The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

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

Contribute To The Cause
Help NCI Help You!

October 6, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 42

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

This E-Zine is best viewed at
1024 X 768 screen resolution

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

  News Items…
Authorization Bill Soars Through Senate; Bush Drops Amtrak
   Veto Threat And Will Sign Bill
  Labor Lines…
Major ‘T’ Union Wants Its Back Pay Now; nManager’s Pay Hikes
   Are Also Rescinded
  Construction Lines…
Amtrak Plans To Demolish Groton Rail Tower
  Financial Lines…
Dollars From And For Highways In New Jersey
Virginia Transit System Will Upgrade Using Fed Grant
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Briefs From Railway Age…
Toronto Metrolinx Touts “Big Move”
CP Purchase Of DM&E Wins STB Approval
Austin, FRA Accord On Operations, Safety Issues
Metro Madrid To Lease 60 Trains From CAF
  Across The Pond…
Photo Item... Bombardier AGC dual-mode trainsets
  Commentary…
New Jersey Transit’s ‘T.H.E. Tunnel’ Project:
   The Game Is Different Now
  Publication Notes …


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

History-Making Legislation For Amtrak

 

Authorization Bill Soars Through Senate;
Bush Drops Amtrak Veto Threat And Will Sign Bill

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON --- Nearly 40 years after its founding and for the first time in its penurious history, Amtrak this past week received the kind of multi-year broad-ranging authorization it needs to begin building the kind of world-class national passenger rail system long promised to, but never before possible for, the American people.

Following House passage earlier, the Senate voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize the spending of the $13 billion over five years needed to build and operate what its supporters hope will be the start of a renaissance in American ground-based transportation that will once again allow America to compete with the far more modern transportation infrastructures of Europe and Asia.

President Bush has dropped his threat to veto the legislation, in the face of overwhelmingly positive pro-Amtrak votes in the House and Senate, and the bill is expected to become law.

The bill will for the first time allow Amtrak to do multiple-year capital planning, something which all companies must do in order to function economically, but which Amtrak has never before been able to do. Forced to seek annual stipends from the Congress, Amtrak has always operated on a stop-gap basis, even as politicians’ insisted on Amtrak service for “their” districts or states.

Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) voted for the bill. GOP Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voted against it.

The bill’s principal sponsor and champion was Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who along with former GOP Senator Trent Lott introduced the bill in 2007, “to improve intercity passenger rail in New Jersey and across the nation as well as the safety of our railroads.”

Sen. Lautenberg’s bills, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, will increase funding for Amtrak over the next five years, require new safety controls on trains that help reduce crashes and allow states to regulate solid waste processing facilities along rail lines.

“Our rail package is a real step forward for anyone who’s tired of sitting in traffic, paying high prices at the pump and waiting in long lines at airports,” said Sen. Lautenberg, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation.

“As Amtrak ridership continues to hit record levels, our bill gives passenger rail the resources it needs to meet increased demands. Our bill also modernizes safety laws and decreases risk with smarter regulation and new technology. …”

A release from Sen. Lautenberg’s office outlined the bill’s main features:

Amtrak was created by Congress and by former President Lyndon Johnson in the late 1960’s, with legislation finally passed and signed in 1970 and operations begun in 1971, in response to requests from cash-strapped freight railroads to be relieved of the then-legal requirement that they provide passenger rail service as “common carriers” as regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI), now retired to Newport, RI, and ailing from Parkinson’s disease, was the principal champion of the creation of Amtrak at that time, and convinced President Johnson to support the idea in a series of meetings in the mid 1960’s by showing him a map of the United States with passenger routes drawn on it, and tracing those routes as the President counted up the electoral votes that would be from each state served. “When he reached 270 votes,” he told NCI founder and President Jim RePass over dinner in Providence 1990, “he told me, ‘Let’s do it.’” The number of votes needed to elect a President is 270.

