Vol. 8 No. 28
July 9, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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A weekly North American transportation update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKay
European Correspondent - David Beale
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

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

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items…
Drivers Cut Back — A 1st In 26 Years
Amtrak and GrandLuxe Team Up To Provide Luxury Rail Service
   Between Washington, D.C. And Miami
Nissan Altima Hybrid Delivers As Advertised
  Commuter lines…
SEPTA Approves Fare Hike, Eliminates Use Of Transfers
  Feature video…
SNCF Orders 500-Units Of Bombardier’s “Autorail Grande Capacité”
   Commuter Trains
  Across the Pond…
Warning Strikes On German Rail System Over - For Now
Germany Bans Smoking In Public Transport
Railteam Alliance Launched
DB Acquires British And Spanish Rail Freight Companies
  Selected rail stocks…
Cities Along California Zephyr Route Called To Denver
   For Station Summit
Station Upgrades Needed To Make Rail Line Work
  We get letters…
  End notes…

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News items...

Drivers Cut Back — A 1st In 26 Years

DF Staff, USA TODAY, and other Internet Sources

An analysis of federal highway data by USA TODAY shows that the average American motorist “is driving substantially fewer miles for the first time in 26 years.”

“The growth in miles driven has leveled off dramatically in the past 18 months,” the report states. After 25 years of steady climbs and an additional 1 million more drivers on the nations roadways since 2005, miles driven in February 2007 were down 1.9% from February 2006.

A slight rebound in March brought the year-over-year gain to 0.3% but that is in sharp contrast to the average annual growth of 2.7% recorded by the Federal Highway Administration from 1980 to 2005.

Miles driven in February declined 1.9% from February 2006 before rebounding slightly for a 0.3% year-over-year gain in March, data from the Federal Highway Administration show. That’s in sharp contrast to the average annual growth rate of 2.7% recorded from 1980 through 2005.

During the past 18 months, the nation’s population and workforce have grown by just over 1% a year, so an annual gain of 0.3% indicates a decrease in miles per person, the report continues.

CUTTING BACK: Drivers Begin To Look ‘Outside The Box’

“You have demographic shifts, traffic congestion and increased gas prices,” says Ed McMahon, senior research fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit group that promotes innovative development. “For the first time in recent history, the rate of vehicle miles traveled is not increasing at the rate it was for 25 years. It’s having an effect and is changing in subtle ways the way people think about their driving.”

In 1981, because of the oil shortage, a recession, and high gas prices (in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation, gas cost $3.22 in 1981), the growth in driving slowed but since then the rise has been steady.

Factors contributing to today’s slowdown:

Americans are driving about 200 million to 300 million fewer miles a day than they would be if the annual growth rate of 1.9% from 2000-2005 had continued.

Air Pollution From Vehicles Still Major Problem

In Connecticut, a substantial increase in telecommuters has helped decrease the number of cars on the roads. A survey by the Connecticut Business Industry Association (CBIA) in 2006 shows that the numbers of telecommuters rose from 85,260 in December 2001 to more than 158,000 in 2006 – an 86% increase. Nine percent of working Connecticut residents telecommute on a regular basis. That translates into approximately 60,000 cars a day eliminated from the roadways.

Despite what appears to be an encouraging trend in reduction of vehicular traffic, however, an analysis of air pollution in Connecticut caused by vehicle exhaust underscores the reality that we have a long ways to go in cleaning up the air. The report, released in March 2006 by the non-profit organization, Environment and Human Health, Inc., states that Connecticut’s air quality is exceptionally poor, partly from air flowing in from the Midwest and from other areas in the Northeast, but also from the 31 billion miles driven every year by Connecticut residents. “Vehicular exhaust is the largest contributor to our state’s air pollution problems,” the report continues. Our nation is experiencing an epidemic of illnesses - asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems, all exacerbated by air pollution, said John Wargo, Ph.D., lead author of the report and professor at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Connecticut Department of Transportation projects that vehicle miles traveled in Connecticut will increase by about 22 percent in the next 16 years.

