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

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November 3, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 46

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
Car-Free Zermatt, A European Pioneer In Reclaiming
   A Townscape For The People
AP Story Notes Passenger Rail Resurgence In The United States
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Editorial…
A Transformational Election? You Betcha!
  Commentary…
New Jersey Transit’s “Trans-Hudson-Express” Tunnel:
   Who The Advocates Are
  Publication Notes …


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

There’s No Excuse --- Part 3 Of Who Knows…

 

Car-Free Zermatt, A European Pioneer
In Reclaiming A Townscape For The People

By Jim RePass, Publisher, Destination:Freedom

SWITZERLAND --- In the United States, over the past two or three decades, the debate over the role of the automobile in American life has intensified, as more and more highway construction has led to more and more sprawl at the edges of cities, and less and less available land in the cities themselves, in order to satisfy the enormous land-use needs of the automobile and the increasingly more auto-dependent society we have created by relying so heavily on it.

In Europe that debate began just after the end of the Second World War, and has taken that part of the world on a very different path, transportation-wise, than the United States. It is one of the reasons Americans who visit Europe come back shaking their heads in wonder at the ease of human (as opposed to car) mobility in Europe, when compared to our own.

And, while European automobile use has become very extensive, a number of policy decisions were made then, and since, by European governments to invest in transportation technologies other than the automobile, especially rail and city/interurban transit. The basic decision was to tax themselves --- via a gasoline tax --- to pay for and maintain the infrastructure required to support those alternatives.

The result has been growth patterns in the United States quite different from those in Europe, characterized 1945-1995 in the U.S. by central cities that become empty at night, and suburban development that requires an automobile for even the most basic of transportation needs.

A view of the taxi plaza in front of Zermatt’s main train station.

All Photos: Jim RePass, NCI

A view of the taxi plaza in front of Zermatt’s main train station. Electric cars were introduced in 1947; the internal combustion engine in private cars was banned by vote in 1966.

One city in Europe made a very conscious decision not to follow that pattern, but to take the extraordinary step not only of supporting rail and transit development, but of banning the internal combustion engine altogether.

Zermatt, Switzerland, site of the Matterhorn and located in one of the most picturesque regions of a very picturesque country, is a resort town that in 1966 took the extraordinary step of voting to ban the automobile altogether, except for electric powered vehicles. The decision was taken because automobiles were simply overwhelming the small town during tourist season (November 1 – March/April).

Coupled with the European penchant for fuel-efficient but smoky diesel engines and, like the United States, leaded gasoline, plus the generally cruder internal combustion technology of the period, the blue clouds of exhaust gas in the cold mountain air had begun to be simply unbearable, especially as the population quadrupled and more in season.

One of my reasons for visiting Europe was to investigate how any place could be car-free in a truly serious way, and Zermatt was chosen because of its long history of said freedom. So, the second day of my arrival, arising early, I walked the town to explore it.

Actually, I had gotten a taste of Zermatt the night before, when my narrow-gauge train arrived at Zermatt’s central train station, and I hailed a taxi to my hotel --- the taxi being a miniature electric powered, four-passenger van, with two pairs of facing seats in the back and a driver up front --- from among the queue gathered at the station. It was about the size of a Scion Xbox, but shorter (!)

Looking for all the world like something that should be driven by trolls, the taxi was actually quite comfortable, and easily, and nearly silently, climbed the steep mountain streets of Zermatt, depositing me in a few minutes at Le Petit Hotel, an immaculate, and likewise, small place, comfortable enough, not too far from the heart of town.

The main street of Zermatt is the Bahnhafstrasse

The main street of Zermatt is the Bahnhafstrasse, or Station Street, seen here with an electric taxi at the ready.

The next morning I set off on foot, first to walk the town, then to take the Gornergratt Bahn, a narrow-gauge train, up the mountainside for the world-famous Matterhorn and glaciers view, and then to return and track down Zermatt’s mayor, if I could, to ask about the city’s car-free life.