Amtrak, originally called “Railpax,” was supposed to have been given the capital to operate as a business, but was instead given used-up and worn out passenger equipment and locomotives, many in need of repair or replacement, and irregular operating subsidies. Indeed, Amtrak, because funding other than bare-bones operating subsidies was not delivered, continued to use this equipment, some of it dating form the 1940’s, well into the 1990’s. Indeed, a few such cars are still in use.

Amtrak’s creation was the first step in the eventual deregulation of the freight railroad industry, whose profitability had been undermined by the building of, first, the National Highway System in the 1920’s, and then after a respite, provided by World War II gas rationing and massive troop and war materiel movements by train, by the far more extensive Interstate Highway System of the 1950’s and 60’s, and by the introduction of passenger jet service with the Boeing 707, a derivative of the military tanker planes developed and paid for by the Defense Department, i.e., the taxpayer, which decimated passenger revenue as well. Although passenger service had never been profitable for the railroads, being subsidized by freight operating profits, passenger revenues plunged and losses mounted. By the late 1960’s virtually all freight railroads were in bankruptcy or about to file for it, as trucking companies took advantage of the taxpayer-funded and maintained highway system. This was done, and eventually led to complete freight rail deregulation in 1980 under the Staggers Act.

During the 1990’s Amtrak came under sustained attack first by the Republican-dominated Congress and then by the Administration of George W. Bush, beginning in 2001, which repeatedly advanced proposals to shut down the railroad, break it up, or otherwise close it in favor of “marketplace-based” solutions by private operators, as had been instituted in England under the regime of first Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and then her successor John Major.

In 2002, however, new Amtrak President David Gunn, was recruited to the post by Amtrak Board Chairman (and National Corridors Initiative Board Chairman) John Robert Smith and Vice Chairman Michael Dukakis (both appointed under the Administration of President William Clinton). Gunn threatened to shut down Amtrak virtually within weeks if Congress failed to authorize sufficient capital to make up, at least on an emergency basis, for the starvation budgets imposed by the anti-Amtrak Bush regime in the previous two years. Congress consented, and Gunn began his successful effort to re-organize Amtrak and bring its operations, even with the limited funds and equipment available, to “a state of good repair.” Most industry observers see the Gunn years as the decisive ones in Amtrak’s history, when it came closest to shut-down, but was turned around by tough leadership that even anti-Amtrak Sen. John McCain admired. However, when Gunn resisted continued Bush Administration efforts to force the break-up of the railroad and the separation of train operations from infrastructure maintenance --- a step which Gunn deemed unsafe, in the light of British rail disasters that had followed the same steps taken there --- he was fired, in 2005.

In a prepared statement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, the Secretary said:

“This legislation takes positive steps to further improve rail safety in the U.S. We remain committed to working with Congress to implement meaningful changes to improve the performance of our intercity passenger rail system. Our passenger rail system should be driven by sound economics, competition, and improved management of the Northeast Corridor. Future reforms should benefit consumers and protect taxpayers. Given the improvements to rail safety, the President is expected to sign the bill.”


Return to index
LABOR LINES... Labor Lines...

MBTA Slowdown Looms?

 

Major ‘T’ Union Wants Its Back Pay Now;
Manager’s Pay Hikes Are Also Rescinded

From Internet Sources

BOSTON --- The politically powerful MBTA Carmen’s Union is threatening a “legal” work slowdown if back pay it says it is owed is not forthcoming immediately, the Boston news media is reporting. Meanwhile, pay-raises for managers and other non-union personnel, already announced, have been rescinded.

While the union’s right to strike is limited by law, union members are saying they will “work to the rules” if a back pay package approved in July is not forthcoming soon, report the Boston Globe and WCVB-Channel 5

“The president of the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, Steve MacDougall, said yesterday that his guild has a plan to ‘impact service’ if the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority board fails at its October meeting to find a way to pay back wages the union won in a July arbitration decision,” the Boston Globe’s Noah Bierman reported.

