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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August 10, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 34

Copyright © 2009
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 10th Year

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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

  News Items…
FTA Chief Seeks Stronger Oversight Of Transit Safety
  Passenger Lines…
Louisiana Looks At Re-Introduction Of Baton Rouge-New Orleans
   Passenger Rail
Amtrak Passenger Service May Return To Famed FEC Route
   In South Florida
  Commuter Lines…
New Jersey Transit Chooses Light Rail For Northern Branch
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Educational Lines…
Major New Book ‘Transit Oriented Development:
   Making It Happen’ Looks At TOD Worldwide;
   U. Of Minnesota CTS Looks At ‘Value Capture’
  Publication Notes …
  Across The Pond…
Trains To Replace Planes?
National Corridor’s European Vacation


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

FTA Chief Seeks Stronger
Oversight Of Transit Safety

By DF Staff and From Internet Sources

WASHINGTON --- Peter Rogoff, the Federal Transit Administration’s new safety-oriented Administrator, told Congress this past week that there is almost no organized Federal oversight of transit system safety, a state which he believes should be changed soon.

In the blunt but eloquent testimony for which Rogoff is already becoming known, the new FTA Administrator told the committee, “The Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) role in the safety oversight of these systems is extremely limited as a matter of Federal law. We are statutorily prohibited from establishing national safety standards for a large segment of the nation’s rail transit system.”

Noting that this is a situation which the Obama Administration will address, he then said, “Still, FTA continues to regularly assess the condition of transit infrastructure and disseminate and encourage best practices by the industry. Safety is the Department’s highest priority. And, as we address safety issues as part of this hearing, it must be remembered that traveling by rail transit in the United States remains an extraordinarily safe way to travel—far safer than traveling on our highways.”

However, noted Rogoff, “That makes it particularly important that our transit systems maintain their infrastructure to a standard where they can provide riders with service that is both reliable and comfortable. Conditions that prompt commuters to abandon transit and get back into their cars adversely impact highway safety performance. And, defective equipment, late trains, broken escalators, and malfunctioning air conditioners do just that.”

“While transit remains the safest mode of surface transportation in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been called in to investigate several transit-related accidents in the recent past. The NTSB investigated the July 2006 Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line derailment that resulted in 152 injuries. They concluded that “[t]he tie plates and fastener systems failed to maintain the track gauge because of the effects of corrosion, wear and tear, and degraded ties.” Their report stated, “[the accident is a] wakeup call….to all transit agencies….with equipment and infrastructure that ages with each passing day.” .....“This lag screw served as one of thousands holding CTA rail to ties in the area of the Blue Line derailment. As you can see, it is corroded and deformed from its original design. It was so ineffective that it could be removed by hand. The NTSB report noted that most of these ties and fasteners date back to the installation of the original Blue line that opened for revenue service on February 25, 1951. It should not be a surprise to anyone that a 58-year-old track structure is prone to failure,” observed Rogoff.

Equipment aging is not the only concern, testified the Administrator:

“Safety is not just about the condition and aging of equipment. The human factor is a critical element. On July 28, 2008, two MBTA trains collided, killing one of the operators and injuring three crewmembers. Of the 185 to 200 passengers on the two trains, four sustained minor injuries and one was seriously injured. In its July 23, 2009 report, the NTSB stated that the total damage was estimated at $8.6 million and found that the probable cause was the failure of the operator of the striking train to comply with the controlling signal indication. In this instance, the NTSB also found that a contributing factor was the lack of a positive train control system that would have intervened to stop the train and prevent the collision. In yet another incident involving MBTA transit system on May 9 of this year, approximately 46 people were taken to area hospitals after an operator slammed his trolley into another trolley. It has been reported that the operator admitted to texting at the time of the accident.”

“Similarly,” Rogoff continued, “ on July 22, 2009, a collision between San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) light-rail vehicles at the West Portal station injured 47 people. While the NTSB is far from concluding its investigation into this accident, investigators reported that the operator involved in the crash appears to have switched his train to manual about 24 seconds before the light-rail vehicle plowed into another train stopped in the station. In so doing, he may have disabled the very system designed to avoid such accidents. These incidents point up the nexus between the state of good repair and the organizational safety culture at transit agencies. Employee attitudes and performance are shaped by the environment they work in. If important maintenance and renewal are deferred, it sends a message. If leadership at all levels of government allow transit infrastructure to degrade, FTA is concerned that public transit employees may become disheartened and be less confident in the functional capacity of their automated safety equipment systems.”

Rogoff continued to describe the bifurcated and sometimes non-contiguous way America provides for rail and transit safety:

“Our nation’s rail transit systems operate under two very different Federal safety regimes. Some commuter rail systems are funded by FTA but regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety regulations, while light, heavy, and other urban rail systems are overseen by the State safety oversight (SSO) agencies. For example, commuter rail operations on the general system of railroads—like the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) Philadelphia/Doylestown regional rail line (R-5) and New Jersey Transit’s Northeastern Corridor Line—fall under FRA’s safety regulatory system, which includes national mandatory safety standards and on-site spot inspections and audits by Federal technical specialists and inspectors, who have backgrounds in train control, track operations and other disciplines. FRA is also empowered to dictate operating practices and assess fines on those transit operators that don’t comply. On the other hand, for rail systems not subject to FRA oversight—such as the SEPTA’s trolley system and Market-Frankford heavy rail line, NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen light rail system, and PATCO (which is a subsidiary of the Delaware River Port Authority of Pennsylvania and New Jersey)—the State is expected to take the lead for oversight and require those agencies to establish a safety program. The State, through a designated SSO agency, is then expected to monitor the transit system’s implementation of its safety program. FTA’s role is to identify elements of requisite system safety program plans and requirements regarding the timing and establishment of an SSO agency (when there is an FTA funded rail system in the State), provide training and technical assistance to the SSO agency, establish some requirements for State oversight responsibility, and monitor the State’s oversight activities. FTA is prohibited by law from establishing national safety standards, requiring Federal inspections, or requiring specific operating practices.”

