Vol. 8 No. 35
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
It is Time to Build Bostons
North-South Rail Link
Former Massachusetts Governor and Presidential Nominee Michael S. Dukakis is calling for the re-start of the North-South Rail Link project, long stalled by a combination of misinformation on costs and competition from other less comprehensive projects, to accommodate surging commuter/intercity rail growth in the Northeastern United States.
The Greenbush Commuter Rail line to the South Shore will push South Station to the brink of its operating capacity when it opens one month from today, former Gov. Michael Dukakis said this week in BostonNOW, in a story be reporter Galen Moore, (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dukakis, who teaches at Northeastern University and UCLA, and other rail advocates, have said that a tunnel linking North and South stations is necessary to ease pressure on South Stations dead-end terminal. State transportation planners put the $5.6 billion North-South Rail Link project on hold indefinitely in 2003, saying it would be fiscally impossible, reported BostonNOW.
That number is one of many estimates generated by political interests seeking to kill the Rail Link project by overestimating its costs compared to other projects they favored, such as the now grossly over-budget Silver Line bus system (called bus rapid transit in order to sell it as a form of transit to Congress, which had to fund it) and the Silver Line tunnels, or the Urban Ring, which is also a bus proposal disguised as transit.
Now, advocates are pointing to a 1997 MBTA study that predicted an overload at South Station if the rail link is not built.
Once Greenbush is under way, youre out of capacity at South Station, Dukakis said. Its barely taking care of the trains that are coming in there.
The 1997 North-South Rail Link Major Investment Study indicates that with the Greenbush Line expansion, South Station is at risk of a domino-effect scenario in which one trains delays cascade rapidly into following trains, jeopardizing the entire schedule.
Steps have been taken to prevent that scenario, said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
South Station has the capacity to handle Greenbush Line trains, he said. We simply have to adjust schedules to accommodate the additional trains.
However, service at South Station is likely to expand beyond the Greenbush Line. Amtraks Acela ridership is growing; Worcester riders are holding onto a Romney administration promise for more trains; and momentum is gathering to extend the Commuter Rail to New Bedford and Fall River.
Executive Office of Transportation officials said they are contemplating taking over the adjacent post office to add new South Station tracks.
The Postal Service has indicated a willingness to vacate the property, thereby providing sufficient room to increase capacity at South Station for future rail expansion, transportation spokesman Erik Abell said.
However, the ability to move the post office depends on whether the Postal Service can strike a deal with MassPort for a parcel along the Reserve Channel in South Boston. The Postal Service has been in discussion with MassPort for several years now about that property, said USPS spokesman Bob Cannon.
Dukakis still questioned whether that expansion, which he said would add four new tracks at South Station, would solve South Stations long-term needs. The rail link project would solve problems permanently and create a continuous train line from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Maine, he said.
The Rail Link is essential if were going to give this region the kind of infrastructure it needs to expand and grow, Dukakis said.
Editors note: Below are two responses published in Galen Moores In Transit August 30 blog:
AUGUST 29, 2007 - 05:18:32 AM
If we had listened to Dukakis years ago, we would have built this tunnel long ago for a fraction of what it will now cost.
Running trains, Amtrak or commuter, from points north of North Station to points south of South Station will save millions of dollars in the long run. You can see this principle in action all over the world where subways run through rather than reversing in city centers.
I must dispute the geography of his statement, continuous train line from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Maine.
The goal is a continuous train line from Halifax to Miami.
AUGUST 29, 2007 - 10:59:20 AM
Honestly, ever since I was a young kid, I never understood why the trains never ran completely through the city of Boston. It seemed logical to me that they should do so.
Why no one ever pushed for this over 50 years ago never made sense to me. I think its imperative that it be done but I also realize that money is a serious concern for this idea, which is why the private sector should fund it so you dont have the unions scamming the state like they did on the Big Dig.
And I agree with the previous comment, it should be a goal to have all major cities in the country be connected by more than just airlines and highways. The abandoning of the nations railways, I think, was a mistake because now its costing us more to resurrect them.
Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray To Chair October 11
Regional Leadership Forum on Transportation, Infrastructure
Bergstroms ground-breaking analysis of the Northeasts innovation history and culture contends that the regions unique background and geographic positioning could allow New England and the Northeast --- if it can at last act in a coordinated way --- to rebuild its transportation and other essential infrastructure in a way that fosters our ability to compete in a very tough world. This in turn would re-connect economic/intellectual gatekeepers of the region, and thus bootstrap an economic renaissance. Bergstroms very fresh take on the subject has garnered widespread attention in academic and government circles, although it is not yet well known to the news media or the public.
