The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

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

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June 30, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 27

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

  News Items…
New Orleans Streetcars Back All The Way For First Time
   Since Katrina, Rita Storms
  Financial Lines…
Oregon Lottery To Generate $100 Million For 30
   New Transportation Projects
  Commuter Lines…
Another Round Of MTA Fare Hikes Likely
Boston’s Commuter Rail Adds Bicycle Rack Cars
 
  Environmental Lines…
Rail And Trail Planned For Rail Corridor Rehabilitation
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Opinion…
Federal $$$ Can’t Come Soon Enough For Older Sections
   Of Northeast Corridor
  Publication Notes …


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

New Orleans Streetcars Back All The Way
For First Time Since Katrina, Rita Storms

By DF Staff, from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Internet Sources

NEW ORLEANS --- Well before dawn on Sunday, June 22, a lone olive-green c. 1923 Perley Thomas streetcar, clanking and rolling as they always do, accelerating with a “pop” as the controller first engages and then the breakers release the power to the motor, rolled out of the car barn and onto the tracks of the New Orleans RTA, and headed into history.


Three photos: NCI, Jim RePass

No. 930 prepares to take passengers.

Photo: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Katrina in full roar, August 29, 2005

“Since December, the line has been open the entire length of St. Charles Avenue, while buses operated on the final leg of the line down South Carrollton to South Claiborne,” noted the Times-Picayune before the re-opening, “The first streetcar on Sunday will leave the Canal Street station at 3:53 a.m., and the last car will pull into the station Monday at 3:07 a.m. Cars will run every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on weekends.”

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans and much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, interrupting streetcar service and much, much more, a New Orleans streetcar was heading onto South Carrollton Avenue to take up its customary place at the corner of South Carrollton and South Claiborne, its terminus for 50+ years until that August day three years ago, and wait for its first full-route journey to Canal Street since the storm.

The cars, now nearing 85 years old and in superb condition because of the skilled Louisiana craftsmen of the RTA, survived the storm on high ground in the Carrollton car barn while most of the newer replica cars, in service on the Riverfront line and stored in a barn in Mid-City, were destroyed by flood waters that filled the “bowl” stretching down from Lake Pontchartrain through the Lakeville and Mid City neighborhoods.

“The streetcars, first introduced in 1835, are symbols of the city. St. Charles is the busiest RTA line and the most popular among tourists, affording views of Tulane and Loyola universities as well as Audubon Park. The return of the entire line has been long-awaited by many local riders,” wrote the Times-Picayune’s Nicole Dungca.

“I think that it’s obviously another sign of New Orleans returning to a sense of normalcy. These are tangible reminders that we can do this and move forward,” the Times-Picayune quoted Gene Meneray, the director of the arts business program of the Arts Council of New Orleans, as saying

“This means that people can ride the streetcar to work again and leave the gas guzzler at home,” one resident noted, the T-P said.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at ndungca@timespicayune.com or (504)-826-3321


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FINANCIAL LINES... Financial Lines...

Oregon Lottery To Generate $100 Million
For 30 New Transportation Projects

From Progressive Railroading
“The Rail Professionals’ Information Source”

The Oregon Transportation Commission recently approved funding for 30 rail, air, marine and public transit projects. The commission will provide $100 million from a lottery bond-backed “ConnectOregon” program, reports Progressive Railroading Enacted last year and coordinated by the Oregon Department of Transportation, ConnectOregon provides funding for transportation projects not involving highways.

In April, a 25-member final review committee ranked projects among a list of 70 seeking $178.5 million in ConnectOregon funds. The first 30 approved for funding include 13 rail, 10 aviation, five transit and two marine projects.

Among the freight-rail projects obtaining funds:

Among the public transit projects, the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon and Gresham Redevelopment Commission will reconstruct the 188th Street light-rail station as part of an urban renewal effort. The station will feature expanded platforms, wider sidewalks, bike lanes and new lighting, Progressive Railroading reported.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

Another Round Of MTA Fare Hikes Likely

From Internet Sources

NEW YORK --- The head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is painting a bleak picture for commuters looking to avoid a second fare hike in as many years, reports The New York Sun’s Mark Giannotto.

“The executive director and CEO of the MTA, Elliot Sander, said the agency is facing shrinking revenues and increased expenses, and could be between $15 billion and $20 billion behind on its next capital budget and have an operating budget deficit of more than $500 million by the end of the fiscal year,” reported the paper this past week.

“We are reaching our time of reckoning,” Sander said at an MTA finance committee meeting yesterday in response to questions about a possible fare hike, the Sun reported MTA Chairman as saying. “If the MTA does not receive assistance from Albany and its funding partners, then there’s a real prospect of that happening.”

“He said the capital spending shortfall was due to increasing construction costs, which the committee addressed with more than $2.4 billion in deferrals from the original capital plan of 2005-09. It would most notably delay renovations to 19 subway stations,”

“Things that get deferred have a way of disappearing,” the chief attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, Gene Russianoff, said, noting that when the original capital program was ratified, 12 additional station renovations were also deferred. “My view is a cut is a cut.”