“Given this gap between the level of regulatory oversight for rail transit operations and commuter rail operations,” Rogoff continued, “a team of safety officials and experts under the leadership of Deputy Secretary John D. Porcari is focused on developing options for transit safety reforms, which may extend to bus operations as well. To that end, the Deputy Secretary’s workgroup is collaborating with other modal administrations within the Department of Transportation (DOT) with jurisdiction in safety regulation. These include the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration. We are also assisted in our analysis by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration. This team will review the many alternative models within DOT to address safety as well as review the statutory authority on safety for transit with an eye toward developing reforms.”


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PASSENGER LINES... Passenger Lines...  

Louisiana Looks At Re-Introduction Of
Baton Rouge-New Orleans Passenger Rail

By DF Staff

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana is developing a proposal for $300 million in Federal funds from the federal government to re-introduce passenger railroad service, absent for 40 years, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana newspapers reported this week.

“We think we will have a ridership level to sustain the service and make it grow,” state transportation official Tom Atkinson said this past Wednesday in a published report.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which is in charge of the $8 billion intercity rail Stimulus Program announced by the President in April, is hoping to make decisions about allocations of the funding by November, for those states that submit final proposals.

 

Photo: Brett Duke/The Times-Picayune archive  

This passenger train was photographed in Manchac in 2008.  


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Amtrak in Manchac in 2008

 

Amtrak Passenger Service May Return
To Famed FEC Route In South Florida

Reporter Michael Turnbell
From The South Florida Sun-Sentinel Of Fort Lauderdale

Photo: www.fecrwy.com  

A segment of the FEC which presently serves freight traffic.
West Pam Beach --- A stretch of famed Florida rail which has missed passenger trains for a generation may be about to get its service back, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reports.

“ It’s been 41 years since passenger trains last rolled down Henry Flagler’s old railroad between West Palm Beach and Jacksonville. But if Florida gets its way, Amtrak will run down those tracks beginning in the fall of 2012, stopping in coastal towns such as St. Augustine, Cocoa Beach and Stuart, writes Turnbell, noting that the Florida Department of Transportation has applied for federal stimulus money for railroad projects to bring Amtrak service to the Florida East Coast Railway.

“Everybody has always thought this was a good idea. The problem has always been the funding,” said Kim Delaney, a planner with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, an agency that serves an area stretching from Boca Raton to Vero Beach.

Turnbell continues: “Amtrak currently runs between Miami and Jacksonville on the CSX Transportation tracks, which parallel I-95 in South Florida. But instead of continuing up the coast like the FEC, the tracks veer inland to Orlando and Tampa before heading to Jacksonville. It takes 9 hours to make the trip by train, 11 hours if the trains stop in Tampa. While plans don’t call for Amtrak trains to continue south along the FEC to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the possibility may not be far off. State transportation officials are studying how to revive passenger service on the FEC between Jupiter and Miami.”

For the full story see www.sun-sentinel.com


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

New Jersey Transit Chooses Light Rail
For Northern Branch

Service Map

Photos (2) www.northernbranchcorridor.com 

Advocates Claim Credit For NJT’s Change Of Position

By David Peter Alan

New Jersey Transit has announced that it has approved an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit Line (HBLRT) to Tenafly in Bergen County. Hearings will be held this fall concerning the 11-mile extension of service beyond Tonnelle Avenue Station, the current northern terminus of the line. Construction is expected to start next year. The proposed extension will be the only segment of the line in Bergen County. The current line, which runs as far south as Bayonne, is located entirely in Hudson County.

The service is slated to run on a portion of the Northern Branch, which was originally built by the Erie Railroad and called the Northern Railroad of New Jersey. Today, it is a lightly-used freight line owned by CSX Transportation. It runs on a north-south alignment and is located east of the Pascack Valley Line. The original line ran another twelve miles beyond Tenafly, to Nyack, New York. All-day service ended in 1939 due to the popularity of using an automobile to go to Manhattan over the newly-constructed George Washington Bridge. A few peak-hour commuter trains continued to run until 1966. There has been no passenger service on the line since then.

The selection of the light rail alternative marked a dramatic reversal of position for NJT, although the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) and other advocates had consistently supported it. In 2005, NJT managers and Kris Kolluri, who was Transportation Commissioner at the time, said that a diesel shuttle between the light rail line and Tenafly was a “done deal,” and that rail advocates and residents of the affected area would have to accept that outcome. NJT planned to run a self-propelled, diesel-powered vehicle connecting with the present light-rail line. Rail advocates who opposed the NJT plan claimed that light rail would run more frequently and provide through service to Jersey City and Hoboken, where riders could connect with other NJT trains or with ferries or PATH trains to Manhattan.

