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 15, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 39

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
Deadliest US Train Wreck in 15 Years Claims 25 lives,
   135 injuries, many critical
  News From Amtrak…
Don’t Miss Good Morning America Next Week!
  Commuter Lines…
MBTA Is Broke; Borrowing Money For Salaries
BART Approves Discount Pass For Seniors, Disabled
   But Announces Possible Rush Hour Fare Increases
SEPTA Offers a Peek at its Future
  Across The Pond…
Fire Disrupts Rail Traffic In “Chunnel”
Channel Tunnel Fire Put Out, Traffic May Resume Soon
Backlash Grows Against Deutsche Bahn’s Proposed Service Surcharge
  Selected Rail Stocks…
Portland Oregonian Sees “Headlight At The End Of The Tunnel”
   For Amtrak
Taking Transit To Summer Fun? Wait Until Next Year, Or Maybe
   Much, Much Longer!
Injured Trespasser Owes Rescuers
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …

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

Metrolink Says Its Engineer Ran Signal


Deadliest US Train Wreck In 15 Years
Claims 25 lives, 135 Injuries, Many Critical


By DF Staff and from Internet Sources


[ An earlier version of this story was released as a special extra edition to DF on September 13, 2008 ]


CHATSWORTH, CA --- LA’s commuter rail system Metrolink announced early Sunday that Friday’s deadly accident was caused by their engineer, who they stated ran a stop signal and proceeded into the path of a Union Pacific freight train, colliding with it head-on Friday afternoon just outside the Chatsworth rail station near Stoney Creek Park.

The engineer was reported killed, along with at least 24 others, making this the deadliest U.S. train wreck since 1993, when a barge knocked a bridge out of alignment moments before an Amtrak train reached the bridge. In that accident, 49 died. The wreck surpassed the death toll in two other previous accidents, a 1999 Amtrak crash, caused by a steel-laden truck that had moved across the tracks directly in the path of the oncoming train, at Bourbonnais, IL, killed 11 innocent people on the City of New Orleans and an earlier 2005 Metrolink tragedy when a deranged man parked his car on the tracks in what he said was a suicide attempt, knocking a commuter rail into the path of an oncoming freight train.

Photo: LA Times Blogs

Rescue teams work to free trapped people in the wreckage of the collision that occured at a bend in the railroad.

The September 12 accident was made far worse because the commuter rail train’s engine was forced backward into the lead passenger car, nearly destroying it and the locomotive as well. That is unusual for American train wrecks, where high buffing standards (600,000 psi) are required for passenger rail cars. Normally, in a crash, most of the cars that derail will form a zig zag pattern on the ground.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies swarmed the scene Saturday as the Board of the Metrolink met to assess what had happened. Their investigation continues, despite Metrolink’s statement that its engineer caused the wreck. Some rail professionals are alarmed at Metrolink’s statement, since the operation and alignment of the signaling system have not yet been determined, and faulty signaling systems are not unknown, i.e., a computer may show that a signal is red, but the signal itself may not have changed to red.

Image: Google Maps (

Location of the collision

Photo: Hannoverische Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) 

The Los Angeles Times described the scene, near Stoney Point Park in Chatsworth, as being single-track and on a curve where the track turns to pass under a highway via a short tunnel. There is a siding where a train can wait for an oncoming train, and it was aligned to receive the freight train, but the commuter train forced the points of that switch open, Metrolink said, when it ran the signal.

As we post this story rescue workers put the death toll at 25, but had yet to get into one of the railroad cars that was effectively covered by another by the impact on a section of former Southern Pacific rail line, now owned by Union Pacific. Rescuers were reportedly stripping the metal off the cars layer by layer to get to the wounded and the dead, and were proceeding with great care so as not make the situation worse.

The driver of the Metrolink train, or engineer as he is commonly called, was killed. The fate of the freight engine driver and his conductor was not yet known at press time.

“Metrolink conductor Bob Hildebrand, injured in the crash, told retired Amtrak engineer Tom Dinger the train was going 40 miles an hour when the accident occurred,” the LA Times reported. The train normally has three passenger cars, it added.

“Albert Cox, 53, a passenger sitting in the last car, said he saw that the Metrolink and Union Pacific trains were sharing the same track as they rounded a curve,” the LA Times also reported.