Much of the operating budget shortfall has to do with dwindling real estate revenues, reported The Sun, which are $122 million behind year-to-date figures in budget projections. In addition, the agency is already more than $9 million over budget in fuel costs, the Sun reported.

For the complete story go to: http://www.nysun.com/new-york/another-round-of-mta-fare-hikes-likely/80556/.


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Photo: MBTA 

Passenger sets his bike in one of the on-board racks
Boston’s Commuter Rail
Adds Bicycle Rack Cars

By DF Staff and Internet Sources

BOSTON --- The MBTA is adding a second commuter rail coach equipped with bike racks, the transportation agency reported last week, in response to growing customer demand.

The rail cars join dozens of buses equipped with bike-carrying racks, as commuters look for ways to avoid $4 a gallon gas on every segment of their commute.

Currently, nearly 90 percent of stations have bike racks and about a third of buses have racks.  The T’s goal is to have the entire fleet of buses equipped by 2012.

And on weekends bikers can take the Weekend Bike Train from South Station on the Greenbush Line to reach Nantasket and South Shore Beaches; or from North Station on the Rockport Line to reach Cape Ann beaches. “When you take this handy short cut to the shore, both you and your bike can ride for the price of a regular off-peak ticket,” said the MBTA in announcing the service. “Our specially equipped Greenbush Line and Rockport Line Bike Coaches comfortably accommodate bikes, passengers and all your gear.”

MBTA Weekend bike trains to Boston’s South Shore:

Departs South Station at 8:05 A.M. / Arrives at Greenbush Station at 9:02 A.M. 
Departs South Station at 11:03 A.M. /  Arrives at Greenbush Station at 12:02 P.M.
Departs Greenbush Station at 12:20 P.M. / Arrives at South Station at 1:18 P.M.
Departs Greenbush Station 6:30 P.M. /  Arrives at South Station at 7:27 P.M.

Weekend bike trains to Boston’s North Shore

Departs North Station at 10:15 A.M. / Arrives at Rockport Station at 11:27 A.M. 
Departs North Station at 2:15 P.M. /  Arrives at Rockport Station at 3:22 P.M.
Departs Rockport Station at 12:00 P.M. / Arrives at North Station at 1:07 P.M.
Departs Rockport Station 5:10 P.M. /  Arrives at North Station at 6:22 P.M.

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ENVIRONMENTAL LINES... Environmental Lines...

Rail And Trail Planned For Rail Corridor Rehabilitation

From Internet Sources

AUGUSTA, ME, JUNE 26 — The State of Maine is about to accomplish something that rail advocates and trail users sometimes come to blows over - a win-win Rails to Trails project that will have BOTH!

The Ellsworth-American reported last week that the Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Maine Department of Conservation (DOC) will begin construction to rehabilitate the 85-mile Calais Branch Corridor and the Downeast Sunrise Trail Project.

“The Calais Branch Corridor Rehabilitation Project is an interagency effort that will rehabilitate and preserve the 85-mile rail corridor for future rail use as well as provide a wide, compact gravel base, multi-use trail for snowmobilers, ATVs, pedestrians, bicyclists, cross country skiers, equestrians and others.

Vaughn Thibodeau & Sons of Bangor will rehabilitate the rail bed corridor from Washington Junction in Hancock to Ayers Junction in Pembroke.”

“This project has been in the works for almost 20 years,” said Jim Fisher, transportation planner for the Ellsworth-based Hancock County Planning Commission. “The MDOT has spent a lot of time putting together a management plan with the DOC, which has extensive experience in running multi-use trails in other parts of the state.”

Fisher said the rail bed rehabilitation could take 18 months, but that portions of the trail could be opened to snowmobiles this winter, most likely in the Machias area.

“The full trail won’t open until winter of 2009, but things are happening very quickly,” Fisher said. “The contract was just awarded, and already two miles of rail have been removed.”

The MDOT purchased the Calais Branch Corridor from Maine Central Railroad in 1987, in order to preserve the corridor for future rail use. This project, overseen by both the DOC and MDOT, will remove the substandard rail, repair washouts, place decking over bridges, rehabilitate the corridor and construct an 85-mile multi-use trail and parking lots. Rehabilitation of the corridor is expected to take approximately 14 months and the cost of the project is $3.9 million. The multi-use trail is expected to open in the fall of 2009.

“Putting this asset to use for the region as a multi-use trail is enormously important,” said state Sen. Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County), chairman of the state’s Transportation Committee “It makes sense to rehabilitate the corridor, protect it and put it to good use for the region. I look forward to the day when we can put down new rails and re-establish rail in the Downeast region.”

Governor Baldacci said, “This project is an important step in maintaining the rail corridor as an asset. The preservation of the structure ensures the option to expand rail to eastern Maine in the future.”

The scenic rail corridor runs along the entire Downeast coastal area, connects multiple scenic conservation areas, and intersects Downeast salmon rivers. Officials believe it will bring economic and recreational benefits to the Washington County and Hancock County areas by enticing visitors who will stay at local hotels and visit restaurants and other attractions.

