Vol. 8 No. 38
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Senate Judiciary Committee Moves
To End Railroad Anti-Trust Exemptions:
Rail vs. Shipper Donnybrook is On
WASHINGTON --- The Senate Judiciary Committee moved last week to advance legislation that would strip freight railroads of many of their anti-trust law exemptions, a move long sought by shippers but one which will ignite a major fight in the American transportation industry.
In voice vote the committee voted to send The Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2007 (S. 772), to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), co-sponsored the legislation, which would repeal certain railroad antitrust exemptions, permit Federal law enforcement officials and department regulators such as the U.S. Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to review mergers under antitrust law, and permit states Attorneys General and others to sue to halt alleged anticompetitive practices, and collect up to treble damages.
The freight railroads gained broad anti-trust exemptions when they were de-regulated under the Staggers Act of 1980, which ended decades of heavy-handed government regulation that had helped to bankrupt the nations freight railroads. It had also led to earlier Federal rescues of the rail industry, such as the creation of Amtrak in 1970 to relieve it of the then-required (by law) operation of passenger trains, which despite popular mythology have never made money, as well as the creation of Conrail from the remnants of the bankrupt New England/Northeastern freight lines in the 1970s. Conrail was later divided and sold to CSX and NS, after becoming profitable under government sponsorship.
The regulatory structure overseeing the railroads, known as the Interstate Commerce Commission, was removed and replaced, for dispute resolution between shippers and railroads, by a new body known as the Surface Transportation Board. Under the old ICC regulatory system railroads could not set their own rates (or tariffs) but had to apply for rate changes with the ICC, which sometimes took years to render a decision --- by which time the economic conditions that had triggered the railroads request for a rate change were themselves changed.
Since the 1970s scores of mergers and acquisitions have reduced the number of major (Class I) freight railroads down to a handful of giant independent operators, the largest of which are Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX, and Norfolk Southern (NS), as well as Canadian Pacific (CP rail) and Kansas City Southern. At the same time hundreds of new short line freight railroads have sprung up, as the major railroads sold off or closed branch lines that they, with their higher cost structure, could not operate profitably.
Shippers, including large electric utilities who must move millions of tons of coal across the country to fuel their power plants, have increasingly seen rail consolidation as being the effective re-imposition of the rail monopolies and trusts which had led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and rate regulation, in the first place. Many very large companies, especially electric utilities, are captive shippers with only one transportation choice for the movement of their essential goods, and are charged what they see as exorbitant rates by their rail provider. It is the complaints of these shippers that has largely triggered the Senate action to re-impose anti-trust rules on railroads.
Consumers United For Rail Equity (CURE) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) are two of the groups seeking the new legislation, which has bipartisan support, and which is largely a reaction to complaints from shippers that freight railroads have deliberately and systematically overcharged their customers.
While the Association of American Railroads, citing existing anti-trust laws, has remained largely silent about the proposed legislation, the railroads themselves are expected to fund a major battle to keep themselves more regulation-free.
High-speed rail vs. a new airport -- this is a hot topic for political leaders in Georgia and Tennesee as they struggle to find a solution to the ever-growing problem of congestion on their highways and in the skies.
The crowding at Atlantas Hartsfield-Jackson airport, one of the busiest in the world, is getting steadily worse, causing many delays and unhappy customers. For years, officials have believed that a new airport in Chattanooga would be the solution. But these days, they are hard-put to settle on building a new airport when the head of a major airline, Deltas new CEO Richard Anderson, says it is a dumb idea.
The impracticality is obvious to aviation experts. As Anderson noted, 70 to 75 percent of Hartsfield-Jacksons passengers are simply changing planes. An airport in Chattanooga would be so far away, a rail connection between the two airports would be a necessity. Imagine requiring passengers to ride a train to or from Chattanooga just to change planes!! said Anderson.
These days, more and more officials are looking at high-speed rail instead of a new airport, and one political advocate is Republican State Senator Jeff Mullis from Chickamauga, Georgia. Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Mullis has promoted the high speed rail connection to Chattanooga. Earlier this summer, he said, I think many people in the northern areas would consider the Chattanooga possibility, especially with the traffic problems we have in the Atlanta area. It would be a smart concept as opposed to building a new airport.
Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution-Journal comments in her September 5 opinion piece, Mullis is onto something with his proposal for high-speed rail. He should get moving on that. As passenger rail becomes faster and more efficient, it will drain off some airline passengers taking shorter trips say, from Atlanta to Greenville, S.C., or Winston-Salem. Although its 600 miles from downtown Atlanta to Washington, D.C., its easy to envision a day when that trip, too, is a convenient high-speed train ride.
The General Assembly should forget about a second airport and concentrate on building the high-speed rail line. That would boost economic activity as well as relieve congestion at the worlds busiest airport.
William Hartsfields determination to build a municipal airport, at a time when few Americans had ever flown on an airplane, propelled Atlanta toward its future as a transportation hub. The region needs a similar visionary now to bring passenger rail back into the transportation network.
