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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October 13, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 43

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
Warning To DOT Contractors: Fraudulent Letters
  Commuter Lines…
Shuttle Service Hit By Downdraft
Freight And Commuter Rail Trains Could Co-Exist
   In North Carolina Corridor, NCRR Says
  Safety Lines…
Four Class I’s Unveil PTC Interoperability Plans
  Amtrak News…
Amtrak Announces Record Annual Ridership
Amtrak No Longer Skunk At The Party
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Financial Lines…
MBTA Hopes To Raise $350 Million With Sale Of Bonds
  Across The Pond…
Deutsche Bahn IPO Delayed
2009 Start For Trans Eurasia Express
China To Build New Rail Link Towards Southeast Asia
National Transportation Leaders Gather For
   Major Southern Rail Conference
Future Mobility of The Commonwealth
The Advocates Unite To Fight Back
  Publication Notes …

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

Warning To DOT Contractors:
Fraudulent Letters

Attention All DOT Current Or Potential Contractors And All Contracting Personnel


There has been another round of fraudulent letters issued to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) contractors and potential contractors purporting to be issued by DOT.  These fraudulent letters request that current or potential contractors register by submitting their company’s financial information on a release form entitled, “Authorization to release financial information.”  Please be aware that DOT does not require any financial information to be submitted in order to be eligible for procurement.

Following is a list of fraudulent letters which have been faxed out to current or potential contractors:

  • December 29, 2005, signed by “Frank M. Orell”
  • February 8, 2006, signed by “Randy Cohen”
  • April 27, 2006, signed by “Dan Jacobs”
  • July 28, 2006, signed by “Dan Jacobs”
  • November 8, 2006, signed by “Lisa Johnson”
  • February 26, 2007, signed by “Lisa Johnson”
  • March 26, 2007, signed by “Jason Scarlett”
  • May 10, 2007, signed by “Jason Scarlett”
  • July 11, 12, and 20, 2007, signed by “George Mason”
  • August 27 and 28, 2007, signed by “Julie P. Wenzel”
  • September 10, 2007, signed by “Julie P. Wenzel”
  • October 12, 2007, signed by “Julie P. Wenzel”
  • October 21, 2007, signed by “Julie P. Wenzel”
  • January 28, 2008, signed by “Julie P. Weynel”
  • February 7, March 3, March 31, 2008, signed by “Bradley K. Wash”
  • April 1, 2008, signed by “Bradley K. Wash”
  • April 28, 2008, signed by “Bradley K. Wash”
  • June 3, 2008, signed by “Robert Dal”
  • June 4, 2008, signed by “James Buchanan”
  • September 5, 2008, signed by “David Jacobson”

All letters were signed as the Senior Procurement Officer.

Please DO NOT complete the release form which is attached to the letter and DO NOT release any information to the facsimile number cited in the letter.

See this Adobe PDF file ( for an example of the letters being sent out to contracting personnel.

The point of contact concerning these fraudulent letters is the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-424-9071.

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

Shuttle Service Hit By Downdraft

Wall Street Troubles Affecting Boston To New York Route

From The Internet

OCTOBER 10 -- While rail and transit services are experiencing a surge in ridership across the nation because of high gas prices, the Wall Street turmoil threatens to erode the critical New York-to-Boston air shuttle service, which had a 17 percent drop in passengers in the first half of this year as companies scaled back travel budgets and road warriors increasingly chose trains and buses over planes, reported Nicole Wong in a story for the Boston Globe.

For many years, business travelers have enjoyed the convenience of hourly air service by Delta Air Lines and US Airways between Logan International Airport and LaGuardia, the route that carries the most business customers in the country. But now, faced with competition from American airlines and JetBlue Airways, which fly the same route but less frequently, plus the problem of reduced demand, Delta and US Airways may be forced to make cuts in service.

During the first six months of this year, US Airways and Delta carried 90,663 fewer passengers - a 17 percent decline - along the route than they did during the same period last year, according to OAG. That left planes along the route only 36 to 54 percent full each month between January and June, compared with 40 to 62 percent during the same period in 2007. In total, the volume of passengers flying between Logan and LaGuardia has dropped 44 percent since 2000.