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Amtrak And GrandLuxe Team Up To Provide Luxury Rail
Service Between Washington, D.C. And Miami

Amtrak Media

WASHINGTON, DC and EVERGREEN, COLO. , JUNE 27 — Rail passengers traveling on the Amtrak route between Washington, D.C. and Miami will soon have the option of lingering over five-course dinners, sleeping in luxurious suites and enjoying personal butler service. Called GrandLuxe Limited, the new service uses a separate, private, seven-car luxury train attached to Amtrak’s Silver Meteor to transport passengers between the nation’s capital and sunny Florida.

The premium service is being made possible by a new partnership between GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, the country’s premier private rail tour operator, and Amtrak, the national passenger rail service. The GrandLuxe train, which features Dining, Lounge and Sleeping cars appointed with elegant vintage furnishings, will be occupied exclusively by GrandLuxe Limited passengers on the overnight trip.

This is the first time in history that regularly-scheduled luxury accommodations have been offered on Amtrak between Washington, D.C. and Miami.

Departures from Washington, D.C.’s Union Station begin November 6 and continue on multiple dates during November and December, with the last trip departing on January 2, 2008. Departures from the Miami Amtrak Station begin November 8, with the last departure slated for January 4, 2008. There are 40 total departures scheduled.

“The GrandLuxe Limited service allows us to bring back the Golden Age of Rail, offering luxury train travel to thousands of people who may not have had the opportunity before,” said GrandLuxe CEO Tom Rader. “With Amtrak’s facilities and GrandLuxe’s outstanding equipment and service, it’s a winning situation for everyone.”

During the same November-January time frame, over 50 GrandLuxe Limited departures will be offered on Amtrak routes between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area and between Chicago and Los Angeles. Limited departures will also be available between Washington, D.C. and Chicago, and from Denver to the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver to Chicago, and Chicago to Albuquerque.

The new service is an effort to introduce a broader market to luxury train travel. GrandLuxe Limited prices start at just $789, offering two- and three-day itineraries at more affordable prices than traditional GrandLuxe tours, which cover broader itineraries of seven to 10 days.

GrandLuxe Contact, Jane Carroll Andrade (303) 674-1561

Amtrak Contact, Karina Romero (202) 906-3860

About GrandLuxe Rail Journeys

GrandLuxe Rail Journeys (formerly American Orient Express), based in Evergreen, Colo., specializes in long-distance trips in which travelers sleep in private cabins aboard the country’s premier, private passenger train. With 13 different two- to 10-day itineraries offered year-round throughout the United States, including national parks and other popular destinations, a journey aboard the GrandLuxe Express is much more than a train trip. Passengers experience the Golden Age of Rail on the elegant 21-car train appointed with vintage furnishings. Guests dine on delicious, upscale cuisine in the Dining Car, relax in the inviting Lounge Car, sleep in comfortable cabins, and enjoy personal service from their porters, butlers, wait staff and tour guides. Passengers also view some of the country’s most stunning sights as the train winds through some of the nation’s rarely seen countryside.

For information, schedules and reservations aboard the GrandLuxe Limited, visit www.GrandLuxeRail.com or call 1 (800) 320-4206.

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Nissan Altima Hybrid Delivers As Advertised;

Could Be Good Choice for State Auto Fleets

By Jim RePass, President & CEO, NCI


Altima on display at Rodd Brudenell River Resort, Roseneath, Prince Edward Island

All images: Jim RePass, NCI

Altima on display at the main entrance to The Rodd Brudenell River Resort, Roseneath, Prince Edward Island, during the New England Governors’ Eastern Canadian Premiers’ Conference

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND --- The site of this year’s New England Governors’ and eastern Canadian Premiers’ Conference was also the destination for NCI’s first road test of a hybrid automobile.

Before our readers think we’ve taken leave of our senses, let’s remember that NCI exists to advance investment in transportation technology that 1) boosts economic development and 2) benefits the environment over current choices. Our participation in the Governors’ conference was prompted by our program to develop a regional infrastructure authority for New England/New York State/the Eastern Canadian Provinces, a region very challenged by economic and demographic factors that have conspired to reduce the region’s ability to compete in world markets.