Atlantas Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is expected to accommodate 86 million passengers this year and to reach capacity, despite the brand-new fifth runway, in a decade.
So today the municipal, state and business leaders of Atlanta and Chattanooga are taking a serious step toward pursuing the high-speed rail option. The Georgia Department of Transportation and Tennessee Department of Transportation are teaming up to prepare a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed High Speed Ground Transportation corridor between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Several corridors are being studied:
Proponents are looking for the possibility of speeds reaching 200 to 300 mph.
The distance between the two cities is approximately 125 miles. A consultant to the project, Karl Schaarschmidt said that the route chosen for the rail will determine the length of time it will take to travel between Chattanooga and Atlanta. I estimate 60 minutes with a route that has just one intermediate station (like Rome) versus 90 minutes for a route that goes through downtown Atlanta and stops four times before getting to the airport.
The mayor of Chattanooga, Ron Littlefield, has long been a proponent of high-speed rail between the two cities. It has to become a reality, he said, or Chattanoogans will choke (to a standstill) on the traffic. He said that traffic on these highways is expected to triple even before the railway can be built.
Consultants representing Georgia DOT said that all transportation infrastructure -highways, transit and aviation - in the area will be at, or above, capacity despite the proposed improvements to expand these facilities.
The high-speed rail study is Phase I of a lengthy process;, it will have all the viable alternatives that must be looked at, including the No-Build alternative. Other aspects including environmental, economic, social, and transportation are also reviewed. Public comments are an important part of the EIS. This phase of the EIS will be completed in October 2009.
On September 20, GDOT held a public meeting to display maps and information on the study that has been done so far. (They are five months into it.) The study, which will determine feasibility, impact, layout and scope of the project will cost $10.1 million and the project itself is estimated to cost $4 to $5 billion. If it goes forward, construction could start in 2020.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and other citizens of his city turned out at a public meeting to get information about the project the week before GDOT held their meeting in Atlanta.
A Freight Rail Proposal in Denver
Could Be Key to Future Commuter Rail
OMAHA, NEBRASKA, SEPT 20 --Union Pacific Railroad is proposing to move their classification yard and intermodal terminal out of Denver to a location outside the city. This, they say, could be the catalyst for extension of commuter rail service between Denver and the City of Greeley, and, could help reduce the traffic disruption at four rail crossings in downtown Brighton.
Two FasTracks commuter rail corridors could result if all goes according to UPs proposal. The rail service could also serve the area communities of Platteville, Gilcrest, La Salle and Evans in the future.
The new site for the yard and terminal is between Brighton and Fort Lupton where UP has an option to buy 640 acres.
UP spokesman Richard Hartman said the railroad and RTD have entered into an agreement to fund work that will allow UP to establish the feasibility and cost of its potential relocation. That should be done by late this year and a decision by RTD and UP on building the new facilities would be shortly thereafter. (The Regional Transportation District, or RTD, was organized in 1969 and is the regional authority operating public transit services in eight of the twelve counties in the Denver-Aurora-Boulder Combined Statistical Area in Colorado.)
Under the pending agreement the RTD would have the option to purchase a 55-mile by 50-foot right-of-way that could run from Denver to Greeley on Union Pacifics 90-mile Greeley subdivision corridor that has served communities in Weld and Adams counties since 1878.
The project has its opponents: Local residents in the Brighton-Fort Lupton fear the increased truck traffic, noise and environmental impact would all have a negative impact on their neighborhoods.
Mark Davis, spokesperson for Union Pacific, told DF staff I want to emphasize that we are in the proposal stage. We have a long way to go before this project can move forward. In many ways, it would be a win-win. Extension of commuter rail in metropolitan Denver is badly needed. The area between Denver and Cheyenne, where development was sparse, now is one continuous strip mall for almost 40 miles, and the whole area is still growing by leaps and bounds.
By moving our facility outside of Denver, that frees up space for commuter rail. Its a much better use of the space, Davis said.
Long claims there is not the ridership to support commuter rail at present.
Mayor Selders said, I think this is something we certainly need to look at.
Don Cummins, a longtime Fort Lupton community leader, said any commuter line would take five to 10 years after they get the new terminal built, adding Im optimistic because weve got some real traffic problems we have to solve.
If the proposal is approved, construction would take place 2008-2009, with the new facility opening in 2010.
Amtrak, Railroad Officials Reach Agreement
Protecting Wolverine Line
KALAMAZOO, SEPT 18 Freight rail companies have assured Amtrak that their passenger rail service between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo will be protected despite the plan of Norfolk Southern and Watco Companies, Inc., to acquire the track in that corridor, according to a story in the Kalamazoo Gazette.
A joint venture of NS and Watco established a new company, The Michigan Central Railway LLC, the legal entity which will carry out the acquisition.
Norfolk Southern made the deal because it was losing money operating the lines, spokesman Rudy Husband said. Its pretty simple. The volumes of traffic on the lines were not generating enough revenue to support the maintenance of the lines, Husband said.
