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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June 8, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 25

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

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

  News Items…
FTA’s Peter Rogoff, FRA’s John Szabo Will Address
   APTA Rail Conference
APTA Conference Schedule
FRA High-Speed Rail Workshops A Great Success
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Environmental Lines…
HOV, HOT And Freeway Expansions
  High-Speed Rail Lines…
China Races to Build World’s Largest
   High-Speed Rail Network
A New FRA?
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …

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


Historic Meeting


FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff,
FRA Administrator John Szabo
Will Address APTA Rail Conference

By DF Staff, from the American Public Transportation Administration, and from Internet Sources

CHICAGO --- The nation’s two top Federal rail officials will address the American Public Transportation Association’s annual Rail Conference Monday, June 15, in a joint appearance at a conference that industry leaders are already calling “historic.”

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, the former a hands-on operating rail man and union leader who worked his way up from the rail yards to head the FRA, and the latter one of the most highly regarded transportation policy experts in the United States, will speak at the opening session of the conference

The 2009 Rail Conference and International Rail Rodeo will take place from June 11-17 in Chicago, sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). It is North America’s largest and most comprehensive conference for the rail industry.

While the 2009 conference will address “all facets of the rail industry including: safety and security, commuter, high-speed, and intercity rail, planning, sustainability and finance, capital projects, operations and technical forums,” as APTA announced, it will also signal the first major rail conference since the election of President Barack Obama and the passage of the President’s massive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which along with the regular Federal budget includes at least $8 billion for intercity rail, more than $8 billion for commuter rail, and many billions more in transportation funds that can be used for both intercity and commuter rail.

Indeed, the conference is seen as the starting gate for the beginning of a true national debate on ground transportation infrastructure, which has languished for decades as the nation concentrated on highway construction to the exclusion of other transportation modes. At Chicago, “…professionals from throughout the industry will share best practices, lessons learned, and effective and timely solutions,” noted APTA.

The two Administrators are expected to continue efforts begun by US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to rationalize the operations of the FTA an the FRA, whose missions increasingly overlap as the line between intercity rail and commuter rail continues to blur with speed and technology improvements in the rail industry, yet whose histories and practices as agencies have been widely disparate, especially during the era of no-taxes, no-rail-infrastructure during which Amtrak was actively targeted for destruction and Federal aid to transit agencies was deliberately hobbled by administrative delay tactics.

“These two men represent the very best thinkers --- and do-ers --- America has to offer,” stated NCI President Jim RePass in commenting on the upcoming conference and its leading speakers, which will include not only Rogoff and Szabo, but also APTA President William Millar, an industry visionary who changed the name of his organization from ‘transit’ to ‘transportation’ a decade ago, a seemingly small but significant change in emphasis that signaled a new kind of thinking badly needed in the industry at that time, and at last coming to the forefront at the policy level.”

“Peter Rogoff was absolutely central to the fight the National Corridors Initiative, NARP, and other advocacy groups led to electrify the Northeast Corridor, and was our closest contact on the Senate transportation staff for a number of years. Peter is going to make things happen, and that is very much in keeping with President Obama’s vision and sense of urgency in the need to rebuild America’s crumbling ground transportation infrastructure, including many billions of dollars in unfunded commuter rail capital projects that, as Peter says, are now becoming safety problems.

“Joe Szabo is a skilled administrator and union executive who worked his way up the ranks, in a very tough and demanding business, and will be the kind of no-nonsense, hands-on Administrator the FRA needs,” said RePass. “In tandem with Peter, I do indeed hope and believe Joe can achieve the kind of silo-busting and rationalization of operations that I know the President wants, based on what he said in the rail stimulus unveiling ceremony I attended at the White House April 16, and on his over-all systems-based approach to transportation.”

“Joe is also blessed with a superb staff in Deputy Administrator Karen Rae and Associate Administrator for Railroad Development Mark Yachmetz, who recently pulled together in record time a comprehensive briefing on the ARRA and the programs it funds, and put it on the road nationwide to more than a thousand industry leaders, in seven cities, in a tour that ended just this past week in Philadelphia. There are rock stars who couldn’t move that fast, and they have roadies,” said RePass.

