Vol. 8 No. 37
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Senate Funds Amtrak 88-7,
Ignoring Bush Veto Threat
WASHINGTON --- In a move seen by all sides as a broadly bipartisan rebuke to the Bush Administrations anti-rail policies, the United States Senate this past week voted 88-7 for full funding of Amtrak as part of the overall $106 billion transportation bill.
Unlike Federal highway finding, which for 50 years has flowed automatically to roads from the so-called Highway Trust Fund --- taxpayer funded but with few exceptions for roads only --- to state Departments of Transportation so that they can build roads, Amtrak must go to Capitol Hill each and every year and ask for money.
For much of the Bush Administration Amtrak has been a target of the libertarian-ideological wing of the Republican Party, which opposes public spending of almost any kind. One year, 2005, the Bush Administration Office of Management and Budget, among the most ideological parts of the Administration, literally proposed zero funding for the railroad. That move was also rebuffed by the Congress.
Amtrak was created at the request of the freight railroads in 1970 because they were losing so much money on passenger rail service, which at that time they were required by law to provide. Amtrak was nevertheless ordered to break even by Congress in the Amtrak Reform Act passed in 1998, despite overwhelming evidence that no passenger railroads in the world make money, just as highways and airlines systems require taxpayer support.
For example, the bill restores proposed Bush cuts in subsidies for rural air routes, which is expensive on a per-passenger basis but seen by rural Congressmen and Senators as essential to help slow the de-populating of their regions.
President Bush has vowed to veto the Transportation Bill if it includes more than $800 million for Amtrak, a figure which all sides acknowledge would cause a shut-down of the system and major disruptions to the American economy, especially along the Northeast Corridor that stretches from Richmond, VA to Portland, ME.
The Senate Amtrak Bill was crafted by and shepherded through the Senate by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-MS) who, while of different political parties, have worked together for many years to ensure the survival of a viable national passenger rail system. The make up of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is:
Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii, Chairman) , John D. Rockefeller, IV (WV), John F. Kerry (MA), Byron L. Dorgan (ND), Barbara Boxer (CA), Bill Nelson (FL), Maria Cantwell (WA)l, Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ), Mark Pryor (AR), Thomas Carper (DE) , Claire McCaskill (MO), and Amy Klobuchar (MN)
Ted Stevens (AK, Vice Chairman), John McCain (AZ), Trent Lott (MS), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), Olympia J. Snowe (ME), Gordon H. Smith (OR), John Ensign (NV), John E. Sununu (NH), Jim DeMint (SC), David Vitter (LA), and John Thune (SD)
Oil Lobby Trying to Kill Charlotte Transit Project?
Charlotte Struggles Against Setbacks
Back in 1998, Mecklenburg County was looking ahead --- and planning --- for the year 2030, but a light rail centerpiece of that plan is in danger because of an anti-transit campaign, funded largely by oil lobby-funded organizations, to repeal the half-penny tax already in place to pay for the system.
Anticipating a population increase of 300,000 by the Charlotte of 2030 and burdened with highways already over-capacity, voters passed a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund the states share of a project to build the first phase of a light rail system.
Photo: Lisa Gray - CreativeLoafing.com
The vision of the plan was clear: Charlotte and Mecklenburg County would not be able to accommodate anticipated growth without a comprehensive, multi-modal transit system. City and county officials wanted Charlotte to be a model for how growing cities meet transportation and urban development challenges and at the same time provide a far cleaner environment for its citizens. They were convinced that light rail would be an important economic anchor in the transit system, a catalyst for hundreds of millions of dollars in neighborhood development around the transit hubs.
Former Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole spoke at the signing ceremony of the Charlotte Light Rail in May of 2005:
We have so much to be proud of here today. In 1998, a strong majority of people in Charlotte chose to take the first step in a journey that has brought us to this day to sign the agreement that will officially start the construction of the first of five corridors of Charlottes 2025 Transit System Plan.
Many people talk about how this South Corridor Light Rail project will result in a cleaner environment, which it will. They say this project will reduce congestion and energy consumption, which it will. All these benefits are vitally important, but just as important to me is the fact that this light rail will create stronger, more vibrant neighborhoods with a sense of community and new opportunities for the people of Charlotte. In fact, private investment around the stations of this project is expected to total more than $350 million dollars.
But nine years later, the people of the area face the uncertainty of losing that funding for this long range plan. On November 6 voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not to repeal that tax.
Much is at stake. Proponents of keeping the tax note the significant progress that has been made since the tax was in place: The regions bus system, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), has had a 67% increase in ridership; the fleet has grown to 500 (up from 217 nine years ago), and 31 new routes have been established, including the creation of express routes. Best of all, they say, by the end of 2007, the area will inaugurate the first phase of a regional light rail system - the LYNX Blue Line light rail service in the South Corridor.
