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 30, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 36

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

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

  News Items…
U.S. Withdraws Proposed Freight Rail Regulations;
   Passenger Issues Remain
Ohio GOP Candidate Kasich Pledges To Kill ‘3C’
   Rail Corridor If Elected
  High-Speed Lines…
Administration Embraces St. Louis Bullet Train
  Commuter Lines…
NJ Transit Commuters Frustrated By Recent Delays, Slowdowns
  Across The Pond…
Anti-Stuttgart 21 Protests Gain Momentum
Deutsche Bahn – Arriva Merger Completed
Bangkok Airport Express Train Goes Live
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Commentary…
Anything Can Happen On The Railroad, But
   Is The Railroad Prepared?
  Editorial…
Towards A Collaborative Rail Expansion Plan
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...  

U.S. Withdraws Proposed Freight Rail Regulations;
Passenger Issues Remain

From The Transport Politic
By Yonah Freemark
www.TheTransportPolitic.Com

It was inevitable: Distraught by the possibility of having to increasingly open up their tracks to passenger trains, the freight railroad companies have staged an open rebellion against a proposed U.S. policy that would have penalized them if they caused delays.

The rule, which was proposed in May by the Federal Railroad Administration, would have enforced “stakeholder agreements” that went along with funding for new or improved intercity rail routes advanced by state governments. In exchange for a public investment in track, signaling, and the like, freight rail companies would be required to ensure that passenger trains aren’t delayed by oncoming traffic or slowed-down cargo trains.

In the Omaha World-Herald earlier this week, reporter Joe Ruff described some of the opposition to these rules. D.J. Mitchell of BNSF railways, suggested that the situation was stacked against the freight companies since their existing lines simply are not built for trains running at speeds higher than 90 mph whereas the Obama Administration has been adamant in pushing projects that increase maximum speeds to 110 mph along freight corridors. Meanwhile, Ruff quotes Bob Turner of Union Pacific, who argued not only that the passenger trains could delay freight traffic but also that “It’s our land, it’s our rails… This is about the government regulating what happens on our property.”

This was a sad reaction from an industry that could potentially benefit handsomely from the infusion of significant federal dollars. The freight railroads have operated mostly without government help for decades. Yet Washington clearly did not approach this situation with the necessary tact, failing to inform the industry of the proposed rules changes… before they were proposed, which evidently is the way things are supposed to work.

Freight gondola

Image from TheTransportPolitic.Com

Tagged freight gondolas on the move.

Joseph Szabo, head of the FRA, concluded that the rules were a mistake, and pulled the regulations out of consideration, a move veteran transportation insider Ken Orski dubbed as “sensible.” Orski concluded with a hope that Mr. Szabo “do no harm” to the freight industry, a message most people can agree with but one that provides little sense of what direction the government’s future initiatives need to point. But the decision also seems to suggest that the federal government is unwilling to mess with the freight industry no matter the costs. Is that an acceptable position for the future of the national transportation system in general?

The fundamental problem is that the U.S. government has failed to produce a guiding document that lays out the national goals for the railway system, both in terms of freight and passenger movement. The national rail plan, whose preliminary draft was released last fall, is by all evidence likely to be a manifesto of vague, uncontroversial ideas, with few specific “plans” for the country’s future mobility. This means that the manner in which the DOT awards intercity rail grants — generally on a state-to-state basis, without much consideration of national needs — is likely to be the way it’s done over the next few years as well.

It also means, in more direct response to the issue posed here, that the government has failed to mediate a compromise between the proponents of freight and passenger rail service. The difficulties raised over the recent proposals by the FRA are only the start of things. For the future of American intercity rail, the government has a responsibility to take further steps to coordinate policy so that it benefits both sides of the rail equation, but it has not done so thus far.

As I discussed last month, despite the fact that allowing trains of different speeds (freight trains are slower than high-speed trains) would (and does) cause problems, there is significant ground for compromise that would allow both services to be improved substantially over the next few years. Notably, were the government to encourage joint use of tracks in city centers by rival freight companies, other inner-city corridors could be devoted to passenger rail without much of a problem.

But that won’t be possible unless the federal government abandons the hands-off policy it seems to be enforcing through its recent decision; at some point, if freight railroads benefit from national investments in their tracks, they should face penalties if they prioritize their trains over passenger vehicles. Freight companies may own the tracks, but if they’re getting funding for improvements, they have to compromise to allow passenger trains to operate effectively.

It’s time to develop a dialogue between freight railroad companies and advocates of improved passenger rail. Improvements for both don’t have to be set in opposition to one another.