Joseph C. Szabo, Administrator
Federal Railroad Administration

Nominated by President Barack H. Obama on March 20, 2009 and confirmed by the United States Senate on April 29, 2009, Joseph C. Szabo is the twelfth Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator. As Administrator, he is responsible for overseeing the operations for 800+ person organization. This includes managing a comprehensive railroad safety assurance program and regulatory initiatives; enforcement of railroad safety laws and regulations; development and implementation of national freight and passenger rail policy and financial assistance programs; and oversight of wide ranging advanced research and development projects in support of improved railroad safety.

Mr. Szabo is a fifth generation railroader whose family members worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Wabash and Illinois Central Railroads. He began his railroading career in 1976 with the Illinois Central Railroad (IC), later working for Metra, where he was a yard switchman, road trainman and commuter-rail conductor.

Since 1984, Mr. Szabo has served in a number of roles with the United Transportation Union (UTU) including Secretary/Treasurer, Delegate, and Legislative Representative of UTU Local 1290. He was appointed Vice Chairman of the UTU Illinois Legislative Board in 1991 and became the UTU’s State Legislative Director in 1996. From October 2006 until his assumption of duties as FRA Administrator, Mr. Szabo was the Vice President of the Illinois State Federation of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

“In addition to his love of railroading, Mr. Szabo has long been active in civic life and public service,” noted APTA. “For more than 20 years, he was involved in local government affairs in the Chicago suburb of Riverdale, Illinois, ultimately serving as its mayor. He has also served as a member of the South Suburban Mayors Transportation Committee and as Vice Chairman of the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s Executive Committee. In 2002, he co-chaired the Governor’s Freight Rail Sub-Committee and in 2005, Mr. Szabo was assigned by the UTU International to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), where he participated in the development of rail-safety regulations.

Mr. Szabo earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Labor Relations from Governors State University in 1991. He has served on the Executive Council of Chicago Metropolis 2020, focusing on Land Use Planning and Transportation issues, as well as on the Board of Directors for the Historic Pullman Foundation. He was also a member of the Chicagoland Metropolitan Planning Council.

Peter Rogoff, Administrator
Federal Transit Administration

Peter M. Rogoff served for 22 years on the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including 14 years as the Democratic Staff Director of its Transportation Subcommittee, and worked closely with the leading Senators of the era in crafting the first truly intermodal surface transportation law, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA).

Working with the late Senator Pat Moynihan (D-NY) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Rogoff is widely praised for his expertise in the area of federal infrastructure budgeting and finance, having had an active role in the financing of each of the last three comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization bills dating back to 1991.

He was instrumental in the establishment of new user fee regimes to finance expanded security measures following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Mr. Rogoff has had an instrumental role in advising policy makers on the operating and capital needs of Amtrak, including the initiation and financing of high-speed Acela service, as well as the financing of dozens of new light rail and bus rapid transit systems across the United States.

Mr. Rogoff has been active in overseeing and reforming troubled procurements in the FAA, Coast Guard, FTA, and FHWA. He was the principal staff strategist for both the .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) law and the youth drunk driving “zero tolerance” law. Together, these laws are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives. Mr. Rogoff has also been centrally involved in efforts to strengthen safety inspections of substandard trucks, cargo vessels, and pipelines. Mr. Rogoff is a recipient of the U.S. Coast Guard Distinguished Public Service Award and the Lester P. Lamm Memorial Award for outstanding leadership and dedication to U.S. highway transportation programs.

He earned his MBA degree, with honors, at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and his B.A. degree in American Studies at Amherst College.

This marks the 17th year for the International Rail Rodeo Competition, which highlights the best rail operators and maintenance teams from across North America. Competitors, selected from local and state competitions, will compete to be crowned champion.

To register and attend, go to

“I especially suggest that the news media get involved in covering this conference, and indeed this subject. The transportation world is about to change in way that no one in the present generation of reporters has seen, unless they have been living in Europe or Asia, and they will need to get familiar with what is happening, the history, and the Obama programs, if they are going to be able to make sense of this complex, wonderful story,” said RePass, a former journalist trained at The Washington Post and the St. Petersburg (FL) Times. “I note that the New York Times this past Winter created the role of infrastructure reporter, to begin the covering of transportation news in a way that is not simply mode-based, and I congratulate Publisher Arthur Sulzberger for his paper’s taking that step in these tough, tough times for newspapers.”