The battle is being waged on several fronts: a recent study of CATS done by the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) became embroiled in controversy. The study gave a favorable report about the costs of the light rail line, saying that Charlottes system compared favorably with light rail costs in other cities. The study also praised the CATS bus system, describing it as at or near the top in performance.
Critics complained that the study was flawed in its facts, and that also the university had a conflict of interest because the authors shared some information with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, which supports light rail.
The Charlotte Observer investigated and their review confirmed the studys findings, although there was disagreement about cost overruns.
Meanwhile, a former city councilmember, Don Reid, one of the leaders of SCAT (Sensible Charlotte Area Transportation) a group that opposes the light rail, has been a force in pushing for the repeal of the tax. Reid is against any rail projects, saying they do nothing to ease congestion and that public money should be spent on a reasonable bus system and better roads.
Another critic, retired UNCC transportation professor David Hartgen, opposes light rail and supports the repeal of the tax. Like Reid, he believes in improving and expanding the highway system and enhancing bus service.
During his tenure at UNCC and at present, Hartgen has been writing for the John Locke and the Reason Foundations, both libertarian think tanks that are opposed to government support for transportation and many other social institutions. These foundations are largely funded by oil interests.
The John Locke Foundation is sponsoring a debate on the tax repeal scheduled for September 19 and is reported to be pouring a great deal of money into the campaign to repeal the tax. Pro-transit citizens, who have organized a Vote Against the Repeal campaign have engaged Todd Littman from The Victoria Transport Policy Institute, to speak at the debate. The opposing speaker is Sam Staley from the Reason Foundation.
There is broad neighborhood and political support to keep the tax and move forward with the long range plans for light rail and expanded bus service. City Council Member Patrick Mumford informed DF staff that in the recent primary election for mayor of Charlotte, the present mayor, Pat McCrory, a Republican and staunch supporter of transit, won by 67% of the vote. This will be his 7th run for the office of mayor, an unheard of term length in the history of Charlotte.
Also, four of the six Republicans running for at-large city council seats are in favor of transit, as is the mayors Democratic opponent, said Mumford. The council member is optimistic about saving the tax, but its not necessarily a sure thing. You can never handicap an election, he said.
The Vote Against Repeal Committee has been endorsed by eleven organizations, among them two chambers of commerce, the local Sierra Club and two realtors associations. The resolution of this committee can be found at their website www.voteagainstrepeal.com.
In an interview with a Charlotte Sierra Club staffer, Chatham Olive, DF staff learned that a major concern in Charlotte is air pollution. We are adding 30,000 cars a year to our highways in this area, and this summer we have had more code red days than ever before. There have been many code orange and purple as well. It is getting oppressive, he said. And most of the pollution comes from cars and trucks.
Joseph L. Bruno
Senate Majority Leader Bruno: no tolerance for needless delays
New York State Leaders Take Lead
In New Push for High Speed Rail
ALBANY --- Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno joined other transportation and business leaders last week to announce $22 million in initiatives to start the first phase of the Senates plan to make high speed rail a reality in New York.
The New York State Senate has its own Task Force on High Speed Rail. Senator Bruno, a long time transportation advocate who is also one of the most powerful political leaders in New York State, created it in the spring of 2005 for the purpose of studying and prioritizing rail projects and then establishing the funds so that the Task Forces recommendations can be turned into action, so we can end needless rail delays, increase the speed of travel and strengthen the regions economy, said the senator.
The $22 million will be spent to
These initiatives are a great starting point for increasing safety and efficiency along New Yorks railways. My colleagues in the Senate Majority will continue to work in partnership with the rail industry to find more ways to improve rail service to improve job growth and promote more tourism, said State Senator Thomas Libous, the Chair of the Senates Transportation Committee.
We are grateful for our partner in the state of New York and to Senator Bruno for his steadfast support of Amtrak and passenger rail, said Ron Thaniel, Amtraks Director of Government and Communications, New York. This initiative will certainly go a long way towards developing and expanding the increasingly popular Albany to New York City corridor, which we believe is a vital part to Amtraks future.
Senator Brunos vision is to improve the rail travel experience for people in the Capital Region, the State of New York and beyond. Due to his efforts to obtain a capital appropriation of $22 million, we have advanced the first phase of the Task Forces Action Plan, said Jim Cartin, the head of the New York State Senate Task Force on High Speed Rail.
Senator Bruno has earned the reputation of a leader who turns his legislative priorities into action.
As Senate Majority Leader, he has concentrated his efforts on ways to stimulate economic development, make New York more competitive, and create jobs, particularly in the areas of high technology and biotechnology. A conservative Republican, the senator has fought to make the states budget more efficient and has instituted welfare reforms through learnfare and workfare programs which emphasize people leaving welfare for work.
Sen. Bruno was first elected to represent New Yorks 43rd State Senate District (Rensselaer County and most of Saratoga County) in 1976. A Republican, Senator Bruno was first elected Temporary President of the New York State Senate in January 1995 and re-elected to that position in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007.