The author at the wheel, Altima Hybrid, Mt. Katahdin, Maine

The author at the wheel, Altima Hybrid, Mt. Katahdin, Maine

One key element of that New England/NorthEastern Infrastructure Authority (NENEIA) would be a joint approach to larger infrastructure projects, like rail systems, that cross state or provincial boundary lines, and which can not be tackled by one or two small states by themselves; another element of our proposed NENEIA, designed to reduce costs to the taxpayer, is a joint procurement system for transit, bus, and other state vehicles

To that end, and recalling my days as owner of a company that built of racing cars and engines in the mid 1970’s, and my role in raising the money for, and helping to drive, an all-electric Chevy S10 pick-up truck across the United States in 1992, I asked Nissan Motors to supply us with a Hybrid Nissan Altima Hybrid to travel to and from the NECG, which they were kind enough to do.

The choice of the Altima was not accidental, shall we say. While the Toyota Prius was the first hybrid car out of the box in the U.S. market, and is the market leader, it appeals to those who want to make a very visible statement about the environment: it looks like a hybrid auto should look, especially to those of my friends in the Birkenstock set.

The Altima Hybrid at Elmira, northeastern end of Prince Edward Island

The Altima Hybrid at Elmira, northeastern end of Prince Edward Island

The Nissan Altima Hybrid, on the other hand, simply looks like a Nissan Altima, which it is, except that Nissan has upgraded the size and features of that car to a level considerably above the Altima rental I had a few years ago, which if stylish was too noisy and somewhat cramped. What I was looking for was a vehicle that would be large enough to carry four adults comfortably, be reasonably priced, and, of course, be a hybrid that would get better gas mileage than a similar all-gas car.

This Altima delivered, on all counts. First, it had a spacious cabin, which surprised me even though I had sought it out in part for that reason. Secondly, it was quiet even at highway speeds, with minimal wind noise. At city speeds, it was virtually silent, with the electric motor providing all the power.

While good fit and finish of Japanese cars has come to be a given, this vehicle was near-perfect, with the only blemish a too-soft rear deck lid spring, combined with two pointy deck lid edges that could allow a too-muscular trunk opener to inadvertently scratch or crack the rear windshield.

Mileage was 33.9 miles on average for the 1789-mile round trip, not far from the 36 advertised for highway miles; around town the gauge read “40” and I believe that. The Altima Hybrid combines a 2.5 liter Double Overhead Cam four cylinder engine with an electric motor, and produces a total of 198 horsepower, more than adequate for acceleration and highway passing, even with the CVT (Constant Velocity Transmision), which on some cars can feel mushy. The Altima Hybrid’s felt fine.

The McAdam, NB, train station, at Prince Edward Island

The McAdam, NB, train station, from a bygone passenger era that we need to reinvent for the 21st century

The notion of joint purchasing of cars such as the Altima Hybrid would help reduce the cost of this kind of car, of course, as fixed costs are spread over a larger production base. By providing a large order to Nissan from the region – and right now it is only being sold in California, New Jersey, and all of the New England states except New Hampshire --- which have the most stringent anti-pollution laws for automobiles --- we can help accelerate that trend. As tested, at about $26,000, with a lot of creature comforts except for leather, moonroof, and GPS, the Altima Hybrid gets about a $2,500 premium over a similar conventional model. I’d buy it; some people will choose to wait for the Li-Ion battery version coming in a few years, but then, the perfect is the enemy of the possible.

All in all, this is a superb vehicle that does less harm to the environment than most, and does so in comfort and style.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

SEPTA Approves Fare Hike,
Eliminates Use Of Transfers

Bus, Subway And Trolley Fares Won’t Rise, But Passes Will Cost More. Transfers Will Be Eliminated.

From Internet Sources

SEPTA, facing a $129 million deficit in its new operating budget, has approved fare hikes for passes on all its transit modes: bus, subway and rail, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer in a story by Paul Nussbaum. The increase of 11 percent, which will take effect on July 9, was approved in a 13-2 vote by the agency and has been endorsed by Mayor John Street. The increases will also be accompanied by elimination of transfers, which the mayor does not support.

Cash fares will remain the same, but transfers will be eliminated on August 1, the story continued, requiring riders to buy an additional token or use a pass. Weekly and monthly passes will increase. Regional Rail riders that buy monthly passes for specific zones will pay an increase as well. In Zone 1 (Philadelphia) TransPassses will not be accepted, so riders will to buy new TrailPasses at a price 20 percent higher than the present cost.

Plans are being worked on now so that Philadelphia student riders might not have to pay for transfers.

The last time SEPTA raised fares was in 2001.

