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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September 8, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 37

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
Rail-Riding VP Nominee Biden Is Strongly Pro-Amtrak
   In Senate
Highway Fund Shortfall May Halt Road Projects
  Regional Lines…
Atlanta Leadership Takes Steps For Region’s
   Transportation Future
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Business Lines…
Luxury Rail Tour Operator Closes Suddenly, Shuts Down
  Legal Lines…
Injured Trespasser Sues Amtrak
  Commuter Lines…
MBTA Meets Challenge Of Ridership Surge
Hot Ticket Public Transit
Greater Boston Town Meeting on Public Transportation.
Regional Infrastructure Summit (NH)
  Across The Pond…
Underway With Strangers - A Feature Story
  Publication Notes …

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

Rail-Riding VP Nominee Biden
Is Strongly Pro-Amtrak In Senate

By DF Staff and the Washington Post

WASHINGTON-WILIMNINGTON & BACK --- Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) is a strong Amtrak backer in the Senate, as well as a regular Amtrak user for more than 30 years, the Washington Post reports.

Washington Post Staff Writer By Ben Pershing writes:

“By now, it’s nearly impossible to have missed the fact that Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, is such a homebody and regular guy that he rides Amtrak between Washington and Delaware every day when Congress is in session. But Biden isn’t just one of the passenger rail system’s most famous commuters -- he is also one of its biggest supporters in the Senate.

“‘He’s right up there,’ said David Johnson, deputy director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. ‘I’d say in the top five [in the Senate] for sure. I can definitely say he’s the biggest user.’

Amtrak is critical to Delaware’s economy -- the state is the only one with no commercial air service -- so all three of its members of Congress are strong backers of government funding for rail. Fellow Delaware Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D) actually may play a bigger legislative role than Biden does, because Carper serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee,” Pershing wrote.

“But Biden certainly has done enough to win the hearts of Amtrak’s supporters, even earning a “Champion of the Rails” award from Amtrak’s president in 2001. ‘Senator Biden’s voting record is very clear in support of Amtrak,’ Johnson said. ‘Both his votes and his words have backed that up over the years, and we are certainly pleased that he was selected to be the vice presidential candidate.’

“Biden even has a family connection to Amtrak. His younger son, Hunter, is a lobbyist and the vice chairman of Amtrak’s board of directors, having been nominated to a five-year term on the board by President Bush in 2006. (Biden’s older son, Beau, is the Delaware attorney general and is viewed by some as a potential successor to his father, should the senator make it to the White House.),” wrote the Post.

For the complete story see:

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Highway Fund Shortfall May Halt Road Projects

By DF Staff and The NY Times

WASHINGTON, SEPT 6 -- A story in the New York Times by Matthew Wald and David Stout reports what transportation advocates have known for some time -- the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money. Since the account is funded by the federal excise taxes on fuel -- 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon on diesel fuel -- and Americans are now driving less because of high gasoline prices, it’s no surprise that the HTF is being depleted.

At a press conference last week, US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said that this situation could hamper completion of road and bridge construction across the country. Projects eligible for federal funds, such as additional lanes on highways and new roads and bridges, receive 80 to 90 percent of the cost from the federal government. States may have to curtail some of these projects.

[ Editor’s note: Maintenance and repair of roads and interstates, however, must be paid for by state funds, either from the state gas tax or, if that is not enough, from the general fund as well. These projects will not be directly affected by the depletion of the Highway Trust Fund, but since state funds in general are always tight, many multi-million dollar maintenance projects are deferred, to the point where sometimes the flaw becomes fatal: cases in point -- the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1983 and the Minneapolis bridge disaster in August 2007.]

Ms. Peters said her department would begin to dole out money from the fund each week on a prorated basis, the story continued. For instance, if there is money to cover only 80 percent of the cost for a particular project, the agency will pay the 80 percent initially and make up the difference later.

“ ‘Time and again, the president has warned Congress of the pending shortfall and submitted fiscally prudent budgets to close the gap,’ Ms. Peters said, in remarks that reflected the political nature of the long-running debate over how to pay for road building.”

State transportation officials are alarmed about the loss of jobs. John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), said this shortage will have “grave repercussions for the states, for hundreds of thousands of workers in the construction industry and the driving public.”

In July, the House passed a bill that would use $8 billion of general federal revenue — from income and other taxes, not the dedicated motor fuel tax — to finance highway projects. At first, the White House was hostile to the bill, but because the problem could truly harm some states, the administration now endorses the measure. It still has to pass the Senate, however.