After a light luncheon at Zermatt’s main Bahnhof, sitting outside in the warm sun on this comfortably cool Swiss September day, I searched out Zermatt’s city hall. But one instant observation: Zermatt’s decision to ban cars has worked. There is no gas or even worse, diesel smell in the cool mountain air; cold air is denser than warm air, and it would hang in their longer than in warmer climes, but instead small electric vehicles, both cars and trucks, scurry about town, and do it all, with the exception of one single diesel-powered garbage truck.

Electric Work/delivery trucks

Work/delivery trucks -- electric, like the taxis --- at the ready in Zermatt.

Le Petit Hotel, Zermatt

Even the police use electric vehicles in Zermatt.

Le Petit Hotel, Zermatt At city hall, not far from a large church, I found not the mayor but the city’s CEO, on duty. Werner Biner, a young man with, by coincidence, transportation experience, was kind enough to speak with me.

“We began banning cars in he 1960’s; we chose to make cars stay at the edge of town, rather than have them in the city. We voted in 1966 to formally ban them. The first electric vehicle was introduced in 1947, but mostly we used horse and wagons at that time. By the end of the 1970’s most horse drawn conveyances had disappeared.”

“We now have 50 electric taxis and over 500 electric cars. Actually, we are getting too crowded with the electrics, and are looking for a solution —maybe road (congestion) pricing. We have a population of 5,800, as of November 1 (when the “season” begins in Zermatt). It increases to 40,000 people during the high season.

“We have a tourist tax of 2 CHF, 10 pence per person/per night (2.10 in Swiss Francs = about $1.89 US; Switzerland is not on the Euro system).

“We have nine electric buses right now, each with 50 passenger capacity, and three smaller ones (27 passenger capacity) for the upper area of town (which has tighter streets). We are looking for new ideas; possibly new buses with 70 rider capacity.”

“We grew up with this system, but it does raise construction costs, and the cost of transport for every guest. But we did an opinion poll of guests; it was seen as an advantage to have no cars in the town --- we have very clean air.

Zermatt visitors can either arrive by train or, if coming by car, park in underground garages at the edge of Zermatt. Some also arrive on foot, via back-packing, as the area is a favorite of mountain climbers and hikers.

Over-all, the Zermatt experience is a pleasant one, and certainly unusual for an American whose culture is car-bound from beginning to end. The absence of the internal combustion engine does not seem to have harmed the economy of this tourist-dependent city; on the contrary, it has made the town more attractive, quieter, and much, much cleaner than the typical city or town.

Zermatt is not the only Swiss city to ban cars; over the years others have followed suit, including Bettmeralp, Riederalp, Saas-Fee, Rigi, Stoos, and Wengen, all of which also prohibit private cars. For a thorough look at car free cities visit: www.carfree.com

 

At Left - Le Petit Hotel, Zermatt, easily accessible from the train station on foot or by electric taxi, is about two rooms wide, and like Zermatt, neat and clean.

 

[ Next week: Riding the AGC (Autorail Grande Capacite), a rail innovation that is revolutionizing transportation in France, by making former “branch line” towns and small cities into the main transportation network cost-effectively ]

 


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The Associated Press Gets It Right

 

AP Story Notes Passenger Rail
Resurgence In The United States

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON --- The Associated Press, which in recent years has covered passenger rail stories in the U.S. through a consistently anti-Amtrak bias, is at last taking note of the changing dynamics surrounding the American transportation system and its over-dependence on highways, and the fact that passenger rail is returning to more and more parts of America as a major means of intercity, not just commuter, travel.

In a New York Times/Associated Press story this past week, reporter Joan Lowy writes: “After half a century as more of a curiosity than a convenience, passenger trains are getting back on track in some parts of the country. The high cost of energy, coupled with congestion on highways and at airports, is drawing travelers back to trains not only for commuting, but also for travel between cities as much as 500 miles apart.”

Noting that California will be voting Tuesday on a bond issue for a state-wide high speed rail system that would see trains travel at speeds up to 200 mph, and that the Midwest has been working for two decades on a plan to build a regional rail system that is at last getting traction in Washington, Lowy quotes Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar, a longtime rail advocate who now heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as saying “I think were at a transformational point in intercity passenger rail service.”