“MacDougall stopped short of saying workers would deliberately slow service down, which would be illegal under collective bargaining rules. But the effect could be the same if workers decided to take advantage of all rights they have under their contract and to follow often-overlooked regulations: by calling in sick en masse, refusing overtime shifts, obeying speed limits that require significant slowdowns in advance of subway platforms, and holding buses at every stop until all passengers are seated,” said the paper.

“‘We would impact service only in a way that adhered to the rules and regulations and policies set forth by the authority,’” MacDougall said in an interview this past week, the Globe reported.

WCVB-NewsCenter 5’s Gail Huff reported this past wek that the T employees got a 9 percent raise in July, but the Boston Car Men’s Union, Local 589, said there’s an additional $43 million in back pay that’s still owed workers and they want it now.

“It is illegal for them to deliberately slow down service, but their contract does allow for actions that would have the same effect, such as large groups of workers calling in sick at the same time, refusing overtime shifts and obeying speed limits that would cause slowdowns,” said the station

“MBTA riders said such a slowdown would punish them more than the transportation authority, especially since many of them rely on public transportation to get to their own jobs. ‘That means that buses would slowdown, they’re not going to be on time and a lot of people are going to be late for work,’ one commuter said, reported WCVB. ‘It’s not really fair to take it out on the people, the customers. Very unfair,’ said another rider.

The MBTA has put off a vote on when to make the back payments, saying right now the T has too many other financial difficulties, reported WCVB.

Managers and nonunion workers, meanwhile, learned that their nine per cent pay hike had been rescinded.

Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen sent a letter Tuesday asking MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas to limit the raises to a one-time 3 percent pay hike to non-union workers earning $70,000 or less, reported WBZ-Radio Grabauskas also said he and the MBTA’s general counsel, William Mitchell, “…are turning down cost-of-living raises they were to have received this year.” Reported the station. “Grabauskas said increased health care copays and deductibles for the workers will remain effect.”


Return to index
CONSTRUCTION LINES... Construction Lines...

Amtrak Plans To Demolish Groton Rail Tower

By Katie Warchut
Published on 9/30/2008

GROTON, CT --- An early but small example of 20th century railway architecture is about to come down, unless a new home can be found for it, reports The Day of New London’s Katie Warchut.

“An inconspicuous brick building next to the train tracks on the Groton side of the Thames River was once a key part of operations: It was where a railroad operator would manually throw levers so a train could change tracks. In the early 20th century, the switch tower was part of a campaign by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to upgrade train switching and signaling operations along its routes,” she wrote this week.

“Today, however, the tower is obsolete. Amtrak uses an electronic centralized traffic control system established in the mid-1980s, operated remotely in Boston, said Amtrak project engineer James Garden. The tower, along with others like it, have been abandoned or used for storage space, he said. Many have been vandalized, burned out or used by vagrants. Amtrak is proposing to demolish the Groton tower, behind Ferguson Water Works on Bridge Street, in addition to towers in Hartford, Westerly, Pawtucket, R.I., Central Falls, R.I. and Attleboro, Mass., built between 1909 and 1930.

Because they're near high-powered electrified lines, the small buildings are not suitable for adaptive use and pose significant safety and security hazards, Garden said.

Groton Town Councilor James L. Streeter, a local historian, called Garden for more details on the planned demolition, as he tends to object to tearing down a historic structure. “I'm not sure if it's worth moving or if it could be moved,” he said. “It's a beautiful structure.”

The Groton tower, which closed Dec. 2, 1994, was the last active early-20th-century tower.

See: http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=200d4088-936b-43d4-b3c2-d4f9336230da


Return to index
FINANCIAL LINES... Financial Lines...