“The airlines, of course, don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dan Kasper, managing director of LECG, a Cambridge consulting firm that has studied the shuttle service.

“New York and Boston are battleground cities,” said David Beckerman, a vice president with OAG, a Chicago-based company that provides aviation data and analytical services.

Another reason for the cuts is the competition from low-fare buses, such as Megabus and BoltBus and Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train.

In the shuttle’s days of glory, demand was so high the airlines provided immediate back-up service with another plane if one shuttle was sold out.

Despite the decline, the airlines are not expected to abandon the route, observers say. Business travelers are still so dependent on the flights that even offering a few runs a day can help nail down corporate contracts.

US Airways has not cut any of its 16 round-trip flights, and Delta has cut only one of theirs. American, which offers eight round-trips, had planned to eliminate the route but has reversed that decision and will start running six daily round-trips starting November 2.

“It’s extremely important for us to make sure we offer the best product and stay ahead of the competition,” said Charlie Schewe, American Airlines’ Northeast regional sales director.

Airlines around the country had already started making seat-capacity cuts to combat record fuel costs and the economic downturn, as well as eliminating some long-distance flights, such as Delta’s Boston-Los Angeles flight. Also, there is trend toward switching to smaller planes. Planes that carry 124 to 150 people will be replaced in many shuttle services by regional jets that carry 70 to 100 passengers.

Then there’s the issue of comfort when comparing planes to trains. Cameron Purdy, a software company executive in Burlington, VT, who travels to New York about twice a month, says he travels by plane half the time and train for the rest.

“If I have to stay late and I want to still be back at a reasonable time, I’ll fly,” Purdy said, adding he doesn’t have to deal with security, can talk on his cell phone, and stretch out on the train. “One is slightly faster, and the other is a lot more pleasant.”

[ Editor’s note: transportation experts now say that with air lanes so crowded because of all the short flights, any trip of 500 miles or less should be served by high-speed train. Unfortunately, we do not have that opportunity yet in America. ]

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Freight And Commuter Rail Trains Could Co-Exist
In North Carolina Corridor, NCRR Says

From Progressive Railroading On The Internet

Rush-hour commuter trains could operate along a 141-mile Greensboro-to-Goldsboro, N.C., freight-rail line, according to results from a study recently conducted for the North Carolina Railroad Co. (NCRR).

Conducted by HNTB Corp. as part of NCRR’s Vision 2030 planning process, the study also examined set-up costs for a potential commuter-rail service. Infrastructure costs to build new tracks, sidings and bridges would cost $650 million, and equipment and support facilities would cost about $350 million.

The railroad still needs to determine ridership projections and operating costs.

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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...

Four Class I’s Unveil PTC Interoperability Plans

From Railway Age on the Internet

Four major Class I freight railroads confirmed their agreement to establish interoperability standards for Positive Train Control. CSX Transportation Thursday officially joined with three other major U.S. railroads, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific, in establishing a national framework for consistent PTC technology and communication infrastructure across their respective networks.

Congress on Oct. 1 passed The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, requiring all Class I railroads and passenger railroads to implement a PTC system by Dec. 31, 2015, on all main line track where intercity passenger railroads and commuter railroads operate, as well as on lines carrying toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials.

For more on this story, visit:

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AMTRAK NEWS... Amtrak News...

Amtrak Announces Record Annual Ridership


WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 10 -- Through the Associated Press, Amtrak announced it has set another ridership record, with 28.7 million people taking its trains last year.

That’s an 11% increase over the 25.8 million passengers that the national passenger railroad carried in fiscal year 2007.

Total ticket revenue for the year that ended Sept. 30 reached $1.7 billion, a 14% increase over the $1.5 billion taken in the previous year.

Amtrak’s ridership and revenue growth has been posted over a six year period and has recently benefited from high gas and airline prices.

