains in Fitchburg and checking the condition of the engine exhaust to ensure that they are maintained correctly to prevent hot particles from being emitted. This also includes using slow speeds on east-bound trains to prevent hot brake shoe particles from leaving the train.
8 May: Wright again declines, citing the founding fathers and a myopic view with respect to interstate commerce....[P]lease be advised that if the Town of Westminster... continues to harass Pan Am by issuing orders that have no basis in applicable law, Pan Am will not hesitate to pursue legal remedies to put a stop to such harassment. (emphasis added)
Westminster seeks $21,000
Following Chapter 160, section 241 of the Massachusetts General Laws, Chief MacAloney on 7 May billed Springfield Terminal $21,172 for seven fires, three in 2006 and four in 2007.
Springfield Terminal - Massachusetts: Deerfield Unhappy
8 May, Deerfield. IN A LETTER TO GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK, THE TOWN OF DEERFIELD Board of Selectman and Board of Health listed complaints.
Deerfield noted that Springfield Terminal had a derailment in the Town of Buckland on 26 April, triggering an emergency response from Buckland and the state, though fortunately no hazardous materials were involved. Deerfield noted that Springfield Terminal will refuse to pay, contrary to the law, for the costs incurred both to the town and the state in responding to the incident, as they did with Deerfield.
As a corporation, Pan Am Rail has a highly negative history where Massachusetts towns are concerned, Deerfield stated.
The letter concluded: To help the communities adversely impacted by the operations of Pan Am Rail, we request that you instruct the Secretary of Transportation to meet with these communities, conduct an assessment, and devise a plan to assist them. Further, we ask that you request Attorney General Coakley assign a member of her staff to assist the Secretary in this endeavor and, if necessary, take the lead in developing a class action suit against the railroad. The Town of Deerfield is willing to host any meetings and assist as needed.
Copies of the letter went to David Fink, Springfield Terminal president, US Representative John Olver, and others.
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Possible rail sale worries state officials
KALAMAZOO, MI JUNE 1 -- Norfolk Southern Corporation, a Virginia-based freight company, may be considering a sale of its rail line between Detroit and Chicago to a smaller short-line rail operator. The story, reported in the Kalamazoo Gazette on June 1, has state officials worried because of the effect this could have on passenger-train service and on truck traffic on Interstate 94.
Amtrak officials are particularly concerned about the impact on Amtraks ability to maintain higher speeds on tracks that carry the Wolverine line between Detroit and Chicago, said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago.
Its a great concern because weve invested several millions of dollars to upgrade the tracks and signal system, Magliari said. `And if they (Norfolk Southern) sold it ... wed be greatly concerned about how theyd (the new owner) maintain the tracks.
Norfolk Southern, a Class I railroad, is larger and has more money to invest than a smaller Class III company. Class I rail carriers generate more than $250 million in annual revenue while Class III carriers have annual revenue of less than $20 million. Railroads owned by Class III operators may not be maintained as well because theres not as much money to invest in operations, Gibson and state officials said.
Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband denied that the company was looking to sell tracks between Kalamazoo and the eastern side of Michigan. Thats just a rumor, he said.
But reports indicate that Pittsburg, Kansas-based Watco Company is a possible buyer.
We have been informed -- not officially -- that Watco is the most serious player, said Jerry Gibson, Michigan legislative director for the United Transportation Union, which represents 230 Michigan rail workers who could be affected if the lines are sold.
There are multiple things to be alarmed about, Gibson said, including possible reductions in track safety and Amtrak passenger service. Slower speeds and delays could discourage ridership on a line which has seen significant increases in the past two years.
State officials are also concerned that freight would be returned to truck transport if track quality deteriorates. I-94 in that corridor already has heavy truck traffic.
The director of the Michigan Department of Transportation met with company executives last month to discuss concerns about the sale, said Janet Foran, an MDOT spokeswoman.
The decline of the auto industry and Michigans aging rail infrastructure, have made the state less attractive for railroad investment, the story continues. Norfolk Southern prefers to invest in eastern and southeastern United States.
Norfolk Southern attributed lower first-quarter earnings in part to weakness in the auto industry. Its first quarter earnings in 2007, $2.2 billion, was 2% lower compared to the same period in 2006.