Metrolink train No. 111 left Union Station in downtown Los Angeles at 3:35 p.m. local time September 12 heading to Moorpark, about 48 miles to the northwest, KNBC said. The collision took place about one hour later near the intersection of the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, about 30 miles from Union Station.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from Seattle, which uses the same line to enter Los Angeles, will originate and terminate in Santa Barbara until further notice, the railroad said, with bus service provided to downtown LA.

For updates see

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NEWS FROM AMTRAK... News From Amtrak...

Don’t Miss Good Morning America Next Week!

Amtrak, ABC Make History Next Week

SEPTEMBER 12 -- Make sure you catch ABC News’ Good Morning America next week, as it broadcasts live from an Amtrak charter train, the centerpiece of a five-day Whistle-Stop Tour that will travel across the Northeast and Ohio. Amtrak and ABC will be making history, as this is the first time anything of its kind has been done on live television.

Kicking off the five-day tour, anchors Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Chris Cuomo, Sam Champion and the ABC crew will air the first show Monday while traveling through Massachusetts aboard specially equipped Amtrak equipment and two private rail cars. Powered by two P-42 locomotives, the train will travel through Massachusetts Monday; New York on Tuesday; Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland on Wednesday; and West Virginia on Thursday. The tour concludes on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The 11-car, 874-foot-long traveling studio, operated with Amtrak Train and Engine crews with host railroad pilots and staffed by On-Board Service employees, includes two Superliner Sleeping cars, a Cross Country Café car, two Diner Lounge cars and a Transition Dorm, plus two private cars. The equipment conversion, paid for by GMA, was performed at Beech Grove and at the Albany Maintenance Facility.

“The GMA charter provides us an opportunity to show millions of Americans the benefits of train travel and our capacity to serve travelers from large and small communities across the country,” stated Corporate Communications Chief Cliff Black.

Spearheaded by the Charter Services group, the tour involves the collaboration of several departments including Transportation, Mechanical, Engineering and Amtrak Police Department, along with the cooperation of Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation and Housatonic Railroad.

For more detailed information about the Whistle-Stop Tour, including a behind-the-scenes look at the months of preparation put into the project, visit

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

MBTA Is Broke; Borrowing Money For Salaries

Extracted from Joe Shortsleeve’s reporting on WBZ

BOSTON, SEPTEMBER 11 -- Despite record increases in riders on trains and buses because of high gas prices, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is going broke, agency executives admitted last Thursday.

The situation is so dire that the T is borrowing money to pay salaries. The agency has a $1.5 billion budget, but because it is out of cash, it may be forced to raise fares and reduce service. If so, this would be the third year in a row it has raised fares.

Fare revenues are up $11 million because of the increased ridership, but it is not enough. The Authority needs to borrow $35 million just to keep operating.

At a tense monthly meeting of the MBTA Board of Directors, board member Janice Loux launched a blistering attack on T General Manager Daniel Grabauskas, accusing him of mismanagement and not being truthful.

“I don’t have to go off the cliff to know I am heading for the cliff,” Grabauskas told WBZ. “And today we are closer than we ever have been. We are borrowing money to pay salaries right now, and that is always a bad idea.”

“The MBTA has the largest debt of any transit agency in the United States of America, and that problem is likely to get worse,” said state Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen, chairman of the MBTA board.

Board members were told significant service cuts may be needed to reduce the huge debt load, and fares could increase in 2010.

Grabauskas later told WBZ that Loux is so angry with him because he refused to hire one of her relatives.

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BART Approves Discount Pass For Seniors, Disabled
But Announces Possible Rush Hour Fare Increases

From Internet Sources Including San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press, Bay City News And SF Gate.Com

SAN FRANCISCO, SEPTEMBER 11 - Good news for seniors and people with disabilities who use public transit in San Francisco came in the form of a pilot program offering a “fast pass” discount for unlimited trips in that city. Last Thursday, Bay Area Rapid Transit district directors voted unanimously to approve the program, which unfortunately has a down side: it won’t be implemented for a year and it will be guaranteed to last only for 18 months.

Senior and disabled riders can already use a special San Francisco Municipal Railway fast pass, which is a discounted monthly pass that costs $10 and is good for unlimited rides on the Muni system.

However, it is not accepted on BART, which has eight stations in San Francisco.

The regular adult Fast Pass costs $45 a month and is good for unlimited Muni rides and for BART rides within San Francisco.

The new program, once it is in place, will allow eligible participants to ride BART or Muni within San Francisco for a set amount of $10 a month.

