Vol. 8 No. 26
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Boozman withdraws his
Rep. John Boozman (R-AK)
WASHINGTON --- Arkansas Representative John Boozman (R-AK) has withdrawn his amendment to an unrelated climate change bill that would have crippled passenger train operation outside the Northeast Corridor.
Boozmans bill, which he introduced because of what he said were his concerns about interference by Amtrak trains with rail freight shipments, would have repealed a 35-year-old statute that gives Amtrak the right to operate on freight railroads lines. The law was passed as a part of the creation of Amtrak, which itself was formed at the request of the then-bankrupt and heavily regulated freight rail lines to operate the nations passenger trains.
Rep. Boozman withdrew the bill in the face of a furious onslaught by Amtrak supporters such as the National Association of Rail Passengers, the National Corridors Initiative, and independent but highly vocal supporters who recognized the amendment for what it was, a surreptitious attempt to kill Amtrak operations by making them literally impossible, outside of the Northeast Corridor, most of which Amtrak owns.
Calls to Representative Boozmans press office for comment were refused.
Boozman has now called for a Congressional study of the same subject.
Conflicts between passenger trains and freight trains for space on the nations rail lines is growing, leading to amendments such as Rep. Boozmans, and other ideas. The nations freight railroads were deregulated in 1980 and since that time have become increasingly prosperous on an operational basis through mergers, and massive layoffs of personnel. Their economic fundamentals however make raising capital for capacity improvements, which are badly needed, hard to achieve at competitive interest rates, making it a better investment for CSX to buy its own stock, for example, than to build and operate the railroad itself. Some of the shrewdest investors around, such as Warren Buffets Berkshire Hathaway, have been accumulating freight railroad stock over recent months, and analysts expect the rail systems to be put in play soon because of the availability of large quantities of investment dollars via hedge funds and other private funds.
NCI believes the so-called Highway Trust Fund, which is itself running out of money, needs to be properly funded and used for rail, not just highway construction: America needs a transportation system, not modes.
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NCI Organizes, Sierra Club supports Second NE Summit
Standing room only at Springfield, MA
SPRINGFIELD, MA --- It was standing room only at Springfields historic city hall Friday as key elected appointed leaders from several states, and ordinary people, gathered to discuss the regions transportation future, and find ways to cooperate in creating that future.
Opened by Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, who came out of retirement to lead the city back from the brink of economic disaster in 2004, and keynoted by Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, a strong advocate for regional cooperation, the conference was attended by nearly 100 leaders and citizens brought together by the National Corridors Initiative in the second summit of its kind in two months. The first was at Hartford in April. State Senators and representatives, and Congressional staff, also attended, as did Massachusetts Transportation Committee Co-Chair Joseph Wagner of Chicopee, one of the regions key legislative leaders.
Three Photos - NCINCI VP for the North-South Rail Link John Businger, & NCI Pres. and CEO Jim RePass at Springfield City Hall
The event was heavily covered by news media, with television, radio, print, and independent web blog reporters participating. It was cosponsored by the Sierra Club of Connecticut, which provided the participants with a box lunch.
The Springfield Republican reported: Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray and Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts were among those calling for a bigger, better regional transit system. It transcends Democrats and Republicans, it transcends geographic boundaries, and it is in our collective interest, Murray said.
Roberts said that historically, Northeastern states vied for power, but would be better off joining in an effort to compete against growing technology centers elsewhere. We havent built connections ... to make the regional economy thrive, she said.
One idea she cited would involve the re-opening of passenger rail Providence-Worcester, to complement the Worcester-New London revival already in the works in Connecticut, and the existing New London-Providence high speed line already in place. This rail-based triangle could become a New England answer to developments such as North Carolinas Research Triangle Park, but using existing rail rights-of-way and upgraded 21st century technology instead of paving over the Blackstone and Shetucket valleys with highways to provide transportation access.