Dollars From And For Highways In New Jersey

[ From Spotlight on the Region by the Regional Plan Association of New York ]
By Carlos Rodrigues PP/AICP, New Jersey Director

Three months after Governor Jon Corzine’s innovative and controversial plan to sell off tolling rights to a private company met its quiet demise in a Trenton alley, a much more limited proposal to stabilize transportation funding with the help of increased tolls is being discussed.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) has released a proposed toll increase affecting the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. The proposal would increase tolls three times over 15 years: 50% at the end of 2008, 50% in 2012 and 10% in 2023. NJTA needs this additional funding to meet existing commitments to bondholders and to pay for system repairs it considers necessary. RPA testified in support of the proposed toll increases.

This plan is much simpler than Corzine’s original proposal, but also less comprehensive. The original plan would have sold off, to a private company, the next 30 years’ worth of receipts from the State’s toll roads, in order to pay down 50% of the State debt and fund the Transportation Trust Fund for the next 75 years. But effectively putting Garden State drivers at the mercy of a private (albeit public benefit) business proved too controversial for legislators.

The proposed NJTA toll increases, in absolute terms, are fairly modest: the average Parkway driver will go from a $.35 toll today to a $.85 toll in 2023; the average Turnpike driver will go from a $1.20 toll today to a $3.00 toll in 2023. Considering how ridiculously low the tolls are today, the proposed increases over 15 years are unlikely to keep up with inflation and can hardly be considered a hardship to motorists. What’s more, the revenues raised will barely make a dent in New Jersey’s long-term needs. Three years ago, RPA estimated that an additional $2 billion per year would be needed to address critical transportation priorities. If anything, the Authority should be talking about larger toll increases over such a long timeframe.

The increases will net the NJTA enough revenue to pay off the bondholders and undertake a capital program estimated at $9.735B. The capital plan includes $5B for the widening of the Turnpike between exits 9 and 6 and $1.7B for the widening of the Parkway between exits 30 and 63. Three billion would go towards other bridge and additional capital improvements.

Significantly, the proposal would also make a $1.25B contribution to the new commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River (a project known as ARC) and a $120 million one-time contribution toward operating subsidies for NJ TRANSIT. The inclusion of this public transit component vastly increases the appeal of this proposal, even though it is less than 10% of the total package. A new tunnel under the Hudson River will double the capacity of the New Jersey train system. It will result in significantly higher real estate values in the many towns that will gain a one-seat ride into Manhattan, substantial job growth throughout northern New Jersey, and a measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The NJTA does not require Legislative approval to implement this plan. Only the Governor can deny or modify it by refusing to approve the NJTA Board’s meeting minutes. The NJTA held three public hearings last week, which it was required to do, but there is no effort to mobilize a meaningful public discussion around the merits of the plan.

Let’s be clear: the public and politicians share the blame for the state’s unwillingness to face tough choices. Spoiled by a succession of administrations and legislatures unwilling to make the case for difficult but necessary fiscal decisions, the over-indulged public wants no talk of increases in tolls, the gas tax or anything else. A recent Monmouth University/Gannett poll found that 53% of residents are against the proposed toll increases and 62% said the toll increases are more than the state needs to pay for transportation. Clearly the alarming message behind the pie and bar charts in the Governor’s geeky PowerPoint from last season did not get through. The public remains in total denial with respect to the state’s fiscal woes in general and its terribly under-funded transportation sector in particular.

With this in mind, the NJTA proposal is an expedient stop-gap measure for increasing funding for transportation. Of course the proposal does nothing to address the Transportation Trust Fund – which will run out of money at the end of FY 2010 – although it may close the door on using tolls for that purpose in the foreseeable future. The Administration’s current position is that the TTF is solvent for the next 2 years and, given the lack of support for a permanent solution for re-capitalizing it, the discussion can be postponed until after the elections. Proposals to re-capitalize the TTF through cost reductions in the state budget have lacked sufficient specificity to make them credible.

Of greater concern is that since the revenue stream is backed by highway tolls there will be considerable pressure to apply it primarily to toll road projects, whether or not these are truly justified. According to the project list released by the NJTA, 90% of the anticipated funding would be dedicated to toll road capital projects, which seem to be measured in $10 million increments (e.g., median barrier improvements: $120 million; maintenance building improvements: $100 million; etc) – truly a highway contractor’s dream come true. To put this in context, the state spends barely $30 million annually on pedestrian and bicycle projects, even though the demand from local governments alone is estimated by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign to be 10 times that. As we understand it, the NJTA’s project list is not definitive and could be changed. It probably should be.

