Vol. 8 No. 33
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
House Rejects Amtrak Subsidy Cut
WASHINGTON, DC --- The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected overwhelmingly amendments to House appropriations bills which would have cut Amtraks Federal support.
Unlike highways, which receives $30 billion-plus annually in Federal funds automatically from the so-called Highway Trust Fund (Federal gas taxes), or airlines which get $14.5 billion automatically, Amtrak must each year and every year ask Congress for money to operate its national route system, serving some 500 towns and cities across America. Amtraks outlay was left at $1.4 billion, about the same as last year.
July 24 the House voted 328-94 against reducing Amtraks operating grant by $475 million, and 312-104 against reducing debt-service aid by $425 million. A third, gratuitous proposal to divert $106 million in subsidies to help the homeless people was defeated 308-110
Amtrak would receive $1.4 billion in federal subsidies for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 in appropriations legislation for transportation still in Congress.
Passenger rail is an important part of an overall program to end our dependence on foreign oil and combat congestion on our nations highways, said Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), who heads the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. We are making sure that Amtrak can make the capital investments necessary to improve the railroads overall service and reliability.
President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it contains more money for trains than the $800 million his budget requested, a number which would force the shutdown of Amtrak. The Bush Administration has been consistently hostile to passenger train service in the United States, as was the Congress for much of the past decade, although bipartisan support for Amtrak has been increasing in recent years, primarily as a result of former Amtrak President David Gunns success in getting Amtrak under better operational control. The Republican-controlled Amtrak Board of Directors fired Gunn in November 2005 because he refused to consider the Boards then-current plans to sell off the railroad to investment bankers.
WASHINGTON, DC --- One high speed Acela train each day, Washington-New York, gets 10 minutes faster in the new fall schedule, but Baltimore residents and politicos are not happy: the train skips the home of the Orioles.
Thats because a northbound Acela Express train and one southbound Acela train, each weekday, bypasses Baltimore, saving 10 minutes: the Acela 6:50 a.m. out of New York and the Acela 3:55 p.m. out of Washington dont stop there anymore.
Amtrak says it is not trying to disrespect Baltimore --- there are still 12 Acela trains each day that do stop, plus several Amtrak Regionals in each direction --- but local pols and newspapers are in full cry about the service change, which actually has gone into effect already, in anticipation of the printed Fall schedule change.
Providing zippier New York-DC service is a good idea, stated National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass about the change, but the way to achieve it is by performing the $6 billion in deferred infrastructure replacement on the Northeast Corridor that now slows those high speed trains to well below their 155-mph rated capability.
In addition, purchasing more trainsets would be justified giving the surging demand for rail service that has resulted from the full electrification of the Northeast Corridor in 1999, when the New Haven-Boston line was finally electrified after 80 years of proposals, said RePass. The current 26 Acela trainsets are too few to meet demand, and the consist needs to go from six cars to eight or nine he added. The New York-New Haven section of what is now known as the Northeast Corridor was electrified 1906-1912 when New York State law banned steam locomotives in the tunnels of New York City. The Washington-New York segment was electrified by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1930s. The Pennsy took advantage of low wage rates brought on by the Great Depression to compete the very labor-intensive work of electrifying the railroad. The New Haven-Boston segment was to have been electrified in 1912, and then again at several other times in the 20th century, but the work was not started until 1991. In September of 1991 when the Bush (I) Administration Office of Management and Budget agreed to the request of a bipartisan commission of National Corridors Initiative directors (then known as the Northeast Corridor Initiative) to stop blocking the funding for project, at that time still pending from Congressional authorization obtained under the Carter Administration, but blocked by the White House after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Kansas Sheriff, BNSF Direct Action
Against Grade-Crossing Violators
WICHITA (KS) --- Teenagers, rushing commuters, truck drivers in a big hurry, and other motorists trying to give themselves the Darwin Award by racing a freight train to the grade crossing will get another kind of surprise in Kansas if they cross in front of a train in Sedgwick County.
Thats because the Sedgwick County Sheriffs office in Wichita, saying that a high percentage of accidents involving motor vehicles and trains end with either deadly or life threatening injuries, are putting police officers in the locomotive to catch the wrong-doers at the scene, says Wichitas Eye Witness News reporter Jennifer Montenegro.
The sheriffs office wants to make sure youre safe at railroad crossings. Thats why they will be conducting an Officer on the Train program. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad asked the sheriffs office to select a member to ride along on a train and observe vehicles at train crossings. If a vehicle is spotted ignoring the warning devices at the tracks they will be stopped and cited, said Eye Witness News.