Participants in the program will be selected through a random drawing, starting with 2,000 passes a month in the beginning and increasing to 5,000 if the boards of BART and Muni agree, based on an analysis of early results.

In addition, the program could be extended beyond 18 months if both boards agree.

While seniors and disabled riders can look forward to a larger discount, the bad news for other riders is that BART is considering fare increases for rush hour travel and for parking in BART lots.

The problem is that BART is approaching capacity with the recent surge in numbers of passengers. During rush hour the trains are jammed. Officials hope that by increasing fares during peak hours, some riders will use the service at other times, reducing congestion during rush hour.

Fee increases could help pay for more trains and other improvements that would reduce congestion, said Jeffrey Tumlin, a transportation consultant working with BART on the study.

The study is expected to be completed next spring at which time BART’s board of directors will make final decisions.

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SEPTA Offers a Peek at its Future

From the Internet

PHILADELPHIA, SEPTEMBER 11 – In a story for the Philadelphia Inquirer, writer Paul Nussbaum, reports about officials’ pride in unveiling a gleaming prototype of SEPTA’s vehicle of the future, the Silverliner V.

Mayor Michael Nutter praised the cars as “not only a better way to get around, but a way to create jobs and economic development” as well.

Final assembly of the cars will be completed at a new South Philadelphia factory, and the first line of the 120 cars should be in service by the fall of 2009. Purchased for $274 million, the cars “can’t arrive soon enough for SEPTA rail passengers,” writes Nussbaum, “who increasingly have been cramped in standing-room-only commutes. SEPTA rail ridership jumped more than 12 percent in 2008 over the previous year, to a record 35 million riders.”

State Representative Dwight Evans (D., Phila), who attended the unveiling, has been a financial champion for SEPTA in the legislature. He said the new cars will give the region a competitive edge in transit over other areas.

“Other cities are dying to have this kind of competitive advantage,” Evans said. “It’s really a good thing for the city and the region.”

The cars are being built by United Transit Systems, a consortium of South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem Co. and Japan’s Sojitz Corp. of America.

Yong-Hoon Lee, president and chief executive of Hyundai Rotem, said he hoped the South Philadelphia factory would also produce cars for many other U.S. buyers and become a fixture in the city.

Lee said, “Philadelphia is the birthplace for our future in the market. . . . We believe the U.S. market is one of the keys to reaching the top of our industry.”

The new Silverliners will replace 73 railcars that were built for SEPTA in the 1960s. With the retirement of the old cars and the addition of the new ones, SEPTA will have about 400 by 2010, up from the current 348.

The prototype unveiled yesterday gave visitors a glimpse of the future: plastic molded seats, fold-down handicapped seating, mid-car doors, scrolling digital signs to announce stops, and communications links to allow for direct announcements from SEPTA’s control center.

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

Fire Disrupts Rail Traffic In “Chunnel”

Is A Highway Truck Loaded With Hazardous Phenol The Cause?

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent


Sources: NDR Info Radio, ZDF TV News, Reuters,
And Deutsche Press Agentur

PARIS – A fire on board a train transporting a large number of highway trucks was detected at approximately 4 PM local time in Paris on Thursday the 11th September, as the train approached the French shore line inside the Channel Tunnel. The train was ordered to stop and emergency protocols were activated to rescue the passengers on board (mostly drivers of the trucks) and extinguish the fire. Traffic in both directions was immediately suspended after other trains in the tunnel had reached the English side of the tunnel. EuroStar passenger trains were not in either main tube of the Channel Tunnel at the time, but EuroStar passenger services were suspended completely through Friday night, the 12th September.

Initial reports indicate that a highway tanker truck was loaded with phenol, a white crystalline compound produced from coal tar. It is a strong, corrosive poison with a characteristic odor and is flammable. Various reports stated that the fire spread to other trucks on the train and that fuel tanks and tires also became involved in the resulting inferno. A number of train crew and passengers were admitted to local hospitals for severe smoke and toxic fume inhalation. There are conflicting reports regarding how long the fire took to get under control, with some reports stating about five hours while others say nearly 22 hours. Indications so far point to some sort of accidental cause such as a possible mechanical failure in the tanker truck.