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Amtrak No Longer Skunk At The Party

DF Staff From Gannett News Service On The Internet

WASHINGTON, OCT 9 -- For decades treated like an underdog that political leaders wish would pack up and go away, Amtrak is finally enjoying greater support from Congress and rising public popularity now that trains are seen as a viable alternative to driving and paying high gas prices.

Last week, Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation, known as the Lautenberg bill, (see DF October 6) -- which Bush plans to sign -- that would give the railroad more money and strengthen rail safety programs in the wake of a fatal California commuter train crash on Sept. 12.

“It’s a perfect, favorable storm,” said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. “Washington has a hard time getting the message that it’s not about highways and aviation. The public is kind of helping them get it in terms of what they’re doing, which is they’re driving less and they’re using mass transit more.”

In September, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced new grants to help states expand rail service between cities within 400 miles of each other, noting the significant rise in transit ridership in July (11 percent compared with the same month in 2007) and the reduction of 9.6 billion vehicle miles traveled by Americans during the same time period.

The grants were approved despite (or perhaps because of, Editor) the fact that the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money.

Alan Pisarski, a transportation consultant, said federal lawmakers want to show voters they’re working to satisfy higher demand for rail and transit.

“Congress has the sense that they need to respond in ways that look innovative to the energy crisis,” Pisarski said. That includes “a hard look at Amtrak and its potential,” he said.

Members of Congress who would not otherwise have voted for the Lautenberg bill felt pressured to support it because it was combined with the railroad safety bill, which contains measures to avoid accidents like the one in California. A mechanism called Positive Train Control would override a human error (the engineer was on his cell phone and failed to see the red alert STOP signal) and cause the train to stop automatically when it detects another train on the same track.

Obama voted for it. His running mate Sen. Joe Biden, who takes the rail service home to Wilmington, Del., every day, also voted yes.

Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, one of Amtrak’s most consistent critics, voted against the bill.

The bill passed by voice vote in the House in September, but Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said more than 300 lawmakers would have supported the bill in a roll call vote.

The legislation would provide a steady stream of funding for the rail service over five years, meaning Amtrak would not have to engage in its annual fight for funding as it has since 2002, said Jim RePass, president of The National Corridors Initiative Inc., a Boston-based rail advocacy group.

“It gives them some continuity and the ability to plan it has never had,” he said.

RePass said Amtrak’s advocates have been fighting since 1971 to get this kind of support.

“It’s wonderful to be an overnight success after . . . years of work,” he said.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush plans to sign the bill because he supports the rail-safety provisions.

Bush and some Republicans have long criticized Amtrak as bloated and inefficient and have demanded it wean itself off public subsidies.

But supporters like Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., argue no railroad in the world makes a profit and rail deserves federal funding because it helps reduce global warming and relieve traffic congestion.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)80.1683.29
Canadian National (CNI)40.1643.81
Canadian Pacific (CP)40.5145.93
CSX (CSX)43.3147.70
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)25.7733.01
Kansas City Southern (KSU)28.6736.17
Norfolk Southern (NSC)52.0556.17
Providence & Worcester (PWX)15.2516.73
Union Pacific (UNP)58.0061.81

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FINANCIAL LINES... Financial Lines...

MBTA Hopes To Raise $350 Million With Sale Of Bonds

State House News Service

BOSTON, OCTOBER 10 -- The MBTA is looking to the investment world in hopes of raising funds to help pay off short-term debt, fund its capital program, and replenish its debt service reserves, according to a story by Jim O’Sullivan.

The plan is to have investors buy $350 million in bonds. If they can’t find an investor soon while credit markets are just showing signs of stabilizing, they will wait and try again.

“I don’t want to enter a market that’s a high-interest rate environment if there’s some expectation that that would be lower in the next three to six weeks,” said Jonathan Davis, the agency’s chief financial officer.

About $202 million raised from the bond sale would fund part of the capital program for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Another $100 million would allow the T to pay off short-term commercial paper debts, and $37 million would go toward the account from which the agency pays down its debt.

The remainder would pay for the cost of issuing the bonds, Davis said.

