Vol. 8 No. 30
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Rebuffed for now
Washington State Rail Advocates
SEATTLE --- Washington State rail advocates, long one of the strongest rail groups in America, took it up a notch this week when they offered to buy a disused 45-mile rail corridor from BNSF.
The railroad has rejected the offer, for now.
Acting in frustration at the growing traffic congestion between Seattle and Bellevue, home of giant (and growing) Microsoft and other corporations, the Washington association of rail passengers, now known as All Aboard Washington, has assembled a group of investors to buy up the line and begin commuter rail service.
The Eastside line as it is called is a 45 mile rail line linking Snohomish, Redmond, and Renton [and] is under threat of removal, states All Aboard. Our region needs more rail and train options as part of a balanced transportation system that provides us with attractive alternatives to more automobile congestion and dependence. Trains can move people and cargo using far fewer resources and generating much less pollution. No other means of transportation can carry so much, using so little energy and space, while producing so little pollution and greenhouse gasses.
Like so many areas of the country, the Washington State in the last century shut the door on almost all other modes of travel except the automobile. Today, traffic congestion is a critical problem, especially in the Seattle area, where, in the words of one resident, .......rush hour traffic has reached epic proportions.
Right now East side rush hour traffic, Seattle to Bellevue in the I-405 corridor, is trending up to one and a half hours per one-way trip, and it is going to get worse soon. A number of housing and other developments projects will bring in an additional 20,000 people in cars --- not over the next decade, but in the last few months of 2007.
By the end of 2008, the 405 corridor will grind to a halt -- putting a daily chokehold on Eastside commerce, say rail advocates, who state there is a need right NOW to provide a realistic commuter rail transportation alternative.
Last week, the advocacy group All Aboard Washington took the bull by the horns and offered to purchase a 45-mile section of rail property owned by BNSF from Renton to Snohomish. The group, whose intention is to operate freight and commuter rail, formed a cooperative agreement with some of the regions leading rail industry experts; they say it is a solution that could be put in place relatively quickly to address the dire traffic problems. BNSF has said they are interested in selling because there is not enough freight business on that line,
Last Tuesday, All Aboard Washington, the Discovery Institutes Cascadia Center and the Bellevue-based Talisma Corp. hosted a bus tour of the southern portion of the rail corridor to bolster their claim that 180-passenger diesel multiple units could begin operating almost immediately.
Standing in front of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train at the downtown Renton railroad depot, rail advocate and author Al Runte, who is running for Seattle City Council, declared, For $30 million, we could have equipment, tracks upgraded and operational. We could do it in 60 days. We could have commuter rail on this track in 60 days.
Al Runte, a businessman with broad experience, is also the author of the current best seller Allies of the Earth: Railroads And the Soul of Preservation.
On Thursday, July 19, the railroad rebuffed the All Aboard offer.
Instead, BNSF is considering a deal between King County and the Port of Seattle whereby the port would buy a piece of the rail line and develop it into a bike trail; in exchange, the county would give the port Boeing Field, an airport that the county owns.
Charles Mott, the chairman of All Aboard Washington which has about 550 members, said his group is convinced if the county gets the rail corridor, the tracks will be torn up quickly and never replaced. You dont rip up a rail line in an urban area, he said. It just doesnt make sense ... We think rail lines are not only important today, but theyre going to be important in the future.
Tearing up the rail lines would not only delay, or even eliminate, the possibility of commuter rail service, it would also shut down the popular Spirit of Washington Dinner train which runs from Renton to Woodinville.
State Representative Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, who attended All Aboard Washingtons bus tour, said, I cant imagine taking these tracks out. I cant imagine it. Were spending billions to bring the [Sound Transit light-rail] track from the airport to downtown Seattle. This track is already here.
Businessman Jim OFarrell of customer contact software leader Talisma, interviewed by DF staff, spoke of the urgent need to address the traffic crisis. As I look out my office window, I can see 14 cranes against the skyline. Microsoft is putting up a 42-story building, just one of the projects that will bring thousands of jobs to the area. Yet, no plans are in place to transport the workers. Its 11:30 in the morning and traffic right now is at a crawl.
The commuter rail service would at least be a start to solving the problem, he said. And yet, next November we will be voting on a proposal to spend $39 billion on a light rail system that wouldnt even touch the problems were having here in the I-405 corridor.
From The Maine Switch, the online guide to Portland Maine
Cool Cars: Heads Turn As All-Electric
PORTLAND, ME --- It was impossible to ignore the attention.