The program also involves the Wichita Police Department and Kansas Highway Patrol.
Orlando Commuter Rail A Step Closer
As Volusia County Approves Cost Share
ORLANDO---One of the nations most congested sprawl-and-stall cities will begin to get rail relief about 2010, when a new DeBary-Orlando commuter rail line is to go into operation. The last hurdle to funding was cleared this week.
The Volusia County (FL) Council has approved that countys participation in a 61-mile, $615 million commuter-rail system in central Florida, thereby giving the final government approval needed for the project to be built, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
Four counties and the city of Orlando said they would together pay a fourth of the $615 million cost to build the rail system, which would run along Interstate 4 from DeLand to Kissimmee, on a rail line that Florida bought from CSX Transportation. The state agreed to pay another fourth, and the federal government would provide the remainder.
Volusia County was the last county along the route to agree to help pay for the lines construction and operating costs.
The lines first phase is scheduled to open by mid-2010, with 11 stops from DeBary in Volusia County to Orlando in Orange County. The second phase would open in 2013, adding five new stops and extending the line from DeBary to Kissimmee, near Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios.
PHILADELPHIA --- About 36,000 Philadelphia school students will receive free weekly SEPTA passes to get to and from school, under an agreement between the transit agency and the Philadelphia School District announced Tuesday.
The agreement arrives as SEPTA awaits a court ruling, expected Friday, on its controversial plan to eliminate transfers as part of a fare increase implemented last month. Philadelphia filed for a court injunction last month to stop SEPTAs plans, which the city said would impact -- by as much as $4 a day -- as many as 45,000 adult riders and increase fares for school children. SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said the students were a large part of the citys concern.
Obviously weve still got the ongoing litigation of the rest of the transfers and hopefully that will be resolved shortly, Maloney told the Journal.
Under the arrangement announced Tuesday, students who live more than a mile and a half from school would qualify for free weekly passes. The free trips are being made possible because of new state transportation funding for roads, bridges and mass transit agencies. The money would come through toll hikes on the Pennsylvania Turnpike beginning in 2009 and the tolling of Interstate 80. SEPTA is slated to receive $565.6 million in fiscal 2008 from the state, a 35 percent increase over last year.
CHARLOTTE/RALEIGH/DURHAM (NC) --- North Carolina is looking back to the future when it comes to transportation planning, and its hired one of the nations most respected rail experts to head up the challenge.
David King, the former head of North Carolinas Public Transportation Division who helped create what is regarded as one of the best state-initiated rail systems in the United States, was persuaded to come out of retirement to head up the Triangle Transit Authority and revive its ambitious --- but unfunded, Federally --- rail transportation plan
One year ago, the comprehensive rail and transit project of the Triangle Transit Authority was derailed after a decade of planning when the feds turned down financial support. The general manager of TTA, John D. Claflin, who had shepherded the building of Denvers light rail system, resigned, and interest in new train service had waned among local leaders. We dont have much use for trains this year, commented the local News Observer. But the Triangle might need light rail, bus rapid transit or some other serious transit investment to handle the kind of population growth were expecting over the next 25 years. The region is still growing like crazy -- by 2030, Wake, Durham and Orange are expected to add another 780,000 residents (about the current population of Wake by itself). Theres no hope of building enough new highways to keep up with the growth of traffic, the report continued. So Triangle planners and political and business honchos are rethinking everything. Just one year after the TTA plan was put on the shelf, a new rail study has entered the picture. And a new chief of the TTA has been given the job to come up with answers in one year.
David D. King, retired head of the states public transportation division, was persuaded by TTA board members to put away his golf clubs and sign on as general manager for 12 months. But King is looking way beyond 12 months. The year he worries about is 2030.
By then, an estimated 1.9 million people will live in Durham, Orange and Wake counties. Thats 780,000 new residents. Where are they going to live? ...How are they going to get around? King asked members of the state Board of Transportation recently.
Tall and sleepy-eyed with thick white hair and a quick, warm wit, King pursues his job with a patient sense of urgency.
He still sees merit in the original rail proposal, but this is a year to hear other ideas, he says.
Its the first time leaders have been rethinking rail since 1995. Some had criticized the TTA plan for being too limited, lacking plans for the surge in growth in the surrounding counties. We need to take a look at all our transportation needs outside the rail corridor that TTA had looked in for the last 10 years, said Philip R. Isley, a Raleigh City Council member long scornful of the rail project. Weve got to look at people coming from the southern part of [Wake County], from Garner and Clayton, and how they can get to the Park rapidly.