[ Congratulations to Yonah Freemark on a terrific reporting job; we fully agree that a national dialogue is needed to reach a fair set of rules for the public investments that will be made in freight railroads; it should include rail advocates as well as industry and government representatives—the Publisher, National Corridors Initiative ]


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Leading In The Polls…

 

Ohio GOP Candidate Kasich Pledges
To Kill ‘3C’ Rail Corridor If Elected

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

COLUMBUS --- Former GOP Congressman and Lehman Brothers employee John Kasich, running for Governor of Ohio, has pledged to “kill the long-planned Columbus-Cleveland-Cincinnati rail corridor project if elected.”

“The 39 mph high-speed train is dead when I become governor,” Kasich told Dix newspapers State House reporter Marc Kovac, saying also that the state doesn’t “… have the money to operate it, we don’t have the money long-term to fund it ... (and) I’m still trying to find somebody in Ohio that wants to get on that train. No, no, we have to shut it down before it gets too far.”

Incumbent Governor Ted Strickland, who has supported the project, has blasted Kasich for repeating the false ant-rail mantra of the ideologically anti-rail wing of the Republican Party; Kasich had been a significant Amtrak critic when in Congress.

Kasich is currently leading Strickland in the polls, according to Rasmussen Reports, by eight percentage points.

Amtrak has had largely bipartisan support for its small annual operating subsidy, and has been and will be a major beneficiary of President Obama’s national rail corridor program, of which the “3C” --- Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland --- corridor is a part. It has received $400 million in Federal funding thus far.

Kasich, who formerly represented Columbus in the U.S. House, was also attacked by noted rail activists J. Howard Harding, who wrote:

“John Kasich’s opposition to connecting Ohio’s big cities by passenger rail (see article below) illustrates both his ignorance and his incompetence! Ohio’s proposed rail passenger service is nearly identical to what 15 other states, from Maine to California & Washington to North Carolina, already provide: intercity rail passenger services that supplement Amtrak’s long distance service trains. None of these 15 states find such service to be a budgetary burden. In fact, most seek to expand and improve their train services because they are both popular and economically beneficial.”

Harding noted that the anti-rail lobby in Ohio seems to have no problem with highway spending, with supporting heavier truck weights, and with other measures which carry on the highway-only tradition in Ohio:

“Instead of embracing state-funded rail passenger service as the economic stimulus it can be (and is in 15 other states), Ohio’s conservative political folk (of both parties) support:

“In addition, Ohio budget hawks are silent on the ODOT’s seven-year increase in costs to operate/ maintain/support the added highway infrastructure planned/underway without an identified way to pay those operating costs:$1.3 billion,” wrote Harding.

“In summary, Kasich and friends appear unconcerned about increasing the annual state budget deficit by $1.425 billion but are apoplectic about the 3C Corridor annual operating expense to Ohio of $17 million (but just $3.4 million in each of the first three years). Such hypocrisy is spoken when self-interest is the motivation. And the self-interest comes from conservative-minded Ohioans who fear a change of culture in Ohio from its drive-everywhere mentality to one where people actually have a choice. They don’t fear 3C’s failure. They fear its success,” stated Harding.

The state has so far received $400 million for the project. Kasich’s use of the derogatory “39 mph railway” is based upon rail opponents’ misquoting of Amtrak’s initial estimated speed figures for the project, which are incomplete because the project is still in the planning stage. Actual top operating speeds will begin at 79 miles per hour and eventually exceed 110 miles per hour, as is the case for all rail corridors planned under the President’s program, wherever grade crossings are bridged, tunneled, or closed.

In addition to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, Dayton, a hard-hit unemployment zone, will also be on the line and stand to benefit from the service. In all, eleven million Ohioans will have access to an alternative to the Interstates or to inefficient and costly short-hop air service, at a far lower per-passenger operating cost than either of those modes provide.


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HIGH-SPEED LINES... High-Speed Rail Lines...  

Administration Embraces St. Louis Bullet Train

Announcement by the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association
August 28, 2010

Vice President Biden has released a report on the innovative programs funded by the Recovery Act.   The Chicago - St. Louis corridor was highlighted in the report, including the vision of 220-mph trains linking the two cities. They even referenced our study!

Here is the main illustration from the report:

Rail Study Chart

Image: Midwest HSR

The full report is available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/recovery/innovations/modernizing-transportation

We are in the home stretch towards getting design work started on the Midwest’s first bullet train.  We have already surpassed our goal of 1600 letters of support, but the more the merrier.  If you haven’t sent a letter you can at: http://MidwestHSR.org

If you have sent a letter, please ask your friends to.