First there were the drivers who swung around in perfect rubber-necker fashion as they sped by. Then there were the joggers who did the same. And finally there was the tourist from Rhode Island who chased us down, jumped out of his Volvo when we stopped and shouted, Ive only seen one online. Where did you get it?
All this excitement centered around two stylish rides, the Miles ZX40 and the ZENN, that I had the thrill of test driving last week. Now, Im normally not much of a car freak (actually I spend a lot of time coveting the car-free existence of some Portlanders I know), but these automobiles not only have a sleek, distinctive style, theyre powered purely by electricity.
These are called low-speed electric vehicles, explained Kal Rogers, who is the marketing director of Maine Electric Vehicles, which is selling the cars from the Portland Saab lot in Falmouth. Theyre designed as local, commuting cars.
This means each tops out at 25 mph and generally can go 35 to 50 miles per charge. Sure, you cant drive them on the highway or race your sports-car-driving friends (or even your mom in a minivan), but they definitely beat a Vespa when the weather turns cold (or rainy). You also dont need a fancy electrical connection to charge these babies, just a standard 110-volt outlet and five to eight hours of time to give em a full recharge.
In my regular vehicle, Im putting out more than five tons of carbon annually, Rogers said of his Ford Explorer. He added that because he buys his electricity for his home through Maine Interfaith Power & Light, he can plug in the all-electric and know that hes contributing zero greenhouse gases to our warming world.
Behind the drivers seat
I tried out the four-door Miles first: Open door, put on seat belt, turn key and wait for engine to rev up. And wait. Finally Rogers was kind enough to tell me that it was already running. Duh.
Because the car makes no noise, it was a bit disconcerting for a newbie electric car driver like me. The other weird thing is theres no shifter to get from drive to reverse. Instead theres a switch. Flip it to R and suddenly you hear the loud beep, beep, beep of a delivery truck backing up.
Rogers explained that the manufacturers added this feature to compensate for the cars stealthy silence and warn pedestrians to get out of the way.
Once we hit the open road, I slammed the pedal to the floor. We slowly inched up to 25 mph. Then we began to climb a hill and the speed gauge started going in the opposite direction. The opposite happened as we headed downhill and actually clocked in at a breath-taking 36 mph.
Three Photos By Tim GreenwayThe all-electric ZENN looks hot as you ride around the neighborhood.
With the pedal to the floor, the Miles inches up a hill in Falmouth at 16 mph.
Instead of a huge engine with tons of moving parts, the ZENN just has a bunch of batteries and an electric motor hidden below.
When it was time to cruise around in the two-seater ZENN (which stands for Zero Emission No Noise), I found things to be pretty much the same. Except the ZENN seemed to have faster acceleration, more power on an incline and, because it has regenerative braking (which charges the batteries when you slow down), it doesnt speed up on a downhill slope.
Getting out of the ZENN was tough. With its cuter-than-a-Mini-Cooper look and its park-me-in-the-tiniest-spot-in-the-Old-Port size, I wanted to take it home. I even had a momentary urge to try and abscond in the vehicle. (But then I realized the cops wouldnt have much trouble catching me as I sped away at 25 mph.)
Putting an electric in the garage
Should you want to be the talk of the neighborhood as you tool around in your all-electric car, Maine Electric Vehicles can hook you up with one of the 10 cars they have in stock right now. The Miles sells for between $16,000 and $18,000, and the ZENN ranges in price from $12,500-$15,000.
Theres really not a lot of maintenance, Rogers said. You might put 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year on the car, so theres not much wear-and-tear.
The electric motor is a very simple machine, they last for decades. Theres not much that can go wrong with them. And we all have electricity at our house, unless you live in a yurt in the woods.
If youre not living in a yurt, but need to ply the interstate to get where youre going, youll be happy to know that plans are in the works to release an all-electric car that can zip along at a more normal pace.
Miles is on track for next fall for a highway car that will use lithium ion batteries were used to seeing in laptops, Rogers said. That adds $10,000 to the cost of the car.
In the meantime, Rogers is spending his time getting the word out to environmentalists and islanders. This fall he plans to introduce the cars to college campuses, government agencies and businesses that operate fleets. He says the cars appeal to people who just commute around town or want a second vehicle for neighborhood errands.
Right now everyone has cars that do everything, including producing carbon and fueling the oil wars, Rogers said. The question is, when are people going to start changing their behavior?
Good question. Let me know if you learn the answer.
[ Publishers note: how about opening a branch of the Zenn-Miles sales lot at Portlands train station, and renting the cars to day-trippers up from Boston? Portland Maine is a very walkable city, but not everyone can, or wants to walk it.]
