Vol. 8 No. 29
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
In Testimony Before Congress
Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant
Amtrak President Alexander Kummant gave a fact-filled primer to Congress this past week on the history, current status, and challenges facing Amtrak, in testimony before the Railroads Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
He also clarified the difficulties of providing a true TGV-like high-speed rail service in this country, citing money issues as the chief barrier.
Testifying July 11, Kummant reported:
Of its 21,000 route miles, Amtrak owns only 626 miles of the lines: 363 miles of the 457-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC), Boston to Washington, DC; 104 miles of Keystone Corridor, Philadelphia to Harrisburg, which has recently been upgraded; 62 miles from Springfield to New Haven; and 97 miles from Porter, Indiana to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Amtrak operates the entire length of the NEC which sees nearly 1900 trains a day: 50 of those are freight trains, about 1700 are commuter trains run by eight different commuter railroads, and the balance are Amtraks Acela and Regional services. Speeds range from the slow freight trains to the 135 mph Acela Express, whose average speed is 82 mph.
In 2006, nearly 10 million passengers rode Amtrak on the NEC. Add to that the 750,000 daily riders on commuter trains. 500,000 go through Penn Station every day with 1200 train movements a day.
Since FY 2003, Kummant said, Amtrak has invested $1.3 billion in infrastructure, an investment which has yielded improved on-time service, increased capacity, equipment brought up to a state of good repair, the ability to focus on planning large capital improvements such as the tunnels in New York and Baltimore.
During the hearing, members of the committee expressed frustration about the lack of truly high-speed rail service in the U.S
Why no European-style high speed rail in the NEC?
Rep. John Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the transportation committee, has long advocated creating European-style high-speed rail on the northeast corridor with private capital.
Kummant explained that, in Europe, high speed rail corridors go through open rural land where it is easy for the line to be a dedicated high speed right-of-way, unlike the curving shore line of the NEC which accommodates multiple types of trains that travel at different speeds.
Using the current infrastructure, the companys president told Congress, it would be impossible to maintain speeds of 125 to 150 mph on the entire route. Even if it spent $7 billion on track upgrades, Amtrak couldnt reduce the travel time between Washington and New York to less than 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is only 25 minutes less than the trip now takes.
The closest thing Amtrak has to high-speed service is the Acela Express, the railroads premier Washington-Boston train, he said, which travels at an average speed of 82 miles per hour and reaches 150 mph in parts of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The cost for the French TGV line is between $20 and $25 million a mile, whereas here it would require an investment of $10 billion (excluding real estate acquisitions) to make the NEC a truly high speed line, and even then there are the issues of scarce open rural land and tunnel and station capacity in New York City.
Three examples of recent high speed rail construction projects in Europe by the International Union of Railways (UIC) shed light on the range of costs:
While high speed rail corridors are moving forward in Europe and the Third World, Amtrak needs $1.8 billion from 2008 to 2013 just to cover deferred maintenance and other financial obligations, Kummant said, among them:
Another list of deferred maintenance/capital items comes to $3 billion for replacement or repairs of eight bridges, improvements in the Baltimore and Potomac River Tunnels and other repairs/upgrades.
Several states are waiting for federal partnership investment program before committing state funds. Almost all involve freight lines. Examples of these corridors are:
Bottlenecks: Freight line bottlenecks are a problem. All long distance trains use freight rail lines as do most non-NEC trains. Amtrak has studied projects for freight lines that would help to:
Other matters of concern are procurement of new equipment and capital improvements to structures and facilities such as shops, stations, and dispatch centers to renew and maintain those assets properly.
The need to provide for growth is a major goal. Demand could explode as new equipment is provided in the corridors. Renewal of an aging fleet is imperative:
In summary, Kummant testified, Amtraks policy wish list is to:
Busy Rail Crossing Finally Interlocked
Three Photos: Bill Gustafson - http://www.dhke.com/CRJ/index.htmlWorkmen with cranes move new diamonds into place at Brighton Park earlier this month.
BRIGHTON PARK CROSSING, IL ---Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association reports that Brighton Park Crossing on the Chicago-St. Louis route used by Amtrak, Metra and CN trains has at last been interlocked, or made route-safe.
One of a number of at-grade railroad crossings in the freight-heavy Midwest where one railroad systems tracks cross directly over the other at the same grade, Canadian National (CN) owns the east-west tracks; CSX and NS rail own the north-south tracks.
Interlocking is a means of preventing a clear signal being given for two or more routes that cross each other.
Until recently, the crossing was not interlocked. That meant the operator could give clear signals to conflicting movements (ie: sending a northbound train through the crossing at the same time as an eastbound). As a result, all trains had to come to a complete stop so that the engineer could confirm that no other trains were approaching.