Another proposal is to transfer to the highway account some of the funds intended for mass transit. (A small portion of the trust fund is maintained for transit.) But this solution is not popular, especially in large cities where transit systems are in high demand now, funds are slim, and officials count on trust-fund aid to keep their systems functioning.

This problem is likely to be on the front-burner when Congress returns this fall, especially for Representative James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the story continues. “Given that the United States has lost more than 600,000 jobs this year, and the unemployment rate is the highest it has been in five years, we cannot afford to lose one more family-wage construction job,” he said in a statement.

Whatever happens in the short term, major policy changes in how transportation is funded must be addressed. To date, decisions have been made based on the premise that more is better when it comes to roadways. States receive highway funds based on criteria that, in today’s world, is outdated:

More driving garners more federal dollars. States that do their part to reduce America’s oil dependence and global warming would lose out on federal dollars.

A little history:

The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) did not exist before 1956 when Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 passed, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.

Highways were funded from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury. There was a gas tax, enacted in 1932 by Congress in a bill called the Highway Revenue Act of 1932, but the proceeds from that tax went directly into the General Fund. Originally, the fund was dedicated solely to highways, but in 1982, the Highway Revenue Act of 1982 mandated a separate account to support mass transit. That account received 2.86 cents from every gallon of gas sold.

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REGIONAL LINES... Regional Lines...

Atlanta Leadership Takes Steps
For Region’s Transportation Future

By Df Staff And The Atlanta Business Chronicle

ATLANTA --- Setting aside decades of highway-slanted transportation dependency that has created one of the worst urban commutes in America, Atlanta regional transportation and business leaders this past week have voted to adopt “…an ambitious plan for a network of bus and passenger rail lines that would crisscross the region by 2030,” reports this week’s Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Staff Writer Dave Williams wrote:

“A board of metro Atlanta political and transportation leaders Thursday adopted The Transit Planning Board, made up mostly of county commission chairmen and heads of the region’s transit agencies, voted unanimously to adopt ‘Concept 3’ as a vision of what a coordinated regional transit system should look like in the coming decades.”

“At full build-out, Concept 3 calls for more than 500 miles of rail, including 322 miles for commuter trains and 116 miles of light rail. Another 849 miles of highway would be traveled by various bus systems. The projected capital costs of the full network would be $26.8 billion, with annual operating expenses of $1.1 billion. Some of the major projects would be up and running in five to seven years under a fast-track strategy the plan contemplates. The price tag for that part of the work would be $10.9 billion in capital costs and $538.3 million a year for operations,” wrote Williams.

Concept 3 is contingent upon voter approval of a one-cent regional sales tax dedicated to transportation improvements. A telephone survey conducted for the board last March showed 58 percent support for the tax if it is tied to a specific list of projects, the Chronicle reported.

Concept 3 now goes to the Atlanta Regional Commission, the metro area’s planning agency. The ARC board is expected to decide in December whether to incorporate the document into its regional transportation planning efforts, wrote the Chronicle.

(To view or subscribe to the Atlanta Business Chronicle go to:

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)99.87107.40
Canadian National (CNI)50.5852.53
Canadian Pacific (CP)58.3060.75
CSX (CSX)57.7165.39
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)39.2243.01
Kansas City Southern (KSU)46.9651.43
Norfolk Southern (NSC)66.3973.53
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.6019.40
Union Pacific (UNP)75.4683.90

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BUSINESS LINES... Business Lines...

Photos: Grand Luxe Rail Journeys

Luxury Rail Tour Operator
Closes Suddenly, Shuts Down

By Df Staff And From Internet Sources

NORTH AMERICA --- The nation’s leading luxury rail tour operator, the former American Orient Express, ceased operations suddenly this past week, and has shut down.

A sad story but their website is still functioning. The GrandLuxe Express brings you up close to nature that can only be seen by rail.
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, an Evergreen-based provider of luxury rail travel, which was recognized by the Society of International Railway Travelers as “one of The World’s Top 25 Trains,” has shuttered.

The Evergreen-Colorado based luxury operator was purchased in 2006 by former Colorado Rail Car President Thomas Rader.

According to the Denver Post, “GrandLuxe Rail Journeys owner Tom Rader told his staff the company lacked financial funding to continue operations.” The Denver Post reported Friday that “Rader didn’t know if passengers and other companies that worked with GrandLuxe would get their money back.”