The T carries more than $8 billion in debt, but has a strong bond rating.

Davis is unsure about the possibility of securing a favorable interest rate.

The T’s agreements, which had been with Lehman Brothers were moved to Deutsche Bank after the Lehman bankruptcy. The move was made at no cost to the Authority, Davis said.

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

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent


Deutsche Bahn IPO Delayed

Worldwide Financial Chaos Places DBAG’s Stock Market Debut On Ice

Source: Haz / dpa

FRANKFURT - The initial public offering for the partial privatization of DB Mobility Logistics AG, which was planned for 27th October, has been postponed as a result of the turmoil in the global financial markets, which may have lowered the potential value of the shares. DB Mobility Logistics AG is the portion of the Deutsche Bahn AG (DBAG), which shall be partially privatized. Deutsche Bahn’s track network, electrification, infrastructure and real estate operations are excluded from the IPO by the recently enacted German DB privatization law and therefore will remain completely under state ownership. Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück and DB Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn announced the decision in Berlin on the 9th October , but said that no new date would be set until the market environment improved sufficiently to ensure a successful public offering.

Under the timetable agreed at the end of September, a consortium of banks appointed by DBAG to float a 24·9% stake in the operating business DB Mobility Logistics had been due to start the formal filing process for the IPO on the 13th October, and fix the offer price on the 17th October, in order for the shares to start trading on the Frankfurt stock exchange 10 days later.

Photo: David Beale, NCI

Not For Sale The Deutsche Bahn subsidiary, which holds or owns numerous buildings such as this passenger rail station in Kreiensen (south of Hannover), is not involved in the proposed stock market offering of DB Mobility Logistics AG.

DB chief Mehdorn pointed out that there had been extremely high volatility and uncertainty in the capital markets, in particular since the beginning of this week, so he had agreed with the federal owners to adapt the schedule of the IPO. DBAG’s Director of Finance, Diethelm Sack said: “the company will watch the state of the market carefully, and remain ready to act at short notice,” adding “in the meantime we will continue the dialogue with potential investors.”

FDP political party spokesman in the lower house of the German Parliament, Horst Friedrich, welcomed the postponement, stating “on this point the ruling and opposition parties are united.”

“With the need to achieve the sale proceeds of EUR 5 billion to EUR 8 billion (US $7 to $11 billion) which were the basis of the political decision, it was appropriate to wait for a better market environment,” Mr. Friedrich added.

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2009 Start For Trans Eurasia Express

Alternative To Ocean Freight Transport From Deutsche Bahn

Source: DBAG Press Release

HAMBURG – While welcoming the arrival in Hamburg of a container train from China on the 6th October, Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) Chairman Harmut Mehdorn confirmed that the company’s DB Schenker subsidiary planned to launch a regular scheduled service after Chinese new year in February 2009. Operating under the brand name “Trans-Eurasia Express,” the dedicated container trains will initially operate twice a week in each direction, with a target journey time of 20 days. The latest test run, carrying products for Fujitsu Siemens Computers took 17 days for the 10 000 km (6200 mile) journey from Xiangtang to the north-German port city.

“Our persistence in pursuing this project is now paying off,” said Mehdorn. “Thanks to our co-operation with five other railways, including the Chinese and Russian railways, we are now able to open up an attractive and reliable new trade route for our customers between the markets in China and Central Europe. We are thereby offering an attractive alternative to slower ocean freight and significantly more expensive air freight.”

Speaking in Hamburg, DB Mobility Logistics AG Director of Transport & Logistics, Dr Norbert Bensel, said that DB Schenker had strengthened its technology leadership at international level. “With the introduction of the regular timetable and fixed departure times, this new link in our global network will enable us to offer a new level of quality in the transcontinental exchange of goods,” he explained.

Photo: Deutsche Bahn AG

If it’s Monday, this must be Hamburg. The Eurasia Express arrives at it’s final destination in Germany’s second largest city and largest sea port after two weeks underway from China. However the DB 152 series locomotive was in front only for the last part of the trip from the Polish border to Hamburg, due to two changes in track gage (from standard gage in China, to Russian broad gage and back to standard gage upon entry into Poland) and several changes in electrification voltage enroute.