Why Brighton Park was constructed without being interlocked, I do not know. But the fact that the problem continued to exist into the 21st century has been a wonderful example of how the free market often does not provide the railroad infrastructure the country needs, noted Rick Harnish (see separate editorial).
The problem was corrected this past weekend. In addition to installing a remote controlled interlocking, the owning railroads replaced the diamonds.
To view other pictures of the cranes moving the diamonds into place, go to:
The next step is for the CN and the State to fix the slow zones between there and Union Station, Harnish reports.
Rail expert Bill Gustafson creator of the Chicago Area Rail Junctions reports: Traffic is usually heavy here--more than 80 trains a day. NS and CSX are the busiest lines, although CN sees a fair amount of traffic also. There are only occasional movements on the Panhandle and the BNSF feeder line. Augmenting the traffic, however, is the overhead CTA Orange Line viaduct that enters from the east paralleling CN. It curves to the south, crosses the NS and CSX lines, and then parallels them on the west. CTA trains run frequently--about every 10 minutes.
Until July of 2007, Brighton Park was a unique spot, one of the most fascinating--and antiquated--rail locations anywhere. Despite all the trackage, it was not an interlocking, but was run by a "switchtender" who occupied a ramshackle cabin between the CSX and Panhandle tracks. All trains approaching the junction were required to come to a full stop; they were allowed to proceed only when signalled by the switchtender, who used manually operated semaphores to convey his messages. The switchtender was also responsible for the manually operated switches allowing trains on the BNSF connection to access NS. Going to Brighton was like going back to the 1940s--one of the few places where semaphores actuated by rods could still be found, writes Gustafson.
Its much different now. The semaphores and cabin have been removed, and Brighton has become a genuine interlocking plant controlled remotely by Norfolk Southern dispatchers at Ashland Avenue Yard just southeast of here. The photos on this page show Brighton Park as it was before the upgrading. While its no longer the intriguing relic it once was, Brighton is still worth a visit, he reports. For detailed information and photographs see his website at: www.dhke.com/CRJ/index.html.
Readers can join the Midwest High Speed Rail Association online at: www.midwesthsr.org.
Pennsylvania Legislature $150 million Package
Would Avert More SEPTA Fare Hikes this year
HARRISBURG, PA---Philadelphia area commuters would get a break from further fare hikes and service cuts, if an agreement in the Pennsylvania Senate passes the legislature and is signed by the Governor, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
In the agreement, the South-Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) would get $150 million, enough to avoid a second fare increase this fall on top of the 11 per cent increase that went into effect July 9, and the service cuts which were also forecast, the papers Paul Nussbaum states.
Importantly, he writes: the proposed measure is designed to fund mass transit in a way that may reduce the need for annual brinksmanship in Harrisburg. With a new Public Transportation Trust Fund, supported by tolls from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-80 and 4.4 percent of the revenue from state sales taxes, mass transit agencies may have the stable funding they have long sought.
Neither the transportation bill nor the state budget has been approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rendell. Until that happens, things could still change, states the Inquirer
Although the fiscal year began July 1, the legislature and the governor have not yet agreed on a final budget.
Gov. Ed Rendell called the transportation plan by far the most significant amount of money devoted to transportation needs . . . in the history of the commonwealth and that it would shore up roads and transit for the next 10 to 15 years, the paper reported.
Rendell said the new funding would have a dramatic impact on mass transit, and he said he hoped it would allow SEPTA to restore free transfers that are scheduled to be eliminated August 1, the paper said.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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Better Late Than Never
Unless you are a die-hard rail fan, you may have been shocked to read that a heavily travelled at-grade railroads crossing has at last been interlocked, or configured so that one train can not cross over in the direct path of another.
Given that mechanical, then electrical-mechanical, and finally electronic interlockings have been around starting more than 150 years ago, and are an absolutely basic kind of safety feature.
Reading about Brighton Park Crossing and its recent modernization was like reading about the decision of General Motors to stop installing buggy whip holders in the dashboards their new cars; of course, they didnt do that last week. They did it 100 years ago.
Rick Harnish is absolutely right to report, bemusedly, that this belated safety upgrade is a good example of how the market cant be relied upon to do all things, especially expensive, infrastructure things. The market doesnt put in traffic lights; taxpayer dollars pay for that. Taxpayer dollars should pay for grade separations too, not just for two tracks that cross, but for every highway that crosses a track at grade, starting with every major line in the country, passenger or freight.
How much will that cost? Less than the value of the 10,000 lives that will be lost someday when a truck hits an ammonia tank car at a grade crossing, or vice versa, in a populated area.