The new study is looking at two markets which North Carolina Railroad would operate: the 60-mile line from Burlington to Clemmons, near Winston-Salem and the 110-mile line from Burlington, through Raleigh, to Goldsboro in the Triangle. The analysis will include cost and feasibility of converting tracks to be shared by both commuter and freight trains. North Carolina Railroad is looking at the possibility of running four commuter trains in the morning and four in the afternoon with stops about seven miles apart, with a possible link to the airport. Many elements of the TTA plans were sound and are still being considered, experts agree. It would link Durham, Research Triangle Park, Cary and Raleigh with a 28-mile system, operating on new tracks in the existing North Carolina Railroad and CSX Railroad rights-of-way. They planned a two-track system in order to support more trains and provide more service. Trains would run seven days a week, 18 hours a day, with frequent headways, especially during peak hours. Twelve stations were planned with access to housing, shopping and businesses and amenities for pedestrians, bicycles, and wheelchairs.
At the same time, the TTA is moving ahead in a new public-private venture that could eventually attract more train riders to its original transit project. In a planned partnership with Cherokee Investment Partners, a Raleigh company, the TTA hopes to stimulate a mix of transit-oriented development around its proposed rail stops.
The TTAs equity investment in the deal would be land it has acquired with tax dollars for stations and parking. Cherokee would buy more land nearby and build mixed-use developments to draw workers, residents, shoppers, and investors. The TTA lands original use, for a transit stop, would be protected if the agency were to win funding one day to build the transit system, King said.
Tom Darden, president of Cherokee Investment Partners, says hes ready to invest around the station sites even though the TTA rail project is in limbo. He said he is confident that the Triangle will eventually build a transit line, and that will make nearby property more valuable.
We expect to be in this for a long time, Darden said. We think development will be occurring around these stations for decades.
King is supportive of this type of development. Today, he said, single households and empty nesters find it attractive to live where they can walk to the grocery store, where theyve got a transit option within a quarter mile or a half mile -- an urban environment where theres a Starbucks right around the corner.
By the end of 2007, they hope to produce a new plan for regional rail or bus rapid transit investments, with new technical studies and broad community support.
Theres a lot of support to take a fresh look at the overall transit situation, Raleigh Mayor Charles C. Meeker said. How much support it gets will depend on the ultimate plan that is adopted.
Beginning August 13, and continuing through Oct. 28, most Amtrak Cascades trains will operate on adjusted schedules between Seattle and Eugene, Ore., as a result of maintenance on the Talgo trainsets. During this time, alternative train equipment will operate along the route.
Because of the substitute trainsets, some services will be temporarily suspended or adjusted.
Checked baggage service will not be available. Passengers are allowed up to two carry-on pieces of luggage in accordance with Amtraks carry-on baggage policy.
Because the substitute trains are not equipped with bicycle racks, passengers may not travel with bicycles during the substitute service period.
Business class is also temporarily suspended.
Although on-board movies are temporarily suspended, passengers may rent Railway Media digEplayersTM at the Seattle and Portland stations.
Finally, Cafe car menus have been modified;Trains 1009 and 1000 between Eugene and Portland only will not have food service. Food service will be offered on all other trains.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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Law of Unintended Consequences
The recent headline concerning new proposed crashworthiness standards by the U.S. FRA for passenger trains, reported in D:F (Vol. 8 No. 31) and elsewhere, caught my attention. Could it be that the United States is yet again detouring away from established international standards? At least that is the question I asked myself when reading the article. And I also pondered if more stringent safety standards might have long-term effects that were never intended by the folks proposing the new regulations.
After living outside of the USA for the last ten years and traveling internationally for much of the last 25 years, I have become keenly aware of how much the USA dances to a different tune compared to most of the rest of the western industrialized world. It starts in the USA with continued use of the customary units system (feet, miles, pounds, gallons, Fahrenheit, etc.), a measurement system which is even slowly dying out in the country it originated in, Great Britain, where it is gradually being phased out in favor of the SI (metric) measurement system. It continues with TV and video (North America = NTSC, Europe and most of Asia and Africa = PAL), electric appliances (North America = 120 VAC 60 Hz, Europe, Africa and most of Asia = 230 VAC 50 Hz), cell phones (North America = CDMA or GSM 850 / 1900 MHz, Europe, Africa and most of Asia = GSM 800 / 1800 MHz). Even paper size in the USA (and Canada) is unique. Seems to me like the rest of the world uses A4 size paper for letters and documents, while the USA continues to hang on to 8.5 x 11-inch format, which is shorter but wider than A4. Try filing A4 size documents in folders or file cabinets designed for 8.5 x 11 inch paper or vice versa.