By raising fares, SEPTA is showing the legislature that they are willing to do their share for some of the increased costs, while at the same time the agency is asking for more money from the state.

SEPTA officials hope to avoid a “doomsday” plan with much higher fares, service reductions and even job cuts which they have proposed if the state does not increase transit funding.

“We have to show we can do some of our housekeeping,” said Board Chairman Pasquale “Pat” Deon after yesterday’s vote, in which all suburban representatives voted for the budget while Philadelphia’s two representatives voted against it.

Jettie Newkirk, one of the city representatives, said she opposed the elimination of transfers, which will hit city passengers most heavily.

The agency has posted the new fare structure on its Web site, www.septa.org.

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

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FEATURE VIDEO...  Feature video...

SNCF Orders 500-units Of Bombardier’s
“Autorail Grande Capacité” Commuter Trains

All Images: Bombardier

“Autorails Grande Capacité” (AGC) as seen at a station

FRANCE --- The French rail system SNCF has ordered 500 additional “Autorails Grande Capacité” (AGC) for its growing suburban, regional and interregional services.

“The AGC is the new generation of regional trains for both the French and the European market,” stated Bombardier in making the announcement.

While the United States makes do with 40-year-old equipment in some of the nation’s most congested regions, if it offers any rail at all, the French (and other European countries) are rapidly modernizing their ground transportation system to offer a comfortable, and by current American standards, luxurious, alternative to automobile commuting.

AGC traveling the countryside.

Importantly, the AGC is available in either diesel of electric versions AND a dual mode version, which will enable French commuters to get to work in a single-seat ride in regions where the more lightly travelled suburban lines, which are not always electrified, connect to the electrified urban intercity rail network. Transportation consultants have long known that requiring passengers to change trains to complete a trip cuts usage by 30-50%; a single seat ride is a feature that might make these dual-mode trains particularly attractive to eventual U.S. use, along the many unelectrified as well as electrified and combined commuter rail lines serving the cities of the Northeast (Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, New York, Stamford, New Haven, New London, Providence, Boston) all of which are connected via the fully electrified (since 1999, when thanks to the work of the National Corridors Initiative the New Haven-Boston segment opened to electric use) Northeast Corridor.

  Click the image for a video presentation by Bombardier. (Windows Media WMV)

“These Bombardier AGC trains are a significant development for the future,” stated NCI President Jim RePass. “While only available at present in Europe, perhaps regional rail systems across America can look at this kind of modern technology as a potential solution over time, as the regions’ rail systems are modernized as they must be if America is going to compete with the rest of the world for business and tourism.”

For the French regional rail system, Bombardier states: “The complete AGC portfolio is based on a fully modular concept offering an adapted solution for the various operational requirements of each Region. The AGC configuration can be varied along three dimensions: number of cars, type of interior arrangement, and propulsion mode.”

“For suburban services, a four-car configuration with two doors per intermediate car allows for a maximum passenger capacity and passenger flow. For regional services, a two-, three- or four car configuration makes it possible to adapt the offered capacity to the various transportation requirements. In that case, the intermediate cars are equipped with one door only. Finally, for interregional services it is also possible to omit the door on the intermediate car. The product family AGC offers numerous trainset configurations from two to four cars, a seating capacity from 120 seats up to 240 and a maximum speed from140 to 160 km/h,” Bombardier said.

The electric trainsets are also available as multi-voltage vehicles, allowing service into the neighboring countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany,

Switzerland and Italy.

Industry sources say that one American system, NJ Transit, is likely to be the leader in ordering this type of dual-mode modern trainset.

Partial Specifications, Diesel:

  • 2-car; 3-car; or 4-car
  • Minimum curve radius 80 m (all)
  • Length over couplers 42 m; 57.4 m; 72.8 m
  • Width 2.95 m (all)
  • Height 4.02 m (all)
  • Motor power 1 x 622 kW; 2 x 622 kW; 2 x 622 kW
  • Maximum speed 140 km/h; 160 km/h; 140 km/h
  • Total number of seats (“grand confort” version) 120; 160; 220
    - 2nd class 108; 138; 198
    – including tip-up seats 16; 22; 28
    - 1st class 12; 22; 22
  • Maximum number of seats 144; 208; 272
  • Standing passengers (4p/m2) 130; 200; 251
  • Toilets (“grand confort” version) 1 2 2
  • Weight (normal load) 92.6 t 130.6 t 158.5 t

Electric / Dual Mode:

Available as triple voltage version 15 kV 16 Hz 2/3 or 3 kV; also available as bi-mode diesel version 25 kV, Electric 25 kV and 1.5 kV Bi-mode Diesel 1.5 kV

For additional specifications and technical layout click here for the AGC PDF Brochure.