Instead of accepting defeat, the advocates contacted local politicians, spoke at meetings and reached out to the media. Eventually, some of the towns in northern Bergen County urged approval of the light rail alternative. Jack May, a Montclair resident and NJ-ARP member, said that he and his colleagues refuted every argument that NJT proffered for the diesel alternative. “It was a long, tough road, but we always kept our eyes on the prize, which was an extension of the light rail system. We always worked with politicians, citizens’ groups and the media to keep light rail in the picture.” He consistently argued that light rail would generate a higher number of riders, a claim that he said was verified by ridership models approved by the Federal Transit Administration. NJT now says that the new line is projected to remove 8500 automobiles from the roads during commuting hours.

A major factor in the decision to endorse light rail was the demise of the Colorado Railcar Manufacturing Company, the only manufacturer of self-contained diesel multiple-unit (DMU) cars that the Federal Railroad Administration would allow on a line while freight trains or conventional passenger trains also operate there. Colorado Railcar went out of business last year. According to the NJT web site, the agency “contacted other rail vehicle manufacturers regarding the development of an FRA-compliant DMU vehicle and only one expressed an interest. That manufacturer advised NJ TRANSIT they are several years away from production with an unproven design.”

According to Philip G. Craig, a transportation engineer and advocate, NJT made the right decision for the wrong reason. Craig and May both cited ridership projections of 8100 daily riders for the DMU alternative and 24,000 for light rail. Craig also noted that the capital investment required to extend the light rail was only 25% more than the cost of building the DMU alternative. “It was as if NJT insisted on paying $1.00 for a pound of bananas when they could have gotten three pounds for $1.25” he said.

Craig and May give much of the credit for their victory to Rose Heck, who represented a Bergen County district in the State Assembly from 1991 through 2003 and now serves as Mayor of Hasbrouck Heights, a town on the Pascack Valley Line. Heck said that she has campaigned for the light rail alternative since before she left the Legislature, and that Bergen County officials had been unresponsive for most of that time. She said the turning point occurred when she wrote to Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, who then decided to support the light rail alternative and persuaded Congressman Steve Rothman to do the same. According to Heck, Rothman expressed concern over the time it would take to start service with the DMU alternative, since Colorado Railcar was out of business. She said “Our leadership people started to listen to us when we talked about the need for light rail, and they moved the Governor to our position.”

New Jersey elects a governor and the entire Assembly this November. Rail advocates hope they will be able to keep their hard-won victory into the next political term and long enough for light rail service on the line to become a reality. With ridership projections that strongly favor light rail and lack of a manufacturer of FRA-compliant DMU equipment, they are in a position to keep their hopes high.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition. He has followed this issue for several years.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)83.7278.59
Canadian National (CNI)50.3448.78
Canadian Pacific (CP)46.9844.49
CSX (CSX)44.3340.12
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.3527.29
Kansas City Southern (KSU)23.1820.31
Norfolk Southern (NSC)46.3743.25
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.5111.50
Union Pacific (UNP)61.3757.52


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EDUCATIONAL LINES... Educational Lines...  

University Of New Orleans Ph.D. John Renne, Worldwide Co-Editors Release Key Report

 

Major New Book ‘Transit Oriented Development:
Making It Happen’ Looks At TOD Worldwide;
U. Of Minnesota CTS Looks At ‘Value Capture’

By DF Staff

One of the greatest challenges facing the Obama Administration is skepticism about how transportation systems, once built with “Stimulus” or any other kind of money, will pay their operating costs.

While no transportation modes pay for their capital-recovery-plus operating costs, passenger rail systems (Amtrak as well as commuter rail) have never received the massive indirect and direct Federal and state tax subsidies used to build and maintain the American highway, maritime, and airline systems, and therefore have to apply directly, each fiscal year, for operating support

A sign of this: the Reason Foundation/Cato Institute/Highway Lobby designated rail-basher Randall O’Toole’s well funded op-ed campaign is popping up again in the pages of newspapers that carry his highway-lobby-funded work, especially in states with active rail proposals under way, as it always does when rail proponents begin to make progress.

There are however some major developments in the intellectual history of this debate, and they are being lead by a new generation of highly-trained and gifted academics who have turned their attention to city-building and transportation/infrastructure issues in a way not seen since the era of Jane Jacobs and her “Life and Death of the American City”.

 

NEW ORLEANS ---Leading the charge in understanding how transportation enables cities to work, and advances commerce while simultaneously improving the quality of “the public square,” Transit-Oriented Development: Making It Happen” has just been published by Ashgate of London.

Edited by Carey Curtis, of Curtin University of Technology, Australia; Dr. John L. Renne, University of New Orleans, USA and Luca Bertolini, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, “TOD: Making It Happen” is a part of Ashgate’s Series on Transport and Mobility ( http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=638&seriestitleID=266&calcTitle=1&forthcoming=1). Dr. Renne is Assistant Director of the Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency at the University of New Orleans, which is led by long-time New Orleans transportation activist James Amdal who was one of the principal figures in bringing streetcar service to the New Orleans Riverfront/French Quarter area. UNO’s Gulf Coast Center is becoming a leader in the task to develop modern, resilient, cost-effective evacuation systems for regions of America (and the world), such as the Gulf States region, which are subject to violent weather on a regular basis.