The Congressman ought to know. He has been at the forefront of the fight to give America some kind of balance in its transportation system, along with people such as Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and former Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) who crossed party lines to support greater Federal investment --- as well as encouraging state participation --- in a national rail; system.

Lowy notes: “Amtrak, the passenger rail service that struggled for years to attract riders, drew a record 28.7 million in the year ending Sept. 30. That is 11 percent more than the year before and the sixth straight year that ridership has increased. Ticket revenue hit a record $1.7 billion, a $200 million increase from a year earlier. Rail travel is gaining greater favor in Congress, which provides the subsidies needed to keep Amtrak rolling.”

“Subsidies” are of course the key to all transportation systems; America’s highways get $150 billion a year in tax subsidies (Federal, state, local), about 100-150 times, per year, more than Amtrak gets; the airlines get more in a year than Amtrak has received in its entire existence (since 1970); even inland/coastal marine traffic is highly subsidized.

“Lawmakers are trying to find ways to deal with high energy prices, congested and aging roads and bridges, and an air traffic control system that relies largely on World War II-era technology. Congress passed legislation this month that sets a goal of providing $13 billion over five years to Amtrak; it’s a major vote of confidence for the railroad. The measure also encourages development of high-speed rail corridors and contains $2 billion in grants to states to enhance or introduce service between cities. The money still must be appropriated” wrote Lowy.

For the complete story see www.nytimes.com


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)89.0680.00
Canadian National (CNI)43.2538.98
Canadian Pacific (CP)45.0036.75
CSX (CSX)45.7242.38
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)33.3528.94
Kansas City Southern (KSU)30.8727.01
Norfolk Southern (NSC)59.9453.12
Providence & Worcester (PWX)14.0014.12
Union Pacific (UNP)66.7758.28


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

A Transformational Election? You Betcha!

Tuesday’s vote for the Presidency, the Congress, and a significant chunk of the United States Senate, not to mention a number of Governors, is about as transformational an election as can be imagined: no matter what the outcome, we are about to get either the first Afro-American President, or the first female Vice President, of the United States.

And again, no matter what the outcome, the new President will have to lead this country out of the deepest financial hole it has seen in a long, long time, the result of decades of laissez-faire capitalism that, while leading to tremendous growth and prosperity for many Americans, simultaneously gutted the American working class and then disassembled the rules and safety systems in place since the 1930’s (like the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933) that were designed to prevent out-of-control speculation by, among other things, separating investment banking from commercial lending.

In 1999 that act was repealed, by legislation authored by then-Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), currently serving as GOP candidate John McCain’s chief financial advisor. The hot-house housing market that followed, fueled by financial instruments that got around what little was left of the regulatory structure, was one result of this approach to governance --- as was its collapse.

Whoever makes it to the Oval Office this time, whether they like it or not, will have to prime the proverbial pump, as Roosevelt did. Let’s hope that whoever emerges victorious this week will have the common sense to realize that our neglected infrastructure is what needs the most attention, and in a big, transformational way. Please, not another bailout to Wall Street or stimulus package allowing us each of us to buy more Chinese-made DVD players. This time, let’s build for keeps. Let’s build a transportation system that is first in the world, and grow from there. It can be done, if we have the will, and the leadership.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

New Jersey Transit’s “Trans-Hudson-Express” Tunnel:
Who The Advocates Are

Fourth In A Series

By David Peter Alan

[ Editor’s apology: This article in the ARC series was supposed to be published in the October 20 edition of Destination: Freedom. ]

The previous article in this series explored the reasons behind the decision of New Jersey and New York rail advocates to form an alliance to return to the original Access to the Region’s Core (or “ARC”) plan, which would have built a new rail tunnel along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line into Penn Station, New York. In addition, the ARC plan called for a track connection eastward to Grand Central Terminal, so New Jersey’s rail riders would have one-seat access to both the East and West sides of Midtown Manhattan. The proposed new trackage could also be used by Amtrak for its trains that run from New York to points beyond Trenton and Philadelphia, such was Washington, D.C.