Bergstroms presence October 11 comes at the direct request of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, a serious transportation advocate in his own right, to whom Bergstrom was introduced at a National Corridors Initiative transportation summit held in Hartford, CT, earlier this year. The Hartford conference was called at the request of CT Assistant Majority Leader David McCluskey and sponsored by CT State Senate President Donald Williams and CT House Speaker Jim Amann, who, like Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick are deeply concerned with the continuing economic challenge facing the region due to outmoded, obsolete infrastructure. Gov. Patrick has asked Lt. Gov. Murray to lead transportation policy development for Massachusetts, working closely with Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen.
In addition to Lt. Gov. Murray, and Kip Bergstroms opening panel on New Englands infrastructure challenge/opportunity, speakers will include VT Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, CT LG Michael Fedele (invited), NH Gov. John Lynch (invited), Consul-General of Canada Neal LeBlanc (invited), CT State Senate President Don Williams, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn, and New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson (invited).
Other speakers include (thus far): Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Representative Dan Lauzon, Amtrak Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development Anne (Hoey) Witt, CT General Assembly Assistant Majority Leader David McCluskey, MA General Court Transportation Co-Chair Joe Wagner (invited), CT Transportation Commissioner Ralph Carpenter, MA Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen (invited), Senior Vice President of The Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration and President of the Mystic Valley Initiative Peter Glankoff, Executive Director of the Schooner Ernestina Lt. Paul Brawley, DEPFA First Albany Securities LLC Managing Director Ned Flynn, Mintz Levin Partner Jonathan Ballan, Providence & Worcester Railroad President Scott Conti, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Delegate Dan Lauzon, Train Riders Northeast Chairman Wayne Davis, NCI President Jim RePass, and New England Governors Conference Executive Director Charles Tretter.
This Forum and other regional transportation/infrastructure summit are being conducted to give the invited participants an opportunity to meet face-to-face to discuss regional issues, but the meeting is open to the public. However, space is very limited, and attendees MUST register in advance at email@example.com.
A fee of $95 for government and non-profit attendees, and $150 for private sector attendees, is required, and may be paid at www.nationalcorridors.org. The National Corridors Initiative, a private 501(c) 3 non-profit corporation which advocates for investment in transportation infrastructure as an economic development and environmental tool, is organizing this October 11 conference at the request of MA Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, as it has others throughout the region at the request of other elected leaders.
The conference will begin at 7:45 a.m. in the Press Room of the Omni Parker House Hotel, Tremont and School streets, Boston, with luncheon in the Alcott Ballroom and surrounding rooms, and concludes with a reception from 5-6:30 p.m.
To keep this and future conference costs low for attendees NCI, a 501(c)3 corporation, welcomes support from organizations with an interest in infrastructure and/or in the economic revival and prosperity of the Northeastern United States and Canada. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
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Officials Want Iron-Clad Assurances On Amtrak Service
A former GOP Congressman and Amtrak supporter, Joseph Schwarz, is demanding that Amtrak service between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo continue after the ownership of that stretch of railroad changes, reports The Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer.
The railroad corridor currently is owned by the Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern Corp., but the company is working on a deal to pass ownership and maintenance responsibilities to the smaller Pittsburg, Kan.-based Watco Cos. Inc., a Class Three railroad, said the Enquirer
Schwarz, a moderate Republican who was targeted for defeat in 2006 by cultural right-wing Republican groups such as the anti-government Club for Growth, had been a consistent Amtrak supporter. He was defeated for re-nomination by a former pastor and state representative, Tim Walberg, who went on to win in the general election, after being labeled a liberal despite backing from the NRA and other conservative organizations, and the endorsement of both George Bush and Sen. John McCain.
This deal sounds good, and I give Norfolk Southern and Watco credit for trying to put together a business agreement that will benefit the shippers in this line, Schwarz said. It is, however, blazing a new trail as far as passenger rail is concerned, the paper quoted him as saying.
There is virtually no other place in the United States where Amtrak runs over short-line railroad.
Schwarzs concern was echoed by other local officials. Schwarz said the communities along the east-west rail line need iron-clad, bullet-proof assurances that the rail will be maintained to Amtrak standards, and that nothing will happen that is going to endanger the Amtrak service.