Rick Harnish
Executive Director
Midwest High Speed Rail Association
4765 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
773-334-6758


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

NJ Transit Commuters Frustrated
By Recent Delays, Slowdowns

From The Star-Ledger On The Internet
Writer: Mike Frassinelli

AUGUST 16 --- “A month into this summer of transit Hades,” writes Star Ledger’s Mike Frassinelli, “rail commuter Karl Zielaznicki finally had enough.”
He now takes the bus for his commute from Aberdeen Township to New York City, a decision he made after receiving almost daily warnings by email that his train would be delayed yet again.

Photo: Amanda Brown/The Star-Ledger

People board NJ Transit train 5903 to Plainfield in Newark Penn Station
“Only NJ Transit could make a train ride go slower than a bus ride,” said Zielaznicki, a lawyer, whose commute by train grew from 55 minutes to 90 minutes throughout the summer.

It’s been the worst summer for commuting in two decades, he said.

He would get few arguments, the story continues. In summer 2010, mass transit has become “mass-strands-it” in New Jersey.

“There have been delays for overheated locomotives and overhead wires.

“There have been slowdowns for signal problems and suicides. There were four deaths on the tracks within nine days in late July and early August, including one at the Hamilton station that caused delays of up to four hours during the evening commute.”

On top of all this, New Jersey Transit imposed a 25-percent train fare hike and a laundry list of service cuts which led to increased wait times for making connections.

Three weeks ago part of the busiest passenger rail corridor in North America was shut down for five hours due to a tree. A 70-foot tree in Hamilton fell on an Amtrak signal line, causing problems that closed the Northeast Corridor between Princeton Junction and Trenton during the morning rush, affecting 18,000 commuters. The tree became electrified, then acted as a conduit for 132,000 volts as it blew out fuses from New Brunswick to Morrisville, Pa.

In July of this year, there were 12 incidents that led to major service disruptions, according to NJ Transit. During the same month in 2009, there were only three.

“It has been a very challenging summer for our customers due to delays from a number of causes,” said NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel. “It’s been trespassers. It’s been trees. It’s been locomotive failures in extreme heat. We’ve been all over the map in terms of delays.”

He noted that the railroad has addressed problems of equipment failure from overheating by shutting down equipment during layovers at endpoint terminals and turning down air conditioning systems when possible to conserve energy.

John W. Nabial Sr., an accountant who travels from West Windsor to New York has been particularly unlucky. In early July he was delayed by locomotive equipment failures during a heat wave that left him in a disabled train car that “felt like a sauna,” he said. In August, he was on the train that was affected by the dreaded falling tree in Hamilton.

Each time, he said, he was frustrated by “conflicting communications” on the trains.

“NJ Transit continues to fall short of having any crisis management capabilities,” Nabial said.

In addition to contending with angry commuters, NJ Transit and Amtrak contend with limited rail capacity into New York City.

While the Long Island Railroad enjoys four rail tunnels to get trains to Manhattan via the East River, NJ Transit and Amtrak have two Hudson River tunnels.

Then, there is the bane of NJ Transit’s and Amtrak’s existence: The 100-year-old Portal Bridge between Kearny and Secaucus over the Hackensack River is in disrepair, limiting train speeds, and is so low that it often has to be opened to allow commercial boats underneath, leading to more delays.

“No other railroad has relied so much on such an unreliable piece of infrastructure,” Stessel said.

A project to replace the two-track bridge with a three-track span is not expected to be completed until 2017.

NJ Transit is applying for $885 million in federal funding to improve the reliability and capacity of the Northeast Corridor. Replacement of the Portal Bridge would be a critical component of the effort to eliminate a major bottleneck.

It can’t come soon enough for commuters.

“It’s depressing,” said Zielaznicki. “You want to get home. Mentally, your clock is set for an hour, or an hour and 5 minutes — and every day you are late getting home.”


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

 

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

Articles via DPA, AP, n-tv, N24, and HAZ

 

Anti-Stuttgart 21 Protests Gain Momentum

Stuttgart – In the past week, organized opposition (to the massive multi-billion dollar / euro “Stuttgart 21” project to replace the existing surface-level stub-end passenger train terminal with an underground through station with a number of new connecting tunnels) gained more speed and picked up more allies. Slightly over a week ago, a massive protest in downtown Stuttgart against the project attracted 40, 000 participants or more. Now several major newspapers have published editorials condemning the costs of the project as well as the deafness of many Stuttgart area political leaders who continue to support the project regardless of the costs to taxpayers and the voices of their electorate.