From Ashgate: “This volume brings together the different stakeholders and disciplines that are involved in the conception and implementation of TOD to provide a comprehensive overview of the realization of this concept in Australia, North America and Europe. While TOD systems have been implemented widely, there are still strong vested interests (property, community, state) which encourage the maintenance of the car-dependent urban form. The book firstly identifies these various challenges and shows, through a range of international case studies, successful ways of addressing these. It provides a range of insights into how to move from TOD policy to regulation; urban design solutions; issues for local governance; the need to work with community; and the commercial realities of TOD. It shows how many barriers have been overcome, while others remain and new ones are emerging. The book draws together the key principles that make TOD happen, addressing both substantive issues (what needs to be done, and when) and procedural issues (who needs to be involved, and how).”

Book Cover The book’s basics:

  • Imprint: Ashgate
  • Illustrations: includes 58 figures, 21 tables
  • Published: June 2009
  • Format: 234 x 156 mm
  • Extent: 312 pages
  • Binding: Hardback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7546-7315-6
  • Price : $124.95 - Online: $112.46
  • BL Reference: 388.4
  • LoC Control No: 2008053685
  • Print friendly information sheet (http://www.ashgate.com/pdf/tis/9780754673156_US.pdf)

  • Contents: Preface; Part I: The Context for Transit Oriented Development; Introduction Luca Bertolini, Carey Curtis and John L. Renne; Planning for transit oriented development: strategic principles Peter Newman; Public transport and sustainable urbanism: global lessons Robert Cervero. Part II Implementation: Tools: Implementing transit oriented development through regional plans: a case study of Western Australia, Carey Curtis; Rail friendly transport and land-use policies: the case of the regional metro system of Naples and Campania, Ennio Cascetta and Francesca Pagliara; Retrofitting TOD and managing the impacts: the case of Subi Centro, Andrew Howe, Geoff Glass and Carey Curtis; From concept to projects: Stedenbaan, The Netherlands Verena Balz and Joost Schrijnen; An Asian model of TOD: the planning integration in Singapore, Perry Pei-Ju Yang and Seng How Lew. Part III: Implementation: Processes: Portland’s TOD evolution: from planning to lifestyle, G.B. Arrington; Successful delivery mechanisms: coordinating plans, players and action, Mike Mouritz and Louise Ainsworth; Promoting transit oriented development at the local level: the opportunities and challenges for local governments, Janet Edghill, Annette Kroen and Jan Scheurer. Part IV: Implementation: Community: Transit oriented for all: delivering mixed-income housing in transit served neighborhoods, Shelley Poticha and Jeff Wood; There goes the neighborhood? Or saving the world? Community views about transit orientated development, Janet Rice. Part V: Implementation: Markets: The property sector as an advocate for TOD: the case of South East Queensland, Bruce James; The commercial reality of TOD in Australia, Warwick Hemsley; Developing TOD in America: the private sector view, Marilee A. Utter; Transit-oriented development in Tokyo; the public sector shapes favorable conditions, the private sector makes it happen, Paul Chorus. Conclusion: Making TOD Happen: Measuring the success of transit oriented development, John L. Renne; TODs for a sustainable future: key principles to ‘make TOD happen’, Luca Bertolini, Carey Curtis and John L. Renne; References; Index.

Meanwhile, at Minneapolis, an important new study of ‘value-capture’ has been issued by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies…

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL, MN---The University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) has released its research report on the use of value capture for financing transportation projects, which was requested by the Minnesota Legislature. Value capture is a type of infrastructure financing in which increases in private land values generated by public investment are in part “captured” through a variety of approaches to help pay for infrastructure projects. The full report can be found at  http://www.cts.umn.edu/research/ValueCapture

From the University:

“Large public investments in state transportation infrastructure—such as new freeway interchanges, highways or transit stations—can increase the value of surrounding private land, sometimes substantially. Capturing the value of this benefit through various tools is gaining interest as a finance mechanism for infrastructure investments, particularly with a growing concern about the adequacy and effectiveness of the current system of transportation funding in the United States.”

“CTS was commissioned by the state legislature in 2008 to conduct this first-of-its-kind research to look at value capture as a potential finance mechanism for future infrastructure investments in Minnesota.

“The need for this study grew out of the transportation funding debate in the 2008 legislative session,’ said Robert Johns, Director of the Center for Transportation Studies. “Legislators and interest groups felt new methods needed to be investigated for financing our transportation system and asked CTS to study how value capture policies might be implemented in Minnesota.” 

The study identiŽed eight policies that can be classiŽed as value-capture strategies: land value tax, tax increment Žnancing, special assessments, transportation utility fees, development impact fees, negotiated exactions, joint development and air rights.  Some value-capture strategies target property owners, while others target developers. The strategies differ in how, when and where they may be applied. They also give different outcomes, which can be assessed along four criteria: economic efficiency, equity, sustainability and feasibility.

Important legal considerations for units of government wishing to apply some or all of these policies were also considered.  Statutory adjustments in Minnesota law would be needed to allow for implementation of several of the policies.

“The project provides new financing methods that are not currently considered or are not available under current Minnesota state statutes,” said David Levinson, the R.P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation Engineering at the University of Minnesota and one of the lead investigators of the study.

CTS will offer a series of educational workshops for elected officials and policymakers during the summer and fall of 2009 to explain the study results.


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

 

Trains To Replace Planes?

Official: UK government wants to stop domestic air travel

Via Aviation Industry News

London - The UK government has made a commitment - and a clear policy shift against domestic air travel. Andrew Adonis, the transport secretary, has told a national newspaper that “it is manifestly in the public interest that we systematically replace short-haul aviation with high-speed rail”, and that plans for a new 250 mph railway network are already “well advanced”. The proposals for a first GBP 7 bn (US $11.8 bn) line between London and Birmingham, which could be built by 2020 and further extended to Scotland, are to be published by the end of this year. Forty-six million domestic air passengers could thus travel on such a West Coast line.

