The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

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 18, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 34

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
NCI Chair John Robert Smith to the Candidates: Speak Out
   On America’s Rail, Infrastructure Needs
The Comeback Of Streetcars In North America
The Great American Streetcar Scandal
  Amtrak News…
Railroad Passengers Say Increased Amtrak Energy Efficiency
   Strengthens Case For More Trains
Gas Prices Boost Amtrak Ridership
Amtrak Ridership Hits All-Time High
California Zephyr Schedule Reduced
  Planning Lines…
South Carolina To Draft Statewide Rail Plan
  Transit-Oriented Development…
Old Power Stations Never Die, They Get Redeveloped
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Financial Lines…
Agencies Agree to Aid “T”, Turnpike
Time To Reconsider Electrification?
One Small Step For N.J. Transit And SEPTA; One Tiny Leap
   For The Riders
  Publication Notes …

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


The New York Times Reports:


NCI Chair John Robert Smith To The Candidates:
Speak Out on America’s Rail, Infrastructure Needs


NEW YORK CITY --- New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Bob Herbert this week featured National Corridors Initiative Chairman John Robert Smith --- also the Mayor of Meridian, MS and former Chairman of the Board of Amtrak--- as a key participant of the recent US Conference of Mayors’ New York City press conference demanding that the presidential candidates pay attention to the nation’s failing infrastructure system.

In a column on the New York Times op ed page, “How About the Home Front?” Herbert, an acerbic critic of the current Administration, leveled his guns at both campaigns this past week following a major press event by the Mayors. Here, in part, is what he said:

“It’s fair to say that America’s mayors are not thrilled with the way the presidential campaign has unfolded so far. Domestic issues? An urban agenda? Rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure? They haven’t drawn nearly as much attention as the two favorite topics in this campaign: foolishness and foreign affairs…We’ve also had a more or less serious focus on the war in Iraq and a handful of other international matters.”

“What we haven’t had,” continued Herbert, “is a deep exploration of problems here at home that are threatening the very vibrancy of the nation, including: the dismal employment picture (there are many more Americans out of work than the official statistics show); the terrible toll that the housing and mortgage crisis is taking on families from one coast to the other; the tens of millions of Americans who are without health insurance coverage; the stunning high school dropout numbers; and a demoralizing problem with violent crime in several parts of the country.”

I sat in on a meeting Thursday as [of the US Conference of Mayors]…With President Bush on the way out, the burden of leading an effort to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure would fall on either Barack Obama or John McCain. Representatives of each candidate attended Thursday’s meeting but did not participate.”

“The mayors talked about clogged highways, the high price of gasoline and an air transportation system that seems to get more pitiful by the day. Mayor John Robert Smith of Meridian, MS [Chairman of the National Corridors Initiative], called on the presidential candidates to take a bold, creative approach to the nation’s transportation needs, including substantial investments in railroad infrastructure.”

“Mr. Smith believes the nation should devote the same level of commitment to developing a first-rate passenger rail system as was marshaled for the interstate highway system in the Eisenhower era,” wrote Herbert.

(Mayor John Robert Smith, Chairman of National Corridors Initiative, joined with NCI founder and CEO James P. RePass in 1994 to work to prevent massive Amtrak service cutbacks proposed and partially implemented at that time by a management consulting firm hired by Amtrak, that if left intact would have destroyed the viability of the nation’s passenger rail system. This project was blocked by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), and the NCI’s John Robert Smith and James RePass).

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The Comeback Of Streetcars In North America

By DF Staff from Internet Sources

The Aztecs see human history in fifty-year cycles. Customs and living habits change, move forward, die out as new inventions offer “a better way”, and then about fifty years later, by-gone ways start to reappear.

Fifty years ago, the car was emerging as the number one transportation mode in the United States, and now for reasons that need no explanation here, trains and trolley service are surging ahead in popularity.