Anti-Stuttgart 21 demonstrators

Photo: dpa

“21 Nein!” - Anti-Stuttgart 21 demonstrators rallied at the Stuttgart main rail terminal (Hauptbahnhof), the main hall entrance building of which is classified and protected as a national historic landmark, as construction crews started to demolish the north wing of the station on Friday, the 27th of August.

The latest newspaper to criticize the project was the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung,” which compared local political leaders in Stuttgart who continue to back the project despite widespread local opposition to Queen Marie Antoinette, who allegedly said during a famine in 18th century France, “if the people have no bread, then let them eat cake.” The editorial was published a day before bulldozers and jackhammers began to tear into the north wing of the Stuttgart central station as part of the first phase of the Stuttgart 21 project.

A prominent former Stuttgart 21 architect and promoter, Frei Otto, stated that Stuttgart 21 could result in sink holes and craters all around the Stuttgart area due to unique geological structure below the city and inner suburbs. He claims that the tunneling and underground construction will dramatically alter the flow of underground water tables and the result will be the formation of large underground cavities and voids which will develop into huge sink holes capable of devouring entire buildings.


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Deutsche Bahn – Arriva Merger Completed

Berlin – Deutsche Bahn AG completed its acquisition of Arriva plc this past week, after the final legal formalities were finished on the 26th of August. Arriva now becomes part of DB UK Holding Limited. Aside from its numerous commuter train and bus operations in the UK, Arriva is also present in eleven other EU countries with either passenger train or bus operations. A precondition of the take-over of Arriva by DB AG made by anti-trust officials in Germany, is that DB AG will sell Arriva’s German operations to another company. During the period up until sale of Arriva’s German operations, a complete separation between DB AG management and the former Arriva operations in Germany will be maintained.


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Bangkok Airport Express Train Goes Live

Bangkok – The new Suvarnabhumi Airport Link began scheduled operations on the 23rd of August. Now passengers and airport employees can travel from Makkasan station in downtown Bangkok to the new international airport non-stop in 15 minutes. Start of operations had been delayed significantly due to political and economic issues. The line has been in trial operation for two moths with passengers offered free rides, but due to the trial run nature, travel times had been without any guarantees.

City Line EMU train set - Bangkok Airport Rail Link

Photo: SARL

A City Line EMU train set of the Bangkok Airport Rail Link. The City Line trains differ from the airport express line trains in interior seat configuration and a blue paint scheme on the outside, but are otherwise nearly identical to the red-painted Airport Express train sets. Both configurations are built on the Class 360 Desiro UK EMU train set platform, with higher capacity air conditioning and other minor modifications which differ from the model used in Great Britain including on the Heathrow Airport Express service. The Bangkok Airport Rail Link trains were assembled in the Siemens Mobility production facility in Krefeld, Germany back in 2007-08.

The line is operated with Siemens Desiro UK (British Rail Class 360) EMU train sets along the 29 km route. Bangkok joins Asian neighbors Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lampur in this semi-exclusive club of international airports with express train connections to the city center. Nearby (approx. 1800 km away) Jakarta International Airport does not have a train connection to the center city.

The former main Bangkok airport, Don Mueang, was supposed to have a express train service to downtown Bangkok, and part of the infrastructure for the rail line was even built along an airport expressway. But the project was never completed due to lack of sufficient funding and massive corruption and fraud during the initial construction phase in the early 1990s. Don Mueang Airport remains in operation as a domestic airline terminal and back-up to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport, which first opened in 2006.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)61.8260.64
Canadian Pacific (CP) 59.3856.84
CSX (CSX)49.7949.79
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)39.5238.13
Kansas City Southern (KSU)33.7733.71
Norfolk Southern (NSC)54.5554.44
Providence & Worcester(PWX)12.4012.60
Union Pacific (UNP)73.6974.26


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Anything Can Happen On The Railroad,
But Is The Railroad Prepared?

By David Peter Alan

Anything can happen, and governments know it. That is why the new train station in Jerusalem is slated to include an underground shelter that can accommodate 5000 people in the event of a chemical or biological attack, according to an August 18th report from ynetnews.com, a web site that reports news in Israel. Not all emergencies are of such magnitude, however. Storms, equipment breakdowns, bridge failures and tragedies such as suicides happen, and always, service is disrupted.

What these events have in common is that, in so many cases, management is not prepared to handle them effectively.