CONCORD, NH Decades of auto-only transportation construction by the DOT are coming to an end in New Hampshire.
A huge jump in the cost of existing and proposed highway construction projects, coupled with a renewed interest in commuter rail service and the acknowledgment by New Hampshire political leaders that the Boston-Maine Amtrak DownEaster service has become a great benefit to the Granite State as well as to Maine, have all combined to advance the return of rail service.
This past week the New Hampshire Legislature voted to create a state-wide rail authority to begin the process of building a commuter rail system in New Hampshire, beginning with an extension of the Lowell line to Lowell but also looking at Lawrence Manchester, Manchester Concord, and Portsmouth service. Governor John Lynch is expected to sign the bill at a public ceremony Friday, July 27, at a location yet to be announced.
The move to rail, long opposed by a vocal minority of oil-lobby-backed opponents, is seen as a realization by the majority that rail service is a vital, not merely viable option to New Hampshire, especially for the heavily populated southern region and coastal regions of the state, which have become very congested suburbs of Boston. In canceling and/or postponing a number of highway projects the same week, New Hampshire DOT Commissioner Jim Leary candidly advised those who were upset by the highway delays: Move inland.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has been a strong backer of rail, and the New Hampshire Legislature, newly elected with a Democratic majority in 2006 after decades of strictly Republican rule, has supported him.
As the Boston Globes Susan Schweitzer reported:
For four decades, efforts to revive commuter rail travel through New Hampshires central corridor have sputtered and died time and again. But now, rail boosters and others say that commuters will be chugging along as soon as 2010 with the New Hampshire Legislatures creation of an authority charged with developing and managing the return of passenger service from Lowell through Nashua and Manchester.
The 25-member authority is considered the linchpin in returning commuter rail to the state. The authority will be empowered to make contracts, collect money, and carry on other required business for the commuter rail. But equally important, boosters say, the authority sends a message to potential funding sources that New Hampshire is committed to commuter rail, the Globe said.
This gives us the opportunity to say we are in the rail business for real and here is the organization that will be representing New Hampshire, the Globe quoted Stephen Williams, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, a key backer of resurrected rail in the state.
House Transportation Chair State Rep. Jim Ryan has been a strong supporter of the rail bill, and was elated by its passage: Within two years, you will hear the whistle blow. That, he told the Globe, represents the future.
Currently, the only passenger train access to New Hampshire from the south is the Amtrak Downeaster that starts in Boston and ends in Portland, making New Hampshire stops in Dover, Durham, and Exeter. It is considered passenger rail, not commuter rail, because it makes a limited number of trips. The rail lines leading from Lowell to Nashua and Manchester now are used for freight.
Luxury Rail Trips for All?
Illinois Firm Makes It Happen
Growing up on Chicagos South Side near George Pullmans factory, perhaps Roger Verbeeren Jr. was destined to play with railroads, writes Mike Nolan of the Chicago-Sun Times News Group.
As a kid, hed peer through the factory gates to watch coach cars rumble past. He fell in love with rail travel as a Boy Scout while on long train journeys to camping trips in Colorado and Idaho, reports the paper.
For the past decade, the Sun-Times says, Verbeeren has offered others the chance to relive the heyday of train travel. His Sauk Village business, American Rail Excursions Inc., specializes in arranging private rail car tours.
Photos from the web site of Roger J. Verbeeren Jr. (www.americanrail.com)
We are kind of stepping back a little bit in time, he said.
Hes arranged trips for couples as well as large groups, such as the 100 people who left Chicago the morning of the Fourth of July for a trip to St. Louis.
Its a more relaxed way to travel, and guests are pampered during the trip. Chefs prepare meals served by stewards who cater to the travelers needs, Verbeeren said.
Customers ride in nostalgic rail cars that have bedrooms and private bathrooms, lounge and observation areas.
You can get up and roam around, grab something to eat or drink and the scenery is always changing, he said.
Verbeeren can arrange trips on any route that Amtrak travels, as well as several out-of-the-way places Amtrak doesnt go, the Sun-Times reports.
We are qualified to go over their entire system, Verbeeren said.
Private cars normally are attached to Amtrak trains, the paper states, but Verbeeren also does business with what he calls passenger-friendly short-line freight railroads that will take his cars.
Verbeeren has access to 16 sleepers, lounge cars, coaches and business cars, which are kept outside of St. Louis, in Madison, Ill.
He doesnt own the cars but rents them from train enthusiasts who make cars available for charter. Its up to Verbeeren to provide all of the supplies -- from diesel fuel to cans of soda, as well as staff to tend to customers.