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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the Pond...

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

Warning Strikes On German Rail System Over - For Now

Sources: NDR Info Radio, press releases from GDL trade union, DBAG

Berlin - Deutsche Bahn AG / German Railways (DBAG) and the three trade unions, which represent the vast majority of the labor force involved with operation, service and support of nearly all passenger trains and many freight trains on the German rail network agreed to a temporary truce on Thursday (5th of July) in their dispute with Europe’s largest transportation firm, thus ending a series of warning strikes in the early part of the week. In a joint press release DBAG along with labor unions Transnet, GDBA and GBL said that the rail system would resume normal operations without further warning strikes in the short term.

On Tuesday and Wednesday numerous warning strikes were staged around the DBAG rail network, which resulted in early termination or outright cancellation of approximately 30% of all passenger trains, with ripple effects propagating deep into remaining train operations. Both local commuter trains and intercity trains were struck by union members. Each of the many hundreds of warning strikes lasted only a couple of hours each, primarily during the morning commute time. However the disruptions to travel plans of many thousands of travelers continued for the remainder of the day as the system attempted to recover from the effects of hundreds of trains and crews located hundreds of kilometers and several hours away from their normal positions for regular system operation.

Many travelers expressed outright anger at the striking employees for causing the traffic chaos. “Transnet just signed a new labor contract not even two years ago with the railroad which gives them guaranteed job protection and pay for the next decade,” stated exasperated DB passenger Ruediger Mormann on his way from Hannvoer to Essen. “I don’t have that kind of guarantee on my job, I can not imagine why they are striking yet again”.

GDL, the labor union representing locomotive and train drivers, will start another round of discussions starting on the 13th of July, the other two unions are expected to follow suit. GDL has broken ranks from the other labor unions with its eye-popping one-time 31% increase in pay for its members. The other unions are asking for pay increases in the range of 6 - 11%.

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Germany Bans Smoking In Public Transport

Source: Deutsche Press Agentur (dpa)

Berlin (dpa) - Legislation banning smoking in German public transport cleared its final hurdle in a vote in the Bundesrat (the upper house of the German Parliament) on Friday, 6th of July, while the 16 states proceeded towards weaker bans on smoking in bars and restaurants. Germany has agonized for years about a ban, and has decided to take a more modest line than many of its European neighbors which have introduced total bans.

Smoking will be prohibited in all light rail trams, commuter trains, subways and intercity trains, including intercity express (ICE) high speed trains. Most local and regional public transport systems in Germany have prohibited smoking in city busses and local trains since the 1980s, if not earlier. Smoking will be banned from September in 450 federal government buildings except in designated smoking rooms. But there will be no exceptions in taxis, busses and trains. Smokers face fines of up to EUR 1000 (US $1360). The legislation had earlier been adopted in the lower house of parliament (Bundestag).

Bans by the 16 states in Germany are to be enacted in the next few months and include a ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and shopping malls. But the owners will be allowed to establish special indoor smokers’ zones. On Wednesday, the city-state of Hamburg was among the first to pass such legislation, but exempted its airport, beer-tents and club-rooms. Smokers face fines of up to EUR 200 for each violation.

The legislation has split the German tobacco lobby, with the biggest maker, US-based Philip Morris, accepting the move and calling for more restrictions on cigarette advertising. Smaller makers oppose the restrictions.

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Railteam Alliance Launched

Source: Air Transport World daily news update

Brussels - Nine European passenger rail operators on the 2nd of July officially cemented an alliance to compete against airlines more effectively on intra-EU routes. The ceremony and signing of the legal agreements took place in Brussels. The newly formed “Railteam Alliance” will combine the efficient high-speed services of Austria’s OBB, Belgium’s SNCB, France’s SNCF and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, along with current international partnerships Eurostar, Thalys and TGV Lyria.