Last year, the United Kingdom created a new national transportation policy that gave greater priority to projects based on their Return on Investment, measured in economic and environmental benefits, rather than solely where the funding came from. We should follow suit. We do not demand that all taxes on food, for example, be spent on agriculture. Our addiction to driving everywhere is subsidized well beyond what the gas tax and tolls bring in. If the goal is to promote greater mobility in the state, we should not prioritize one mode (automobiles) over all others.

The Administration is placing a Keynesian spin on these projects – priming the pump in rough economic times – but beyond the investments in maintenance, the reality is that the jury is still out on the need for the Turnpike and Parkway widening. The two Environmental Impact Statements are extremely thin when it comes to alternatives’ analyses. No effort has gone into figuring out how to better manage traffic on these facilities, through variable tolling or other mechanisms, or how to even assess the costs and benefits of these investments relative to other highway improvements or transit investments. Do we think we are going to meet the energy and global warming challenges of the 21st century with mid-20th century solutions? Not likely.


Return to index

Virginia Transit System
Will Upgrade Using Fed Grant

From The Internet

WASHINGTON, DC --- “As Americans ditch their cars for other forms of public transportation, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation announced the federal government will be helping 15 states, including Virginia, pay for local transit systems with a $30 million shared federal grant,” reported Washington’s News Channel 8 this week.

“With Virginians driving 248 million miles less from July 2007 to 2008, people are turning to rail. To address the growing demand, Virginia will receive $2 million in federal funds to match with more than $11 million in state funds to improve rail from Richmond to Washington. ‘I am a rail enthusiast so for Amtrak and the commuter rail, that is money well spent,’ said commuter Charles Karpowicz. Public transit users are pleased to hear $13 million of federal and state money will be going into rail services,” reported the station.

The money will finance new tracks that will give intercity passenger trains a way to avoid the slow-moving freight trains and also improve rail corridor between Washington and Richmond, reported Channel 8: “The corridor has some challenges to make freight and rail co-exist, but with this federal investment which will match with some state funds, we’ll be able to improve the timeliness and reliability passenger services in that very critical corridor,” said Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a former Mayor of Richmond who has long been an advocate of im provements to the Richmond-DC transportation corridor, whose I-95 highway segment, along with the infamous Washington Beltway, is among the most congested in America.

“The new third track will be built south of the Fredericksburg station in Spotsylvania County. ‘But by default, that helps commuter rail because we’re the beneficiary of those improvements and as we add the rest of that third track down to Spotsylvania it lends itself for greater commuter rail service throughout the entire region,’ said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber, in an interview with the station.


Return to index
STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)83.2998.34
Canadian National (CNI)43.8151.54
Canadian Pacific (CP)45.9356.43
CSX (CSX)47.7056.39
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)33.0138.97
Kansas City Southern (KSU)36.1747.57
Norfolk Southern (NSC)56.1769.93
Providence & Worcester (PWX)16.7317.25
Union Pacific (UNP)61.8173.27


Return to index

 

SOME RECENT BRIEFS FROM RAILWAY AGE... Some Recent briefs From RailwayAge...

From: www.Railwayage.Com

 

Toronto Metrolinx Touts “Big Move”

Massive expansion of public transit is at the core of a draft strategy previewed by Toronto’s Metrolinx, mapping out $50 billion in new projects over 25 years. “The Big Move: Transforming Transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area” sets out nearly 100 actions to build new transportation infrastructure and improve transit service. A final plan will be released later this year, with implementation to begin soon after. The Big Move details 1,150 km (713 miles) of new rapid transit lines and other measures that will more than double the number of trips taken on transit every year. Metrolinx is a Crown agency of the Province of Ontario, operating within the legislative framework of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority Act, 2006 and the provincial Growth Plan.