Amtrak had partnered with Grand Luxe, using its restored vintage equipment on the back of certain Amtrak trains to serve the hyper-luxury market.

The company’s website was still operating as of this issue of D:F. It describes Grand Luxe as follows:

“Our unique train trips feature the very best of North America. Step aboard for a once-in-a-lifetime journey, with the incomparable romance of rail travel. GrandLuxe Rail Journeys operates America’s premier private train on 4 to 10 day itineraries throughout North America. Enjoy fine dining and beautiful vistas in comfortable luxury aboard our classic, restored, private railcars. Sleep in your private cabin aboard the train each night, and then wake to a world of new adventures.”

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LEGAL LINES... Legal Lines...  

Injured Trespasser Sues Amtrak
For Failing To Protect Against Himself

From Internet Sources and the New York Post

NEW YORK CITY --- An admitted trespasser who nearly electrocuted himself when he climbed atop a parked Acela Express in Boston’s Southampton Yard is suing Amtrak because it failed to protect the trespasser against his own actions, the New York Post is reporting.

“A Queens man who survived an electric shock and fire two years ago when he climbed atop an empty, stopped Amtrak train after a night of bar hopping in Boston is suing the railroad - because Amtrak didn’t do enough to protect trespassers like him,” the paper wrote this week.

“Brian Hopkins, 25, of Astoria, was discovered engulfed in flames at about 4 a.m. atop the high-speed Acela train, having been jolted by 27,500 volts from arcing overhead wires. Hopkins had been visiting friends in Boston when he suddenly proclaimed that he ‘wanted to get back to New York’ and left a friend’s house at about 2 a.m., according to published reports at the time of the July 2006 incident,” the Post said.

Hopkins, an architect, “apparently tried to pry open one of the parked trains before climbing on top,” the paper reported. He suffered third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body, and doctors have since amputated his left hand and leg, according to the lawsuit filed last month in Brooklyn federal court.

Amtrak “should have known that persons trespassed” in the South Station area where Hopkins was found, he and his parents contend in court papers. The family claims that Amtrak should have monitored the area, cut off the electricity going to the overhead wires, and even parked its trains somewhere else when they weren’t in use.

Amtrak declined to comment on the pending litigation, the paper said.

See The New York Post at:

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

MBTA Meets Challenge Of Ridership Surge

From Internet Sources and the Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is adding rush-hour trains and buses in hopes of taming some of its burgeoning crowds, reported Globe staffer Noah Bierman in a September 4 story.

Faced with a huge increase in demand, the Authority sometimes doesn’t even have standing room on their trains.

Photo: MBTA

A Boston-bound morning commuter train passes an adjacent subway platform at Wollaston Station in Quincy, Massachusetts. The platform serves the Red Line commuter subway riders. The train will reach Boston in about 15 minutes from here. The branch line runs south of Boston connecting the Plymouth-Kingston, and Greenbush branches.

“We’re hearing more and more about people having to wait for the next bus or the next train,” said general manager Daniel Grabauskas. “If we can’t offer you a seat, let alone a place to stand on a bus or a train, then we’re going to lose those passengers.”

“In the morning, it’s almost impossible to find a seat,” said Roberto Gonzalez, an attorney from Providence who takes one bus and two subway lines to get to work in Boston every day.

“I’ll often wait for the next train. I don’t want to stand the whole time,” said Linda Bain, a financial executive from Lexington who takes the subway between Alewife Station and South Station.

The changes right now are limited because the agency is suffering from a major financial shortfall. It is operating out of its reserve accounts to keep its budget balanced and could implement a potentially substantial fare increase in 2010 to combat its multibillion-dollar debt.

Later this year, the MBTA board will consider a much broader change in service that could eliminate some lesser-used routes and add capacity on others.

Grabauskas said the 34.7 million trips taken in July represent a 6.9 percent increase over the previous year. July was also the seventh month in a row to record an increase over 2007.

The only mode the T runs that didn’t report increases over last year was the commuter boat.

The MBTA has had some plans for increased trains for several years, like phasing in longer trains on the Blue Line, which will start this month, the story continues. Grabauskas said that the first three long Blue Line trains – six cars per train set instead of four – will begin rush-hour service Sept. 15. Others will be phased in by the end of next year, as the T continues integrating its fleet of 94 cars purchased from Siemens Transportation Systems Inc. and introduced in February.