This alliance is modeled on airline alliances such as Sky Team, Star Alliance and One World in order to provide cross - border ticket and reservations on each other’s reservation system. That will make booking international travel by trains and getting discount fares far easier, especially on each company’s internet site. Until now booking of tickets and seat reservations on international rail journey via the internet has been very difficult, if not impossible, for most travelers in Europe, especially if the journey involves crossing two or more international borders, which is a problem not experienced by air travelers flying between two or more European countries.

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DB Acquires British And Spanish Rail Freight Companies

Source: Bahn TV, the 24 hour satellite
Cable TV news channel of Deutsche Bahn AG

Berlin - Hartmut Mehdord, Chairman of Deutsche Bahn AG (DBAG) - German Railways, announced on 28th June that DBAG will acquire all of the shares in English Welsh Scottish Railways (EWS), as well as a controlling interest in Transfesa after the takeover plans were approved by DB’s board of directors. EWS is the largest rail freight hauler in Great Britain, while Transfea is a Spanish rail cargo firm which specializes in rail freight between France and Spain. EWS’ wholly owned subsidiary Euro Cargo Rail is one of the few independent rail freight haulers operating in France in competition with SNCF, the French state-owned rail system. Both companies will be folded into DBAG rail freight subsidiary DB Logistics when the acquisition is completed.

Subject to approval by government authorities, DB will pay approximately EUR 500 million (US $675 million) for EWS. EWS is currently 31% owned by Canadian National Railway and two private equity firms, Berkshire Partners in the USA, and Fay Richwhite of Switzerland. It carries around 100 million metric tons (110 million US tons) of freight per year and has annual revenues of approximately EUR 770 million.

Transfesa operates freight services between Spain’s Iberian broad gage network and the European standard gauge network using freight wagons with gage-changing axles. It operated 3309 million ton-km in 2005 and had sales of EUR 290 million. The purchase of controlling shares in Transfesa provides DB access to Spain and Portugal.

DB Logistics chairman Norbert Bensel said: “This expansion is our answer to the ever more complex logistic requirements of our customers. EWS and Transfesa will enable us to close important gaps in the DB Logistics rail freight network. Therefore we will be better equipped to offer our customers attractive products in the future.”

Industry observers expect that the next phase of Deutsche Bahn’s expansion will be purchases and investments in Eastern Europe and perhaps in the former Soviet Union in order to assemble an Asia - Europe rail freight system under one corporate identity. Deutsche Bahn is already the largest transportation and logistics firm, when measured by gross sales revenues and employees, based in Europe with subsidiary companies in Italy, Switzerland, Poland, USA, China and Japan.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)86.7085.14
Canadian National (CNI)52.7350.93
Canadian Pacific (CP)71.0268.82
CSX (CSX)46.4345.08
Florida East Coast (FLA)83.0882.98
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)30.7029.84
Kansas City Southern (KSU)38.8137.54
Norfolk Southern (NSC)54.0252.57
Providence & Worcester (PWX)19.5019.34
Union Pacific (UNP)116.81115.15

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EVENTS...  Events...

Cities Along California Zephyr Route
Called To Denver For Station Summit

Amtrak Invites Communities to “Civic Conversation” About Rail Depot Development And Restoration

Source: Amtrak Media Relations

WASHINGTON, JULY 2 – Citing the need for a greater exchange of success stories and to provide additional passenger rail station improvement resources, Amtrak has invited communities along the 2,438-mile route of the Amtrak California Zephyr to a “civic conversation” in Denver on July 24 as part of its “Great American Stations” Initiative.

Amtrak President and CEO Alex Kummant has sent “Great American Stations Civic Conversation” invitations to mayors and other civic leaders and state officials in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

Case studies will be highlighted from communities as small as Meridian, Mississippi, to as large as Kansas City, Missouri, and Denver. Representatives of those cities will explain how they shepherded their projects to successes that sparked additional redevelopment in their community.

Kummant and other Amtrak officials will attend the day-long workshop, which will also include information on station standards and a how-to session on getting started on a station renewal project and the types of state and federal grants available for station improvements.

Cities along the Amtrak California Zephyr route will also see the results of a recently concluded review of each of the 35 stations, with specific suggestions for upgrades at each facility. Future meetings are being planned along other routes in the 46-state Amtrak network.