Euro Tunnel, the operating company in charge of day-to-day tunnel operations and maintenance, stated in its first press release on Thursday afternoon that the event was “a serious incident.” Sources of ZDF News stated that the north (east / France bound) tunnel has been seriously damaged by the heat and flames, including major damage to track and signaling infrastructure. Euro Tunnel chairman, Jacques Gounon, was less specific at a press conference, stating that clean-up and repair of the damaged section of the tunnel “would take a long time.” His statement seems to suggest that the repair of the tunnel may take a similar amount of time as after the fire incident in November 1996, which led to a partial closure of one of the main rail tubes for six months. In that incident, a highway truck riding on the train also was the source of an intense fire which caused millions of dollars of damage to the south (west / England bound) tunnel. Witnesses to that incident reported seeing smoke trailing out of the truck as the train entered the tunnel.

A EuroStar spokesman stated that the company hoped to resume limited passenger train services via the undamaged tunnel tube by Saturday or Sunday, the 13th/14th of September. The closure has stranded many thousands of travelers in just a few days time. EuroStar passenger trains have approximately a 60% share of all land, sea and air passenger traffic between London, Paris and Brussels. This latest incident occurs as EuroStar passenger trains are hitting new records in ridership, but also after a series of embarrassing mechanical and electronic failures have stranded many hundreds of EuroStar passengers in stations or on board disabled trains in the past 18 months.

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Channel Tunnel Fire Put Out, Traffic May Resume Soon

By Reuters

LILLE, FRANCE, SEPTEMBER 12 - A fire in the Channel Tunnel was put out on Friday almost 20 hours after it took hold on a freight train, and the tunnel operator said passenger services between Britain and France should resume slowly over the weekend.

An official said there were indications the fire had started by accident but it was too early to identify the exact cause.


Channel Tunnel Traffic To Resume

From David Beale

Eurostar passenger trains will start rolling through the undersea tunnel again today (13th September), bypassing the damaged section of the tunnel via one of two cross-overs built between the two main rail tunnel tubes several kilometers away from the section of the north tube damaged by fire. The capacity of the Channel Tunnel will likely remain on a reduced level for several months as a result of the closure of the north rail tunnel tube.

It took firefighters nearly 16 hours to bring the fire under control and another four hours to completely extinguish the fire on a train carrying approximately 30 highway trucks on piggyback wagons from England to France. Initial reports indicate that the track, overhead cantenary and signaling equipment were extensively damaged in the heat, which reached nearly 1000°C (1800°F). French Police are still investigating the accident site for causes of the massive fire and therefore have not yet released the affected tunnel section back to Euro Tunnel for damage estimates.

Euro Tunnel officials indicated in statements to the press that the eastern end of the north rail tunnel tube (nearest to France) will likely remain shut down for inspection and repairs for several weeks, with some industry experts estimating the shut-down and repair process could continue for six months or longer, as the damage appears to be on a similar scale to the highly destructive fire in the south rail tunnel tube in November 1996. That incident, which also involved a highway truck, resulted in several million dollars of damage to tunnel structure and equipment with repairs taking seven months to complete.

Latest reports from the Channel Tunnel in France are that the fire damage is extremely severe. That section of the tunnel could be out of service for anywhere from 5 months to more that one year. Apparently multiple fuel tanks on numerous trucks exploded and added to the fire. Something like 6000 liters of diesel and many dozens of truck tires were burning in addition to the many tons of phenol at one point. The Channel Tunnel will be, as a result of this latest incident, single-track for about 1/3 of its total length of about 31 miles until the damage is fully repaired. Looks like they are going to have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to stop trucks from catching on fire and burning up in the tunnel. Third time in 12 years, second time the tunnel has been heavily damaged by fire. I would say time to ban trucks in the Channel Tunnel, but I know that won’t happen. Ironically traditional freight trains (i.e. just freight rail cars, no highway trucks riding piggy back) are a rather rare item in the Channel Tunnel these days, due to super high access rates charged by Euro Tunnel on conventional freight trains. So they simply off load their container freight into ships or onto trucks for the French - English trip, rather than pay the going rates for regular freight trains in the Tunnel. Might be time to re-visit that policy (access charges on conventional freight trains) as well. Especially after the insurance carriers are done paying for this latest disaster.

- DB

Eurotunnel, which manages the undersea rail link, said its technicians were checking all the security systems of one of the tunnels, which had not been affected, in the hope of resuming “commercial traffic” soon.

“We will be able to resume traffic tonight,” Eurotunnel Chief Executive Jacques Gounon told French TV station TF1.