A recent story in the New York Times highlights the comeback of a highly successful urban mode of transport, the humble streetcar, a system that served hundreds of downtowns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was literally “murdered” by the highway/oil industry. (See Sidebar)

The Great American Streetcar Scandal

The Great American Streetcar Scandal was the acquisition of streetcar systems throughout the United States, and their dismantling and replacement with buses in the mid 20th century by the National City Lines (NCL) holding company, formed by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum. It is alleged that NCL’s companies had an ulterior motive in their purchase of streetcar systems of forcing mass use of the automobile among the U.S. population. It is also alleged that the trolley cars were set on fire and burned to rubble, ensuring they could never be used again.

Convicted of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, GM was fined $5,000 and each executive was ordered to pay a fine of $1 for a conspiracy to force the streetcar systems to buy GM buses instead of other buses (but not for dismantling the streetcar systems, which were also being dismantled by non-NCL owned systems).

The New York Times story focuses first on Cincinnati Ohio, where officials are planning a system that would connect the city’s riverfront stadiums, downtown business district and Uptown neighborhoods, which include six hospitals and the University of Cincinnati in a six-to-eight-mile loop.

The cost estimate is $132 million, which the city plans to pay for with existing tax revenue and $30 million in private investment. The plan requires the approval of Mayor Mark Mallory, a proponent, and the City Council.

Depending on the final financing package, fares may be free, 50 cents or $1.

French bistro owner, Jean-Robert de Cavel, sees a chance for his district to be revived by the transit system, which was dismantled in the 1950’s. Against a backdrop of rundown tenements in de Cavel’s long-struggling Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, is a line of restored Italianate row houses right outside his bistro. That’s one hopeful sign, he says; another is the plan for the trolley system:

“Human beings can be silly because we move away from things too quickly in this country,” Mr. de Cavel said. “Streetcar is definitely going to create a reason for young people to come downtown.”

“In years gone by, people would move to cities to get a job,” Cincinnati’s city manager, Milton Dohoney, said. “Today, young, educated workers move to cities that have a sense of place. And if businesses see us laying rail down on a street, they’ll know that’s a permanent route that will have people passing by seven days a week.”

After looking into streetcar systems in Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., and Charlotte, Mr. Dohoney became convinced that they spur growth and will make his city competitive in attracting investment and talent.

A University Will Provide Funds

A hundred miles north of Cincinnati, Columbus is partnering with Ohio State University to build a streetcar network. Mayor Michael Coleman is pushing for a $103 million system that will connect the downtown district and the University. The loop would be paid for through a 4 percent surcharge on concert tickets, sporting events and downtown parking and a $12.5 million contribution from Ohio State.

“It is directly tied to economic development, and when times are tough in Ohio, we need an additional tool to create jobs,” Mr. Coleman said.

Forty More Cities

At least 40 other cities, the story continues, are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction.

More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., have also introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.

Advocates in Minneapolis and St. Paul are looking at the potential for streetcars to once again roam about the streets of the Twin Cities. It has been 50 years since the last streetcars ran here, but many people see value in bringing back an updated version of the vintage vehicles.

In St. Paul, routes might connect downtown with the Grand Avenue shopping district, Selby Avenue or Payne Avenue on the East Side.

Minneapolis planners envision a streetcar line along the Midtown Greenway, between Hiawatha Avenue and Lake Calhoun, or from downtown up to the northern Warehouse District.

“Trolleys are taking back the streets,” says Harry Donahue, a founding member of the Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys. Once endangered, trolleys are experiencing a resurgence across North America.

Economic Growth

Portland, Oregon, built the first major modern streetcar system in the U. S. in 2001. Recently, they added new lines which interlace with a growing light rail system. Since Portland announced plans for the system, more than 10,000 residential units have been built and $3.5 billion has been invested in property within two blocks of the line, according to Portland Streetcar Inc., which operates the system.

PCC class cars ply Toronto streets in this photo by Jon Bell taken in 1971.