Amtrak operates the nations passenger railroad system but except for the heavily-traveled Northeast Corridor (Washington-New York-Boston) and a short segment in Michigan and Indiana that connects to the tracks being sold by NS.
In a press statement Norfolk Southern said, The Michigan Central Railway will initiate freight rail service over 384 route miles of rail line in Michigan and Indiana in first-quarter 2008 under a joint venture to be formed by Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Watco Companies, the parent company of the newly formed Michigan Central.
The new Michigan Central will preserve and enhance freight rail service in southern Michigan, said David C. Eyermann, Michigan Centrals interim president. The company will be headquartered in Kalamazoo and will employ approximately 118 people. In the first year alone we plan to invest more than $6 million to improve track and equipment to capitalize on the rail-served economic development opportunities we envision for the region. A critical component of industrial growth and job creation is a vibrant freight rail network, and we are excited about the partnerships we will establish with shippers doing business in southern Michigan, as well as with state and local governments on the Michigan Central network.
The new Michigan Central will operate over freight rail line segments between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo; between Jackson and Lansing; and between Grand Rapids and Elkhart, Ind. The Michigan Central also will acquire Norfolk Southerns trackage rights on the Amtrak-owned line between Kalamazoo and the Michigan/Indiana state line. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in Washington, D.C. Norfolk Southern and Watco will make the required filings with the STB later this month.
Our focus will be to grow the business and add value for our customers and the Michigan economy, Eyermann said. We will have a marketing team based in Kalamazoo that will be tasked to move additional freight traffic by rail. These officers will be meeting with customers and communities on a daily basis to find ways to move more freight via the railroad.
A major part of the transaction will be the investment of more than $6 million in infrastructure in the first year, and more than $20 million in the first three years of Michigan Central operation.
The track investments reflect our belief in the future of this railroad, Eyermann said. Our goal is to work with the state of Michigan, communities, Amtrak, and most importantly our freight customers to make this a growing railroad that is even more a part of the Michigan economy.
Watco Companies, Inc. (Watco), a Pittsburg, Kansas, based company, operates 16 railroads in 14 states. More information about Watco can be found at www.watcocompanies.com.
Riders Support New Haven-to-Penn Station Plan
A whole bunch of Metro North commuters would love to have Penn Station as their terminus rather than Grand Central, according to a story in White Plains Journal News by Nicole Neroulias.
About 30 percent of these commuters, according to a recent DOT study ordered by CT Governor M. Jodi Rell, have jobs on the west side of Manhattan, a situation which adds considerable time and nuisance to their commute.
Heres an example cited the Journal News story: Philip Wharton drives from his Larchmont house to catch the 8 a.m. train to Grand Central Terminal. From there, he squeezes onto the shuttle to Times Square, then pushes through the crowds to reach the 1 subway train to his 26th Street and Seventh Avenue office.
If his commute ended at Penn Station, Wharton calculates this would give him 20 extra hours a month and an infinitely more relaxing commute.
Along with New Haven Line riders like Wharton who already work on the West Side, other Westchester commuters said they would use Penn Station access to pursue job opportunities that currently seem out of reach, the Journal News continued.
A Mamaroneck consultant said he recently turned down a job offer on the west side of Manhattan because it would have added 90 minutes to his commute.
Others said they would use the service to get to Long Island or New Jersey, a transition that now requires multiple subway connections or using the more expensive, less frequent Amtrak service.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation, which owns the bulk of Metro-North Railroads New Haven Line, is working on a plan to route some trains to Penn Station, but some of the obstacles are daunting:
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council chairman Jim Cameron fears the cost burden of the necessary equipment changes would fall on Connecticut. Even if all the obstacles of full Penn Station commuter service are overcome, Cameron predicts the switch could not occur until 2013, that is assuming the MTAs East Side Access project to route LIRR trains to Grand Central doesnt run into any problems.
Still, some Westchester County commuters say they will wait as long as it takes.
WARWICK, RI, AUGUST 22 A project with a history of long delays dating back to the early 1990s is about to get off the ground ------- maybe.
The long-stalled plan to build a transportation hub at T.F. Green Airport is closer than ever to moving forward, reported the Providence Journal last week. State Department of Transportation officials have reached a preliminary agreement with Amtrak to allow MBTA commuter trains to connect Warwick to Boston.