The biggest cost - $136,974 to maintain and power the new Blue Line cars - was already set aside this year in the T’s operating budget. Costs for other changes will be about $120,000 and will be made up by shifting employee schedules, Grabauskas said.

Another way to increase capacity which the T has been exploring is getting rid of some seats on subway cars and adding more straps. But Grabauskas wants to wait until he sees the results in other cities like New York and Chicago where they are experimenting with that retrofit.

“Before we spend money, let’s see whether it works there or not,” he said. It would cost $40,000 to $60,000 per car to reconfigure the Red Line trains.

Transit systems around the country have been attracting more riders since gas prices began rising sharply late last year. Commuter trains and parking lots are packed, report riders. Sitting down with room to unfurl a newspaper is becoming a rare luxury.

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Hot Ticket Public Transit

By James Emery, Sun Media

Canadians Say They’d Gladly Take The Bus Or Train -- If They Could Get A Seat

Record gas prices could push city transit services to the limit as more Canadians consider trading in their car keys for a public transit ticket, a new survey reports.

But transit services are facing a space crunch, the Federation of Municipalities (FCM) and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) said, calling on Ottawa to allot more cash for transit across the nation.

“Canadians are at a tipping point,” said FCM President Jean Perrault.

“They are feeling the pain at the pump and are willing to consider switching to transit.

The problem is, they’ll find most transit systems are already operating at or beyond capacity.”

Calgary Ald. Ric McIver said it’s no surprise Calgarians would opt to take transit more often, but added a new strategy for transit in the city should be discussed.

“So far, no matter how many cars we put in service, and no matter how many lines are in service, they seem to get fully subscribed virtually right away,” he said. “Mass transit seems to be an attractive alternative in Calgary.”

Calgary Transit spokesman Ron Collins said their service has seen a healthy increase in ridership over the past few months.

“We had a good increase in May, June and July and we haven’t seen the August stats yet,” he said. “We attribute some of that increase in fuel prices, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s difficult to measure how much ...”

In 2007, Calgary Transit reported servicing more than one million passengers on 160 routes. But some Calgary commuters, such as 20-year-old Travis MacDonald, said even though he spends three to four hours a day in his car commuting and upwards of $50 per week on gas, he’d only consider public transit should fuel prices climb over $2 per litre.

“If it got ridiculous, like $2.50 per litre, then I’d second guess it, but the way it is now, it’s fine,” he said, adding public transit “is just not convenient for me.”

A 10-year plan worth $3.3 billion was recently approved to see cash infused into the city’s infrastructure, including public transport.

The $3.3 billion is “a good start, but I think we need to sit down with our partners at the province and in the federal government and have a long and serious conversation about a mass transit strategy,” McIver said.

FCM said systems across Canada need more than $40 billion in investments over the next five years to accommodate the increase in riders.

The survey also said 65% of Canadians said high gas prices will have an effect on their household budget and more than one in five specified high fuel costs as the most significant strain on that budget.

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EVENTS... Events...



The Greater Boston Transportation Justice Coalition will host a

Town Meeting on Public Transportation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Copley Square Library
Mezzanine Conference Room
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

The purpose of the Town Meeting is to find out how people feel about public transportation, what concerns they have and suggestions for improvement.

We will also take a little time to explain the current work of ON THE MOVE.

Please pass this on to your neighbors, especially if they use public transit. Hope to see you on Oct.22nd.


Regional Infrastructure Summit


8th Annual Regional
Infrastructure Summit

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
7:30 AM to 11:30 AM
Radisson Hotel, Manchester NH
$30 for members/$40 for non-members

The Annual GMCC Regional Infrastructure is one of the most successful infrastructure and economic development focused events in New Hampshire.
Each year the summit draws 200+ business leaders, municipal officials, and policy makers to discuss the infrastructure challenges facing our region and state.

Mark your calendars now and be sure to join us for the 2008 summit!

2008 Theme: NH’s Transportation Infrastructure

With rising fuel prices is New Hampshire equipped to handle our transportation needs of the future?

Agenda Topics/Speakers include:

  • DOT Commissioner George Campbell
  • Manchester Boston Regional Airport
  • NH Rail Transit Authority - Capitol Corridor Project Update
  • Session on Transit-Orientated Development
  • Much, much more!

For more information or to register visit our calendar of events at or call 603-666-6600

Register Now!