“While Amtrak today serves more passengers than at any time in its history, too many of America’s passenger rail stations—most not owned by Amtrak—are falling into disrepair,” Kummant said. “Passenger rail stations greatly benefit the communities they serve, welcome visitors and function as connection points to other public transportation. They also have the potential to spark greater economic opportunities in the heart of these communities.

“We have a lot of experience and know-how about improving stations and we want to share that with our California Zephyr communities,” Kummant added.

Amtrak recently launched the www.greatamericanstations.com website to enable an exchange of information, to empower communities and provide a point of initial contact to develop partnerships in this initiative to rebuild and revitalize stations.

The site includes descriptions of the Amtrak California Zephyr stations and the complete Chicago-Seattle/Portland Amtrak Empire Builder route. Other stations and routes will be added to the site, which also features the latest Amtrak news headlines.

The website now spotlights the success of the station project in Mineola, Texas, and the story of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, station will soon be featured.

The Denver Union Station event is by invitation-only. A complete list of invitees is available upon request to Amtrak Media Relations. Reporters wishing to attend the “civic conversation” should also contact Amtrak Media Relations regarding availability.

Contact: Marc Magliari (312) 880-5390

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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

Station Upgrades Needed To Make Rail Line Work

By Nicholas Caruso
Reprinted with permission
(This article appeared in the Hartford Courant June 17, 2007.)

HARTFORD, CT -- Here it is 2007, and the Harford metro area and Massachusetts’s nearby Pioneer Valley are still fully dependent on automobile use, a pattern that has continued for decades since the trolley lines were removed, commuter rail service was scrapped and bus service was marginalized.

This is a major reason why this area of more than 1.7 million is still decaying as a viable business, technology and cultural center. The latest sign of this auto-centric decay came when MetLife confirmed in April that it was moving 1,300 jobs from downtown Hartford to suburban Bloomfield, due in large part to the lack of ample parking in the city.

This is a textbook example of why the region must have a strong transit system and why the state’s effort to bring back commuter rail service to the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) line can’t happen soon enough (it is scheduled for 2010).

But the trains are only part of the answer. To make the most of this investment, the region must bring people to the train service. We must expand the stations along the line, develop the areas around the stations and link this development to the urban fabric in each city. There are still numerous gaps between the tracks and each city center.

In New Haven, the new, centrally located State Street station is a good addition but only works as a secondary (and usually closed) platform away from the city’s larger Union Station a mile south of the downtown area.

In Meriden, there are plans to build up the area around the city’s existing rail platform, but the concept encourages low density, almost suburban infill between Main Street and City Hall.

Springfield’s massive yet mostly abandoned Union Station sits primarily within a suburban industrial park setting with a very unsafe passage linking the existing open station area with the downtown region south of the complex.

Finally, the largest gap along the line is Hartford’s Union Station, which is located on the edge of downtown between the city’s central business district to the east, the campuses of Aetna and The Hartford to the west, and the State Capitol grounds to the south. It has the capacity to bring in thousands of commuters into the city’s large financial center. However, the station is not prepared to take on this new service, nor are the parcels around the station being developed into transit-oriented design blocks that link the station with the $1.3 billion in downtown development. To put it another way, there is way too much surface parking around the station.

When it comes to strong examples of station work, the state can look at places such as Yonkers, N.Y. and Trenton, N.J. for inspiration. The Yonkers train station was renovated and the parcels around the facility were built up, spurring an additional $3 billion in development across the city. Trenton’s train station is being renovated and expanded. It is already linked with the downtown region and sits next to the northern terminus of a light rail line.

Today, Union Station is Hartford’s most underused asset. It’s time to link it with the rest of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods

The second issue is connecting the rail service with all of the communities in the corridor. The line will of course pass through active town centers such as Wallingford and Windsor. But as presently conceived, it misses at least two places that would greatly benefit from a rail connection.

If the line were extended just a few miles north of Springfield, it would tap into the academic and industrial centers of Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, and Amherst; a region that forms the upper half of the Hartford-Springfield “Knowledge Corridor.”

Within this region is an urban population of 250,000 with dense neighborhoods, beautiful industrial adaptive reuse potential and academic centers such as Smith, Mount Holyoke and Amherst Colleges, as well as the University of Massachusetts.