Operating across the Eurasian landbridge, the container trains will initially link Shanghai and Beijing with Hamburg, Nuernberg and Duisburg. Space on the trains will be marketed by DB Schenker’s existing business units. Bensel stated “companies in the automotive industry, the chemical industry, manufacturers of household goods, and from the engineering and paper industries have already expressed interest in using the service.”

DB is attempting to maintain a leadership position in the European – Asian freight market through its partnership with Russian Railways, Polish Railways, Belurussian Railways and Chinese Railways. Challengers include a proposed southern rail corridor, sometimes called the ‘Silk Route’ from southeastern Europe via Turkey to Central Asia and China as well as to Iran, Pakistan and India. Although much of the Silk route rail corridor exists as separate rail lines in various countries, other rail links need to make the route complete have yet to be built or even planned. A multi-lane limited access toll highway, similar to an American interstate highway, linking the Ukraine and Turkey to central Asia, China and Southeast Asia is also planned for the long term.

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China To Build New Rail Link Towards Southeast Asia

Rail Line Will Help Fulfill Goal Of A Trans-Asia Rail Corridor

Source: dpa

The government of the Chinese province of Yunnan and the Chinese Railway Ministry have reportedly agreed to invest RMB 20 billion (US $3 billion) in the construction of the northern section of the Singapore-Kunming meter-gage rail corridor. In Kunming in southern China the meter-gauge network meets the rest of the mostly standard gage (1435 mm) Chinese rail network.

The meter gauge network in Southeast Asia stretches from Bangladesh and parts of eastern India to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. A possible rail bridge / undersea tunnel from Singapore to the Island of Sumatra could partially link Indonesia’s meter gauge rail system to continental Asia, although there is no active project at the moment to construct such a link.

A feasibility study into the 600 km (400 mile) Yuxi-Mohan line will be completed within the next two months. Yunnan province will provide 70% of the funding, with the remainder coming from the Chinese Railway Ministry. Separately the Railway Ministry announced several projects to add additional rail lines into Tibet, now that the new rail line to Tibet’s capitol Lhasa has been fully operational for approximately two years.

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EVENTS... Events...

In Meridian, MS


National Transportation Leaders Gather
For Major Southern Rail Conference

By DF Staff

MERIDIAN, MS --- A major regional conference on the future of rail transportation in the Gulf South drew national-level transportation leaders and about 100 regional elected and appointed officials, as well as representatives of the rail industry, for an intensive day-long session at the Meridian, MS, transportation center Friday October 10.

Called together by former Southern High Speed Rail Commission Chairman and Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and sponsored by the Commission and by the National Corridors Initiative, the conference was addressed by States for Passenger Rail Chairman and Wisconsin DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi, former Amtrak Vice Chair and Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis, Amtrak President Alex Kummant, Louisiana Transportation Secretary Dr. William Ankner, Reconnecting America CEO Shirley Poticha, KCS Executive Vice President Warren Erdman, and a number of senior transportation leaders from the region

A former union President, Secretary Busalacchi plays a leading role in national passenger rail issues. He chairs the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, an alliance of state DOTs calling for expanded federal support of intercity passenger rail, and served as a key member of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. The commission studied the current condition of the surface transportation system, identified future needs and developed financing recommendations, and in January of this year called for a massive re-investment in America’s infrastructure.

Secretary Busalacchi reminded the attendees, meeting at city’s new transportation center that has sparked over $130 million in downtown investment since its completion by Mayor John Robert Smith 10 years ago, that the recent Amtrak $13 billion, five-year reauthorization victory was only a start, and that the appropriations process next year will determine whether Amtrak succeeds; he noted that appropriations fell far short of authorizations in the last Amtrak multi-year funding cycle.