Toronto, which never gave up its streetcars, is now working to upgrade their infrastructure and modernize their service. Since it was rescued from certain death in the early 1970s by a dogged citizen movement, the streetcar has become one of our enduring urban icons, said Adam Giambrone, Chair of Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), in an interview last year with the Toronto Star. “It’s fair to say no one ever got misty-eyed about a bus. But rumbling quietly along city streets, the streetcar represents, for many, a more civilized mode of in-city travel – the romance of the railway, urban-style. There’s just something about riding the rails,” said Giambrone.

But it’s not all about the charm. Toronto’s trolleys are not heritage streetcars run for tourism and nostalgic purposes; they provide most of the downtown cores’ surface transit service. Four of TTC’s five most heavily traveled surface routes are streetcar routes.

Streetcars move more people than buses, last longer (as much as three times longer, up to 40 years), and, thanks to the system’s web of overhead electric wires, run cleanly and exhaust-free. TTC statistics show that the Dufferin bus, the city’s heaviest-volume bus, carries slightly more than 30,000 people per day; the King streetcar moves almost 50,000.

“The average car in Toronto carries 1.1 people,” Giambrone says. “A streetcar displaces 130 cars. We’re all citizens. If you assign everyone one value point, that streetcar takes priority.”

All that has convinced the TTC commissioner that the future belongs to streetcars and their ilk. The city is shopping around for a fleet of new streetcars, 204 in all, at about $3 million each. Giambrone’s long-term plan is a massive commitment to streetcars and light rail, in both the city’s core and the distant points surrounding it.

Once Considered Old and Useless

In the 1940’s, trolleys were considered too old for a modern United States, which was, by that time, heavily investing in highways, autos, and buses.

By the 1970s, only seven cities in the nation - including Philadelphia - were running trolleys, according to the Light Rail Now Web site.

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Photo by Rob Hutchinson. 

Snow? In Toronto? A TTC “ALRV” car (#4240) on Queen Street at John Street, 501-Queen route, in January 2004. [Editor's note: Streetcars are safer than driving in bad weather!]

AMTRAK NEWS... Amtrak News...

Railroad Passengers Say Increased Amtrak Energy Efficiency
Strengthens Case For More Trains

From National Association Of Railroad Passengers

WASHINGTON, DC, AUGUST 15 -- The National Association of Railroad Passengers today lauded the latest federal figures on transportation energy consumption which showed a 2.2% increase in Amtrak’s energy efficiency, making Amtrak 17.9% more efficient than airlines. Edition 27 of the annual Transportation Energy Data Book - compiled by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy - says Amtrak consumed 2,650 British Thermal Units (BTUs) per passenger-mile in 2006, versus 2,709 in 2005 - a 2.2% improvement.

“Passenger trains have always been a highly energy efficient mode of travel,” said NARP Executive Director Ross B. Capon. “These figures and the public’s increased desire to park their cars and ride trains underscore the importance of immediately increasing investments in our national passenger train system as a key component of any rational energy policy.

“Analysts consistently identify passenger trains as energy efficient, but federal policy still encourages investing most resources in the least efficient forms of transportation. That is not the road to energy independence.”

Certificated air carriers (domestic service) also improved--to 3,228 BTUs per passenger-mile in 2006 from 3,264 in 2005--but the change in ratio was in Amtrak’s favor. Amtrak used 17.9% less energy per passenger-mile than airlines in 2006 vs. 17.0% less in 2005. Conversely, airlines used 21.8% more energy than Amtrak in 2006 vs. 20.5% in 2005. The data are in table 2.14, “Energy Intensities of Non-highway Passenger Modes, 1970-2006.”

Meanwhile, Amtrak last month set an all-time record for monthly ridership, carrying 2,750,278 passengers, up 14% from July 2007. Individual routes reported increases as high as 43%.