Connecticut Deputy Transportation Commissioner Albert Martin
Connecticut Deputy Transportation Commissioner Albert Martin and Massachusetts Undersecretary Wendy Stern pledged to work together, along with their departments, to continue implementing the Knowledge Corridor rail line between New Haven and Springfield which Connecticut has already funded in the amount of $146 million for infrastructure improvements, and with Vermonts Agency of Transportation, represented by Operations chief Samuel Lewis, who stressed the growing importance of rail to Vermont in presenting transportation alternatives while protecting the natural beauty of the region.
Peter Pan Bus Lines President Peter Picknelly, long an opponent of investing in commuter rail that might compete unfairly with his bus operations, nevertheless pledged to work with other leaders in building transportation. Having said that, Picknelly stated, after repeating criticism that subsidized rail tickets can compete unfairly, Peter Pan Bus Lines is a major regional transportation resource, and employer, in New England.
One example of potential rail-bus cooperation was raised by featured speaker Patricia Quinn, CEO of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which runs the Downeaster passenger train Boston-New Hampshire-Portland. The train, operated by Amtrak under contract with her authority, has become the number one-rated Amtrak train in the United States in terms of customer satisfaction and on-time performance, leaves Portland on a staggered schedule coordinated with regional bus line C&J Transport, and also actually uses C&J buses as back up when track work or other rail infrastructure upgrades require the train schedule to be altered. The rail and bus systems sell each others tickets, which are also accepted by them both. This has lead to a jump in overall travel and an increase in bus as well as train ridership, because passengers know that if they go to Boston, and miss the return train, they can take an intercity bus back, and vice versa; the schedules complement each other. This greater frequency of service has boosted overall ridership of both rail and bus service, as had been predicted by DownEaster advocates when they first proposed the train.
Professionals who appeared Friday included three of the interstate regions leading planning directors and economic policy innovators, including, Lyle Wray, Executive Director Capitol Region Council of Governments (Hartford;, Kip Bergstrom, Executive Director, RI Economic Policy Council; and Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Tim Brennan, all of whom stressed the need, and urgency, of better transportation planning and cooperation; Bergstrom commented that we dont have a lot of time to end New Englands economic slow decline; Brennan, for nearly 30 years the leader of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, put it succinctly: To connect is to compete Lyle Wray called upon the regions governors to get active and work together more closely on their own interests, such is done by the Western Governors Association, with whom Wray is familiar from a career that has spanned most of North America.
Capital Region Executive Director, Lyle Wray
Lt. Gov. Murray noted that Massachusetts has rejoined the New England Governors Association, and would indeed be working again cooperatively with other states, as evidenced by his participation at Fridays summit, and at a similar gathering April 12 in Hartford. The annual New England Governors-Eastern Premiers Conference takes place this week on Prince Edward Island, CA, and for the first time in years a Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, is planning to attend. The National Corridors Initiative has been invited by the host government and will also be present.
Also speaking were Bombardier Vice President Robert Furniss, whose company has designed a trainset that would work in both New England and New York rail systems, and which is being proposed for demonstration testing; John Businger, Vice President for the North-South Rail Link for NCI, who stressed the importance of that project to creating a true regional rail system, and NCI President Jim RePass, who noted that three of the New England states together were the size of Switzerland --- CT+MA+RI --- but were 50% denser in population, yet rail critics claim America is too big for rail service, unlike densely populated Europe. Thats just not true, and the numbers prove it, said RePass We can have a transportation system that works. Its not just about rail, but it is time to stop neglecting it.
The Association for Public Transportation
meeting June 25 features RPAs Bob Yaro
The Association for Public Transportation was founded to support the expansion of public transportation in the Commonwealth. But APT also promotes increased mobility for commuters who cannot take advantage of mass transit. It is APTs opinion that the economic prosperity and quality of life in our vibrant region is dependent on an effective, affordable, and accessible transportation system for everyone.