GMCC, 889 Elm Street Manchester, NH 03101, phone: 603-666-6600

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

Underway With Strangers


Things happen on night trains, for which in airliners there’s no time, in cars no room and in hotels no need. A trip from Berlin to Turin.

Story by Stephanie Schneider, columnist with “Die Welt” newspaper

German to English translation and additional comments by David Beale, D:F European Correspondent


After an unremarkable trip in a typical German intercity train from Berlin to Munich, Ms. Schneider starts the night train journey of her trip to Turin, Italy. In the following story she writes about the contrasts and peculiarities of riding a night train through the heart of central Europe.

Munich, 23:45 h (11:45 PM)

During the day train travel may be a necessity, in the night in turns into a ritual. It is true to this day. Whoever boards a night train has decided for themselves against the speed of air travel, against the independence offered by the automobile, against the commitment of a hotel. One has decided to spend the most intimate hours of the day with strangers. Things happen in night trains, for which in airliners there’s no time, in cars no room and in hotels no need. Hercule Poirot encountered the woman in the red kimono in the sleeper cars of the Orient Express. On the night train Dostoyevski’s Idiot made his first fateful encounter and on the night train Nabokov’s lover eternally failed.

I enter my compartment. The odorless, plain bunk-bed. The bathroom counter with plastic cups and the instructive label “mouthwash”. In the shine of the nightlight these commodities mutate into cult objects of the journey.

Munich Central Station, normally in daytime a typical main train station of a large German city with dozens of commuter trains, regional trains and high speed ICE intercity trains coming and going every hour from all directions becomes a kind of hub for various overnight trains in the late evening and early morning hours, when other passenger train operations are not so dominant. Munich along with Vienna are the principal origin and destination for night trains and other long distance intercity trains from Italy, Hungary, Greece, Serbia and various other points in southeastern Europe. During a trip to Split, Croatia via trains, my family and I changed trains in Munich on a Wednesday evening in July 2007, as did a couple thousand other travelers at about that time. The last ICE and IC trains of the day arrived in Munich from numerous other cities in Germany, waiting for their passengers were night trains to Rome, Venice, Milan, Budapest, Bucharest, Belgrade, etc., and to Zagreb, our next destination. Some six hours later in the early morning hours (between 5 AM and 8 AM) the passenger flow is exactly reversed as other night trains arrive in Munich (or Vienna) from points south and east.

Photo: Deutsche Bahn AG

A Deutsche Bahn night train awaits departure from Berlin (Hauptbahnhof / Main Station) to Paris (Gare du Nord / North Station) in 2007.

Rosenheim 00:19 h (12:19 AM)

No one just decides to become a conductor in a sleeper car. One is born into the job. Someone, who wants to make some fast money, stays for a year. Someone, who stays longer in the job, stays forever. Peter Prestele has been on the job 32 years. With 62 years age he has for some passenger a small visual surprise, along with his impeccable polyester uniform he wears a large ring from a pirate in his ear. He knows Istanbul, Brussels, Paris, and Copenhagen. His most glamorous trip was to Athens. “That was truly traveling”, he said, four days along the Mediterranean with track relocation and everything else that goes along with that. He has been everywhere in Europe, about 2 million kilometers already. He had changed thousands of beds, and checked as many tickets, served rolls, coffee and asperin. He does not let on what knows about other people.

As sleeper coach conductor he locks away their passports. They don’t bluff anymore as he, the sleeper coach conductor already knows about them. Their nationality, the age of a supposedly young woman, Honorary and professional titles, neat signatures, sloppy signatures, black-ink fingerprints on official paperwork, gaudy visa stamps from sunny island nations, or from rouge states, mindlessly glued-on baggage tags from some airport, child passports, provisional passports, and diplomatic passports. Prestele, the sleeper coach conductor, has already checked-out the sleeper coach occupants before they even had taken notice of him. He stores their documents in locked cassette, he the high priest of discreteness in the night.

Kufstein 00:43 h (12:43 AM)

In the next compartment Richard and Valerie are sleeping. They just came from Salzburg and have London, Paris, Karlsruhe, and Munich behind them. By train came Richard’s ancestors to America from Baden, his wife’s out of Munich. Where they live there are no trains. Although it would cost the same for them to fly, they are traveling through Europe via train. Family research – they want to see where they came from. They say that southern Germany looks to them like Wisconsin. “Why do you Germans not like us Americans?” ask the two self-described Republicans.