For those unfamiliar with British railway network, there is a parallel East Coast line, which links London with Edinburgh. The government also proposed high-speed services on the existing tracks, which should cut travel times between the capital and Scotland to three-and-half hours.

However, the nation’s domestic air passengers are not enough! “I would like to see short-haul aviation - not just domestic aviation, but short-haul aviation - progressively replaced by rail, including high-speed rail,” Adonis has been cited as saying. Mainland Europe is to be made more accessible too, and not just from London.

Cutting CO2 emissions is, of course, the main driver behind these proposals. The UK government aims to reduce the country’s CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. But will the transfer of passengers from aircraft to trains really lead to reaching these goals? How much more environmentally friendly is rail travel to air travel really?

Electrically-driven trains and trams have two immense advantages over all other motor-driven vehicles: they don’t need to convert the energy contained in the fuel (carbon) to kinetic energy (motion) and suffer the associated efficiency losses in the conversion process; and they produce no direct emissions at the point of energy consumption. Of course, the electric energy has to be produced somewhere else and there are losses within the energy transfer to the railway line. On the other hand, trains cannot enjoy the low drag that aircraft need to overcome at altitude (approximately one fifth of what is prevalent on the ground).

These are just a few questions. The considerations are far too large to be dealt with here in adequate detail. What we really need is a fair and balanced account of the different transport systems. In addition, Britain lags today far behind other key E.U. member states such as France, Spain, Italy, Austria and Germany in existing rail transit infrastructure as well as current investment rates in new infrastructure. All of this adds up to a potentially sea change in transportation policy in Britain, which for the past 40 years has always failed to materialize.


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View from Europe

 

National Corridor’s European Vacation

Automobile versus Train on Summer Vacation to southern Europe - maybe not as hilarious
as National Lampoon’s version (starting Chevy Chase) – interesting all the same

Hannover – Europeans are famous in American media for the relatively generous vacation time they receive each year (4 to 6 weeks depending upon country and employer), even though plenty of other people in places such as India, Asia, South America, parts of Africa, Australia and even in a few cases within the USA also have just as much as time off as those lazy Europeans. But perhaps no where else in the world do as many people go on vacation in the same time period as in Europe, home to 500 million people. This places a load and stress on transportation systems that they do not experience at any other time of the year except perhaps for Easter. This year I experienced life on the road and rails while going on “holiday” in southern Europe – via two different travel modes only days apart.

My family and I decided to split our vacation this year between two destinations, with an intermediate stop back home in the Hannover area. The first week and half we spent in the Split, Croatia area, which was our second visit to this part of the country. Unlike our first trip to Split, where we traveled by overnight train, this time we took our family car, a nine-year old Opel. After a brief return back home, we were back on the road again . . . railroad to be precise, this time to southern France, where another part of my family resides.

On the island of Brac, Croatia in July 2009

All Photos: David Beale

On the island of Brac, Croatia in July 2009 – we drove to Croatia this time in our 9 year Opel Astra – pausing to view the City of Split on the other side of the channel. The ladies to the right of my car are tourists from Poland.

Cost – the number one factor

When going on websites to look for cheap airfares and train fares, one can quickly become discouraged. Summertime is peak travel time, and airlines and railroads in Europe are out to capitalize on this high demand to cover less busy periods of the year. So it does not matter really where one looks on the web, prices appear high. This was the case again with Split, I stopped looking when I realized that the cheapest airfare was going to be about EUR 800 (US$ 1400) for my family, while the train fare was going to come in at EUR 700 or more. I opted for the car this time. My reasons included no tolls to pay in Germany (the majority of the distance) and relatively inexpensive fuel in Croatia coupled with the need for local transport around Split. A relatively new state-of-the-art expressway (albeit toll road) from Zagreb to Split ensured a relatively speedy On top of that, the trip can be made easily in just two days, i.e. one night in a hotel each direction. We spent about EUR 230 (US $330) on the hotels en-route (which includes breakfast costs), about 280 EUR for fuel (yes, fuel still costs about 3x what it costs in the USA), and nearly EUR 95.00 in highway tolls in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Total cost: about EUR 610 (US $830). This sum is just slightly less than the train fare we paid two years ago to travel to and from Split via trains two years ago, not including the approximately EUR 50 we spent on local bus fares for the family in the Split area.

In August 2007 we waited briefly in the Split train station to board our train from Split to Zagreb

Split the difference – In August 2007 we waited briefly in the Split train station to board our train from Split to Zagreb, a Bombardier tilt-body DMU nearly identical to Deutsche Bahn’s VT-612 series.

I came to a different conclusion with our plans to go to France – somewhat longer overall distance as well as the fact that the majority of the trip would not be on toll-free highways in Germany but on toll roads in France and Switzerland as well as the fact that fuel for my nine-year old Opel as just as expensive in France and Switzerland as in Germany, if not more expensive than in Germany. After the sticker-shock I got about ten years ago when making this trip via car, I decided that the train might be less expensive alternative this time. In addition, I knew that our local transportation needs in the Aix-en-Provence area would be covered between our relatives living there and the local transit system. The total train fare for the family was about EUR 900 for a trip that was about 25% more distance than our trip to Split. But with high speed trains for most of the distance, the trip took about 11 hours each direction, more than 50% faster than our highway trip to Split, thus eliminating a need for an overnight stop, unlike with a trip in the car. Surprisingly, the majority of the ticket costs were on the Cologne – Paris - Cologne segments of our trip, more than 50% of the overall train fare. The train fare from our town to Cologne and back and the tickets for the TGV from Paris to Aix and return were relatively cheap in comparison.