He urged the Gulf States attendees to organize their leadership in Congress and show that they are “serious, and ready” to move on rail transportation projects in the region. Rail needs “$6 billion a year, not $3,” said Busalacchi, noting that competition for rail project dollars will be intense. Secretary Busalacchi, who has emerged as one of the nation’s top transportation experts, in the blunt and dynamic mold of former Wisconsin Governor and Amtrak Chair Tommy Thompson, appeared at the conference at the request of the National Corridors Initiative.

Secretary Busalacchi’s theme was echoed by former Massachusetts Governor and Amtrak Vice Chair Michael Dukakis, who flew to and from the conference host city at the request of the National Corridors Initiative. Dukakis, who teaches at Northeastern and at UCLA and does not allow any interference with his college work during the school year, was luncheon speaker on Friday and was able to appear without missing any of the classes he teaches. Unlike many former Presidents and Presidential candidates who serve on corporate boards or who run their own foundations, Dukakis has chosen to be a college professor, and takes that role very seriously.

Noting that some years ago a Southern Congressman complained to him that the Northeastern U.S. seemed to be “getting all the Amtrak money”, Dukakis observed, “That’s true, but we worked at it. You folks need to do that too. And let me tell you something: when you do, you will have an ally in me.”

He noted that throughout his service on the Amtrak Board he was appointed by President William Clinton in 1997 and served for a time as Chairman, but became Vice Chair, stepping aside from the Chairman’s role in favor of Republican John Robert Smith under the Presidency of George W. Bush that began in 2001 --- there was completely bipartisan working relationship; the Board “accomplished a great deal” by working together, including the recruiting of former New York City MTA and Toronto Metro executive David Gunn as President, who is widely credited as preventing the bankruptcy of the company in 2002.

Alex Kummant, who became Amtrak President when the legendary Gunn was fired in 2005 for refusing to dismantle Amtrak on the orders of the Bush Office of Management and Budget (which for nearly eight years has attempted to micro-manage Amtrak through its counsel’s office at the U.S. DOT), remarked on the “explosive growth” of Amtrak ridership in the past few years, especially in the 100-400 mile corridors.

If the Southern states want to develop corridor service, Amtrak will need equipment and operating funds to do that, he noted. He added that the mayors of the mid-size cities were often the best advocates for service, citing his experience in Illinois with the introduction of new service in that state.

Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator Mark Yachmetz, one of the nation’s longest-serving government rail professionals who began work in 1978, told the assembled leadership that he sensed that America was, after decades of struggle, at a “tipping point” on rail, and that it should be the job of those in the audience to “get up and push!”

A $30 million Federal program for state rail service last year was vastly oversubscribed, but the program should have between $60-$100 million in FY 2009, he said, making funds more available for the kind of projects that the Southern High Speed Rail Commission has sought, with sporadic success, since it’s founding in 1983. Getting state rail plans in order should be a high priority, noted Yachmetz.

[ More next week on this important conference- The Editors ]

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Our Transportation Future and Move Massachusetts
Cordially invite you to a panel discussion

Future Mobility of The Commonwealth
Financing Transportation in Turbulent Times

An examination and discussion of transportation finance in Massachusetts

Moderated by Tom Palmer
November 12, 2008
5:30 PM reception, program begins at 6:00 PM

Generously hosted by
Edward Angell Palmers Dodge
111 Huntington Ave, Boston

Space is limited, RSVP required for building admittance.
RSVP to: or phone 617-527-4337


Current panelists include:
  • Senator Steven Baddour, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
  • Representative Joseph Wagner, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
  • Secretary Bernard Cohen, Executive Office of Transportation.
  • Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem.
  • Marc Drasen, Executive Director of MARC.

Sponsorship by numerous corporate sponsors and
“A Better City”
33 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...

New Jersey Transit’s “Trans-Hudson-Express” Tunnel:


The Advocates Unite To Fight Back

Third In A Series

By: David Peter Alan

Slightly more than one year ago, on August 24, 2007, rail advocates made history. Representatives of rail advocacy organizations from New Jersey and New York met at this writer’s home and formed an alliance to campaign for the original ARC plan to build a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel from New Jersey to Penn Station and a track connection to extend the line to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan, and against the current proposal advanced by New Jersey Transit. The current NJT plan, released in June, 2007, would end the line in a terminal far below 34th Street with no connection to the existing Penn Station and no reasonable likelihood of being extended to the East Side. (See DF September 29, 2008.)