 

CP Purchase Of DM&E Wins STB Approval

The Surface Transportation Board has conditionally approved the Canadian Pacific’s application to acquire the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad Corp. Environmental issues remain to be resolved. STB’s decision came 13 months after CP announced that it proposed to buy DM&E for nearly $1.5 billion in cash in a deal that could approach $2.5 billion. The Board’s decision is accessible at www.stb.dot.gov by selecting “E-Library,” then “Decisions and Notices” beneath the date “9/30/08.”

 

Austin, FRA Accord On Operations, Safety Issues

Austin, Tex.’s 32-mile diesel light rail transit (DLRT) passenger line is now likely to commence revenue service next March, following an agreement between Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Federal Railroad Administration over safety issues. Capital Metro in 2006 asked FRA for a waiver for its six-car fleet, but FRA, noting Austin’s system had been originally identified as “commuter rail,” had insisted on heightened safety precautions for the system. Among other issues, FRA expressed concerns over Capital Metro’s non-FRA compliant rolling stock.

For more on this story, visit: http://www.railwayage.com/breaking_news.shtml#Feature2-10-1

 

Metro Madrid To Lease 60 Trains From CAF

Metro Madrid has awarded CAF, Spain, a contract to supply and maintain 60 trains under a 17-year leasing agreement. CAF says the contract is worth $281 million, around half the cost of purchasing the trains outright. The lease is being financed by the Community of Madrid (52%) and the city council (48%). The first trains will be delivered in 2010.

For more on this story, visit: http://www.railjournal.com/latenews.shtml#Feature5-10-1


Return to index

 

ARCOSS THE POND... Across The Pond...


Photo: J.P. RePass, NCI

Two Bombardier AGC dual-mode trainsets stand at Mont Marsan, on the regional rail line from Bordeaux. The high speed commuter trains can run on diesel or under catenary wires, allowing a one-seat ride between major cities on the electrified French main lines, and smaller cities that were previously not as well served. More next week on Europe’s rail system, as seen from an American perspective.


Return to index
COMMENTARY... Commentary...

New Jersey Transit’s ‘T.H.E. Tunnel’
Project: The Game Is Different Now

By: David Peter Alan
Contributor, Destination:Freedom

[ This is the second article in a series by David Peter Alan about the long and complex history of a regional tunnel project that will impact development, and life, in the nation’s most densely populated area. We dedicate this space to it because its outcome is so important to that future. - Editor. ]

 

The economic and political landscape of America appear to be changing more quickly now than at any time in the past generation, or three generations, depending on whom you ask. The same is true of the political, economic and technical constraints surrounding New Jersey Transit’s “Trans-Hudson Express” (“T.H.E.”) Tunnel, a mega-project that would build an eight-mile stretch of railroad which would take riders to a new terminal far below Midtown Manhattan.

The project, originally known as “Access to the Region’s Core” and still called “ARC” by both transit managers and advocates for the riding public, was originally devised to bring New Jersey’s rail riders to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan via a track connection between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal. NJT discarded the idea of access to the East Side in 2003, claiming that the Pataki administration did not want the rail line from New Jersey extending further into New York State.

Today, New York has a new governor, New York and New Jersey both have new financial worries, the project has been reduced in scope several times without a reduction in cost, and the prospects for eventual completion of the project as currently devised do not look nearly as rosy for NJT as they did even a few months ago. New voices, including Amtrak President Alexander Kummant and Federal Transit Administrator James Simpson, have raised concerns about the utility of the current project, as well. In short, the political and economic terrain surrounding the proposed tunnel and deep-cavern, stub-end terminal is vastly different than it was even six months ago.

One of the major agents of change is New York’s new governor, David Paterson. He comes from Manhattan, so it is safe to conjecture that access to the city’s core is a key issue for him. His predecessor, George Pataki, came from Peekskill, on Metro North’s Upper Hudson Line. His priority was East Side access for similar suburban riders on the Long Island Rail Road. That project is now under construction, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is having trouble figuring out how to pay for it.