In Holyoke, there is a massive new “green” industrial reuse project in the city’s historic Canal District known as “Open Square” that uses local hydroelectric power. It is touted as the region’s premier mixed-use center of art galleries, entrepreneur businesses and urban lofts, all of which sits right next door to the rail line, the city’s abandoned H.H. Richardson train station and the rest of the district’s beautiful untapped industrial architecture.

Northampton and Amherst are hip and bustling urban academic and retail centers, easily accessible from Hartford by rail. Yet, though discussions have begun, there are still no plans to bring commuter service back to these communities.

The other area in need of service is Bradley International Airport. The state Department of Transportation quashed a proposed link between Hartford and the airport along the “Griffin Line” a decade ago, in part because of the cost and challenge of adding new track from the Griffin office park in Bloomfield to the main Bradley terminal in Windsor Locks.

However, when the MBTA completes its Rhode Island commuter line extension from downtown Providence to T.F. Green Airport and rail links to the New York airports are finished, Bradley will be the last major airport From Boston to New Jersey without a transit link.

The state has to link Hartford and Bradley; either by building a short rail spur from the NHHS line or by using and extending the Griffin Line. The advantage of the Griffin Line is that it would also connect Bloomfield center and the University of Hartford with Downtown Hartford.

By dealing with these issues and creating a strong foundation for future transit service, the region will be poised to grow its economy and become a stronger link in the Northeast Corridor economy.

Nicholas Caruso is a designer at Centerbrook Architects and Planners in Essex and an incoming Yale Master of Architecture II degree candidate. He can be reached at nicholas.j.caruso@gmail.com.

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor,

I found it funny to see Jim RePass with the premier of New Brunswick in Prince Edward Island.

What’s funny is that the capital of New Brunswick, Fredericton has no more railway track left with in its boundaries (Maryland’s capital is like this, too) and that PEI has no railways left on it either (Newfoundland is the same as well).

Later on, I see a story about an 18 km road rail bridge project between Germany and Denmark, again between NB and PEI there is the 13km Confederation highway bridge, though there was never any consideration of a having a rail link here as well.

By comparison, in North America we have a 4th world transportation system.

Thank you, Andrew Dawson
Montreal, Canada

You are so right. I hope we can do something about that with the New England Northeastern Infrastructure Initiative - Ed.

Mr. Beale,

I just returned from a visit to St. Petersburg. The Russians take grade crossing protection to the nth degree. Suburban electric rail lines have both crossing gates and pop-up barriers. The pop-up is a reverse ramp with the raised rim facing on-coming traffic; highly unlikely someone‹even a truck‹will get past.

I enjoy your articles, though I am sorry you had to report on a tragedy.

Sloan Auchincloss
Harrisburg, PA.

Dear Editor,

OK, as a 27 year MTA employee I think I can finally straighten out the GCT/GCS situation.

The New York Central named their building “terminal”. The 3 IRT stations under it are all just “Grand Central”. On the other hand, NYC’s competition just had to naturally name their building “station”, although only a few Acelas currently don’t terminate there. As you know there’s plans to run CT-NJ Meadowland sporting events service soon. BUT...the IRT and IND both call their stations “Penn Station”. (The 3 IRT stations: OLD Mainline (Shuttle), NEW Mainline (Upper Lex), Flushing Line.)

I love reading NCI. It’s an extremely efficient way of catching up on railway news. I don’t know what that Passat driver wasn’t thinking when running out in front of an EMU, but he doesn’t take the “prize”-that goes to that stupid woman in California. 6 people from 2 families. Sad, very sad.

Although I can’t get involved with grade crossings on the subway, I ran freight as an Army reservist engineer in NC & TX for 21 years. Mostly on yearly active duty but 1 year each in 1991 and 2003. The closest incident I had was deer on the track early in the morning. I was running ammunition and M-1 tanks. If somebody did get in my way our stopping distance was about 25% longer with the tanks. They would truly be a mess when the train finally stopped. We were authorized 30 MPH, but often ran 35-40 to get the tanks out to BNSF for delivery to Corpus Christi.

I agree with you-we sorely need more electrification, especially in the US. It’s amazing that only 2 lines were catenary powered in Chicago, by far the RR capital of the USA. 3 if you count the North Shore but that’s long gone. EVERY line out there would be cost-effectively electrified.

Vinny Reiner

Hopefully this will “terminate” this “grand” discussion. Pun intended. - Ed.

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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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