New Jersey attendees represented the Lackawanna Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), while attendees from New York represented the Empire State Passengers’ Association (ESPA) and the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG), a New York-based umbrella organization, of which the other three organizations are members. In the intervening year, the alliance has gained recognition on the rail scene across the nation, and national organizations have added their support for the alliance’s position. While individual organizations (such as the Lackawanna Coalition) had objected to the new proposals from the start, opposition coalesced and the history-making alliance was organized in 2007.

Commuter rail today is often an intra-state matter. Transit agencies are formed along state lines, and they are concerned almost exclusively with transporting their customers within the state. State governments also fund the capital and operating budgets of their transit providers. This model holds for all the states that have major commuter rail operations: Massachusetts, New York (Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road are both components of the State’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority), New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois all use it. So do other states like Maryland, which operate smaller commuter rail systems.

Sometimes commuters and other rail riders cross state lines on the train, and many do so using local rail transit rather than commuter rail. PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) runs between New York and New Jersey, providing thousands of riders with a connection to or from NJT trains. PATCO (Port Authority Transit Corporation) carries riders between Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. A bi-state agency operates MetroLink, a light rail line between St. Louis and southern Illinois. A few riders on commuter rail cross a state line, but few do so outside the New York area. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore Line, takes riders from Indiana points to Chicago. Philadelphia’s SEPTA reaches just into New Jersey (Trenton) and Delaware (Wilmington), while Chicago’s Metra operates a few trains to Kenosha, Wisconsin.

If single-state transit providers are the rule, the New York metropolitan area is the exception that proves the rule. Only one truly bi-state agency operates commuter trains. Metro-North’s New Haven Line is operated in cooperation with New York’s MTA and the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Metro-North could even be considered a tri-state agency, since it has jurisdiction over points on New Jersey Transit’s Main/Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines that are located in the State of New York. Trains on these lines originate in Hoboken and pass through New Jersey on the way to communities in the Empire State. Riders between New York (and intermediate points) and the Philadelphia area can also use NJT and SEPTA trains, with a change at Trenton. The alternatives for New York-Philadelphia travel are a bus or Amtrak (at a significantly higher fare). Many more rail riders go to New York City, however.

New Jersey Transit is unique among transit agencies, since many of its rail riders use the train to go out of state, into New York City. Whether advocates for the riders like it or not, NJT concentrates a great deal of its resources on rail capacity to bring riders to Midtown Manhattan, especially during peak commuting hours. In order to improve capacity, NJT has proposed building the new tunnel into Manhattan discussed above with a terminal that will leave riders 175 feet (almost 20 stories) below the street and not connect to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line. The current plan also fails to provide service for New Jersey rail riders to the East Side of Midtown.

When NJT originally proposed new tunnels into Manhattan as part of its Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) proposal in 1995, the organizations that now form our alliance were ecstatic. NJT had proposed increasing capacity into Penn Station, where riders could have easy connections with Amtrak, the LIRR and other NJT lines. It appeared at the time that a new era of cooperation between New York and New Jersey was beginning, and that cooperation between NJT and the MTA could even benefit riders as far away as Connecticut. The plan we preferred was called “Alternative G” and proposed a track connection, so New Jersey riders could go to Grand Central Terminal. We were to have new access to the East Side without losing our access to the West Side. At the time, there were two other proposals that would not have included East Side access, but we expected those to be rejected, since they did not provide access to a new destination in Midtown and Alternative “G” did.

We were shocked to learn in June, 2003 that “Alternative G” was off the table. There were unofficial reports that New York’s then-governor George Pataki did not want a rail line from New Jersey extending farther into New York State. Still, we were deeply dismayed at this news, which came as a surprise. After September 11, 2001, elected leaders on both sides of the Hudson came to appreciate the importance of trans-Hudson transportation. Because of this, we hardly expected New York to end its cooperation with New Jersey so suddenly.