Gounon said two empty shuttle trains would travel before midnight. The company hoped to let freight trains through between 1200-0100 GMT while passenger trains were expected to resume service later on Saturday morning.

Eurostar, which operates the cross-Channel trains, had told passengers earlier that it did not expect to be back running trains on Friday. Anyone holding tickets for weekend trains should consult its website, it said.

No one was killed in the fire, which turned one of the two tunnel shafts into an inferno, with temperatures reaching 1,000 Celsius (1,832 Fahrenheit).

This section of track might take weeks to repair, but Eurotunnel’s chief executive Jacques Gounon told French radio the adjoining tunnel “had not suffered any damage.”

About 40,000 people a day use the tunnel to travel between Britain and continental Europe and thousands of passengers were left stranded by the incident.

“I was expecting them to give us a solution, to get a train or a plane ... but it’s our problem, they said,” said Isadora Cruciol, an assistant manager at a hotel in England, who turned up at Paris’s Gare du Nord station hoping for information.

French rail operator SNCF said traffic was expected to proceed slowly in the unaffected tunnel throughout the weekend.

Toxic Fumes

Magistrates have opened an investigation into the fire, which officials think began on a lorry loaded on the shuttle.

French prosecutor Gerald Lesigne told a news conference initial findings pointed to an accident. “We are looking at facts which point to an accident... at this stage no indication on the origin of the start of the fire is possible,” he said.

Eurotunnel’s Gounon had said the blaze took hold some 40 km (25 miles) into the 51-km tunnel, towards the French end.

He said some truck drivers who had been traveling in a sealed compartment on the shuttle smashed windows to escape.

They should have waited until ventilation systems had removed toxic smoke before looking to reach the service tunnel, he added. Six people were taken to hospital after inhaling the fumes and eight others suffered cuts and bruises.

Truck drivers caught up in the blaze said they had felt trapped in the stranded train.

“The door of our carriage was locked. It was impossible to open it. We saved ourselves by breaking a window with a hammer,” Belgian truck driver Patrick Lejein told Le Parisien newspaper.

“Everything was exploding around us -- tires, fuel tanks and then there was this smoke which stopped us seeing and breathing properly,” he added.

Any prolonged disruption to services would be a blow for Eurotunnel, which posted its first profit only last year, but Gounon said the company was insured and he did not expect any financial problems as a result of the blaze.

Eurotunnel’s Paris-listed shares closed down 0.6 percent at 8.95 euros.

Opened in 1994, the Channel Tunnel is the longest undersea subway in the world. There have been two previous blazes in the tunnel, both involving lorries being transported on trains, with a 1996 fire halting freight traffic for seven months.

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy, Gerard Bon and Nathalie Meistermann; writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Backlash Grows Against Deutsche Bahn’s Proposed Service Surcharge

Furious Consumer Protection Groups And Politicians Turn The Heat On

BERLIN– Germany’s newspapers, TV news shows and radio airwaves have been filled with angry comments for the past week regarding Deutsche Bahn’s (German Railways) proposed EUR 2.50 (US $3.75) per person surcharge, to be added when the ticket is purchased at a station ticket counter or via a phone call to DB’s ticket and reservation call center. Tickets purchased via DB’s Internet website will not be affected by the proposed surcharge, nor will tickets purchased from automated ticket vending machines.

Photo: David Beale

Ticket to Ride – Tickets for regional and commuter trains, such as this Cantus Bahn regional train waiting in Göttingen to depart for Fulda on 12th Sept. 2008, are typically sold only via ticket vending machines, internet websites or by convenience stores and news stand kiosks, therefore not likely to be affected by DB’s proposed ticket counter surcharge. Cantus operates a fleet of Stadler FLIRT 3 car and 4 car EMU train sets in the Kassel – Fulda – Göttingen region in central Germany. On the adjacent track a Metronom regional express train with a Bombardier TRAXX locomotive pushing from the rear waits for departure to Uelzen via Hannover

Deutsche Bahn Ticket Counter / Call Center Surcharge:
Deutsche Bahn Relents

Hartmut Mehdorn, chairman of the company, has intervened and cancelled the highly controversial proposed fee on intercity passenger tickets purchased at DB ticket counters or via DB’s ticket sales phone number. The issue of this ticket surcharge had escalated all the way into discussions and speeches made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the past 2 - 3 days. Lesson: before introducing a hefty surcharge on one of the most vocal and politically active segments of your customer base (senior citizens), you might want to do some marketing and opinion research first.