“The traveling public is voting with their feet and with their dollars,” noted Capon. “Unfortunately, a big part of the driving reduction means travel foregone rather than transferred to rail. With Amtrak in its sixth straight year of ridership growth, and nearing capacity of its existing fleet, it is long past time for Washington to balance public investments in transportation with our current and future energy needs - and obvious market demands.”

Americans drove 4.7% fewer miles in June than a year earlier (U.S. DOT’s August 13 release). June, 2008, was the eighth straight month of declining vehicle-miles traveled (VMT). DOT’s July 28 release showed a decline of 29.8 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on U.S. roads from January to May.

Transportation Energy Data Book:

Table 2.14 is at computer page 2-16 (computer page 16) at

National Association of Railroad Passengers
900 Second St., N.E., Suite 308
Washington, DC 20002-3557
Telephone 202-408-8362

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Gas Prices Boost Amtrak Ridership

From Argus-Press and Internet Sources

DURAND, MI - AUGUST 14 --- In the early 1900’s, Durand, Michigan, was a thriving transportation hub anchored by a magnificent train station: 42 passenger trains, 22 mail trains and 78 freight trains passed through the city daily.

Today, the station houses a railroad museum as well as serving as a station, and it could be on its way toward attracting throngs of travelers once again.

The Durand Historical Marker

Durand boasted that at one time it had over 100 trains passing through it every day. Durand Union Station was built in 1903, razed by fire a few months later and rebuilt in 1905. This photo was taken May 26, 1951. The train on the left is #56, bound for Chicago from Port Huron, the center train is #17, bound for Bay City from Detroit and on the right is #21, bound for Detroit from Muskegon.

The decline of rail traffic started at the end of WWI and culminated in 1974 when Grand Trunk determined it could no longer justify the cost of maintaining the Union Station and it was abandoned.

The old depot’s destruction appeared imminent, but the community rallied to save it and in 1979 the City purchased it for $1.00. Since then, it has become the State Railroad History Museum.

As gas prices in Michigan continue to hover near the $4 mark, many commuters are now turning to Amtrak as an alternative mode of long-distance transportation. Travel on the Pontiac-Detroit-Ann Arbor and Jackson-Chicago lines increased 5.9 percent overall this year while climbing 6.5 percent on the Port Huron-East Lansing-Chicago route and 7.2 percent on the Grand Rapids- St. Joseph-Chicago line, according to Amtrak officials.

“Increases in ridership have correlated with the price of gas prices,” said Therese Cody, rail operating programs manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation. “(Gas prices) are not the only factor, but it is a big factor. People are searching for alternatives to driving. Public awareness is another key factor.”

That’s good news for the Durand Union Station, which is included as a stop on the Blue Water line (Port Huron to Chicago) - a passenger train service operated by Amtrak covering the 319 miles from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan.

A round-trip coach ticket from Durand to Chicago (leaving one day and returning the next) costs between $45 and $61, according to the Amtrak Web site. A round-trip coach ticket from Durand to Detroit, via Battle Creek, costs either $42 or $58.

For the 2007 to 2008 fiscal year, ticket revenue for the Blue Water line jumped 14.5 percent, said Durand Union Station Interim Building Coordinator Connie Cobley. Ridership for the Blue Water has also risen 6.5 percent.

Service Route Map

Not all trains make every stop along the route.

Ridership on the Blue Water was about 105,000 in 2007 and climbed to 112,000 this year.

Cobley said, in her opinion, trains will become more and more popular means of transportation in the near future. “Students attending Michigan State University could also use Amtrak to save money on driving expenses if they are commuting,” she said.

“If a student was doing 12 to 16 credit hours they could fit those in on a Monday-Wednesday or a Tuesday-Thursday program and they probably would be running $24 a week for transportation,” Cobley said. “Taking the train is a very feasible way of getting around in Michigan nowadays.”

Durand Depot as it looks today.

Cody said even though increased revenue has helped keep costs at bay, the higher sales have added problems as well.