Amtraks Wolverine line carried more than 76,000 passengers last year, a 13 percent increase over 2005 ridership. And the Wolverine line saw a total ridership of more than 673,000 in 2006, a 7.6 percent increase over the previous year, according to MDOT figures.
Transit advocates nerves get tested
as budget deadline nears
SPRINGFIELD, IL -- MAY 31 Strong bi-partisan support for transit funding was evident last week when an overwhelming majority of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee approved a $452-million transit operation funding proposal.
Forced into an overtime session which requires a super majority vote, the Committee easily approved amendments to a Senate bill that would provide the funds and also reform the roles of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and the Service Boards the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace.
The RTA had requested $226 million in new funding to pay everyday operating bills this year and $400 million a year in new operating assistance for the three agencies: CTA, Metra and Pace.
Transit advocates nerves had been on edge ever since CTA had announced their doomsday plans to increase fares and slash service if funding was not increased from 2007 levels. Facing a $110 million budget gap, CTAs contingency plan called for:
$20 million in fare increases, $15 million in service cuts, $56.9 million in deferred maintenance for buses and trains, $18.1 million cuts in administration and other areas.
Under CTAs plan, ridership would plummet by an estimated 260,000 rides a day and service would be suspended on 63 bus routes and on the Yellow and Evanston Express rail lines.
Metra faced a $60 million gap and Pace $56 million. Both agencies would have to redo their 2008 budgets.
Metra would delay capital projects for another year.
That means no bathrooms in stations which are already sub par, said Rick Harnish, director of Midwest High Speed Rail Association. Pace hadnt said what would their cuts would be but rumors indicated they would be nasty, Harnish said.
Its important for people to understand that transportation underpins all the other issues legislators must deal with, Harnish told DF. With highway construction costs sky-rocketing, the answer is more transit.
Advocates had feared that new transit funding was not a priority for the legislators, but the day before the vote, three Democrat state lawmakers from Chicago -- Sens. Martin Sandoval and Antonio Munoz and Rep. Greg Harris -- held a news conference in Springfield calling on Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders to reach a transit funding agreement.
Lets not fool anyone, said State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago). When the cuts come, theyll come to the poorer communities. In Chicago it will come to the African-American neighborhoods. It will come to the Latino community. Were the ones who face the great crisis.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said CTA fare hikes and service cuts would hit Gov. Rod Blagojevichs own northwest side neighborhood hard -- and said they would be the first to let him know.
Youre going to have children who are going to have no way to get to school. Youre going to have seniors who are going to have no way to do their shopping. This will be a calamity on the north side of Chicago if our leadership does not come up with a good plan and particularly if the governor does not sign it, he said.
Still, advocates were nervous. Legislators appeared to be focusing more on education and health care costs. The Chicago Tribune reported last Wednesday that there had been no sign that lawmakers were inclined to approve the transit agencies requests for increased funding.
After the vote, Jim Reilly, Chairman of the Regioanl Transportation Authority, commented, Todays strong, bi-partisan vote reflects the shared belief in the importance of our transit system and the need to invest in it. We are very encouraged that the General Assembly recognizes the vital role transit plays in our region and that funding for the system must be addressed this session.
How the proposed funds would be raised:
Rob Nash of the Regional Transportation Authority, interviewed by DF staff, said that, in the past, the federal government subsidized a portion of the transit operating costs, but that was discontinued a few years ago. Until recently, operating costs were fairly stable, he said, but inflation has changed that. While sales tax growth was flat, costs went up three times faster than revenue, especially from the increases in fuel and health care costs.
There is a $10 billion need in local money over the next five years for capital improvements, Nash said. Some of the systems are over 100 years old and, to bring everything up to a state of good repair, a consistent, reliable state program is needed to avoid falling behind on maintenance.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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Kummant slated for Capitol Hill testimony
Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Alex Kummant is expected to offer testimony next month at three separate hearings before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee responsible for railroad matters.
The House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials will hold hearings on the companys strategic initiatives on June 12, the benefits of intercity passenger rail on June 19 and Amtraks capital needs on June 26.
Our testimony on the Hill will lay the groundwork for continued discussion on the role and direction of Amtrak within the national transportation network and our ongoing commitment to building and maintaining customer focused passenger rail service, said Joe McHugh, vice president of Government Affairs and Corporate Communications.