The firestorm started when DBAG announced two weeks ago that the ticket counter / call center surcharge, along with a general 3.9% ticket price increase (excluding tickets and passes for commuter trains), would go into effect in mid December. More anger flowed when Deutsche Bahn made it clear that the surcharge is for each leg of a trip, so a round trip ticket would have a surcharge of EUR 5.00 (US $7.50) or higher.

Germany’s Secretary of Transportation, Wolfgang Tiefensee, entered into the debate by making his position clear that neither senior citizens nor persons with government recognized impairments should be required to pay the surcharge. Deutsche Bahn made a counter proposal that senior citizen travelers who maintain an annual “Bahn Card” subscription could be exempted from the surcharge. A “Bahn Card” is a marketing tool used by Deutsche Bahn to give reduced ticket fairs to its frequent customers. For a certain annual fee, the card holder receives a 25% or 50% (depending on the type of Bahn Card he has subscribed to) discount off most intercity train fares.

Deutsche Bahn already adds a significant surcharge to intercity train tickets purchased on-board its trains. DBAG stated that it will continue discussions with government officials and various consumer protection groups, but so far has not given any indication that it is ready to give up on the proposed surcharge altogether.

Photo: David Beale

Attention Train Spotters – Germany starts to adopt full length UIC rolling stock equipment identification numbers. Although non-powered rolling stock in Germany has long since carried full length UIC approved rolling stock identification numbers, self propelled vehicles such as locomotives and EMUs as well as cars in fixed trains sets (such as ICE train sets) have not, instead they were only marked with a DB Netz issued identification number that has the XXX YYY-Z format. Since the start of 2008 this is now changing. Here a Metronom electric locomotive (DB Class 146, Bombardier TRAXX) can be seem with both the full length UIC equipment identification number as well as the shorter identification number assigned by DB Net. UIC is an international association of railroads which sets and publishes technical, industrial, logistical and commercial standards for numerous railroads mostly in Europe, Asia and northern Africa.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)101.8499.87
Canadian National (CNI)52.5950.58
Canadian Pacific (CP)57.1358.30
CSX (CSX)61.6157.71
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)40.6539.22
Kansas City Southern (KSU)47.2246.96
Norfolk Southern (NSC)67.9766.39
Providence & Worcester (PWX)16.8418.60
Union Pacific (UNP)77.9075.46

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...

Portland Oregonian Sees “Headlight
At The End Of The Tunnel” For Amtrak

The Portland Oregonian has seen a “headlight” at the end of the tunnel, generated by soaring gasoline prices over the past two years: “W hat a year for the nation’s train buffs. With the run-up in prices for gas and airline tickets, go-by-train is now a serious and appealing option. Amtrak is on pace to log more than 28 million passengers this year, easily topping last year’s record of 25.8 million riders,” wrote the newspaper on September 8. “Congress is getting on board, too. Lawmakers are preparing a Passenger Rail Investment Act that authorizes $11.4 billion for Amtrak over the next six years. And Amtrak, which has long needed a friend in a high place, soon could have one in Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, a Delaware senator who has commuted on the railroad for decades between his home in Wilmington and Washington.”

Picking up on a theme advanced by this and other advocacy organizations for a generation, the paper noted, “These good times for Amtrak have been a long time coming. For nearly 40 years now, passenger rail in this country has struggled to survive, even as the rest of the world developed fast, reliable and government-supported trains.”

The newspaper, like many other mainstream papers, has begun to note more and more frequently the decline in American competitiveness and quality of life brought about by nearly 30 years of tax-cuts, laissez-faire capitalism (excepting bailouts for investment bankers and other parts of Wall Street), and hostility to the spending of government resources on basic infrastructure, bundled together and introduced as “Reaganism” in order to Americanize it.

“President Bush once proposed slashing all federal funding to Amtrak, breaking up the system and selling off any profitable parts to private operators. The Clinton administration never sought to overtly kill Amtrak, but it consistently deprived it of operating funds and money for capital improvements,” the paper notes, [but] “in spite of these decades of neglect, Amtrak may finally be about to turn a significant corner. More people are boarding trains across the nation, not just in the Northeast corridor, where ridership always has been strong. Ridership between Portland and Seattle is running at record levels. Passenger numbers on trains across the Midwest are up 40 to 60 percent.”