Details of the agreement are not yet public, said RIDOT Deputy Director William Chuck Alves, the Journal reports. But the provisional deal clears the way for construction on the $222.5-million facility, scheduled to start any day now, according to the state Airport Corporation.
The six-story intermodal station will feature a rental-car concourse and parking garage with spots for commuters traveling to Boston. The facility will straddle the train tracks and connect to the T.F. Green terminal by a 1,250-foot elevated sky bridge longer than four football fields that will wind over Post Road. Original plans called for a people mover, essentially a monorail, to shuttle passengers. That idea was later scrapped in favor of moving sidewalks.
Delays still may affect the deadline: terms of the agreement with Amtrak need to be worked out, such as fee scales and schedules, and Amtrak is demanding $50 million in new tracks as part of the deal to serve the station. State officials are still hoping the railroad will drop that demand.
Another unresolved issue is Amtraks refusal to allow MBTA to extend commuter service from Boston beyond Warwick to Wickford Junction.
Commuter rail trains are tentatively set to make eight round-trips to Boston per day on weekdays only.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, a frequent critic of the airport, said he believes the inter-modal station will serve the city well. The rental car lots will be in one centralized location which will cut down on traffic tie-ups, and the hub will bring new economic development with the influx of commuters going from Warwick to Boston.
It will be a great advantage to be able to ditch the car and traffic in favor of a train en route to the airport, said Avedisian, When you make it that convenient to take the train from the Route 128 park-and-ride to the Warwick station, get off the train, go up an escalator, across moving sidewalks and down to the terminal, its a lot more effective means of transportation than driving a car.
A sister airport is already providing alternatives to customers: Manchester-Boston Regional Airport started a free shuttle service from Boston areas lasts fall. And now that New Hampshire Gov John Lynch signed legislation establishing a New Hampshire Rail Authority, that eventually could add passenger rail service from Boston to the Manchester airport.
Preliminary construction on the new transportation center is expected to begin in a matter of days, said airport spokes person Patti Goldstein. First on the to-do list: the airport will reconfigure the short-term parking lot slightly to build the foundation for the sky bridge.
The new station is set to debut in the fall of 2009, said Goldstein.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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Overloaded Trucks Should Pay Steep Fines
Maybe it was just inertia that kept the heavy trucks moving through New Hampshire without fear of big fines, but its time for the state to crack down. The taxpayers who pay for the damage to roads and bridges caused by overloaded big rigs and the motorists who write regular checks to auto shops to fix pothole damage can no longer afford leniency.
New Hampshire fines truckers 2 cents per pound for running overweight, with a minimum fine of $100. A truck carrying four tons more than the allowable limit for its class would pay $160 along with a 20 percent surcharge levied by the court for a total of $192. In Massachusetts, the fine for the same offense would be $320. The disparity grows as the weight increases. A truck carrying seven tons more than the limit would pay a $336 fine in New Hampshire and $720 in Massachusetts.
Because the fines are relatively small compared to the odds of getting caught - and because of the added profit that can be made hauling heavier loads - some trucking companies have come to consider the fines a cost of doing business. Repeat offenders, particularly those hauling sand, gravel, wood chips, mulch and milk, are commonplace.
Its hard to put a dollar figure on the damage overweight trucks cause, but its considerable. Bridges develop stress cracks and wear out faster. Road margins collapse. Roadbeds where heavy trucks stop and start become wavy. Overweight trucks also pose a safety hazard. They wear out faster, are harder to handle and take longer to stop.
The state police lost one of their biggest enforcement tools with the advent of the E-ZPass toll system. Truckers can now legally pass through the tolls in the outside lanes, making it dangerous for the police to pull them over into weigh stations. To remedy that problem, the state should build pull-off areas where big rigs can be weighed. Experienced officers can eyeball a passing truck and know with fair certainty that its overloaded. Suspension flattens, handling changes and tire sidewalls bulge. In extreme cases, they actually rub against each other causing blowouts. Making it easier to weigh trucks with portable scales to keep the pavement crushers off the roads will save the state money.
Stepped up enforcement, given the warning issued by the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge, is a must, but it wont do much good if truckers just build the fines into their business plans. Penalties should be steep, and they should increase for repeat offenses.
Since goods in America move largely by truck, will that mean consumers get stuck with the bill? Not necessarily.
Honest companies want the regular offenders reined in too. They are undercutting them by violating a too lenient law.
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