After the $15 billion bill for the Big Dig, why does congestion appear to be as bad as ever in Boston and even worse in the suburbs? Traffic is projected to get much worse as freight railways are pushed out of Greater Boston and heavy trucks inundate our roadways. Meanwhile, plans are under development to spend billions of tax dollars on an overrated concept called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a low cost solution for mass transit. Bostons existing BRT experiment, the Silver Line that crawls through the gridlock on Washington Street, is an unmitigated failure. This is not the type of transportation solution that will be either effective or attractive in a strategic Megaregion like Boston.
The ongoing challenge will be to harness key untapped assets of the Commonwealth and put them to work. For example, what creative solutions involving the Commonwealths underutilized seaport should be considered to alleviate the numbing traffic congestion? Can the State do anything to help businesses take advantage of lower cost regions in Massachusetts to retain threatened jobs in state? How can Massachusetts increase affordable housing and improve access to regional job centers?
APT believes that there are practical solutions to these questions, but to solve them, it will be necessary to change the way the issues are addressed. We invite you to come to the APT Annual Meeting on Monday, June 25 for ideas on what we can do in that regard to make Massachusetts more competitive, improve our quality of life, and ease commuting at the same time. To add some perspective to these arguments, APT has invited renowned urban planning guru, Robert Yaro, President of the respected NY-NJ-CT Regional Plan Association and Chair of the Committee to Rebuild Downtown New York, to give the keynote presentation. Business and political leaders, including former Governor Michael S. Dukakis, will be in attendance. The reception will feature hors doeuvres, cash bar, a panoramic view of Boston, and great conversation. There will also be door prizes and a raffle for pair of roundtrip tickets on Amtraks Acela to New York City.
When: Mon, June 25, 2007, 6:30 PM
Where: Downtown Harvard Club, 1 Federal St., 38th Floor, Boston, MA. 02210
6:00 - 6:30 pm APT Donor Private Reception with Mr. Robert Yaro 6:30 - 7:00 pm Registration & Reception hors doeuvres & cash bar 7:00 - 7:30 pm APT Annual Business Meeting and Transportation Report 7:30 - 7:45 pm North Station-South Station Rail Link Project 7:45 - 7:50 pm Keynote Speaker Introduction: the Honorable Michael Dukakis 7:50 - 8:45 pm Mr. Robert Yaros Keynote Presentation 8:45 - 9:30 pm Breakout session, Networking, Raffle winner announcement
Buy a North American rail pass on Railpass.com;
Save money & reduce greenhouse gases, fossil fuel use
Take the Train for U.S. (and Abroad) Travel
NEWTON, MA --- Railpass.com today announced that it is selling a North American Rail Pass for travelers planning extended trips throughout the United States and Canada this summer. The North American Rail Pass provides 30 consecutive days of rail travel on any Amtrak (US) or VIA Rail (Canada) train or route.
The cost of gas, including its very serious environmental impact, is spiraling out of control. As we approach the summer travel season, we are asking our fellow travelers to consider whether travel throughout the States and Canada might be less expensive and more convenient by train, said Mike Fuller, president and co-founder of Wandrian, the developer of Railpass.com. The North American Rail Pass is a little-known option for easier travel throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The price of one summer adult peak ticket is $999, about equal to the price of just the gas for a trip that covers 6,000 miles. Vehicle maintenance and parking fees could boost that to double that amount or more. Trains provide direct access to over 900 city centers and communities, large and small, and allow a completely stress-free trip that everyone can enjoy, without any driving required. Travelers could only fly to about two destinations for the same amount, making a U.S. trip much less varied and flexible.
About the North American Pass
The North American Pass enables travelers to take an unlimited number of trips on practically any Amtrak train in the United States and any VIA Rail train in Canada. Amtrak is the leading rail operator in the USA, providing intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system. VIA Rail operates trains in all regions of Canada over a network spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Great Lakes to Hudson Bay. The North American Rail Pass is valid for 30 consecutive days travel across the USA and Canada, granting direct access to over 900 cities and communities in the USA and Canada. Go to the Tickets page for more information and pricing.