Indeed, ridership is way up all across America, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because the more people use rail for travel, the smaller the carbon footprint they leave as a result.. It’s a “bad” thing, too, because as the Oregonian also observes, Amtrak has never been given adequate capital to do anything but scrape along, and its equipment is mostly 30 years old, and more.

It is good to see the Oregonian and others signing on to the Amtrak cause; just one caveat: it’s not only “rail buffs” who are happy for Amtrak: it should be all of us, because, as the paper concludes, “We still dream of the day when a passenger may board a fast train in Portland and be whisked to Eugene or Seattle or Vancouver, B.C., with the kind of speed and reliability that is simply taken for granted across much of the rest of the world.”

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OPINION... Opinion...

Taking Transit To Summer Fun? Wait Until Next Year,
Or Maybe Much, Much Longer!

By: David Peter Alan

Today, if you want to take transit to summer activities, they had better take place downtown in the Big City. There is plenty of transit to Midtown Manhattan, Center City Philadelphia, the Chicago Loop, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and similar places. If you want to go to the beach or another outdoor venue, however, there is probably no transit to take you there.

Here in New Jersey, we love the Shore. But you can’t get from New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line to the beach unless you are willing to walk the last mile -- literally. At the north end of the Shore, Sandy Hook is often closed down on hot days when parking lots fill to capacity, but there is not a single bus going there. At the south end of the Shore, the rails of Cape May Seashore Lines are giving way to rust, and the railroad does not even operate locally. A train from Philadelphia, where many transit-dependent people would like to travel beyond the limits of SEPTA, is out of the question. The Long Island Rail Road is located too far from the beach to walk, and there are no bus shuttles. The South Shore Line from Chicago goes near the Indiana Dunes, but not near enough to get you there. The list goes on and on.

It was not always so. In another era, there was rail service to beaches, picnic groves and amusement parks. Streetcar companies built amusement parks at the ends of their lines to give people a destination. If other entrepreneurs built the parks first, as happened with Brooklyn’s Coney Island, rail lines were built to get people there. Many senior citizens remember such summer excursions from their youth.

“The fun that began when we boarded the trolley,” a group of seniors told our editor Molly McKay in an interview last year.

New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne (D-10) has told this writer about his memories of taking the Public Service trolley to Olympic Park (now defunct but fondly remembered).

During that era, trains took tourists to our National Parks to experience the natural wonders there. Railroads promoted the parks, as they promoted themselves as the means to get there. The Great Northern Railroad established Glacier National Park as a destination, and tourists can still go there on Amtrak’s Empire Builder. The Grand Canyon Railway can take you from Amtrak to the Grand Canyon, and you can go to Yosemite on a bus from the train at Merced. Otherwise, you will have to burn gas on the highway to get to our National Parks.

Today, if you wish to take a day trip out of the city for summer fun, there are not many places you can go without an automobile. Few beaches are within walking distance of a rail line. Very few outdoor parks, except in big cities, have any transit at all. Most of the old amusement parks have fallen victim to condo development, and you need an automobile even to get to most of the nation’s tourist railroads. There may be fun at the end of the long automobile trip, but not on the way. “Sadly, today, it’s usually no fun at all to ‘board’ a car and sit in traffic while trying to get to recreational areas,” McKay said.

It is time to go “back to the future” for a new era of access to our parks, beaches and other recreational areas. It does not make good economic sense to deprive people without automobiles of the joy of an outing, and it even seems somewhat cruel. Bill Wright, my colleague from the New Jersey advocacy scene, often reminds us that “Not all tourists drive, but all tourists spend money.”

The challenge we face is to convince transit providers, operators of recreational facilities, and leaders of resort towns that people who use transit are a market worth courting. Millions of people live in transit-oriented cities from Boston to San Francisco to New Orleans, and they use transit for their metropolitan transportation needs. Non-drivers of all types -- senior citizens, people with disabilities, teen-agers, adults who can’t afford cars -- want to “get out of town” for a day or a vacation and will spend money at their destinations.

Civic leaders who promote the outdoor pleasures of their vacation spots should welcome the chance to bring a few trainloads of visitors to their towns -- people who can have a good time without clogging up the streets.