“One unfortunate thing is that we are reaching our capacity...Often on weekends the trains are sold out,” Cody said. “Amtrak doesn’t have enough (usable cars in the fleet), but we hope Amtrak will receive the necessary federal funds to allow them to add capacity to the existing train sets.”

But she is optimistic: “When the train becomes popular and it is full, that means it has a lot of supporters,” Cody said. “That support hopefully will be what we need to increase service.”

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Amtrak Ridership Hits All-Time High

Charlotte-Raleigh Train traffic up 43 percent

From the Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 14 -- Amtrak reported today that its trains carried more passengers in July than any month in its 37-year history. More than 2.75 million people rode trains in July, a 14 percent increase from a year earlier.

In North Carolina, the Piedmont route between Charlotte and Raleigh saw a 43 percent jump in July passengers. Ticket revenue increased by 48 percent, outpacing the national revenue increase of 18.6 percent.

“Increasing fuel prices, highway congestion, airline issues and environmental awareness continue to make intercity passenger rail extremely relevant and popular,” said Alex Kummant, president and CEO of Amtrak, in a statement. “In addition, we continue to work on service improvements and better on-time performance, which draws more ridership and revenue each month.”

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California Zephyr Schedule Improved

From Amtrak via Union Pacific Partnership

Effective Monday, August 11, California Zephyr schedules will be shortened by as much as 45 minutes, one of the targets established in an agreement between Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad.  The trip-time reduction is part of a multi-year program to return the Overland Route between Salt Lake City and San Francisco to a state of good repair, ultimately allowing the California Zephyr to operate on a more reliable schedule.

The westbound California Zephr begins its ascent of the Sierra Nevadas in Farad, Calif., during a rain and hail storm, April 26, 2002. It was in 1949 that three railroads created the first train called the California Zephyr

California Zephyr Having just arrived in Galesburg, Illinois, Train No. 5 - the California Zephyr, led by GE Genesis P42DC locomotives #132 and #167 - “cools its heels” for a few minutes before continuing west on September 27, 2004.

Amtrak and UP agreed in 2006 to temporarily add more than three hours to the Zephyr’s schedule while UP performed track work as part of a commitment to improve on-time performance.  Many track delays have been eliminated and the added time has been removed incrementally from the schedule as planned. The August 11 change is the third schedule reduction since the program began in June of last year.

This is another milestone in our effort to improve service and OTP on the Zephyr, said Paul Vilter, assistant vice president, Strategic Partnerships.  UP is making good progress toward fulfilling its commitment to reduce slow orders on the route, which allows us to gradually restore the original schedule and bring greater reliability to the Zephyr schedule. 

Eastbound Train 6 will now depart Emeryville, Calif., 45 minutes later and operate 45 minutes faster to Salt Lake City.  The remaining schedule to Chicago will not change.  Train 5, originating in Chicago, will operate according to the current schedule to Winnemucca, Nev., then operate 30 minutes faster to Emeryville.

Since the program began last June, two hours and 10 minutes of the time added to Train 5 have been removed, while two hours and 20 minutes have been taken off the schedule of Train 6.

“We appreciate UP’s efforts related to the Zephyr and, while we will continue to monitor the performance on Trains 5 and 6, we will turn our attention to removing slow orders on other Amtrak routes on the UP system,” added Vilter.

The California Zephyr is a 2,438-mile (3,924-km) long passenger train route operated by Amtrak in the Midwestern and Western United States. It runs from Chicago, Illinois, in the east to Emeryville, California in the west, passing through the states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. This route is one of the longest and most scenic routes run by Amtrak, with views of both the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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PLANNING LINES... Planning Lines...

South Carolina To Draft Statewide Rail Plan

From Progressive Railroading

AUGUST 15 -- South Carolina Public Railways is launching the development of a statewide rail plan. A division of South Carolina’s commerce department, the agency recently contracted Wilbur Smith Associates to research and develop the plan.