Despite these numerous differences in standards between the USA and much of the rest of the world, many industries have been quietly but systematically moving towards universal standards and regulations. The medical and pharmaceutical industries were among the first with a switch to the metric system dating back to the 1950s.
American automobile manufacturers went metric back in the early 1980s; the only non-metric part of that new Buick or Ford Mustang on the showroom floor of your local car dealership is the speedometer / odometer. Automotive safety and exhaust emissions regulations differed wildly betweem the USA and Europe back in the 1970s and 80s. Today, with minor exceptions, they are nearly the same, thus allowing considerable standardization in the automotive manufacturing industry and use of common automobile platforms for various model lines and makes, with design driven primarily by local tastes and market conditions, not by deviating safety and pollution control standards.
Even in aviation, where the USA has been the long-time industry leader due to market dominance of manufacturers Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and airlines such as United, Delta, and American, the civilian side of aviation is moving decisively towards global standards for certification procedures, safety regulations and design and maintenance practices. During the 1940s 70s the U.S. FAA laid down the foundations of modern international aviation standards and regulations in force today. Nowadays the U.S. FAA coordinates rules and regulations with its counterparts in Europe (EASA) and other countries and regions of the world. Aircraft and aircraft parts designed and/or maintained in accordance with EASA standards and regulations are typically accepted by the U.S. FAA and vice versa. The system works quite well.
To me, as a layman, it appears to quite different in the railroad industry. Although European railroads continue to struggle with differing standards incompatibilities among themselves (examples: signaling, train control and electrification), they are working on alleviating or eliminating these differences wherever technically and economically feasible. The most high profile example of this drive towards rail industry standardization within Europe is the development of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which has recently ended the development and testing phase and started the deployment phase. ERTMS is a universal set of signaling and train communication standards and technologies which replaces country and railroad specific / unique signaling, switching, train protection and railway communication systems. Despite the word European in its name, the standard is being adopted by certain rail systems in countries such as China, India, South Africa and Australia.
Back to the proposed FRA crash worthiness regulations. I visited the InnoTrans railroad industry convention in Berlin both in 2004 and 2006. At InnoTrans many manufacturers displayed their latest offerings of passenger train rolling stock, including the latest generations of diesel and electric multiple unit trains. When I asked what would it take to introduce these innovative transit vehicles to rail lines in the USA, the answer I typically received was: either change your existing FRA rules concerning crash testing and collision strength, or ensure that they do never operate on rail lines also used by freight trains: And this was before the new proposed rule from the FRA.
Photo: David BealeDe-coupled one very obvious difference between American and European locomotive hauled rolling stock are the couplers and buffers between cars. In Europe manually operated tow hook and chain couplers such as seen on this Polish Railway (PKP) EP09 electric locomotive remain in widespread use. North American railroads converted over to semi-automatic and automatic couplers well before World War 1. After the Polish locomotive backed away from the Berlin Warsaw Express near the German border on an August day in 2006, a Deutsche Bahn 232 seriese diesel locomotive was coupled on to the train for the remainder of the trip to Berlin. Reason: the 3 kVDC powered EP09 locomotive can neither function from Germanys 15 kVAC railway electrification nor is it equipped with train protection systems and cab signaling systems compatible with Germanys rail lines.
I was astonished to hear this response over and over again from a number of experienced and reputable train manufacturers such as Siemens, Bombardier, Stadler and CAF. I asked if their products were somehow not crashworthy in collisions with highway vehicles at grade crossings, during a derailment or collision with another train. Their answer in every case was, that their products underwent extensive testing and analysis to ensure collision safety and crashworthiness in accordance with international standards and regulations coordinated by the UIC among various government agencies. UIC (http://www.uic.asso.fr/) is an international association of railroads, rail equipment OEMs, and government regulatory agencies, mostly in Europe but with many members from other regions of the world.
I asked several OEM representatives about what the costs would be to modify their existing diesel MU train sets to meet (then current) FRA crash requirements. They estimated one-time engineering and testing costs in the range of US $5 10 million per model plus additional per unit costs on the order of US $300 k per train set. These numbers did not include higher maintenance and fuel consumption costs driven by the resulting weight increase of these rail vehicles.