Just last month, Paterson endorsed the concept of the proposed Moynihan Station as a major rail hub for Midtown Manhattan, calling for emphasis on improved rail transportation, rather than merely architecture. The proposed station would occupy a portion of the Farley Post Office building, located at Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33d Streets, across the street from the existing Penn Station and using the same tracks. It would be named after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late New York Senator who strongly backed improved transit. Political and funding issues have plagued the project, but Paterson appears to have given it a new lease on life. Not to be outdone, Amtrak has proposed a new tunnel into the existing Penn Station that would run south of the existing NEC Line tunnel, on an alignment between 30th and 31st Streets. This is approximately where the new tracks would have been placed under the discarded Alternative “G” for ARC. The proposed new Amtrak tunnel would expand capacity into the existing Penn Station and could be used by NJT trains if Alternative “G” was still part of the plan. But NJT has a completely different concept: Their present ARC plan is to have a different tunnel which does NOT have access to Penn Station (as previously described) but would divert trains away from Swift Interlocking, a junction on the New Jersey side which has major congestion problems.

New York’s economy is changing, too. With Wall Street in turmoil, nobody knows how many jobs the financial sector will be able to support in years to come. This makes it difficult to estimate with certainty how much rail capacity into Midtown will actually be needed in the future. In addition, new harsh financial realities are taking center stage at the MTA. The East Side Access project for the LIRR is proceeding, although its costs are growing fast. Also, the MTA remains committed, at least publicly, to building the Second Avenue Subway. Yet, that project has recently had its fourth ground-breaking since it was planned in the 1920s. It could eventually be built, it could be shelved again for lack of funds, or it could end up as a “stub” line going only between 63d and 96th Streets. At this point, its future is anybody’s guess. The same can be said of other capital projects of smaller scale that remain on the MTA’s plate. Some smaller projects have been deferred, leading to uncertainty about the larger ones. One thing is certain: the FTA will not have enough money available to fund every project the MTA wants to build. The MTA’s own capital budget for the next five years is under-funded to the tune of $15 billion, according to the New York State comptroller. Using available infrastructure to the greatest extent possible may be a necessity for new transit projects, if only for the sake of keeping costs within reasonable bounds.

New Jersey’s financial problems seem to top New York’s. Gov. Jon Corzine has announced deep cuts in many departments of state government. The ax has fallen at NJT and on the Garden State’s rail riders, as well. NJT is offering buyouts to encourage managers to retire early, reducing the size of the management force. Riders on the Morris & Essex Line have seen weekday off-peak service essentially cut in half. Other rail lines have also seen service reductions, and rumors of further cuts persist. Some light rail and bus service has also been eliminated. NJT managers claim that operating costs are too high to continue to provide the service we had this past April, mainly due to higher fuel prices.

There is a companion project to replace the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. The current bridge, a swing bridge built in 1910, would be replaced with two fixed spans set higher above the water, and with the longer approaches that would be required to reach the new bridge heights. The “ARC” project as currently devised could not be built and operated without replacing Portal Bridge, but the $1.7 billion price tag for the Portal Bridge project is not included in the cost figures for the “ARC” project. The application for Portal Bridge funding is under the authority of the Federal Railroad Administration, not the FTA.

In the meantime, “ARC” tunnel and deep-cavern terminal project costs keep escalating. The project has been scaled back several times since it was slated to bring New Jersey riders to the East Side. Now, the plan does not call for any extension (even tail tracks) beyond the stub-end terminal planned for a location far below 34th Street. Under the current plan, access to the East Side is effectively precluded, once and for all. Still, the costs keep going up. Manhattan rail advocates estimate that the cost of the project under the “ARC” funding application to the FTA, plus the cost of the Portal Bridge replacement project which is needed to support it, is now $9.3 billion. Even if the FTA should cover $3 billion of the cost under a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were to contribute an additional $3 billion, New Jersey would still need to raise $3.3 billion to cover the State’s share of the costs of both projects. The Portal Bridge project is segmented from the tunnel project in presentations to funding agencies and to the public, but NJT acknowledges that the “ARC” tunnel project could not be operated without replacing the existing Portal Bridge.