The public railways division and commerce department are seeking a rail plan to determine the current inventory of large industrial sites in the state and find ways to develop necessary logistics and infrastructure.

To be completed in January 2009, the plan will review freight and passenger railroads’ impact on economic development, and rail’s role in the state’s multi-modal transportation infrastructure, including interstate highways, ports and large industrial sites.

Wilbur Smith Associates will incorporate input from several government agencies, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Corp. short lines and local economic development groups into the plan.

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TRASIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT... Transit-Oriented Development...

Old Power Stations Never Die,
They Get Redeveloped

By Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster

For several decades it stood guardian of the gateway to Roslindale Square in the southwest section of the City Of Boston. In its heyday it cranked out 600 volts DC to the region’s trolley cars, electric busses (trackless trolleys), and later as a supplement to the nearby subway service.

However, all good things must come to an end, and in the case of the substation in Roslindale, it ceased providing power to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in the early 1970s. It has been vacant and unused since. Recently its dynamos and switching equipment have been removed leaving an empty shell waiting for a new owner.

Photo: Heart of the City Project; Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

Seen on a rainy day from Adams Park in Roslindale Square, the substation is at the edge of the Roslindale business district and awaits the right developer. The large, arched center doorway was used to install and later remove the building’s dynamos and other electrical equipment, and would often be open to vent heat on a hot summer day when it was in operation. The Roslindale Congregational Church bell tower sits in the distance.

The building, located at 4228 Washington St. is in the hands of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which now wants proposals to rehabilitate the structure while keeping the building’s architectural character, and recognizing its historical presence as a landmark in Roslindale Square.

According to the BRA, preferred proposals will include retail, office, community and cultural considerations. Residential uses would only be considered if they include a ground-floor commercial space.

In recent history, the Roslindale community in Boston revised its zoning laws and that will also come into play in the proposals that are advanced.

According to District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo, he hasn’t heard a consensus from residents of what they want to become of the 6,291-square-foot brick structure, but he applauded Mayor Thomas Menino and the city for hearing what the people might want there through numerous public hearings.

“This proposed development is a gateway to the [Roslindale] business district, and really moving forward to this will ensure we won’t lose the momentum that the business district [has built], and will only enhance our business district and help it prosper,” said Consalvo. “It’s important to get it redeveloped, and get it redeveloped responsibly for that location.”

New zoning language announced in June of 2008 includes zoning sub-districts; higher maximum density and height in commercial zones; increased residential parking ratios and mandatory BRA design review and community notification for as-of-right projects; improved design standards; and open space minimum requirements.

The former power substation structure is served by no less than 10 bus lines and is a 5-minute walk from the Roslindale commuter rail station on the MBTA’s Needham branch line. It is also approximately one statute mile from Forest Hills Station, the MBTA’s Orange Line subway terminus, making it ripe for transit-oriented development.

Interested developers can contact the Boston Redevelopment Authority at 617-722-4300 or by visiting the BRA web site at

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)98.87101.43
Canadian National (CNI)51.0353.00
Canadian Pacific (CP)59.7562.66
CSX (CSX)60.9165.61
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)43.5842.83
Kansas City Southern (KSU)50.4852.80
Norfolk Southern (NSC)70.5873.55
Providence & Worcester (PWX)19.0019.65
Union Pacific (UNP)76.8783.18

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FINANCIAL LINES... Financial Lines...

Agencies Agree to Aid “T”, Turnpike

Proposal Calls For Pooling Resources

From Internet Sources

BOSTON, AUGUST 12 -- Governor Deval Patrick’s administration announced a plan last week to pool resources from the state’s transportation bureaucracies in hope of finding money, according to a story by Noah Bierman for the Boston Globe. Reluctant to raise taxes, tolls or fares, the governor is seeking other avenues.

The tentative plan would take money from the state Highway Department and the Massachusetts Port Authority and divert it to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority MBTA and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

But it is far from clear that any cost-sharing plan would raise enough to avoid hitting up commuters for more cash over the next two years.