CO2 and the Environment

Including our local driving in the Split region plus the long distance segments between Hannover and Split we consumed about 260 liters (69 U.S. gallons) of diesel fuel with our Opel. As a result we put something like 400 kg (880 lbs) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, about 100 kg per person. According to the DB website (Umwelt Mobilcheck), this trip via trains would have produced about 35 kg per person. If we had driven to southern France from Hannover, we would have likely produced about 110 kg of CO2 per person, whereas we actually caused the production of about 30 kg per person via our ICE, Thalys and TGV bookings.

Part of the apparent discrepancy in this calculation may be that the DB website considers the energy consumption of trains within France as contributing nearly nothing to CO2 production, as France produces the vast majority of its electricity with nuclear, hydroelectric and wind energy sources, therefore the electricity consumed by its electrically powered TGV high speed train fleet essentially produces no CO2 emissions. In Germany, Austria and the former Yugloslavia, most electricity (75% or more) is still produced via natural gas or coal fired power plants, and in Croatia the Split – Zagreb trains are diesel.

Traffic, ugghhh, traffic

When one travels in the summer, dealing with traffic, delays and inconvenience is simply part of the picture. In the USA air travel has become mass transit in the past 20 years, and new security measures introduced in stages since the PanAm 103 bombing in late 1988, the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks and a new threat from liquid based explosives identified in 2006 have only added to the hassles of airline travel. The same security measures are in effect in Europe, however with varying impact on waiting time at the airport. The resulting delays of these new measures at smaller airports in Europe such as Hannover, has been minimal. At larger intercontinental airports such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Munich, there is a noticeable effect. And in some places such as the U.K. the new security measures introduced in the past decade have added a half hour or more to the wait time at departure airports.

My experience within Europe is that the pain level of air travel has not yet reached the incredible, almost unbearable heights of air travel in the U.S., but it is not far away. Unlike the U.S., vacation air travel within Europe, especially in the summer months has a different operating mode, much of it revolves around the use of holiday charter flights, which remain relatively uncommon in North America. This has both pluses and minuses. The biggest plus is perhaps on the cost side, dozens of charter airlines offer hundreds of point-to-point holiday travel possibilities for the millions of families that travel from Europe’s major cities and most populous regions such as Germany, Britain, Holland, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, etc. to Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and other tourist destinations. On the minus side is the rather cattle-car service these charter airlines offer, along with potentially strange and inconvenient departure and arrival times for families with young children – years ago my family flew from Crete back to Hannover non-stop, scheduled departure time from Crete 11:45 PM, 3:15 AM arrival in Hannover. But unlike in the U.S.A., flight delays during the summer months are no worse usually than other times in the year.

Highways in Europe are infamous for their holiday period traffic jams. The A7 autobahn, not far from where I work in the Hannover area, is the major north-south highway in central and northern Germany, linking coastal vacation areas on Germany’s and Denmark’s Baltic Sea and North Sea shorelines with major population centers further south. It has a long reputation for developing traffic jams which can exceed 30 or 40 km (20 – 26 miles) in length during summer weekends as well as the beginning and end of spring and summer vacation periods. Despite hundreds of millions of euros spent in recent years to widen and improve the A7, certain stretches of the highway, which take only minutes during off-peak periods to travel, can take hours to cover on many Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Easter and late September. The A7 is not unique. Europe has many dozens of highways and expressways all across the continent, which become multi-mile long parking lots during various weekends and holiday periods.

With this in mind, my family planned to do our driving to and from Croatia outside of the traditional weekend drive time, we left on a Monday morning and drove back home on a Thursday a week later. With this piece of planning as well as a fair amount of good luck, we avoided serious traffic jams, perhaps just 30 minutes delay on the way to Split and perhaps an hour on the way home, due to closed highways and construction near Wells, Austria.

Delays can happen on the rails as well, and in past years my family and I have experienced some significant train delays. While we were relaxing in France this summer, the air conditioner installed in a signaling equipment room near the Hannover central station failed without warning. Within an hour or two the signaling electronics began overheating and malfunctioning, thus leading to the delay of 150 trains running through the Hannover area. Newspaper reports indicated that some passengers were delayed by as much as six hours. Of course in the past year the chaos caused within Germany by the massively reduced availability of the ICE-3 and ICE-T high speed train fleets due to wheel axle inspections affected many thousands of travelers, although operations with both of these fleets in the past month or two have returned almost back to full strength.

Station in the South Of France

Station in the South Of France – a Bombardier AGC train-set bound for Aix-en-Provence ready for departure in Marseille’s St. Charles station, with a TGV Duplex ready for departure to Paris in the background on the 28th of July 2009. Although the AGC trains here are equipped to run in electric mode from the cantenary in Marseille, the cantenary comes to an end only 2 km later on the branch line to Aix, therefore they are operated only in diesel mode.

These tend to be worst-case scenarios. Most intercity trains in Europe have on-time rates in the 80% to 90% range, slightly better than European airlines and far better than U.S. airlines. On our trip to southern France we arrived exactly on time and our connections were also per schedule. Only on the way back did we experience a problem, a 25-minute delay with an ICE-3 train that we took from Cologne to Dortmund. This delay then obliterated a connection we had in Dortmund, and another connection in Minden, thus resulting in a total delay of 90 minutes for us.