Events: Some conference events are highlighted below.

For a complete listing of sessions, visit:

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APTA Conference Schedule:

8 a.m.
When: June 14-17, 2009
Press: Media registration for the 2009 APTA Rail Conference and International Rail Rodeo is FREE. To pre-register, go to the APTA web site at and fill out the on-line registration form. Your badge will be available at the APTA registration desk in Room Boulevard A at the Hilton Chicago. To register on site, you will have to go to the APTA registration desk at the Hilton Chicago.

Monday, June 15, 2009

8:30 - 10:00 a.m. Opening General Session: Quality Transit - - Now

The 2009 APTA Rail Conference starts with remarks from local and national public transportation leaders. Additionally, the 2009 winners of the International Rail Rodeo will be announced.

President’s Welcome:
William Millar, president, APTA

Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., chair, APTA, and general manager/CEO Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Atlanta, GA

Stephen E. Schlickman, executive director, Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago, IL
Carole L. Brown, chairman, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago, IL
Richard L. Rodriguez, president, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago, IL
Philip A. Pagano, executive director, Metra, Chicago, IL.

David Solow, vice chair-commuter and intercity rail, APTA, and chief executive officer, Southern California Regional Rail Authority, Los Angeles, CA.

Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC.
Administrator Joseph C. Szabo, Federal Railroad Administration, Washington, DC.

17th Annual International Rail Rodeo Awards:
Gary C. Thomas, vice chair-rail transit, APTA, and president/executive director, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas, TX.

Concurrent sessions:
10:15 - 11:45 a.m. Innovative Financing and Project Delivery Methods
Rail transit agencies are using innovative financing mechanisms to generate new revenues to help build and maintain the system. Hear innovative practices using some familiar and not so familiar techniques such as joint development, congestion pricing, and project delivery methods.

10:15 - 11:45 a.m. Project Updates — Heavy Rail
Learn more about efforts to improve tunnel ventilation design, perform rail alignment trade-offs, and consider vehicle design and procurement strategies. Discuss upgrades that address the heavier demands on vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure.

10:15 - 11:45 a.m. U.S. High-Speed Rail Developments: Updates from Major Domestic Programs
This is a timely session to hear about the progress and developments of key high-speed rail corridors in the U.S. Panelists include executives from major high-speed rail programs across the country who will discuss the status of their programs, next steps, and lessons learned along the way.

2:30 - 4:30 p.m. Project Updates — Light Rail
The renaissance of light rail in North America continues! This session will provide an overview of interesting light rail systems in operation, construction, or planning/design stage. New technologies, alignments, procurement strategies, and unique challenges will be featured.

2:30 - 4:30 p.m. Implementing New Technology in Older Infrastructure
New technology offers the promise of lowering operational costs and improving safety and customer service. The latest passenger information systems, building management systems, data networks, and Wi-Fi systems provide a wealth of information and benefits agencies. Implementing new technologies in existing and aging infrastructure on a fully operational railroad is a challenge. In this session, practitioners will discuss the methods used to overcome the challenges of implementing new technologies and the benefits derived.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

7:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. Rail Products and Services Showcase
Discover the rail industry’s latest technologies and products at the 2008 Products and
Services showcase. Experts will demonstrate products and answer questions as you inspect the wide variety of rail equipment and services.

9 a.m. - 10 a.m. Interactive Presentations
Visit exhibitor tables outside the showcase to see unique presentations on a variety of relevant topics.

10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. Moving Forward with Transit Oriented Development: Challenge & Opportunities in Today’s Market
As the economic downturn continues, transit agencies and communities face challenges, as well as opportunities in making transit oriented development a reality. With continued growth in rail transit expansion, transit agencies, local governments, and developers have an opportunity to plan now for the recovery while reaping multiple benefits including economic revitalization. The session will focus on site specific and corridor TOD planning taking shape in various regions that will make sustainable development a reality.