Among the cars for the St. Louis trip Verbeeren coupled together was one particularly ornate business car owned by Ron Dyer, of Kansas City, Mo.
Built in 1927 for the Canadian National Railway, the car is paneled in mahogany, features four bedrooms and a formal dining area. It also has modern touches, including a Bose stereo system, big-screen TV and DVD player, tucked behind mahogany doors.
This was the premier way to travel, Verbeeren said.
Dyer said hes spent years outfitting the car with authentic Canadian National items, such as china in the dining room bearing the CN maple leaf logo.
Also in the dining room, sitting on the CN white tablecloth, is silverware from a Fred Harvey restaurant. Harvey oversaw foodservice operations on the Santa Fe Railroad, and he opened fine-dining restaurants in train stations, including Chicagos Union Station, Dyer said.
Verbeeren said traveling by private rail car isnt just for wealthy people. You dont have to be a millionaire to do this.
Weekend trips between Chicago and St. Louis run about $650 a person, while longer excursions can cost several thousand dollars, the Sun-Times said.
Its Official: SEPTA Will Get More State Aid
PHILADELPHIA, JULY 19 Governor Rendell signed into law a landmark transportation bill last Wednesday which will provide an average of almost $1 billion more a year for transit and highways over the next 10 years. In a story by Paul Nussbaum of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rendell indicated that this law will solve his states mass transit problems for the next decade.
Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) was optimistic enough to declare he believes the increases will take care of transit funding for two decades.
The law will provide $300 million in new funding for mass transit and $450 million in new money for highways and bridges this fiscal year, with the total rising to $1.07 billion by 2016, writes Nussbaum. The money will come from future toll increases on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, anticipated new tolls on Interstate 80, and 4.4 percent of the revenue from the state sales tax.
State legislators and transit officials expressed relief that there will now be a predictable revenue stream for transit.
SEPTA is expected to get $156 million more in operating funding this fiscal year, enough to prevent fare increases and service cuts threatened for September. SEPTA will, however, go forward with the fare hikes that started on July 9, which means subway, bus and rail fares will increase by an average of 11 percent and transfers will be eliminated on Aug. 1.
SEPTA general manager Faye Moore said she was happy that its done. . . . This is a good thing. She said SEPTA will now be able to pay off loans that were taken out so they could continue operating and with the additional capital funding, she hopes they will purchase environmentally-friendly hybrid buses and implement the plans for a modern fare collection.
The agency is expected to receive $58 million more for capital expenditures.
State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), the House Appropriations Committee chairman who vowed to block the state budget until mass transit was provided for, said he has been fighting for this for decades and didnt know why it had to take so long. This will provide for many new jobs both direct and indirect, he said.
The new law provides the largest single-year transportation funding increase in state history, the story continues. Rendell had advocated leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike and taxing oil-company profits to raise the necessary money. Those ideas got little traction in the legislature.
Sacramento LRT System To Store Electricity
Sacramentos Regional Transit District (RTD) will receive a $400,000 grant to install a storage system on the citys light rail system. The California Energy Commission and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District are providing funding for Sitras SES, developed by Siemens Transportation Systems, Inc.
Sitras SES uses ultra-capacitors to store the potential energy released during regenerative braking and then feeds this energy into accelerating vehicles, thus resulting in peak power demand reduction, energy savings, and a boost to the line voltage. Siemens says its the first such application in the United States, though the storage technology is already in use in Europe and in China.
Installation will be along an 8-mile stretch of the original Folsom line that has experienced low voltage during peak service times. The installation could save the RTD $25,000 per year in avoided energy costs, and also could offset the need for additional electrical substations.
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Lets Hear It For New Hampshire
The folks in New Hampshire dont tend to change their minds a lot, but when they do, its a doozy
So congratulations to the New Hampshire Legislature, Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Jim Ryan, and Governor John Lynch on the passage and imminent signing of the most comprehensive commuter rail bill in New Hampshires history.
This bill, which will establish a commuter rail authority for the state, comes not a moment too soon for New Hampshire, whose southern regions are being swamped by suburban development by Bostonians relocating North, and whose future growth is threatened by an unsustainably expensive road system that has an unending need for cash.
Only recently, the state DOT took the unusual step of scaling back and/or postponing a long list of highway projects that had been ready for launch, because costs for those projects have gotten so thoroughly out of hand. The new authority will be able to create a rail system whose first installment, Lowell-Nashua, will be built for $77 million, one tenth the cost (or less) of a similar capacity highway system.
This Friday, July 27, marks a new day in the history of New Hampshire, and an important marker on the road to economic recovery for all of New England, which will come only when we have re-built our transportation infrastructure
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