In the first decade of the 2000’s the fact is that on a night train from Munich or Vienna or Salzburg to Turin or Rome, Italy, Budapest or Zagreb, Croatia, there are unlikely to be residents of any of those cities / areas on board. They will fly or drive instead. But at least in the spring and summer months there is no shortage of tourists who will take the seats and beds which otherwise go empty. In previous night train journeys to Budapest, Warsaw or our recent trip to Zagreb and Split, I found that most guests on board fall into one of three categories: younger families from northern Germany, Holland Denmark, Sweden and Belgium traveling on vacation, migrant workers traveling alone or with their families back home to southern Europe or international tourists from the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia, Japan, India and China on trans-European tours. On a trip I made from Zürich to Milan via train in May 2007, my coach was dominated by American college students fresh from finishing their spring semester studies – perhaps 60 seats in the coach and at least 25 of them occupied by Americans between the ages of 19 and 23.

Innsbruck 1:39 h (1:39 AM)

A shaving kit bag brushes my knee. A disorientated young man attempts mistakenly to walk into the first class section. Despite his expensive boxer shorts and homey appearance of his naked feet on the carpeting he does not escape the unrelenting attention of the sleeper coach conductor. A stowaway. A short but harsh argument follows in broken English colored heavily in French and Bavarian accents:

“Yu shpeek Inglish?”

“So, leetle beet.”

“But my friend, he a zleiping hierrr !”

Furious thumping of a blind passenger on a door. No one opens it. No one would, it is to a lavatory, and no one is inside.

The trick fails and the half naked young man has to remove his things and go back in his car, a coach with standard upright seats – second class.

Bozen 3:36 h

The sleeper coach conductor gets rolls of bread out of a padlocked container in preparation for breakfast. They were loaded on to the train in a station a few hours earlier. In the standard seat coach a class of students from a Bavarian vo-tech school have a party while on their way to Iesolo.

Trento 4:05 h

A crucifix on a church steeple whizzes by. In the standard seat coach with the window shade opened one can watch the world outside flash past. I have traveled along here often, I know every meter of this route. The metallic squeal of the brakes, the pace of the border patrol officers. The dark blue signs with the white-lettered names of cities and towns, first in German endings like –heim and –stein, then the Austrian variant of the German endings, then abruptly in Italian-sounding –o’s; Brennaro, Bolzano, Trento. I know the alpine countryside, which before was so unlikable to me. I had to leave, had to get away from this place, I had sat in every orange seat of the Italian trains stations, seen every on of the pastel colored houses, each little announcement in Italian. Today I want to lie like this forever. The blanket feels comfortably light as stars over me race past. My hectic German “I” sits as a plastic card with the sleeper coach conductor.

German citizens, as members of the European Union, do not need a passport to travel within E.U. member countries, a government issued identity card suffices. Germany is one of the last countries in Europe to introduce the new identity card format, which is identical in size to a credit card or American driver’s license. The current (old) German identity card is considerably larger than a credit card and has an appearance and format similar to the first (picture identity) page of a passport.

Distance of all time

Black night. Nowhere is the night darker and deeper than in a stationary night train in the middle of a field, far from towns and villages and removed from everyday problems. Sleeping here is deeper than anywhere else, totally void of color and sound, a descent into remoteness. Let go of it all, when the rumbling of the coach over the rails ebbs away. Just the metallic groan contrasts with that of a tomb. Nowhere else can one sleep so happily and free, since they will wake again. In the morning I will be somewhere else.

Memories become weak. They return like ghosts of a certain location, which is not any location at all. A night traveler who travels the same route over and over again collects memories like souvenirs. The more often they make the trip, the longer the movie in their head, a compilation of images and faces. I think about the unusually fat Italian who shared a compartment with me on his way to a clinic back then. I am sure he is now dead. I think about Adolfo, the Mexican son of a millionaire, who taught me how to dance the Merrenga. I think about people I never became acquainted with.