10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Coping with Increased Ridership in the Face of Rising Costs
Transit agencies have responded over the past year to the dual-edged combination of rising passenger volumes and increasing fuel and operating costs. How do rail systems react to market changes that happen too fast to build or buy additional capacity? How can operators apply new operating procedures or service scheduling techniques to tap the hidden capacity and economies inherent in their rail systems? Come hear the experiences of progressive rail managers who have faced these challenges and emerged victorious.

10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Commuter Rail Project Updates
From branch lines to main lines, commuter rail continues its unique approach to providing service by coupling creative design with creative operation. Attend this session to hear about new and about-to-be-launched operations, as well as system expansions.

2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Fare Collection Technology Reaches Adolescence
Fare collection systems are evolving toward smart media and these new technologies offer expanded opportunities in transit access and payment. This session will discuss these technologies and also take a look at merging parking with transit applications and how payment approaches may bridge the two.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

8:45 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. Project Updates — Streetcars
Streetcar systems continue to expand significantly, and with these additions come new innovations in vehicles and new integration strategies within the urban form. This session takes a look at new projects, the plans it took to get them off the drawing boards, and the specifications used for vehicles and track.

8:45 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. Service to Epic Events
For the Presidential Inauguration on the National Mall and surrounding activities,
Washington, D.C.’s Metro carried up to 1.5 million passengers a day – nearly doubling the number of passengers they carry on the heaviest days. What was the planning process? How did WMATA coordinate with security agencies and cope with the daily changes in plans? What happened on “the DAY OF?” And … if the World Series hits your city, come learn from SEPTA in Philadelphia how its operation worked during the games and the victory celebration.

APTA is a nonprofit international association of nearly 1,500 member organizations including public transportation systems; planning, design, construction and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; and state associations and departments of transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical public transportation services and products. APTA members serve more than 90 percent of persons using public transportation in the United States and Canada. NCI is pleased to be a member and supporter of APTA.

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Historic Outreach


FRA High-Speed Rail Workshops A Great Success

By DF Staff

PHILADELPHIA, JUNE 2 --- The seventh and final workshop on the rail component of the massive American Recovery and Revitalization Act of the Federal Railroad Administration played to a standing room only crowd Tuesday at the Downtown Marriott Hotel, attended by hundreds of transportation administrators, railroad managers, and advocates from throughout the Northeast.

“The success of high-speed rail in America is in your hands,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo in the opening speech. “It will flourish through the strength of your regional plans and partnerships. Collaboration is vital.”

In the rail strategic plan issued at the White House in April by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, safety is listed as the number-one goal, followed by economic competitiveness, energy efficiency and environmental quality. “We want interconnected livable communities. Regions must develop win-win relationships, work together cohesively and speak with a unified voice, the FRA Administrator said Tuesday.

The $8 billion “…must be spent wisely,” he said. “Proposals must clearly identify customer benefits and public benefits, and demonstrate sustainability. Federal and state agencies must collaborate. Plans are only good intentions: the hard work follows.”

Szabo’s words echoed those of the President April 16, when he called himself “a regionalist” and strongly encouraged regional cooperation.

“The unprecedented investment in intercity and high-speed passenger rail will revolutionize the way Americans travel in the years and decades to come,” Szabo said in an earlier statement. “Not only will this effort offer Americans more transportation options, it will also help us achieve energy independence and protect the natural environment.”

The Strategic Plan, entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail in America and announced by President Obama on April 16, is based on the requirements for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the three new programs authorized in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) and funded through ARRA. These programs are:

Each of these competitive grant programs, along with the FY 2009 Capital Assistance to States – Intercity Passenger Rail Service Program, will play a part in developing high-speed and intercity passenger rail service.

The workshop went on to explain criteria for:

  1. individual projects which must be ready-to-go;
  2. corridor development projects which must be based on cooperative agreements;
  3. planning grants, which is intended to help create conditions for future corridor development.

More details on ARRA and the High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan can be found on the FRA website at:

Stephen Gardner, Vice President of Policy and Development at Amtrak, spoke of Amtrak’s role: providing liability protection, an existing operational network that will be able to link to new HSR corridors, and operations of the Corridors if the state/regional entity wishes to do that.