Transparency Needed In Rail and Bus
Transit System Fare Increases
Sometimes it's hard to tell in which direction public transit in the USA is going. There are numerous American success stories such as new light rail systems in several cities in the traditionally car and freeway crazy western half of the USA, including places like Dallas, Salt Lake City, Houston and L.A. There are new systems in the final planning stages or under construction in places such as Seattle, Phoenix and Minneapolis / St. Paul. There are the seasoned veterans such as Bostons MBTA, New Jerseys NJ Transit and Washington DCs WMATA, which despite challenges and tight budgets, still manage to add capacity and services slowly but surely. Even Amtrak continues to deliver, despite heavy adverse political meddling from the current White House Administration and despite humungous federal and state government subsidies going to the interstate highway network and commercial air traffic system since the 1950s.
And then there are the difficult cases such as Chicagos CTA / METRA and Philadelphias SEPTA, whose financial difficulties and fare increases were reported in D:F and elsewhere in the news media in the past weeks. In SEPTAs case, it has been reported that the transit provider has had no significant fare increases in six years, it is just now introducing an 11% increase in fares and elimination of certain transfer passes. In that same period of time oil and gasoline prices have gone up by 100% or more. New and used car prices have also increased far more than 11% in the last six years, as have costs of automobile insurance and maintenance.
Here in Germany, local transit authorities as well as intercity train fares increase once per year at a rate which covers increases in fuel and energy prices, thus keeping the vast majority of regional transit authorities financially healthy. However service cuts in local rail transit in some parts of Germany are also on the menu, as in Philadelphia and Chicago. The reason for this is primarily a loss of population in some cities and towns, mostly in the formerly communist East, with a resulting lower demand for public transit in those areas. In other areas of Germany, some state governments foolishly follow the American model of building new roads and highways at no apparently tangible cost to the public, with the real costs hidden elsewhere in income and sales taxes, while they avoid the unpopular move of raising taxes and fees to make up for recent cuts in public transit grants from the German federal government.
Photo: David BealeCosts more but still a bargin --- a five-car train set of new Bombardier multi-level coaches behind a DB 111 series electric locomotive operating on a Bielefeld - Braunschweig regional express train stops in Haste, Germany on the 8th July 2007. Ticket and monthly pass prices on the regional rail network in the greater Hannover area are up 25% in the past three years - but service has increased dramatically since the mid 1990s. Ridership has also increased steadily during the past ten years.
In this day and age, we should all know that almost nothing is for free. This includes transportation from point A to point B. The USA ended up addicted to foreign oil and automobiles by building freeways, roads and highways, which seemed, to the casual user, to be free, i.e. no extra charge, regardless of how much one uses them. In fact, the nations freeways and other highways are heavily subsidized by income taxes, general sales taxes, property taxes, and other tax revenues. You are paying for the Interstate Highway System with your income, sales and property taxes regardless if you walk to work day in and day out or if you drive 25 miles each way to work.
Depending on whose and which study you read, the capital and maintenance costs of the nations freeway and highway system exceed revenues from motor fuel taxes, tolls, vehicle registration fees and the like in a range between 25% and 40%. If you add in costs from adverse side effects of the highway system such as local air and water pollution and lost time sitting in traffic jams on 8, 10 or 12 lane-wide freeways (the USA has the widest expressways with the most lanes of anywhere in the world), the gap between revenue and costs increases dramatically. I will avoid the discussion of other potential hidden costs from all these freeways, such as possible global warming or the immense costs incurred by the US military in the Middle East, which some allege are also directly linked to the nations addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.
The end of effect of all these freeways is unprecedented air pollution, sprawl, traffic snarls and an addiction to foreign oil greater than anywhere else in the western world. It all boils down to providing something to the public at a perceived cost well below reality. Do we want to copy this failed policy to our public transit systems? My answer is no. In the long term transparency and fiscal responsibility is far better than false freebees.
Everyone who works for or is involved in managing or governing local and regional transit systems should recognize they are providing a valuable product and service to their customers. They should take pride that the product they deliver to the nations public transit users saves energy, increases worker productivity, improves mobility and freedom, and reduces local air pollution, thereby improving the quality of life of both their passengers / customers as well as for the general public. In order to continue delivering this valuable product to public well into the future, transit authorities should be willing to charge a fair price for it and attempt to manage the financial affairs of their organizations in a transparent and business like manner, despite the massive imbalance of government subsidies in favor of highways and automobiles.