Some environmentalists are worried about the project’s negative effects on wildlife and people such as noise and pollution from snowmobiles and ATVs.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)97.40103.02
Canadian National (CNI)47.9649.45
Canadian Pacific (CP)67.0066.90
CSX (CSX)62.1464.83
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)34.0736.71
Kansas City Southern (KSU)43.5347.52
Norfolk Southern (NSC)61.0463.74
Providence & Worcester (PWX)20.2520.95
Union Pacific (UNP)73.8376.88


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OPINION... Opinion...

Federal $$$ Can’t Come Soon Enough
For Older Sections Of Northeast Corridor

By Paul Nussbaum
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
Copyright © 2008The Philadelphia Inquirer. Used By Permission

(Publisher’s Note: The following story from the June 24,2008 Philadelphia Inquirer was written by Paul Nussbaum, the same savvy infrastructure reporter whose story warned of the dangers that hurricanes posed to New Orleans because of lapses in infrastructure maintenance --- 11 months before the hurricane hit)

WEST PHILADEPHIA, PA---Next to Jim Cade’s auto body shop in West Philadelphia, an Amtrak retaining wall is crumbling into his parking lot.

Eight feet away, Amtrak and SEPTA trains rush past on the busy line that runs through the Main Line toward Paoli and Harrisburg.

“People ride by every day and have no idea this is like this,” Cade said, pointing to a section where the stone-and-concrete wall has given way entirely, spilling dirt and debris. “The deterioration gets worse with each rain.”

Cade worries that the failing wall could eventually undermine the stability of the tracks and cause a train wreck.

Several blocks away, at 52nd and Jefferson streets, three massive steel bridges that carry dozens of Amtrak and SEPTA trains every day are slowly deteriorating. Skillet-sized sheets of rust are flaking off, and daylight is visible through some side plates.

Throughout the Philadelphia region and much of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is struggling to maintain old bridges, tunnels, retaining walls and other infrastructure. Chronically short of money, Amtrak has put off an estimated $5 billion in needed repairs and upgrades nationwide, and most of that is along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

That could be both hazardous and expensive.

“In addition to increasing the risk of a major failure on the system, the deteriorated condition of Amtrak’s rolling stock and infrastructure may contribute to higher operating costs and reduced reliability of service,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a study last year. “...The cost and extent of the needed improvements remain a significant burden to the financial viability of the existing intercity passenger rail system.”

Amtrak engineering officials say the aging infrastructure remains safe, but much of it needs to be replaced as soon as money is available.

“Do not confuse not-in-good-repair with not being safe,” chief engineer Frank Vacca said. “We are insuring rider safety all the time. The nice-to-do things get deferred, but that has no direct impact on safety.”

In the Philadelphia region, 89 of 323 Amtrak bridges are listed for repair or upgrade in the next few years - including the 52nd Street bridges, and about 15 are under construction now, according to Jim Richter, Amtrak’s deputy chief engineer of structures.

This month, the U.S. House approved a $14.9 billion authorization bill to rebuild Amtrak, following passage of a similar $11.4 billion measure by the Senate last October. President Bush has threatened to veto the Amtrak spending plan, saying the bills don’t hold Amtrak sufficiently accountable for its spending.

But the margins of support in both houses of Congress were large enough to override a presidential veto.

The effort to shore up Amtrak’s underpinnings comes at a time of record ridership, as increased costs of air and auto travel have helped sell train tickets.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Vacca. “We’re getting greater participation by Congress, and we’re making a lot more progress. And in the environment today, with higher gas prices and increasing ridership, it’s a further catalyst.”

May was the biggest month in Amtrak’s 37-year history, with total ridership up 12 percent over last year and ticket revenue up 16 percent. A record 25.8 million passengers rode Amtrak in the last fiscal year, and the railroad expects nearly 28 million riders this year.

With the new riders and the prospect of new money are growing demands for Amtrak to fix its system.

Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who chairs Council’s transportation committee, said he will ask the city to sue Amtrak if the rail corporation doesn’t do better.

He wrote to Amtrak officials in May, asking for repairs to the Lancaster Avenue retaining wall and the 52nd Street bridges and other sites. He said he’s gotten no response from Amtrak.

“I’m really going to make this an issue,” said Jones, who plans to convene hearings in September. “Amtrak needs to do its part.”

Richter said the retaining wall will be rebuilt in the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

Nationwide, Amtrak has about 1,400 bridges, with an average age of nearly 100 years. That puts many of them beyond their anticipated life span. About 400 of the bridges are on Amtrak’s priority lists for repair or replacement.

“Many of our assets are older...and we haven’t had the capital allocation we would have liked,” said Vacca.

Amtrak officials declined to release the list of bridges and tunnels that are slated for repair or replacement.

Vacca said one of the top candidates is the Baltimore-Potomac tunnel, which was built in 1873. Replacement of the Baltimore tunnel would cost about $1 billion, he said.

The authorization bills that passed Congress require Amtrak to bring the Northeast Corridor into “a state of good repair.” To meet that obligation, Vacca said, would cost about $600 million a year over 10 years.

The bills that have passed the House and Senate now must go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions. Then each house will vote on a final bill to be sent to the White House, where the threat of a veto awaits.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2008 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

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