Riding the TGV in the dawn of the 21st century

The French TGV high-speed rail system, once a novelty nearly three decades ago, because it was one of only two high speed trains in the world (the other in Japan) at the time, has grown from the original Paris – Lyon route into a network that spans from London, England to the Mediterranean coast and from Brussels, Belgium to the Spanish and Italian borders. Italy and Spain, in the meantime, have developed their own substantial high-speed rail networks which are connected or will connect to TGV trains in France. The TGV network has carried billions of travelers from nearly every nation on earth in the past couple of decades, it is one of France’s calling cards and objects of national pride, like the Concorde SST, the Eiffel Tower, French wine and French cuisine.

The majority of the TGV fleet is double-decker configuration (TGV duplex), thus allowing the trains to carry nearly 50% more passengers than the first generations of TGV train-sets, which are single level. Seating in second class in the double-decker version is similar to the single level TGV train-sets (including Thalys): tight. Most seats are arranged in fours at tables, unlike ICE trains in Germany were relatively few seats in second class have this arrangement. If you are traveling by yourself or in an odd-number group, hopefully you will end up sitting next to or across from a fellow passenger with whom you can enjoy some light conversation with, otherwise it could be a very long trip, despite the 300 km/h speeds. In both configurations, there is substantial space in the ends and middle of the passenger compartments for storage of luggage. This is not the case in the ICE-1 and ICE-2 fleets, so storage of luggage in these trains is an ongoing problem, despite the much higher ceilings in German ICE trains which allow for somewhat more overhead storage space than in either TGV train configuration.

This was the first time for me in about six years to ride again on part of the TGV network. Actually we rode on two different sections of the network, one was the Thalys train which operates TGV train sets to Paris from Germany (and Holland) via Brussels. Part of the trip was with Thalys is over newly built high speed rail corridors in Belgium which are built to French TGV design standards, and therefore are effectively extensions to the TGV network. The remainder of the Thalys route is still on “classic” rail lines between Cologne and Liegé, Belgium, although it is planned that Thalys trains will start using this coming December the latest (and probably last-to-be-built) section of the Belgium high-speed rail network from the German border to Liegé. The first time I rode on Thalys between Cologne and Paris back in 1998, only the Brussels – Paris section was truly high-speed, the rest of the trip between Brussels and Cologne was an agonizingly slow and bone-jarring trip along the Belgian “classic” rail lines. On this trip we were only on the classic rail system between the above mentioned points of Liegé and Cologne. The trip along this section is as slow today as it was in 1998, but the views from the train through the very hilly terrain of this region punctuated by many tunnels and bridges along this 150 year-old route make it at least visually interesting. Although the Thalys TGV trains will soon disappear from this route in a few months time, the route will remain in use for local and regional trains, and is in fact being upgraded with new track and updated signaling equipment already.

The other part of our TGV journey was between Paris and Aix on the original TGV route to Lyon and directly connected extensions of this corridor from Lyon to Marseilles called LGV_Rhône-Alpes and LGV Méditerranée, which ends in the Mediterranean seaport of Marseille. We traveled as far as the Aix-en-Provence TGV station, which D:F readers should not confuse with the in-town SNCF Aix-en-Provence train station. The two stations are approximately 10 km apart and have no direct connections with each other except for express bus service which runs approximately every two hours. Our trains both to and from Aix were non-stop trains, they stopped only in two cities after departing Paris: Avignon and Aix, before reaching the end destination of Marseille. The LGV line from Paris to Marseille is constructed with various “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” along the line to permit TGV trains heading to other destinations beyond the high speed line to leave or enter the high speed line at relatively fast speeds when going to or from other destinations near this route. Train stations which lie directly along this line are, as a rule, constructed with four tracks, the center two tracks do not have boarding platforms, but rather concrete dividing barriers and are used by trains passing through the station at high speed, the outer tracks are for the exclusive use of TGV trains making a stop at that station. The line is quite busy, a testimony to the success that the TGV has become. I noticed on both the trip to Aix and the trip back to Paris, we passed TGVs traveling in the opposite direction every 5 to 10 minutes, or something like 20 to 25 trains during each 3 hour-long one-way trip.

Train station in the middle of nowhere.

Train station in the middle of nowhere. The Aix-en-Provence TGV train station is actually some distance away from the city limits of Aix-en-Provence with an exit off of the local highway. The departure side of the train station resembles an airport terminal, and sort of functions similar to an airport as well. Long term parking lots around the train station were full to beyond overflowing, showing how popular the TGV system is with the local population, if not the lack of good local public transport from the city areas to this intercity train station.

In Paris Gare du Lyon I could see how TGV departures on this line are now organized more like airline flights. Although the half-dozen or so TGVs in the station at that time were all going to travel down the same rail line, they were all going to serve different destinations along this line, thereby offering non-stop or limited stops. This is a far different operating mode than in Germany with ICE trains, where the trains generally stop at all major cities along the route they are traveling along with only minor exceptions.

I am now used to watching the landscape flash by at up to 300 km/h on Thalys and SNCF TGV trains, but it is still impressive to whiz past bridges, building, trees and roads at a speed which is faster than what a B747 or A340 lifts-off from a runway. At nighttime, this view at that speed can quickly become disorientating, better to read a book or watch a movie on your laptop, than stair out the window at headlights and taillights of cars and trucks on nearby highways which flash past your line of sight in every possible direction.