Railpass.com is the largest single rail pass outlet in the US. It is a division of Wandrian, Inc. and is the official agent for various leading railways, rail providers and distributors such as Eurail, BritRail, Trenitalia (Italian State Railways), Amtrak, Rail Australia, and SNBC (Belgian Railways).
About Wandrian, Inc.
Wandrian is a leading global travel distributor and technology developer for rail products and services that provides consumers and travel agents with a cost-effective, easy-to-use site for booking global rail. The company provides its services to international rail travel sites, including Railpass.com, InternationalRail.com and Italiarail.com. Wandrian is based in Newton, MA and has offices in White Plains, NY, United Kingdom, and Australia. The Company was founded in 2000, and is funded by Brook Venture Partners and Boston Capital Ventures.
Railpass.com and Wandrian are properties of Wandrian, Inc. All other products, companies and services mentioned are properties of its respective owners.
For further information, contact:
Charles de Gaspe Beaubien
Tel: (617) 630-0250 x: 297
Jen Revis Snider
Amtrak service to Springfield (MO) - St. Louis not practical
SPRINGFIELD, MO --- The Springfield Business Journal reports that Significant logistical and financial obstacles uncovered in a yearlong study have derailed the likelihood of an Amtrak passenger train zipping back and forth between Springfield and St. Louis on a daily basis, reporter Matt Wagner wrote this week.
The nations taxpayer-supported passenger train system delved into the study last summer at the request of the Missouri Department of Transportation, which has long been interested in connecting Missouris largest and third-largest cities by rail, wrote Wagner.
Amtrak is invariably described as tax-payer supported or subsidized when in fact the highway that competes with it receives far more, per mile, than Amtrak.
There are, however, more than a few complicating factors, not the least of which is the six-hour travel time by train. Thats twice the driving time from Springfield to St. Louis on Interstate 44, wrote the Journal.
That is also true, because the rail line is inadequate and has many crossings, deficiencies caused by decades of failure to invest even minimally in a true transportation system. The Missouri Department of Transportation has been consistently favored highway construction over rail expenditures for decades, allocating most of its budget to highways.
While the study revealed low projected ridership and high costs, people interviewed about the subject expressed support for the idea.
Barbara Pierce had also imagined working on her laptop as the scenery scrolled by outside an Amtrak train. Pierce is president and founder of Millennium Communications Inc., a St. Louis-based public relations and marketing firm with an office in Springfield, wrote the Journal
I think having a link between St. Louis and Springfield would be fabulous, especially with the rising cost of gas, Pierce said. When youre driving its basically nonproductive business time. I would be one of the first people on that train and would ride it frequently.
Pierce said she travels from St. Louis to Springfield by company car about three times a month. Millennium account executives who make the trip are reimbursed the federal rate of 48.5 cents per mile, or $213 round-trip, Pierce said. Based on fares in Kansas City and St. Louis, a round-trip fare between Springfield and St. Louis would be about $40.
But tight purse strings at the state and federal levels arent reason enough to abandon the proposed Amtrak expansion, said MoDOT Multimodal Director Brian Weiler, who pointed to Amtraks expanding service in neighboring Illinois, wrote the Journal.
The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative - backed by a consortium of nine states including Missouri - envisions Chicago as the hub of a 3,000-mile rail network in the central United States, Weiler said. The initiatives $7.7 billion price tag hasnt deterred proponents, who Weiler said are pursuing a matching federal funding program similar to the one in place for airports, wrote Matt Wagner.
Id like to see a major infusion of federal funds, Weiler added.
Amtraks report said in part:
The report requested by MoDOT found strategic merit to the proposed route, including serving the states third largest metropolitan area, tourism potential, and connections to Amtraks national rail service. However, it would also require an initial significant capital investment and ongoing state operating support. The lack of a competitive trip time versus that of automobiles and a lower than expected ridership projection were also cited as concerns.