In the ensuing years, the project changed several times, each time delivering less to New Jersey’s rail riders and less of a mobility network for Midtown. The proposed terminal was to be buried even deeper below the street than was originally proposed, increasing the time needed to reach the street or connect with other trains at the existing Penn Station. The increased depth of the proposed line also precluded access to the East Side, because the line would lie so near New York City’s water tunnel that the water tunnel would be, literally, an immovable obstacle. This change was only officially announced on October 6, 2008. While NJT claims that eastward expansion (at least for tail tracks) might be possible after 2013, there is no guarantee that such expansion will ever actually happen.

The “ARC” project also took on a companion project, the Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project, which called for the replacement of the existing Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, with two spans significantly higher above the water line than the height of the existing bridge. One would be a fixed span, lying fifty feet above the water line. The other would be a lift bridge, forty feet above the water. The project also calls for long approach tracks needed to bring trains to the higher elevations of the proposed new bridges. NJT never proposed building a single new bridge, while retaining the existing swing bridge - an option that would have saved a considerable amount of money. Although NJT treats Portal Bridge as a completely separate project, the new proposed tunnel and deep-cavern terminal cannot be constructed or operated without it under the current plan. The plans proposed before 2007 would have been operable with the existing Portal Bridge. The cost of the tunnel and terminal project, now estimated at $7.6 billion, is augmented by the $1.7 billion that will be needed to replace Portal Bridge with the two planned spans. Nobody seems to know how New Jersey can raise the cost of the Portal Bridge project.

The last straw was the proposed operating plan for the line to be built, which was only disclosed in documents concerning the Portal Bridge project, and not as part of the project-in-chief. The operating plan called for all trains on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines to be diverted from the existing Penn Station to the new deep-cavern terminal upon completion of the project, now slated for the year 2017. This meant that M&E and Montclair-Boonton Line riders would lose existing convenient connections with other NJT lines, Amtrak and the LIRR. To make matters worse, riders who presently ascend only three or four stories of height to get from Penn Station to the street would, under NJT’s plan, be required to ascend 175 feet of height, or nearly 20 stories. NJT has acknowledged that it would take six minutes to go from a platform 150 feet below street level to the street, so it is reasonable to conclude that the 175-foot climb would take seven minutes. That means fourteen minutes a day, seventy minutes a week for a commuter and 58 hours and 40 minutes (for 50 weeks of commuting) just for the vertical portion of an M&E rider’s new commute over the course of a year.

There were some safety and security concerns under the old plan, but they are far worse with new project. We do not see how it would be possible to rescue the thousands of people who would be trapped inside a deep cavern so far below street level, especially if an emergency occurred at peak commuting hours. No transit facility that could accommodate thousands of riders has ever been planned for such a depth before, anywhere in the world

We also do not see how the cost of the deep-cavern terminal is justified, or how it could be funded. We believe that the new terminal alone adds $2 billion to the cost of the entire project, which could be saved if the proposed tunnel terminated at the existing Penn Station. Gov. Jon Corzine has proposed raising tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, but many Republicans in the Legislature are objecting to this plan. Even if this plan were to be adopted, the state still could not pay its share of the cost of the entire project, including Portal Bridge. This plan is not the end of the story for NJT’s capital needs. There are a number of other “new start” proposals under consideration: Lackawanna Cutoff to Scranton, “MOM” or “MO” to Ocean County (see D:F, March 3, 2008), Bergen-Passaic Cross County proposal, extension of the Raritan Valley Line to Phillipsburg, and others. If the proposed tunnel project is built, it will consume all of NJT’s resources, and all of these other projects, which we believe are far more essential than a deep-cavern terminal, will never be built.

For all of these reasons, we who represent New Jersey’s rail riders and their communities met to plan together and work together in a united campaign to return to the original ARC concept. Our alliance has started on the local level and has gained support on the national level. Who are the organizations that form this alliance? The answer will be the subject of the next article in this series.

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