Food and Beverage – get ready for sticker shock

Travelers have come to expect to pay a premium for food and drink while flying on many airlines these days, and even in airport food courts in the USA and Europe, food and drink often costs far more than the equivalent gastronomy well beyond the airport perimeter. And so it is on the highways and railways of Europe as well. The highways in Germany, Austria and Croatia have lots of full service rest areas, far more often than is found in North America. One rarely has to drive much longer than 50 km before passing yet another highway rest stop with full service restaurant, gas station, convenience store and public restrooms. But there is price to pay for this convenience, especially in the restaurant, snack bar or convenience store. Soft drink prices are rarely under EUR 1,00 (US $ 1.40) each and can be as much as EUR 2.50. Food is likewise expensive. A hamburger that costs maybe EUR 1.50 in the city will cost twice that or more at one of these highway rest stops. On board the ICE, TGV or Thalys trains, similar pricing is found in the café car. How about a beer to sip while watching the scenery whiz past at 150 mph? That will be EUR 3.00 (US $ 4.20). Or maybe a glass of wine? EUR 4.00. Needless to say, it pays to go do a little bit of shopping first before starting the trip and spend perhaps a half hour in the kitchen making a few sandwiches before hitting the highway or train platform.

Conclusion:

If time is the prime consideration, then it makes sense to use the airlines for either of these trips. Regardless whether going to Split or Marseille area, the travel time from Hannover or elsewhere in northern Europe is less than five hours including connections and airport check-in time. But airfares can vary tremendously, deals can be had for less than EUR 100 per person, but more likely in the summer peak season is on the order of EUR 200 - 300 per person. If one is concerned about CO2 emissions and use of non-renewable energy, air travel in this example is not the way to go.

Automobile and train travel for these two destinations are similar in both time duration and costs. Going to Croatia or elsewhere in Southeast Europe will probably be marginally faster by automobile. If the destination is near a high speed train line in France or Italy, then the train connection is likely to be faster, perhaps fast enough to travel in one day what would otherwise take two days with an automobile. Regarding CO2 emissions and energy use, trains are going to be the “greenest” alternative, but how much so depends on a number of variables, and in some cases the differences are not very large. Traffic loads on the trains we used to travel to France were heavy, in fact the Thalys trains we booked between Cologne and Paris and back to Cologne were standing room only for many passengers for most of the trip. Traffic on the highways within Germany and Austria was likewise rather heavy despite being on weekdays. Traffic along the A1 expressway between Zagreb and Split was relatively light, a possible result of the rather expensive tolls charged on this highway.

Aix-en-Provence to Sisteron and Marseille – classic line reopened

While in Aix my wife and I made two-day excursions with trains, one to Marseille, the other to Sisteron. We rode on the regional rail route which runs south from Aix to Marseilles and northeast to Sisteron and onwards towards Briancon and Grenoble. This line was closed for several years to allow for renovation of a number of the stations as well as restoration of the rail line and underlying infrastructure, and is now back in full operation since about a year.

Making tracks to Aix

Making tracks to Aix – a view of the newly rebuilt station on the Marseille – Aix-en-Provence line in the Marseille suburb of Saint Antonie.

The diesel locomotive hauled stock in operation here a decade ago is gone, and the line is now served by new DMU equipment, including dual-mode electric / diesel AGC train sets from Bombardier, which operate in this area only in diesel mode. The line is mostly single track, and it does serve a limited number of freight trains as well, mostly to provide service to a couple of chemical and fertilizer plants along the route northeast of Aix.

The Aix-en-Provence SNCF station

In the city – the Aix-en-Provence SNCF station (not to be confused with the Aix-en-Provence TGV station many miles away) has been recently renovated and is open for business again. It is a five-minute walk from Aix’s historic tree filled city center and a short walk away from a regional bus terminal. A Bombardier dual mode electric / diesel multiple unit train set is ready to leave for Marseille on the 27th of July 2009.

Sisteron is a beautiful medieval town in the foothills of the southern Alps and home to the Citadel, a centuries old fortress with a rich history. It makes for a great day trip from either Aix or Marseille, and there are plenty of hotels and tourist accommodations in-town, if one wants to stay longer. The town and the fortress are easily accessible by foot from the SNCF train station, and the ride from the Aix / Marseille direction also offers many interesting sights and views along the way.

View of Sisteron, France from the Citadel

View of Sisteron, France from the Citadel on 31st of July.

Marseille is of course the largest city in the region, and it too offers many interesting sights, museums, neighborhoods, shops and cafes to visit. The main train station, St. Charles, located on a hill overlooking the port and downtown area, is a busy place for rail fans, with TGV trains and various other more conventional trains coming and going every few minutes. But Marseille is a big city with many different neighborhoods, some which are relatively impoverished and it has a significant immigrant population from all corners of the world, but especially from northern Africa, central Africa, and the Middle East. As in any large international city, visitors should maintain awareness of their surroundings in Marseille and take precautions against becoming a victim to pickpockets or more violent criminal acts.

A TER (Regional) DMU train

A TER (Regional) DMU train of Alstom’s X72500 series from Marseille to Gap pauses in Sisteron to pick-up passengers on the 31st of July. Unlike the Bombardier AGC train sets, these Alstom train sets are diesel propulsion only, with under floor engines driving the train via 5 speed automatic transmissions.


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