Specifically, the report found the route as-is would generate only 34,000 passengers annually, including 5,000 connecting from the current state-supported Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City. This is primarily due to the lengthy travel times on the nearly 235 miles of track, largely owned by the BNSF Railway, with train speeds lower than that of the adjacent Interstate 44. The result is a trip time of almost six hours -- nearly twice that of driving -- even after building a $4 million track connection between the BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad to shorten the route and complement the current state-supported service at Kirkwood, MO by adding a stop there. The low speeds are mainly due to the BNSF track as it follows the undulating terrain in the scenic Ozark Foothills, with much of it as curvature.
The report failed to note that much of any future traffic would be induced not Springfield-St. Louis, but from one intermediate stop to another; that is why the service is so essential to the future of the region, noted industry observers.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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GE unveils hybrid locomotive
that recaptures braking energy
(LOS ANGELES) --- General Electric unveiled its new hybrid road locomotive, which recaptures braking energy, at its recent Ecomagination show in Los Angeles.
The 4,400 horsepower Evolution Hybrid diesel-electric prototype uses batteries that capture and store energy dissipated during dynamic braking. The energy stored in the batteries can reduce fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 10 percent compared to most freight locomotives, General Electric said. It also can operate more efficiently at higher altitudes and when traveling up steep inclines.
The energy dissipated in braking a 207-ton locomotive during one year of operation is enough to power 160 households for a year, GE said.
The hybrid locomotive can improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and sustain a long life of reliable service, said John M. Dineen, GE Transportations chief executive officer.
GE customers such as BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad participated in developing the new hybrid.
The GE engineering team still is working out details of using lead-free rechargeable batteries with the locomotive-control systems. Following lab testing, GE plans to produce pre-production units for customer field tests.
Britain will start this month in-service trials of a HST passenger train set modifed by Japans Hitachi Company with hybrid technology. The modified HST train set is equipped with high power / high capacity rechargeable batteries connected to one of the two diesel-electric locomotives in the train set. The modified locomotive has also been equipped with new AC asynchronous traction motors and a micro-processor controlled propulsion controller to coordinate the system: rechargeable batteries, the diesel powered traction generator, and regenerative braking. The other locomotive in the train set is unmodified, i.e. stock/standard DC traction generators with no batteries other than normal road batteries.
Photo: Wayland SmithAn HST train set on the south coast of England in 2003
David Beale comments:
NCI welcomes GEs latest contribution to reducing fuel consumption of diesel locomotives, however NCI believes a better long-term approach for recapturing braking energy in various rail vehicles in order to reduce energy consumption and exhaust emissions might be to introduce railroad electrification on a broad scale.
Electrification of main rail corridors would utilize existing off-the-shelf railway electrification technology and hardware, instead of relying on development certainly expensive and possibly hazardous high energy battery storage systems for the nations many thousands of diesel locomotives.
Railway electrification provides for nearly unlimited regenerative braking in modern electric powered locomotives and EMU railcars with the same or superior ability to recapture braking energy as diesel-hybrid locomotives. Electrification also enables railroads to power their fleets with other energy sources instead of just green house gas producing diesel fuel typically made from expensive foreign oil. Electrically powered rolling stock typically have far longer useful lives, lower routine maintenance costs, less noise and vibration levels and fewer moving parts than equivalent diesel powered rolling stock, resulting in a significantly lower costs of ownership.
What do you think?
Switzerlands Lötschberg Base Tunnel Cleared For Operations
Raron, Switzerland, June 16 --- A ribbon cutting ceremony was held at both end points of the Lötschberg base tunnel this past Friday (15th June) to mark the completion of construction as well as testing of the new 34.6 km (21.5 mile) long rail tunnel in southwestern Switzerland. The principle operator of the tunnel, BLS Rail Freight, will start regular freight train movements by Monday, 18th of June. Passenger train operations are planned to be phased in with the annual Europe-wide passenger train and bus system schedule change in early December 2007. When passenger trains begin using the new base tunnel at the end of the year, travel times will be reduced by 60 - 70 minutes compared to the existing route through the original Lötschberg tunnel.