Gov. Corzine is attempting to raise New Jersey’s share of the required funds, but it is difficult to see how his initiative can succeed. He has proposed raising tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, with $1.25 billion of the projected new revenue diverted to help pay for the new tunnel and deep-cavern terminal. The governor claims that this will completely fund the “ARC” project, but we are concerned that his numbers do not add up. He also does not identify any potential source of dollars for the Portal Bridge project. While the principle of using highway toll and gasoline-tax revenue to help pay for transit is a good one, using such funds to pay for an overly expensive project at a time when NJT is cutting service makes no sense. Many legislators do not even endorse the principle of using highway tolls for anything except widening or improving that particular highway. Republicans in the Legislature have objected strenuously to the governor’s proposal, possibly in preparation for the elections that will take place next year. In any event, even if the governor’s plan were implemented, the money raised by it would fall far short of the contribution the state would need to make. New Jersey would be required to contribute at least some portion of the $1.7 billion cost of replacing Portal Bridge. The governor’s initiative is only slated to raise $1.25 billion for the “ARC” project, so New Jersey faces the challenge of another $1.7 billion still to be raised. At this time, nobody seems to know how that can be accomplished.

There are changes at the Federal level, as well. Amtrak has officially objected to the fact that the NJT proposal would build a line that could not go to the existing Penn Station, thereby precluding Amtrak from having access to Penn Station through the new tunnels. The proposed project would also eliminate convenient connections between Amtrak trains and NJT trains that would use the new terminal far below 34th Street. The new NJT-only line would divert from the Amtrak NEC Line at Swift Interlocking, a junction eight miles to the west. The FRA has also expressed concern about the lack of connectivity in Manhattan between the proposed line and the existing Amtrak line. Amtrak has proposed building two new tunnels into the existing Penn Station, which would make more effective use of existing infrastructure than the current NJT proposal would. In addition, FTA Administrator Simpson has publicly raised concerns that the proposed NJT line will not go to the East Side, even though Long Island and Connecticut riders are slated to eventually have service to both the East and West sides.

Legally, a court that retains jurisdiction over a case can reconsider the facts of that case, when circumstances have changed. Circumstances surrounding the proposed NJT project have changed in many ways, and the continuing jurisdiction of the FTA over funding for it could result in significant changes to the project. The rail advocates of the region continue to push for changes that will benefit the region’s rail riders. We, the advocates for the riders, continue to call for any new tunnel that NJT might build to go to the existing Penn Station, so riders could connect with Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and other NJT lines. The proposed deep-cavern terminal would be eliminated, so this change alone would save $2 billion. We also call for the construction of a two-track connection between the existing Penn Station and the existing Grand Central Terminal.

Under our proposal, New Jersey riders would gain access to the East Side and keep their current access to the West Side, while the cost of the project would be significantly reduced.

Our advocacy efforts track the circumstances surrounding the project, especially as far as geography is concerned. The efforts of rail advocates toward securing changes in the project that will benefit riders also began separately in New Jersey and New York, and now circumstances have brought us together. Just as Amtrak and Washington are now weighing in on the project, rail advocates at the national level are also contributing their support.

Advocates from New Jersey, New York and the national scene have formed an alliance in an effort to replace the currently-proposed project with a better one, and this alliance is the subject of the next article in the series.


Return to index
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.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

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 editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, intermodalism, transportation-oriented development, and current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending large images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size. Descriptive text which includes location and something about the content of the image is required. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your web site or e-mail address.

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.

|| Top of Page || Past Newsletter Editions || NCI Home Page || Contact Us

  || page viewings since date of release.