Leaders of all four transportation agencies met with state Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen behind closed doors last week to discuss ways of channeling money to the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA and to identify services they might be able to perform for them.

Many suggestions were offered but won’t be made public until Cohen has had time to review them and analyze how much money they will save.

Combined, the Turnpike Authority and the T are expected to face about a $200 million hole in their annual budgets, beginning in July 2009. The T has ruled out fare increases for now but warns of a hefty increase in 2010 if other funds are not found. The Turnpike Authority also has toll increases on hold.

Cohen calls toll and fare increases “an absolute last resort” because of the sluggish economy and high gasoline prices.

Whatever plan they come up with now will be a stop-gap measure until lawmakers figure out a broader plan.

“Perhaps they can pull a rabbit out of the hat, but I’m skeptical,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a member of a bipartisan commission that documented the financial problems of the state’s transportation system last year, the story continued.

The other agencies have their own problems, such as the Massachusetts Highway Department which is borrowing money to pay 78 percent of its payroll costs.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport and the seaport, is financially the state’s healthiest transportation agency, but high fuel prices are forcing them to look for ways to cut.

One area where MassPort may be able to help: It controls the Tobin Bridge, which is projected to net about $280 million in tolls over the next 20 years.

Possibly, the bridge could be turned over to the Turnpike Authority.

The bottom line - the state will have to come up with another source of revenue for the T and the Turnpike Authority soon.

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OPINION... Opinion...

Time To Reconsider Electrification?

By William Vantuono
Editor, Railway Age

Even though railroads are many more times fuel-efficient than trucks and have not been hurt as badly by soaring diesel fuel costs as their rubber-tired rivals (partly because they’re able to recover a portion of their costs through fuel surcharges), they’re looking at additional ways to lower their fuel bill.

One of these is electrification, which, aside from a small, captive mining operation in the West, hasn’t been employed by a freight railroad since the 1970s, when Conrail shelved its GGI and E44 electric locomotives and tore down what little remained of the catenary the Pennsylvania Railroad had built for its northeastern freight operations in the 1930s.

The expense of building, operating, and maintaining catenary, combined with relatively cheap diesel fuel and more-or-less standardized diesel locomotives, provided the impetus for freight railroads to de-energize and tear down their wire.

Now, with diesel approaching $5.00 a gallon and the railroads tasked with meeting tightening environmental regulations, electrification is getting another look, but with an approach a bit different than that taken with the railroad electrification projects of the first half of the 20th century. There is a proposal to generate large quantities of electricity for public use with banks of wind turbines that would be built along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, and transmit all that power to places where it’s needed most, like California. Instead of acquiring land and building thousands of miles of high-tension lines, why not piggyback on an existing right-of-way—specifically, a railroad right-of-way?

This is the scenario BNSF Railway is investigating. The railroad already leases its transcontinental rights-of-way to fiber optic companies in exchange for some capacity for its own communications and data transmission needs. It stands to reason that, in exchange for access to discounted electric traction power for trains, BNSF could lease right-of-way space to an electric utility on, for example, the Transcon, tapping into the high-tension lines for 25kV or 50kV catenary to power electric or perhaps even dual-power locomotives. There would be technical and financial challenges—erecting catenary poles and wire and substations; double stack clearances for overhead wire; bridges and tunnels; the higher cost of electric locomotives compared to diesel; the need for people and equipment to operate and maintain the power grid, for example—but if the economics of electric vs. diesel power can be altered (flipped, actually), electrification may make sense.

For railroads like BNSF, electrification is a long-term prospect. But with energy costs steadily rising for American consumers and the railroads demonstrating every day their superior fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness, electrification may one day prove a win-win situation for both.