But Watco management believes it can find a way to generate new freight business without cutting jobs or reducing line maintenance. Watco spokesman Ed McKechnie said, Well have marketing staff on the ground from day one that will be helping to grow the business, he said. This isnt a transaction that becomes profitable by cutting jobs.
The potential deal has been of particular concern to Amtrak officials. Amtraks Wolverine line, which runs between Detroit and Chicago, operates on Norfolk Southern lines between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo. They fear that the line may not be maintained properly, a situation which could jeopardize Amtraks service.
In August, municipal leaders from across southern Michigan met with officials from Norfolk Southern and Watco to express their concern that the acquisition would hurt Amtraks Wolverine line.
At that meeting in Battle Creek, Ed McKechnie of Watco said his company was negotiating a legally binding agreement to protect Amtrak service.
With this agreement in place, Amtrak service on Michigan Central east of Kalamazoo will not only be protected, we anticipate opportunities for growth and improvement, Paul Vilter, Amtraks assistant vice president for host railroads, said in the press release.
Michigan Central still must be approved by federal regulators. The Surface Transportation Board is expected to make a decision on the proposed acquisition in late October. If approved, Michigan Central would begin operations in first quarter 2008 and employ 118 people.
Every day, Amtraks Wolverine line has three trains running west from Pontiac to Chicago, and three running east from Chicago to Pontiac.
Seattle Transit Tunnel Retrofit Completed
SEPT 19 -- The completion of Seattles Downtown Transit Tunnel retrofit was cause for celebration last week when officials from City of Seattle, Community Transit, King County Metro, and Sound Transit came together to announce that the tunnel would reopen on September 24.
The tunnel, which is owned and operated by King County Metro Transit, was closed Sept. 24, 2005, to allow Sound Transit contractors to retrofit it for use by both buses and light rail trains. The work was scheduled to take two years.
The retrofit included lowering the roadbed in the stations to accommodate level boarding for passengers using either trains or buses, and installing new electrical, communications and safety systems. For example, inside the tunnel passengers will benefit from better lighting and signage, more security cameras and a new public announcement system.
In addition, a new 550-foot extension to the tunnel, included in the retrofit, will be the launching point for the 3.1-mile University Link project, which will dig twin light rail tunnels to stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.
In two years, Link light rail service will join buses in the downtown tunnel.
Sound Transits 15.6-mile Link light rail project is 78 percent complete between downtown Seattle and Tukwila and is scheduled to open for service in July 2009 with an extension to Sea-Tac International Airport opening in December 2009.
The Federal Transit Administration has given the Link light rail project its highest rating in the competitive process to secure federal funding.
Sound Transit is seeking $750 million in federal funding for building the extension in combination with existing local taxes.
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Massachuestts MBTA Tests, Will Purchase
American-made Hybrid Locomotive
BOSTON---The Massachuestts Bay Transportation Authority has completed tests of a new hybrid locomotive, and plans to buy at least two, the Boston Metro News reports.
The vehicles run primarily on electricity, making them very quiet, and their engines turn off automatically when they are idling for too long, limiting the amount of fuel burned and fumes emitted, MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said, according to MetroNews.
Photo: MBTAN-ViroMotive locomotive at the Readville Yard
The manufacture, National Railway Equipment of Chicago, states in its website, that its
NRECs N-ViroMotive locomotives provide better adhesion, dramatic fuel savings and low maintenance costs. They feature multiple engine GenSets in end or center-cab styles. World-class, reliable electronic control systems manage all engine and traction motor functions for optimal fuel management and significantly improved adhesion capability. The result is a state of the art locomotive that operates cleaner and has a longer service life than any road-switcher available today. And theyre already proven in yard switching and road revenue service.
Where we get many of our complaints is when we have to keep the locomotives running during the day and moving trains around the yard. It can be very noisy, and we are spewing particles in the air. This will allow us to drastically re-duce the noxious emissions, and its much quieter for the neighbors, the MetroNews quoted Grabauskas as saying.
Currently the T is leasing one of the locomotives, known as NViroMotive, from the manufacturers, National Railway Equipment of Chicago. The locomotive is being used in the Readville rail yard transporting coaches that need to be repaired.
So far so great. Its been universally lauded by our crews and mechanical staff. Its been quiet for our neighbors in the Readville yard, said Rich Davey, deputy general manager at Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the company that runs the Ts commuter rail system, MetroNews reported.
NCI Webmaster Dennis Kirkpatrick notes: The MBTAs Readville yard has been a controversy with area residents and noise abatement has been the topic of some neighborhood meetings with city officials. Recently the MBTA Board of Directors approved an expenditure that will see four tracks added to the yard to deal with the MBTAs service expansions.
The Readville facility is used for light maintenance on commuter rail coaches and for non-service parking of trainsets. It is located a short distance from the Readville Station and junction with the NEC main line on the Fairmount branch, NCIs Webmaster reports.
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