McHugh added that on the Senate side, S.294 the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act has been approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full Senate sometime this summer. The bill provides for reform and operational improvements, authorizes $19.2 billion in funding for Amtrak for fiscal years 2008 through 2012 and provides capital assistance for state rail development. The House is in the process of drafting its version of a reauthorization bill.
In other legislative news, the railroads subcommittee in the House also recently approved H.R. 2095 the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 which, among other safety-related objectives, reauthorizes the Federal Railroad Administration. This bill will be considered by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee before the summer recess. The Senate is also drafting its own rail safety legislation.
APT annual meeting in Boston
The Association for Public Transportation Inc. (APT) is pleased to announce its 2007 Annual Meeting with keynote speaker, Robert D. Yaro, President of NY-NJ-CT Regional Plan Association (RPA).
Mr. Yaros keynote speech is entitled, Rebuilding New Yorks Economy & Transportation after 9/11 - A Promising Model for Greater Boston and Massachusetts.
Headquartered in Manhattan and founded in 1922, RPA is Americas oldest and most respected independent metropolitan research and advocacy group.
New York Citys economy was decimated after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But New York has not only survived the destruction, it has thrived. The entire Northeast region faces challenges as lower cost regions (domestic and international) pursue our businesses, educated population, and established tax base. Adding to the difficulties are crumbling infrastructures, unrelenting traffic congestion, and the potential effects of climate change.
Will Greater Boston and Massachusetts meet these challenges head on, or will the Commonwealth stand idly by as our economy and quality of life go south, literally and figuratively? How will investment in rail help?
Mr. Yaro, chair of The Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, holds a Masters Degree in City and Regional Planning from Harvard University, and a BA in Urban Studies from Wesleyan University. Join APT and Mr. Yaro at the beautiful Downtown Harvard Club, with its panoramic views of Greater Boston, as these important questions are discussed and debated.
The reception will feature hors doeuvres, door prizes, and a cash bar.
APT was founded in 1973 with the mission that effective, affordable, and accessible public transportation is critical for the regions economic prosperity and quality of life. APT publishes the classic survival book Car-Free® in Boston, now in its tenth edition.
Meeting Location & Time:
For further details and registration:
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Off the Main line...
California air, energy agencies push
charging stations through Tesla grant
SAN CARLOS, CA --- Tesla Motors, the brazen all-electric-automobile start-up funded by some of Californias Internet zillionaires, has received $561,000 for the development of a UL approved 16 KW public charging stations.
TESLA announced its 0-60 in 4-seconds sports cars two years ago and sold out the first years production run of 100 cars, at $92,000 a copy, shortly thereafter. The car, an electrically re-powered and redesigned Lotus, will begin hitting the streets at the end of this year.
The Tesla Roadster, as it is called, sports a unique 6,800-cell Lithium Ion battery pack comprised of thousands of, essentially, cell phone batteries strung together in an array designed to minimize the consequences of over-heating, a common problem with Li-Ion batteries.
The 1000-lb pack is far denser in terms of energy storage than the Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries found in present Hybrids such as the Prius, and will deliver a 135 mpg-equivalent range, according to the manufacturer, giving the car a range of about 250 miles.
Under the grant, from CARB (California Air Resources Board) Alternative Fuel Incentive Program, the charging station technology developed by Tesla could be used to power up electric vehicles throughout the state of California. Other grant recipients include the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Davis and the Electric Power Research Institute.
California has a long history of supporting green technology and encouraging automobile manufacturers to meet increasingly stringent vehicle emissions requirements, said Diarmuid OConnell, Director of Corporate Development at Tesla Motors, This sizeable grant offered jointly by the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission is a significant vote of confidence for Tesla Motors and acknowledges the pioneering work Tesla Motors is doing in the development of zero-emissions electric vehicles and charging station technology.
About Tesla Motors
Tesla Motors aims to develop and manufacture vehicles that exemplify Design, Performance, and Efficiency while conforming to all U.S. safety, environmental and durability standards, the company states.
It has taken over 400 reservations for its first car, the Tesla Roadster, a stylish, high performance sports car that accelerates to 60 mph in about 4 seconds with extreme energy efficiency. Tesla expects to start shipping Tesla Roadsters to customers in the fall. Tesla Motors was founded in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard, Founder of PayPal, and Marc Tarpenning, Vice President Engineering, to create efficient electric cars for people who love to drive. Tesla Motors currently employs more than 200 people, including teams in California, Michigan, the U.K. and Taiwan.
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