Construction of the base tunnel (which is actually a system of tunnels including the main rail track tunnel plus other tunnels for ventilation, maintenance, and emergency evacuation) started in 1999 after approximately five years of planning and design engineering work. Major construction on the tunnels themselves finished in mid 2006, with the past 12 months spent on installing track, electrification, signaling systems and performing operational testing. The tunnel system is two main tunnel bores with a track in each bore for part of the route, and a single bore with a single track for the remaining part. The second bore and track can be easily completed, if traffic rises to a level that would require the entire route to be double tracked. Actual costs have not been totally disclosed, but are estimated to be in the US$ 3.0 - 3.5 billion range for the entire project.
The Lötschberg base tunnel provides a parallel north-south rail corridor to the existing Lötschberg tunnel, which is 80+ years old and is located at a significantly higher elevation with steeper gradients and tighter curves in the tracks which approach that tunnel. The old Lötschberg tunnel will remain in service for the foreseeable future, albeit with far fewer freight trains and a reduced number of intercity passenger trains. The new Lötschberg base tunnel becomes yet another major rail line in Europe to be equipped with ETCS level 2 signaling and train protection system. Several other rail lines corridors in Switzerland, Holland, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Greece and Belgium have recently been equipped with this system, which is becoming the new universal standard for signaling and train control across Europe and possibly much of the rest of the world.
Meanwhile construction continues on a similar but even longer tunnel in southeastern Switzerland, the record-setting Gotthard Base Tunnel on the busy Zürich - Milano rail corridor. That tunnel is not expected to open for rail traffic before 2016. And further east in Austria design work and exploratory digging continues on the Brenner Base Tunnel, which will provide additional rail capacity on the busy Salzburg - Verona - Bologna rail corridor. The Brenner Base Tunnel may start operations in 2020. All of these tunnels are meant to reduce significantly the amount of heavy truck traffic operating across the environmentally sensitive Alps region which extends from southeastern France to western Hungary and northwestern Croatia.
Photo: BLS Alpstransit AGA view of the Lötschberg base tunnel under construction in 2005
Photo: NCI David BealeIntercity trains similar to this SBB intercity train in Chur. Switzerland in May 2007 will start operating in the Lötschberg base tunnel by December 2007 on regular services
Cheap and elegant new process for ballast to be tested
Uelzen, Germany, June 15 --- It will make the train less noisy and the tracks more stable. It is cheaper than any current construction method for noise abatement and will help keep tracks cleaner, if not more colorful. What sounds like black magic was installed this week in the track bed of the heavily traveled Hannover - Celle - Hamburg rail corridor.
Standing at kilometer marker 101 between Bad Bevensen and Uelzen, Jürgen Frenzel, who worked for 10 years with the German patent office and the EBA, the German rail regulatory authority for approval of his idea, watched as the pilot project started. The trial application on this stretch of rail line used frequently by ICE trains will cost about EUR 1 million (US$ 1.3 million) will remain under evaluation until 2010.
Since the beginning of railroads over 170 years ago tracks have been placed on beds ballast made of crushed stone and rocks. Today this practice costs about EUR 500 per meter of track - rather inexpensive compared to slab track and ballastless track mounted on to concrete pavement common to highway or road construction. But the rock ballast is not particularly stable. Under heavy loading, more frequent trains and increasing train speeds the rate of degradation and requirements for maintenance of the rock ballast increases. Just a few months ago Deutsche Bahn - German Railways - landed in heavy criticism from government officials and the EBA due to lack of maintenance of track beds.
Typically in construction or heavy refurbishment of rail track the rock ballast must be graded and tamped down with heavy equipment, in order to compact the ballast as much as possible. This is expensive as well as extremely noisy for nearby residents. Frenzels idea: inject foam into the rock ballast. With Frenzels method, a special foam named Durflex is applied in to the rock ballast. The foam expands into the voids between the rock and stone ballast with as much as six times the volume of the material in its original liquid form. With the foam application, less time and effort is required for tamping down the rock ballast.