In addition, he said Amtrak is spending more than $90 million to bring stored fleet units back into service.

“We want to work with you,” Gardner said. “Failure is not an option.”

There was energy, and a spirit of optimism in the room that day, not only from what was said in the presentations but from the sense of outreach and inclusion on the part of the Obama Administration and the genuine interest in what we the participants asked and commented on; a stunning contrast to the closed, anti-rail hostility of the previous Administration.

NCI President Jim RePass ,invited to attend by the FRA, also went to the microphone to thank the panel, which consisted of Administrator Szabo, Deputy Administrator Karen Rae, Amtrak’s new Vice President for Policy and Development Stephen Gardner, the FRA’s Paul Nissenbaum (Director of the Office of Passenger and State Programs) and workshop facilitator Bill Womack, for the “…tremendous amount of work you have done over the past few weeks, making it possible for thousands of citizens and professionals to be included and heard in this process. I want to thank the President for this superb launch, and thank all of you as well.”

NCI President and CEO Jim RePass, NCI editor Molly McKay, NCI Board member Andreas Aeppli representing Cambridge Systematics, and APT Chairman Rick Arena were among the leaders who attended.

The FRA will release the rules for applying for ARRA-funded programs on or about June 18, and perhaps slightly before. Proposals will be expected by August/September, the FRA has said.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)76.9872.44
Canadian National (CNI)43.5543.46
Canadian Pacific (CP)42.2040.94
CSX (CSX)33.9431.76
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)29.6428.92
Kansas City Southern (KSU)15.9716.49
Norfolk Southern (NSC)0.7037.20
Providence & Worcester (PWX)11.6611.75
Union Pacific (UNP)53.8649.27

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ENVIRONMENTAL LINES... Environmental Lines...  

HOV, HOT And Freeway Expansions

From the Sierra Club

A Sierra Club member sent out a question on the Club’s national transportation list about the impact of new highway expansion on emission. Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute responded with an excellent review of the impacts of HOV, HOT and freeway expansions.

There are two factors to consider when evaluating the energy consumption and emission reduction impacts of changes in traffic:

1. Impacts on emission rates per vehicle-mile: Changing from stop-and-go to moderate-speed traffic flow increases fuel efficiency and reduces air pollution emissions, but changing from moderate speeds to high-speeds increases some emissions. Per-mile emissions of most pollutants are high at very low speeds and under stop-and-go conditions, and decline as traffic speeds increase and become steady. NOx emissions are lowest at 20-30 mph and increases at speeds over 45 mph. CO and VOC emissions increase significantly at speeds over 55 mph. As a result, strategies that relieve congestion and increase traffic speeds from 25 mph up to 50 mph may reduce CO and VOC emission, but increase NOx emission. As a result, strategies that reduce extreme congestion reduce emissions (e.g., Level of Service F changing to C), but strategies that reduce moderate traffic congestion (e.g. LOS C to A) can increase energy consumption and some types of pollution emissions.

2. Impacts on total vehicle-travel: Expanding capacity of congested roadways tends to induce additional vehicle travel, particularly over the long run, as people respond to the additional mobility by accepting longer-distance commutes (or example, choosing an exurban home or a cross-town commute). This tends to stimulate additional vehicle travel indirectly (not just on the expanded roadway), since more dispersed, urban-fringe development tends to increase per capita vehicle travel for all trips.

The emission impacts of HOT depend on what is assumed as the base case: no additional capacity, expanded free general purpose lane, HOV lanes, or congestion pricing of existing lanes; and whether the HOT lane is implemented in conjunction with public transit service improvements. Compared with expanding general purpose lanes, HOT probably reduces total emissions, but compared with HOV or efficient pricing of existing lanes, HOT probably increases total emissions. If HOT revenue helps fund transit service improvements, it is more likely to reduce emissions, but if the additional SOV volumes degrades HOV traffic speeds, reducing the incentive for travelers to shift to ridesharing and public transit, HOV probably increases emissions.