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RTDs Scott to take the helm at MARTA
ATLANTA -- Dr. Beverly Scott, general manager of the Sacramento Regional Transit District, will succeed Richard McCrillis as general manager of MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). McCrillis plans to retire in 2008; he will continue to serve as GM at MARTA until Scott is available to assume her duties.
In addition to RTD, Scott has served as general manager of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and has also served in executive positions with several other transit agencies, among them MTA New York City Transit and WMATA (Washington, D.C.).
SEPTA Selects US&S for Re-signaling Project
PHILADELPHIA -- Union Switch & Signal Inc. has won a SEPTA contract to oversee the Kay Interlocking Re-Signaling Project. The project features a new five-track interlocking design and interfaces with both the SEPTA West Interlocking to the east and, to the west, Amtraks Zoo Interlocking located on the Northeast Corridor. The new system will provide a fully protected, bi-directional operation on all tracks.
US&S says project elements include the design, fabrication, factory testing, and delivery of a new remotely controlled interlocking that includes all instrument houses, control panels, instrument cases, signal power transformers, impedance bonds, track wire, junction boxes, positionlight signals, US&S M-style electric power switch and lock layouts, and its MicroLok II vital and non-vital interlocking control. The target completion date for the job is October 2008.
WASHINGTON --- The National Transportation Safety Board has determined the probable cause of a 2006 derailment of a Chicago Transit Authority train as unsafe track conditions caused by ineffective management and oversight of track inspection and maintenance and system safety programs, Railway Age reported this week.
On July 11, 2006, the last car of northbound CTA train number 220 derailed in the tunnel between Clark/Lake and Grand/Milwaukee stations in downtown Chicago. After the train came to a stop, electrical arcing between the last car and the 600-volt third rail generated a significant amount of smoke, creating hazardous conditions, NTSB said. There were 152 injuries, primarily due to smoke inhalation, and no fatalities. Total damage exceeded $1 million.
NTSBs final report said that lateral forces generated as the train moved through a curve in the tunnel caused gauge spreading (one rail was forced outward), causing a wheel to drop into the gauge side of the rail. The weakness in the rail was due to a series of corroded, worn, bent and broken [rail] fastener devices that were no longer securely anchoring the track to the half-ties on the tunnel floor.
NTSB said internal management problems at CTA, including a deficient safety culture that allowed the track infrastructure to deteriorate to an unsafe condition, were responsible for the derailment. The agency also cited two oversight agenciesthe State of Illinois Regional Transportation Authority and the Federal Transit Administrationas not requiring the CTA to correct unsafe track conditions. FTA was ineffective in its oversight of RTA, NTSB said. The agency characterized the problems it found at CTA as a series of latent conditions and active failures at many levels throughout the CTA corporate structure, which is characteristic of an organizational accident. Among these were hundreds of missing track inspection records.
NTSB said it will issue 14 safety recommendations to FTA, the State of Illinois, RTA, the Chicago Transit Board, and the CTA, according to Railway Age.
WASHINGTON---The Surface Transportation Board (STB) announced last week that it has awarded a contract to Christensen Associates (Christensen), headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, to conduct an independent study that will assess the current state of competition in the freight railroad industry in the United States.
The study will cost approximately $1 million and will be completed and made public in the Fall of 2008, the STB said
Christensen, an economic and engineering consulting firm with extensive experience analyzing the transportation sector and other markets, will conduct the independent study entitled Report to the U.S. STB on Competition and Related Issues in the U.S. Freight Railroad Industry. The study will focus on providing a comprehensive analysis of a wide range of issues including competition, capacity, and the interplay between the two. The study will also include an examination of various regulatory policy alternatives.
In October 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concerns over competition and shipper captivity in the rail industry. The GAO recommended that the Surface Transportation Board conduct a rigorous analysis of competition in the industry and consider actions to address problems associated with abuses of market power.
The contract was awarded through a competitive bid process in accordance with Federal procurement regulations and procedures.
In a separate story, Railway Age reports that STB Chairman Cites Charles D. Nottingham as seeing a giant challenge for Houston as it tries to deal with the increasing delays caused by scores of at-grade rail-highway crossings throughout the sprawling city.
Reports Railway Age: During a helicopter tour over the Houston areas rail network yesterday, Surface Transportation Board Chairman got a birds-eye view of the traffic tie-ups that that busy grade crossings can produce. He later commented, in a statement released by the Port of Houston Authority, that during the tour we saw a train that had stopped four lanes of traffic, with commuters and a city bus making U-turns around it.
Its a giant challenge for Houston, he added. But any tough problem can be solved by a team approach.
Houston Mayor Bill White explained the reason for inviting the STB chief to Houston: The city and county dont have the authority to address this issue, he said. We wanted to look to Chairman Nottingham to see what to do to impress the rail transportation system to do its part.
The Port Authority said in a statement that studies sponsored by the Texas legislature recently authorized the creation of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District to address mobility issues caused by the proliferation of rails in the region, Railway Age reported.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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