Maybe Ms. Schneider can sleep well on night trains. My own personal experience with numerous night trains here in Europe is quite different. Although the sleeper cars are typically quite good in terms of comfort, solid construction, and sound and vibration isolation, they are not on the same standard for sound and vibration proofing of Europe’s flagship high speed trains such as ICE, Eurostar and TGV. The trains make stops perhaps every hour or 90 minutes for various reasons, including scheduled station stops, decoupling or coupling of additional passenger cars, changes of locomotives at national borders, and other reasons. Although enroute speeds are timid by ICE or TGV standards, some night trains do occasionally hit 200 km/h (125 mph) enroute and speeds of 120 – 150 km/h (75 – 93 mph) are typical. Given the conventional suspension and vehicle construction used for night train rolling stock, the ride at those speeds is in a word “busy”. Add to that what the other guests on board are doing at any given time, such as having a lively group discussion about sports or politics, enjoying their sixth bottle or can of beer with some drinking buddies, or trying to move several hundred pounds of fully loaded luggage into or out of an adjacent compartment, there is never a shortage of noise. And during the months of May through mid August, there may be considerable sunlight outside late into the night and then again in the early morning, thanks to much of Europe’s very northerly latitude. Paris, Zürich, Munich and Vienna are at about the same northern latitude as Montreal, Duluth, MN and Seattle.

Verona 5:02 h

Italian train station in morning gray. A palazzo made of slate and stillness. Outside the city sits alone like a painting by Chirico. But the appearance is deceiving. The starry objects of the night have not yet disappeared. I can detect them behind trees, through the windshields of the automobiles. I look outwards and wander along the parked Fiats. Inside human hands knock on the window. I don’t turn around.

Brescia 6:12 h

The morning is African. During the day one does not see them. But when one boards a north Italian commuter train at about 5:00 AM, it can seem like entering a bazaar. Aristocratic-looking Ethiopian women. Slender Tunisian women. Flashy Nigerian women with bright red painted fingernails gather in one end of the train, everything on them is conspicuous. Pompous hairdos, luxurious eyelashes, the rear train section fills with pink and loud-green miniskirts. Women, girls and the others which appear similar. It is a unique dance of passengers boarding and disembarking. Hellos and good-byes. And side conversations, “what did that guy offer you? And you went along with that? Ha ha ha ha!”

One those “guys”, a sort of professor looking type in his mid 60s, approaches and attempts to find some quiet. He starts reading the sports section of the local newspaper. The laughter becomes louder. “Oh stop ! Find yourself some other car in the train!” No strangers here, obviously.

The most beautiful, the strongest, the loudest is in her early 20s – Anita. A queen. She threw her I-pod casually into a corner and manipulated the controls with her extra long fingernails. She checked me out from the corner of her eye. Then ignored me. And tolerated my presence. I stayed seated by her and her girlfriends. She seemed to take no further notice of me, but about 30 minutes later as I stood up from my seat, she reacted strongly “where are you going now?”

Not 20 minutes later at another station the conductor would throw three of her friends out of the train. For both sides it is a daily ritual.

“Fifteen euros? But I paid already!”

“Yeah, but only as far as Verona.”

Later Anita would also disappear to somewhere else. During the rest of the daytime there would be no other signs that northern Italy during the night becomes African.

Here Ms. Schneider observes the early morning commute of hookers, mostly new immigrants from Africa, on their way home from their night’s work in the oldest profession of all. In recent years a nearly non-stop influx of African and Middle Eastern immigrants to southern Europe has started to make a mark on large cities and towns across Italy, France, Spain and Greece as immigrants come to work jobs that others won’t take or as street vendors and small shop keepers. Or in a number of unfortunate cases immigrants are forced to work in underground economic activities, such as prostitution.

Photo: David Beale

Milano, Italy central train station in May 2007 – like Munich and Vienna, Milano is a major passneger rail hub for numerous intercity and long distance trains.

Milano Main Railway Station 7:55 h

The Milan train station is the ‘Hagia Sophia’ of train stations. It wants nothing of me. It is the thing, which dictates time. Five minutes to change trains. The last feelings of tiredness run through me, as I climb aboard my last train.

Torino Porta Susa 9:42 h

The station of Porta Susa has its rules. Most important of them all: from Torino Porta Susa to Porta Nuova 20 km away, it is very far. Psychologically so far as the portion of the trip already behind me. Like a marathon runner in the last meters of a contest who suffers with every stride the effort and pain of the entire race anew, a train traveler relives the entire journey on the last train of his or her trip. It seems so far away as never before. Is the train now going slower?

Torino Porta Nuova 10:05 h

I call him Paolo. Because of him I have traveled this route a dozen times. Ten hours from Munich to Turin, 17 hours altogether. Paolo is now married and stopped thinking about me long ago. Who knows if I could have loved him, if there were low cost airlines back then, in those days 15 years ago? I probably would not have believed it myself.

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