Traffic congestion tends to maintain self-limiting equilibrium: it gets bad enough to discourage additional peak-period vehicle trips. Current traffic models are not very good at accounting for this and so tend to exaggerate the degree of congestion that will occur if roadway capacity is not expanded, and exaggerates the congestion reduction (and therefore energy conservation and emission reduction) benefits that would result from roadway capacity expansion, particularly over the long run if expanded roadway capacity stimulates more dispersed, automobile-dependent land use development. This is not to say that such development provides no benefit, users must perceive direct benefits or they would not choose those locations, but this is a direct user benefit, not a reduction in external costs such as congestion delays or pollution emissions.

A key factor is the time period of analysis. Urban highway expansion tends to reduce congestion and emissions in the short-run, but increases them in the long-run. People who claim emission reduction benefits are generally considering short-run effects.

For more information see:

Robert A. Johnston (2006), Review of U.S. and European Regional
Modeling Studies of Policies Intended to Reduce Motorized Travel,
Fuel Use, and Emissions, VTPI ( ).
Todd Litman (2001), “Generated Traffic; Implications for Transport
Planning,” ITE Journal, Vol. 71, No. 4, Institute of Transportation
Engineers ( ), April, 2001, pp. 38-47; at .

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HIGH-SPEED RAIL LINES... High-Speed Rail Lines...  

China Races to Build World’s Largest
High-Speed Rail Network

From Internet Sources

China leaps ahead with its plans to create the world’s largest high-speed rail network. The Chinese Ministry of Railways has “inked” a deal with Siemens (SI) to buy 1000 high-speed trains within the next few years with the first contract -100 trains for $1 billion - going to German train producer Siemens.

In the recent “Research Report on the Investment in Chinese Railway Transoprt Industry, 2009,” the date indicates that China plans to construct 40,000 kilometers of railways with the total investments of over $730 billion by 2012. By the end of the first quarter of 2009, China’s commitment to invest in high-speed rail totaled $292 billion.

The prototype high-speed locomotive developed for Chinese Railways.


Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Line, China. Chinese Railways’ prototype high-speed train power car has undergone extensive tests.

Siemens’ Velaro train has a top speed of 218 mph (350o84 km/h). The train will have 16 cars and carry more than 1,000 passengers; its length is more than 1,300 feet (396o24m) making it the world’s longest single high-speed unit in use, according to Siemens.

In the U.S., the Obama plan for high-speed rail calls for spending $8 billion up front to invest in improvements and initiatives in the country’s high-speed passenger rail system and a separate five-year, $5 billion in high-speed rail, as part of the fiscal 2010 budget. This is considered a down payment on the country’s high-speed rail investment, coming from the administration’s $787 billion stimulus plan.

Photo: Business Tianjin  

An CRH3 Velaro trainset in the city of Tianjin in May 2008.

Photo: Siemens  

At Bremerhaven, Germany in 2007. The first CRH3 train set to be shipped to China for operation on the Beijing - Tainjin route. CRH3 is the Chinese designation for the Siemens Velaro trainset model, which is also now in operation as ICE-3 in Germany, as S103 in Spain and just started services in Russia with a broad-gage version of the Velaro with modifications to deal with the severe cold and blowing snow conditions in Russia.

A recent report by the Federal Transit Administration states that it could cost $50 billion to bring the country’s seven major rail systems – New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston, and San Francisco – up to a state of good repair, and $5.9 billion annually to maintain them. The infrastructure of some of these subways and commuter rail systems dates back more than hundred years.

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

A New FRA?

By David Peter Alan

“This is an exciting time to be alive,” said newly-appointed Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo in Philadelphia, at the last of a series of seven workshops sponsored by the FRA to solicit input from the various stakeholders that will benefit form the Obama Administration’s program to distribute $8 billion in grants for high speed and intercity rail around the country.

As Mr. Szabo and his colleagues hit the ground running, it is impossible to ignore the contrast between their approach and that of the agency through the past several administrations. Until now, the FRA’s primary mission seemed to be promoting safety on our nation’s railroads. It appeared that the agency cared little about actual operations, although an FRA or other DOT official has customarily held an ex oficio position on the Amtrak Board. Under the Bush Administration, the FRA appeared to care only about safety, and at times appeared unprepared to deal effectively with other issues.