It serves no ones interests to keep train and bus fares artificially suppressed even as fuel and energy prices spiral upwards. While SEPTA kept fares at 2001 levels until this year, airlines, automobile manufacturers, OPEC and the oil companies raised overall prices aggressively the whole time. Now SEPTA has a massive budget deficit, and service cuts may be the end result. Is this a fair price to pay for keeping train and bus fares artificially low for the past six years? Did SEPTAs management accept a future, where we are either more dependent on cars and highways or less mobile, just to avoid short-term heat from the public by artificially holding fares to 2001 levels for six years in a row?
It only plays into the hands of public transit foes, when financial irresponsibility ends up causing havoc with the budgets of regional and local transit authorities and endangers future service standards. The transportation needs of people on low incomes or fixed incomes should be handled separately via tax credits or reduced cost vouchers for transit tickets, with this assistance handled separately from the budget and books of the nations transit authorities and companies. The nations transit authorities are in the business of transportation, they should not be charged with providing economic assistance for those on low or fixed-incomes, there are other government agencies and groups which have that mission.
The USA desperately needs transparency in the financial aspects of its transportation network. Financial transparency of the freeway and highway component of the USAs transportation network has been non-existent for the average citizen for many decades, perhaps going all the way back to days just after the end of World War 2. A minority of the nations population understands just how very expensive freeways have been for the nation. While we struggle to improve that situation, let us not allow the same problem creep into the public transit system.
Chicago Losing Ground As World Competes With Rail,
Comments New Urbanisms John Norquist
Quick. What do Tokyo, London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai have in common? Yes, they are all world financial centers with which Chicago both cooperates and competes in todays fast-paced global economy. And yes, several of them are Olympic cities, an elite group Chicago very much wants to join. But heres another key similarity: They are all investing billions in fast and efficient transit service. And that is where they part company with Chicago.
So writes John Norquist, head of the Congress for a New Urbanism and the innovative former mayor of Milwaukee, in an opinion piece in the Chicago Sun-Times For the entire article see: www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/460307,CST-EDT-REF09.article
London is building a new express cross-town subway. New York is building the 2nd Avenue Subway, and Mayor Michael Bloombergs much-publicized PlaNYC 2030 includes new lines in Brooklyn and Queens. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo are all adding hundreds of miles of new train service. And Dubai, the new financial hub of the Middle East, is adding 70 kilometers of rail transit with 55 stations.
And Chicago? girding for service cuts and fare increases, writes Norquist.
While people fear the scheduling headaches that could result, something bigger is at stake. Continuing lopsided support for highways over transit will jeopardize Chicagos ability to compete as a world financial center and begin putting at risk the many thousands of jobs connected to Chicagos commodity and financial markets. It will forgo opportunities to strengthen Downstate regions as well, says Norquist.
We couldnt agree more. Indeed, it is the centerpiece of NCIs philosophy that good infrastructure is essential to a competitive economy, yet the oil lobby continues to dominate the money of politics --- and hence the debate --- even as America slides further behind the rest of the world.
The Chinese alone are spending $100 billion between now and 2010 to modernize their rail lines and improve service country-wide, while in America Amtrak, while it has survived the outright hostility of the oil-dominated Bush Administration, barely limps along. That $100 billion, by the way, is a part of the booty earned by China by selling everything and then some to us, while we have spent the last 20 years of relative prosperity paving over our cities and creating more high-tax-cost suburban sprawl.
What will it take to change us? More commentaries like John Norquists. And more people who understand that he is right. Clip it, and send it to your Congressman.
A Blast From The Past!
Photo: New York Transit MuseumVintage shot of R7A - No. 1575
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This year the New York Transit Museum is offering three Brooklyn bound excursions, the first is an afternoon - evening excursion, and the second and third are family friendly afternoon excursions.
The Summer Nostalgia Train Excursions will run on Sunday July 22, Sunday August 12, and Saturday September 8, 2007, with 400 seats available per excursion. Get your tickets now while there is space available!
This summer, the New York Transit Museums vintage R 1/9 subway cars will be taking the public on nostalgic subway rides to Rockaway Park and Coney Island in Brooklyn, Sunday July 22, Sunday August 12, and Saturday September 8, 2007.
About the vintage cars:
Built between the 1930s and 1940s, the IND R1/9 cars represented a new trend in subway car design. The front and rear entrances give way to multiple side doors and the exposed bulbs were replaced with fluorescent lighting. The last of the R1/9 cars were retired in 1977.
Dont miss New York Citys hottest rail excursions this season!
Capacity on the New York Transit Museums vintage Nostalgia Train excursions is limited so reserve early.
For reservations please call: (718) 694-1867
For more more information on these excursions, or notes on the cars planned to be operating contact:
Roxanne Robertson, Director, Special Projects
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