When the ARC plan was scrapped in June, 2003, advocates in New York City were upset and their colleagues in New Jersey were outraged. It appeared that the administration of George Pataki, who was governor of New York at the time, did not want a rail line from New Jersey extending farther beneath Manhattan to the East Side. After getting past the initial shock and dismay of having their dream of improved mobility shattered, New Jersey’s advocates began to push for a return to the original ARC proposal. So did their colleagues on the New York side of the Hudson River.

At first, the individual organizations waged independent campaigns. Albert L. Papp, a Director of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) and now Vice-President of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) for NEC Affairs, criticized the administration in the Empire State for “Hudson Ocean” thinking. The Lackawanna Coalition, representing riders on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines, was particularly upset that riders on those lines would be evicted from the existing Penn Station under the proposed operating plan for the new line. Riders on the M&E had enjoyed “Midtown Direct” service to the existing Penn Station since 1996, and NJT had plans to terminate that service and move M&E trains into their proposed “deep cavern” terminal to be located 175 feet (nearly 20 stories) below street level.

The project became worse over time. Access to the East Side would become impossible with successive project downgrades. Riders would lose convenient connections with Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and other NJT lines, because they would lose access to the existing Penn Station. The proposed line would also be isolated from Amtrak’s NEC Line, thus severing a vital regional connection. The regional through-running that many advocates on the New York side of the river promoted would become impossible; lost in a jumble of stub-end terminals. In addition, costs kept escalating, so riders were offered far less service for far more money than had been planned under the original ARC proposal.

By June, 2007, the advocates had seen one downgrade too many. The last straw was NJT’s plan for increasing the depth of the “deep cavern” terminal to be located far below 34th Street. East Side Access and connectivity with Amtrak were gone, and M&E and Montclair-Boonton Line riders would lose their existing West Side Access. It was time for concerted action, and leaders of several rail advocacy coalitions met in South Orange on Saturday, August 24th. A new and historic alliance of rail advocates was born.

The majority of attendees at the South Orange meeting were members of the Lackawanna Coalition. The Coalition, which specifically represents rail riders on the M&E and Montclair-Boonton Lines along with the municipalities and counties where these riders live, was especially outraged at the loss of access to the existing Penn Station and other project downgrades. The Coalition intensified its campaign against the current version of the project, and for a return to the original ARC project, which would deliver M&E riders to either the existing Penn Station or the existing Grand Central Terminal. A number of Coalition members are also active members of other organizations and succeeded in persuading these organizations to join the effort to restore the original ARC plan.

The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) also called for a return to the ARC concept and joined forces with the Coalition. The ARC plan called for access to the East Side of Manhattan for New Jersey rail riders, with an additional rail tunnel to take the trains to Penn Station. That way, riders would have one-seat access to both sides of Midtown Manhattan. NJ-ARP is concerned with all NJT services on a statewide basis, and has campaigned vigorously for several proposed new starts on NJT. There would not be money available to build these “new start” projects if the currently-devised NJT plan is built, since it would use all of the money available to NJT for capital projects. The campaign called for preserving an existing service and the funds needed for necessary improvements rather than building a severe and costly downgrade of the present service.

NJ-ARP’s sister organization, the Empire State Passengers’ Association (ESPA) supports the original ARC plan, but from a New York perspective. ESPA advocates for improved rail access to and around New York City, including access to both East and West sides of Midtown Manhattan. ESPA also supports the concept of regional through-running of trains between a Metro-North or LIRR endpoint and an outer terminal in New Jersey, running through Manhattan.

This regional operation is the primary focus of the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG), based in New York. Since its inception, the RRWG has called for such an operation, with a fare structure and physical connectivity that would encourage travel on all available rail modes in the New York area (including PATH and the New York subways). Campaigning against a plan that calls for stub-end terminal that would preclude access to the East Side and lessen access to the West Side for existing riders seemed a natural step for the organization. The RRWG includes the Lackawanna Coalition, NJ-ARP and ESPA as organizational members.