An incident that occurred on Saturday morning, August 14th, provides a case in point. An eastbound Long Island Railroad train, headed for the swanky towns of The Hamptons and its final stop in Montauk at the eastern end of Long Island, was unexpectedly delayed for two and a half hours in Patchogue, about an hour from Penn Station.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, our train had left on time, and about 1000 passengers were anticipating their summer weekend on the Island.

But now we had come to a dead stop. An earlier Montauk train had struck a pedestrian at Bellport; although it was not announced, everybody seemed to sense that the result was a fatality.

A long wait ensued, with little to no information forthcoming from the nearest station agent or the customer service agents at the call center.

Ninety minutes after the accident, the first bus arrived, a school bus, since LIRR does not own any buses. The crowd rushed to get on, and it was decided that the bus would go to Southampton and East Hampton. Passengers for Montauk had to wait longer.

Police had arrived to help organize the riders and keep people calm, but in the heat of the day, a fight almost broke out among a group of frustrated, angry passengers.

One rider said “This is beyond disgusting.”

Finally, more school buses arrived to take passengers to Montauk, and four minutes later another train , bound for Montauk, appeared.

The track had been cleared at the site of the accident, and that train arrived in Montauk at 1:28, two hours and forty-two minutes behind schedule.

Was the railroad prepared for the unexpected? Apparently not. The incident happened on a week-end, so nobody in the railroad office had the authority to do more than assure customers that buses would be sent to take them to their destinations. The police were not well-informed, and a supervisor from the railroad did not arrive until two hours after the incident.

***********

Since the above was written, more serious emergencies on the railroads occurred in our region this past week - situations which had far-reaching and long-lasting effects.  Last Monday, a fire near Jamaica, New York, damaged LIRR switching equipment and disrupted normal operations at Jamaica, the railroad’s transfer hub.  At this writing, the effects are still being felt, as the operation has not returned to normal.

The next day, a fire damaged electrical equipment on the Northeast Corridor Line, forcing the temporary shutdown of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit operations into Penn Station, New York.  This writer was at Broad Street Station in Newark, on the Morris & Essex Line that is served by trains from Penn Station and the historic terminal at Hoboken.  Fortunately, NJT was able to divert trains on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines into Hoboken, so riders still had service that could eventually get them to Manhattan and their offices, since the incident occurred during the morning peak commuting time. 

Still, not all information was provided to riders on the platform about when the trains would run.  Some were annulled, and it took time for the information-delivery system to catch up with the actual operation plan.  Not all railroads have an auxiliary terminal like Hoboken (where scheduled trains still ran, in addition to trains diverted there from New York City), and not all emergencies occur during peak commuting hours when railroad staffing is at its maximum for the day.

Policies should be in place to handle emergencies, such as: who should be called, how responders can get to the scene, how riders will be accommodated, and who will oversee communications with passengers. Managers should be “on call” in case an emergency occurs so they can organize the response. And, riders should be kept informed about what is being done and when they can reasonably expect to be transported to their destinations.

Implementing these suggestions should help the railroads move into action quickly. Railroad management and riders alike must expect the unexpected. But beyond that, management has the further obligation to adopt and implement policies that will help them to “do something about it” when the time comes.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Towards A Collaborative Rail Expansion Plan

There are no losers, only winners, as a result of Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo’s decision to pull off the table a set of proposed FRA regulations that would have crippled the Obama Administration’s rail program before it had barely begun. He has done the right thing, for all parties.

The freight railroads were absolutely correct in their uniformly negative reaction to the proposed rules, which would have allowed open-ended costs over which the railroads would have no real control if a passenger rail corridor fails to meet its promised speeds/frequency/reliability levels.

There has to be accounting, but it cannot be done at the point of a gun, which is more or less what the proposed regulations would have done.

Having said that, we want to re-iterate that the staff of the Federal Railroad Administration is the finest assembled in many years, and should play a large role in re-drafting rules which must ultimately be imposed to ensure that the public’s investment is protected against deliberate malfeasance. To do that, we need to broaden the dialogue to include not just the railroads themselves, but organizations such as the National Association of Railway Passengers, and the National Corridors Initiative, both of which have for decades been involved in the fight for a better American rail system. Higher speed freight, not just higher speed passenger service, will benefit us all, and if done aggressively as the Obama Administration has proposed, both lower the cost of living, and enable increased commerce and tourism.

We are on the verge of re-inventing the American rail system, and when we do, we will also be strengthening the fabric of our whole society, and improving the nation’s ability to compete, while at the same time reducing the terrible highway congestion that pollutes the air and wastes so much energy.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2010 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

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