With Durflex foam the rock ballast bed become significantly more stable since the foam practically eliminates the ability of the rocks to slide, shift and roll out of the ballast track bed. It also provides for a much more equal distribution of forces and stress on both the track and the ground below the ballast layer. Another positive side effect is the sound absorbing quality of the foam, thus reducing noise transmission to the environment from passing trains. The sound reduction characteristics are significant enough that construction of sound barrier walls on many rail lines may no longer be necessary.
Frenzels Durflex foam is a derivative of common construction foam, which has been in widespread use for a number of decades as a secondary sealing and structural adhesive material in brick and concrete construction style common to most newer homes and other buildings built in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Frenzels system, a development of Bayer AG and its subsidiary Hennecke was evaluated in Germanys national material testing lab in Braunschweig. However Frenzel will not receive a full approval of his track ballast foam until the chemical composition is proven to be neutral to the environment and Deutsche Bahn has validated repair, cleaning and removal processes of track ballast treated with Durflex foam.
Frenzels plan does not just help reduce costs it also has an aesthetic advantage: in rail stations the ballast can be injected with the foam in such a manner that the upper surface of the ballast is flat and smooth, therefore making removal of trash, cigarette butts and other debris from the track bed relatively easy, and the track beds can even be painted with various colors.
Grade crossing tragedy hits near to NCI
NENNDORF TOWNSHIP, GERMANY--- This past Tuesday evening (19 June 07) a horrific grade crossing collision between an ET-424 series EMU commuter train set and a VW Passat sedan unfolded just a few hundred meters away from where NCIs European correspondent, David Beale, was jogging.
The accident claimed the lives of four members of a young family of five in the automobile - only their two year-old daughter survived. The family was leaving a birthday party in Hohnhorst and heading back to their home in nearby Wunstorf. The family in Hohnhorst who held the birthday party are acquaintences of Davids wife. The two year-old girl is now in the custody of her grandparents, who also live in Wunstorf.
No one on board the S-Bahn commuter train was injured, which was just a couple of minutes away from its end station in Haste after a routine trip from Hannover through Hannovers southern suburbs on a branch line called the Deister Bahn.
The train was traveling at 80 km/h (50 mph), which is the maximum speed limit on this section of the Deister Bahn.
Five Photos: NCI, David BealeA makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and teddy bares at the accident scene. A married couple in their mid 30s and their 11 year old and 4 year old sons died here two days ago. The crushed remains of the VWs rear view mirror assembly (at the left end of the memorial) hints at the force of the collision with the train.
The scene of the accident is a grade crossing on this single track branch line where the main street leaves the village of Hohnhorst to the east and intersects a two-lane north-south highway between Haste and Bad Nenndorf, parallel to the railroad track. Haste, Hohnhorst and Bad Nenndorf are villages in Nenndorf Township, a mostly rural area about 30 km (20 miles) west of downtown Hannover.
The grade crossing has no gate arms, the only warning devices are several signs including the red and white X-shaped St. Andrews cross and flashing red lights, which turn on about 45 seconds before trains enter the grade crossing. Township records show that nine people had been injured or killed at this grade crossing since 1982, when the current flashing warning light system was originally installed. It is the only highway grade crossing in Nenndorf township without gate arms.
NCIs David Beale recalled: I was jogging on Korn Weg away from Hohnhorst on my way back to my house in Haste at about 9:15 PM. Both the single track Deister Bahn branch line and the two-track Hannover - Minden main line, which run past Hohnhorst on the east and north sides of the village respectively, were about 400 - 500 meters behind me. It was still daylight but the sun was fairly low in the sky.
Beale added: I heard the sound of a train horn blast, which caught my attention, as trains do not use their horns around here unless someone is in their way or about to cross their path. At the time a freight train was rolling on along more or less parallel to me on the two-track main line towards Haste, so I assumed the horn blast was from him. Less than two seconds later I heard a dull thud followed by the rather unforgettable sound of locked-up steel wheels skidding along rails for 10 - 15 seconds. I assumed that all this was coming from the passing freight train, which continued through town at about 100 km/h, so I continued my run back home.