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One Small Step For N.J. Transit And SEPTA;
One Tiny Leap For The Riders

By David Peter Alan

New Jersey Transit announced on Wednesday that, from now on, rail tickets on the entire SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) system would be available at NJT stations and ticket machines. SEPTA has 153 rail stations in the Philadelphia area, extending as far north as Trenton and as far south as Newark, Delaware. Until now, only tickets to Center City Philadelphia could be purchased through NJT. This meant that riders to any SEPTA station had to buy a separate ticket for SEPTA while changing from an NJT train at Trenton.

NJT’s new ticketing arrangement with SEPTA is a step in the right direction. There is no mention about joint ticketing for weekly or monthly commuters (yes, there are commuters from places like New Brunswick or Princeton and Philadelphia), but single-trip riders between the two systems will now enjoy an added measure of convenience. As we all know, more convenience is a factor in attracting more riders.

The two-train method of going from New York City or anywhere else on NJT’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line to Philadelphia and other SEPTA points is more popular than a casual observer might expect. Budget-minded travelers use these services, because Amtrak fares to Philadelphia are significantly higher. The one-way fare from New York to Philadelphia on NJT and SEPTA is $20.50, compared to Amtrak fares in the range of $43.00 to $83.00; two to four times the NJT/SEPTA rate. Because NJT and SEPTA also operate local service, their trains stop at many stations not served by Amtrak. This makes the two-train trip convenient for riders who are not going to or from an Amtrak stop. The trip takes longer than on Amtrak, but the fares are lower and there is access to more places on NJT and SEPTA.

This is a small step in the direction of regional co-operation between transit providers. As such, it is a good step. However, there is still a long way to go before rail riders enjoy the benefits of a truly regional rail system in the Northeast region.

Several years ago, the Delaware Valley Association of Railroad Passengers (DVARP) proposed through trains jointly operated by NJT and SEPTA between New York and Philadelphia. DVARP proposed a running time of 85 to 90 minutes and an hourly schedule. To this writer and other rail advocates, this plan makes sense. Needless to say, neither NJT nor SEPTA showed any interest in it.

There have been other initiatives to provide regional rail service in the Northeast Region, beyond New York and Philadelphia. This writer has proposed that the local transportation providers, from the MBTA in Boston to MARC in Maryland, provide connecting rail services from Boston to Washington. Trains would connect at such major points as Providence, New Haven and Philadelphia. Under this proposal, service would be available to all local points on the NEC main line, through connections between local trains or between a local train and Amtrak. Such service would also provide an alternative to Amtrak’s high fares for price-sensitive riders. Fares would be significantly lower than on Amtrak, although the trip would take longer.

Times have changed since these proposals were first presented four to six years ago. The price of gasoline has more than tripled. Highway capacity in the region is more constrained than ever, and large capital expenditures for highway expansion are not as popular with the voting public as they were even a few years ago. New riders are flocking to transit where it exists, although some transit providers are raising fares and cutting service in light of higher costs (see: Are Bleak Times Ahead for Transit; D:F: July 28, 2008).

It is time for our elected leaders and transit managers to think regionally when it comes to the Northeast. SEPTA provides unified metropolitan transit in the Philadelphia area, and the MBTA does the same in the Boston area. NJT serves not only New Jersey, but also New York City. The Regional Rail Working Group and other rail advocates are pushing for a regional approach to rail service in the New York area. The riders who use all of these systems would benefit from improved regional rail service, at a lower fare than Amtrak charges. Regional rail service in addition to Amtrak can provide a travel alternative that would divert riders out of their automobiles and also get buses off the highways.

The greatest advantage of regional cooperation between transit providers is improved mobility for their riders. This extra measure of mobility can only encourage people to go to the cities and towns along the NEC Line. The money these riders spend will benefit every one of those cities and towns.

[Editor’s note: We agree with regional planning, coordination, and investment for rail and transit. In that light, this editor has formed a Sierra Club Northeast Regional Transportation Committee which encompasses Sierra Club chapters in New England, New York, New Jersey and Eastern Canadian Provinces. We will from time to time report on our progress.]

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