As a railway industry outsider I found this information astonishing. Are the laws of physics and mechanical deformation during collisions different in the USA than in the rest of the world? Obviously not. Is the value of human life less in Europe than in the USA? Unlikely. Then why should there be a difference between U.S. FRA crashworthiness rules and European / international crashworthiness rules for passenger trains? Because of Americas famously large freight trains?
Are freight trains in the USA different than freight trains in Europe? Well, yes, somewhat. Fully loaded freight trains in the USA can weigh up to 30% more per car than in Europe. And they are longer. Freight trains in the USA can easily exceed 1200 meters (4000 feet) in length. In Europe they are usually limited to the 600 800 meter range. But American freight trains are on the average far slower. My own guess is that a typical America freight train is as much as 30% slower than here in Europe on average, and in urban / suburban areas, American freight trains are far slower than here in Europe half the speed or less.
Is there any difference between a three-car long DMU passenger train (mass 142 metric tons) slamming into a 600-meter long European freight train which as total mass of something like 2500 metric tons, or into a typical American freight train with a total mass on the order of 4500 metric tons? The difference here is similar to whether a person riding a motor cycle is more likely to survive a head-on collision with a Winnebago motor home or a fully loaded 18-wheel truck. The Winnebago certainly weighs less that the 18-wheeler, but the motorcycle rider is most likely just as dead.
The FRA apparently did not write this even more stringent crashworthiness rule proposal (Docket Number 25268) in a vacuum. They rightfully consulted with various U.S. railroads, rail labor unions, trade associations and U.S. based manufacturers before issuing this proposed rule. On the surface it appears that the FRA took over a decade to write this revision to existing regulations, with a number of public hearings and industry working groups reviewing the text before it was issued two weeks ago.
However when I read this NPRM, I was unable to see that the FRA or anyone else involved in this proposed rule checked with the international rail industry. There is no mention of the UIC or any European based railroad in the discussion section of this NPRM. I could be wrong, but I get the impression from this NPRM that five plus decades of DMU and EMU operations consisting of billions of passenger-miles of rail traffic along with data from hundreds of actual train collisions and mishaps here in Europe were left out of the analysis for this ruling. In other words, ignored or forgotten..
Safety is always mission number one, and perhaps the proposed FRA rule makes technical sense. But safety is an international issue, no nation has a monopoly on it. Such rules should be based on international standards. Unilateral rulings such as this invite the Law of Unintended Consequences to intervene, thus enhancing the chances for results to be the opposite of what was planned.
In this particular example the unintended consequences could play out in the following manner:
Along these lines, the rail transit industry in Europe has invested considerable resources and effort into measures which prevent train collisions from happening in the first place. ERTMS and ETCS are a vivid example of this. Instead of trying to add ever more collision proofing to passenger rail cars, maybe there needs to be more resources applied to preventing or dramatically reducing the number high speed train collisions in North America.
Photo: David bealeIllegal? At least on any American rail line also used by freight trains. A Stadler FLIRT EMU train set on display at InnoTrans 2006 in Berlin. Stadler has sold hundreds of FLIRTS in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Algeria and elsewhere. The FLIRT is also available in diesel powered versions, in fact DMUs from Stadler, somewhat similar to FLIRT are in operation on a non-electrified light rail line in the Camden NJ area.
I invite the FRA to spend more time reviewing data from the extensive amount of passenger railroad experience gained here in Europe before making changes to safety standards which may affect or limit where and how U.S. passenger rail systems purchase their rolling stock designed to international safety standards.
D:F readers are encouraged to read the FRAs NPRM and submit their comments to the FRA in Washington DC. Go to http://dms.dot.gov and search for docket number 25268.
Off The Main Line...
Stan Bagley Remembered.
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Downeaster Celebrates Fifth Train To Schedule
Maine Gov. John Baldacci applauds the inauguration of a fifth daily Downeaster train, Portland-Boston and back, at Portland on August 18. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority sponsored the event, which featured speeches by Maine rail leaders such as TrainRiders Northeast founder Wayne Davis whose organization worked for more than a decade to make the train a reality. Opposed by many at the time, it is now the #1 rated train in the Amtrak system.
At Right: Gov. John Baldacci
Photo: Jim Repass, NCI
In regards to Jay Leno and Amtrak (he has made airline jokes too), I dont believe in censorship, but taking things way beyond out of context is some thing else too. Im surprise NBCs parent company GE hasnt said any thing to Mr. Leno, over the years Amtrak has probably given GE over half of a billion dollars worth of business for locomotives alone. Maybe for a future Jay Lenos Garage story he should pay a visit to Erie, PA?
St. Laurent, QC, Canada
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