New Hope, Pennsylvania, a quaint town popular with tourists, is a case in point. A tourist railroad, the New Hope & Ivyland, only connects with SEPTA rail service on selected days. If it did so regularly, Philadelphians could enjoy the town and a train ride, too. Cape May, New Jersey, is a Victorian seaside resort. Its narrow streets are jammed with automobiles in the summer, while the local rail line lies rusting. If the line could be upgraded to connect with trains between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, Philadelphians could also enjoy a train ride to this historic beach town.

In anticipation of summer ‘09, we need to work with civic, environmental and political organizations to let their leaders know that transit can bring their communities more visitors, more money and less congestion. If we start pushing now, there may again come a day when most people will begin their vacations the moment they step onto the train or trolley.

David Peter Alan is a rail advocate in New Jersey and on the national scene. He attends a popular beach at the Jersey Shore that is not accessible by transit. For him and other transit-dependent people, getting to their favorite spots for summer fun is a constant challenge.

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Injured Trespasser Owes Rescuers

By Molly Mckay, Editor

We agree wholeheartedly with Boston Herald’s editorial “Chutzpah Hits the Rails” (September 13) on the frivolous lawsuit against Amtrak by a trespasser who almost got himself killed (DF: September 8). Citizens who love to blame someone else and then get paid for it when their own behavior gets them into trouble, are far too numerous in our litigious society.

In this case, the Herald article explains, a 24-year-old architect from New York City, after bar-hopping until 2 am in Boston, decided he needed to get back to New York that night. When he tried to get into one of Amtrak’s Acela trains parked at South Station - closed at that hour - and could not, he decided to climb up on the train roof.

“There,” the editorial continues, “investigators believe, he touched the 25,000-volt overhead wire that powers the train and set himself on fire. He suffered third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body, and doctors eventually had to amputate his left hand and left leg.”

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., charges that “Amtrak should have known that persons trespassed in South Station, should have been monitoring the area, should have cut off electricity to the overhead wires and should have parked trains somewhere else.”

This suit is not just frivolous, it is grossly unfair to Amtrak and should be thrown out. Is Amtrak responsible for a trespasser who gets himself so drunk he is not aware that a 25,000 volt wire could kill him?

And what about the first responders, police, EMT workers and doctors who saved his life? This survivor owes them.

As the editorial concluded: “Such ridiculous lawsuits are virtually unknown in systems in which the loser pays the winner’s costs, as in England. They are a good argument for adopting the same rule in the United States.”

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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...

Dear Editor:

This letter is in reference to the “person” who was so drunk and stupid that they actually climbed on top of an Amtrak trainset and fried themselves.

So, this drunken fool tries to break into a trainset, can’t get in and then decides its a good idea to climb on top of the train? Did this idiot think there was an entrance on top of the cars or what?

So you get drunk, trespass and injure yourself and you want to sue Amtrak for your stupidity

Please, it is stupid, baseless lawsuits like this that not only clog up the court systems, but just prove that it’s ok to be stupid and blame it on someone else.

While I feel sorry for the injuries you received, you have no one to blame but yourself for what happened to you.

Its about time people accept responsibility for what they do and quit trying to blame someone else for their own stupidity.

Greg Kuzmick

Dear Editor:

I discovered the following [ anti-high speed rail ] link and thought I would send it to you for your readers’ information.

Ken Ruben
Culver City, CA

Dear Editor,

Would it be possible for your site to have a map that shows some of the projects that you people are interested in? I think that such a map would make your site more visually interesting, by graphically displaying what you people are supporting.

Such a map can be created with Google Earth ™ or Google Maps ™ or with one’s favorite text editor, and then loaded into Google Maps. Several people have created unofficial Amtrak and rail-transit maps in this way:

One is not restricted to Google, of course; one can also do that in Yahoo Maps and even in Mapquest ™.

I have already done this for proposed high-speed-rail corridors from the Federal Railroad Adminstration, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, etc. I have enclosed a Google Earth file of that map with this message in a zip archive:

I'm willing to create such a map for your site if I have information on hand of the routes that I am to display; it can be difficult to find such information in your site.

Loren Petrich

Thanks for the offer. NCI does advocate for rail corridors, infrastructure improvements, more funding, and frequently features select lines and ideas within our pages. However, the nature of many projects is that they frequently change which would make maintenance a full-time job for someone. Also, while we advocate on a national (and sometimes international) level, it would be up to more-localized advocacy groups to get into such detail.

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2008 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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We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at

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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.

Destination Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

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