Beale continued: I was unable to see the grade crossing on the other side of Hohnhorst, where the collision had just occurred and because of the passing freight train much closer to my position, I did not even think about the other rail line until I arrived back at my home a few minutes later. At that point the entire area was filled with the sounds of ambulances and fire trucks racing to the accident scene in Hohnhorst. Another ten minutes later we heard the medivac helicopter fly over us as it came in for a landing in a field next to the collision scene.
A busy residential street in Hohnhorst crosses over the Deister Bahn branch line at an unprotected grade crossing. My youngest daughter attended pre-school and kindergarten during 2002 - 2005 in the building on the right just beyond the grade crossing. Four trains and 100 or more cars and other vehicles pass through here each hour during a normal week day.
State Police finished their accident report by the following afternoon, after measuring the accident scene, talking to the train driver, checking the operation of the warning lights and interviewing a large number of eye-witnesses, who were in cars waiting on the other side of the grade crossing as the commuter train approached. Their report placed blame for the collision entirely on the driver of the VW Passat, who - according to the eyewitnesses at the scene - pulled out of a driveway a few dozen meters west of the grade crossing and then drove without stopping straight into the grade crossing just as the train came through, although the red warning lights had been flashing the whole time.
Hohnhorsts mayor Otto Lattwesen stated that he strongly disagreed with the police report, and said that the blame is with Deutsche Bahn for this deadly accident. We have had the feeling since many years that Deutsche Bahn just simply ignores our concerns about this dangerous rail crossing. We have pleaded for years and years to have crossing gates or barriers installed here.
Two images: An accident waiting to happen. A clear view of the track (south towards Bad Nenndorf) from the road is hindered by bushes, tall grass, trees and nearby houses.
Deutsche Bahns spokesman in Hannover, Hans-Jürgen Frohns, vehemently refuted Lattwesens accusations: Grade crossing safety and protection is not the sole responsibility of the railroad. Under German law the owners of the street or road are equally responsible for safety measures and devices installed at grade crossings, in this particular case that means Nenndorf Township and the County of Schaumburg. For the past two years there have been no incidents at this crossing.
National Corridors Initiative strongly believes that railroad-highway grade crossings such as these, where trains operate at speeds significantly faster than 20 mph, should either be closed and replaced with overpasses / underpasses, or fully equipped with gate arms or other physical barriers which positively inhibit the entry of highway vehicles and pedestrians into the grade crossing whenever a train is approaching.
A blind curve - this is yet another hazzard when trains are heading south out of Haste - neither the train driver nor motorists at this grade crossing can see each other until the train is just a few dozen meters away.
Getting the names right
The other week we ran a story about the new subway in New York being built to provide better access to Manhattan, including Grand Central Station. ( D:F June 18, 2007, A Tunnel to Nowhere will be built )
Okay, we know. Its Grand Central Terminal, not station. Rail people call it that because that is its proper name, and its important to get the names right.
But most ordinary people call it Grand Central Station, because in the popular lore (movies) and in the vernacular, thats what it gets called.
It is supposed to be called a terminal because the trains terminate or end there; Pennsylvania Station is a station however because many trains stop, but then continue on.
So, thats the rule.
Except when it isnt: in Boston, both South Station and North Stations are in fact terminals, because the tracks end there, and therefore ought to be called terminals, not stations.
Who is right?
Does it matter?
Well try to get the facts right, but lets keep one thing in mind: Ive always called it Grand Central Station, and I still do, but that didnt stop me and NCI from prying a few billion out of the Bush (I) Administration in 1991 to electrify the line New Haven-Boston line, which made it all-electric service, DC-Boston, for the first time, and cut travel time by 2-3 hours. And Ill bet Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis didnt ask for the proper name when raising the money to save Grand Central mmmmm . Terminal, back in the 1960s when the shock of the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station motivated her to get involved in historic preservation.
Call it the Terminal. Call it the Station. But get it built.
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