Other New York organizations have expressed support for the original concept of ARC and objected to the current NJT plan. The Institute for Rational Urban Mobility (IRUM), founded by RRWG Chair George Haikalis, the Permanent Citizens’ Advisory Committee of New York’s MTA and the New York City Transit Riders’ Council have all endorsed the position advocated by the Alliance. Community Boards 4 and 5, which have jurisdiction over projects that would affect the Midtown area (including underground construction) have supported the position taken by the advocates’ alliance.

The alliance and its campaign have attracted national attention. The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has joined with the alliance of local advocates in its opposition to the current proposal and support of the original ARC concept. NARP endorsed this position last fall, and Ross Capon, NARP Executive Director, has made statements and participated in meetings concerning the project. NARP’s primary concern about the project is that the line that NJT proposes to build will not go to the existing Penn Station, so it will not connect with Amtrak’s NEC Line. It could not be used for access for Amtrak trains, even on an emergency basis. NARP has also expressed concern about the lack of East Side access under the current plan, since a track connection between the existing Penn Station and the existing GCT would enable Amtrak to stop its Boston/Washington trains on both sides of Midtown Manhattan (in addition to using the Hell Gate Bridge Route as they do today). A number of rail advocates in the area are active NARP members, including three who serve as NARP Directors. Albert L. Papp, who serves as Vice-President of NARP for the NEC Region, is also a Director of NJ-ARP and was formerly Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition.

The other national rail organization, the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) also approved a resolution supporting the ARC concept and objecting to the current NJT proposal at its 2007 conference in Dallas. Several of the rail advocates operating in the New York and New Jersey area are also RUN members, including two Board members.

This alliance is unprecedented in the annals of rail advocacy. Except for NARP, which concentrates on improving intercity trains, virtually all advocacy for local transit improvements has been conducted by organizations acting alone. In most cities served by transit, there is one advocacy coalition working to improve service for the area’s rail riders. There are several groups operating in Chicago, but they have not united around an issue. Advocates in the Los Angeles area cooperate on certain issue, but not to this extent.

It is probably the unique character of the New York/ New Jersey area that makes the alliance possible. First, there is more rail advocacy activity in the area than anywhere else in the nation. It also seems that the advocacy organizations in the area are more vocal and more active than many others. Only in the New York metropolitan area could a “Regional Rail Working Group” exist. There is no other place where so many different agencies make up the total transit picture. There seems little support for a “regional rail” concept in Boston* or Chicago at the present time. Only SEPTA in Philadelphia operates in a regional pattern, and it does not appear that SEPTA makes full use of the advantages of such operation.

[ Editor’s note: Sierra Club chapters in the six New England states and in Eastern Canada, together with National Corridors Initiative, have recently formed a Northeast Regional Transportation Committee. ]

The new alliance is only one year old, and we do not yet know how well the concept behind it will catch on among other advocates for the riding public. Still, joining in this way was a bold step for local advocates, while opposition to the NJT project as currently devised seems to be growing. Amtrak has officially objected to it, while the FTA Administrator has expressed concern about the lack of East Side access in the current plan. We believe that any official concern about the current proposal is due, in large measure, to the organized opposition of the advocates for the riders.

This is a high-stakes game. The price for the entire project, including Portal Bridge, is now estimated at $9.3 billion. Even by public-works standards, this is big money, and big interests are fighting for the current project to be approved and completed as soon as possible. The business, labor and political establishments strongly support the current proposal, although it appears that they have never seriously examined the alternative that we present. A great deal of money, as well as the New York area’s transportation system for the next century, is at stake. It is no surprise that the battle is being fought fiercely by the project’s defenders. Some will win and some will lose, no matter what the outcome is. These winners and losers will be the subject of the next article in the series.

 

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, as well as a Director (Region III) of NARP, a Board Member of RUN and a member of NJ-ARP and the RRWG. The opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent those of any other person or organization. Several other people who are actively pursuing the efforts of the alliance are also members of more than one rail advocacy organization.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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