In 2004, Administrator Allen Rutter appeared at the APTA (American Public Transportation Association) Commuter Rail Conference in Atlantic City and claimed that Amtrak was here to stay. He refused to promise a commitment to preserve the Amtrak network as it existed at the time, however. This writer and Eugene Skoropowski, head of the Capitol Corridor in California, were his only questioners. We asked difficult questions and Rutter was not required to answer them. He left the FRA three weeks later and was replaced by Joseph Boardman, who did the best he could under the yoke of the Bush Administration, which had little interest in government support for rail and literally tried to break up Amtrak and sell it off to the private sector.

Most of the attendees at last Tuesday’s Philadelphia session represented transit providers or state transportation departments, or came from contractors who hoped to secure some funding from the grants that the FRA will approve. There were also representatives of stakeholders who were looking for more and better trains. Despite a diversity of backgrounds and opinions, everyone appeared delighted that the FRA actually implemented a “road show” and asked them for their thoughts.

The elation in the room that day was palpable, but no one was under the illusion that progress would be easy. The sobering realization is that the $8 billion authorized for high-speed, or at least higher-speed, will not go very far. California is planning a genuine high-speed line between the northern and southern parts of the state, so the Golden State is effectively first in line. Other heavily-used corridors, such as new York-Buffalo and Chicago-St. Louis, will experience greatly improved service if those lines are upgraded. A grant can free up a choke point for trains east of Chicago to Porter, Indiana. Improving the former Seaboard Line south of Petersburg, Virginia, will improve service for the Southeast Region.

The list goes on and on and, as Shakespeare said, therein lies the rub. Eight billion dollars will not be enough money to build the projects just mentioned, much less everything else that should be done to truly improve our nation’s intercity rail service. It is a “down payment,” as the President himself said. This amount is also dwarfed by the billions of dollars committed to the cause of saving General Motors, a corporation that destroyed much of the nation’s existing rail transit in the middle of the Twentieth Century.

There is reason to be hopeful. No previous administration has directed the FRA even to propose improvements in passenger rail infrastructure or service. No previous administration has even talked about operating more trains, or operating them on time. Amtrak, subsidized for over 30 years with just enough money to starve slowly, lost trains and suffered miserable on-time-performance.

No other Administrator or other high official at the FRA has started his tenure in office by reaching out and asking us for our opinions.This is a time for cautious optimism, which is far more than was justified under previous administrations.

D:F publisher James P. RePass and editor Molly McKay attended the Philadelphia session, along with this writer and many other passenger rail and environmental advocates. RePass publicly thanked the FRA for these outreach sessions and was applauded for his gesture.

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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

I like the article about “U.S. Airports add rail service to downtown,” but there are a few inaccuracies:

JFK Airport: my personal experience with the Air Train or whatever it is called, is that it is not a ride to “downtown.” It is a glorified automated airport shuttle tram which uses some sort of modidifed version of NYC subway car rolling stock in driverless configuration that takes passengers between airport terminals, airport parking lots and rental car offices and to stations on the LIRR and the real NYC / MTA subway network. And from the Delta terminal at JFK airport, it would be stretch to say that the nearest Air Train station is walking distance away. In any case, it is definitely not a “one seat ride” to Manhattan, nor to nearly anywhere else for that matter, one will have to transfer.

San Francisco is a similar story, the BART station is actually quite some distance away from the airport terminal, the way one gets to the BART station is a rather long ride on the airport’s automated tram system.

The rail station at the Sea-Tac airport in Seattle is finished and completed. I have seen it. I am not sure of opening date, last I heard it was suppose to start operation this summer, i.e. in the next weeks or months.

In the basement of Terminal 4 of Phoenix Sky Harbor airport are tunnels and platforms for a light rail station - the were placed there when T4 was built new in the late 1980s. But the light rail line, built during 2003 - 08 was not built to the airport terminal area, instead it was built around the north side of the airport perimeter, so the existing tunnels and platforms at the bottom of T4 will remain unused for the foreseeable future. They are going with the people mover system as described in the article - not unlike JFK airport and SFO airport, to get people to the nearest light rail station.

David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent
Mr. Beale lives in Germany

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