Vol. 8 No. 44
November 5, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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www.nationalcorridors.org

Destination:Freedom
A weekly North American transportation update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKay
European Correspondent - David Beale
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists, and
elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items…
Landmark Amtrak Reauthorization Bill Cruises to Bi-Partisan
   70-22 Senate Victory
November 4 Parade Magazine Features National Corridors Initiative
Big Doings in Downtown Boston: USPS Looks to Move Major Facility
  Meetings…
First Carmichael Conference On The Future of American Transportation
  Commuter Lines…
Opened at Last: Greenbush Line Completes Old Colony Restoration
Portland eyes more streetcar routes
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Financial Lines…
Chinese Ministry of Railways Includes Sleeper EMUs In Order
  Freight Lines…
Passenger, Freight Rail Interests In Tune
  End Notes…


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News items...

House action is next

 

Landmark Amtrak Reauthorization Bill
Cruises to Bi-Partisan 70-22 Senate Victory

By DF Staff and from Internet Sources

WASHINGTON, DC --- A landmark reauthorization bill for Amtrak, introduced by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Trent Lott (R-MS), has sailed to victory in the United States Senate. The bi-partisan bill, introduced earlier this year, passed on a 70-22 vote, after the Senate defeated last-minute amendments by anti-Amtrak Senator John Sununu (R-NH) and others that would have cut back Amtrak service or otherwise hobbled the railroad’s ability to do business.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 (PRIIA) is a six-year (FY2007-2012), $12.4 billion bill which authorizes funding for Amtrak’s capital and operating needs to maintain current operations, upgrade equipment and return the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to “a state of good repair,” a process begun under former Amtrak President David Gunn (2002-2005) and continued under current President Alex Kummant.

After decades of slow infrastructure deterioration at Amtrak due to lack of funds, Gunn obtained the first capital appropriations to begin making infrastructure repairs in 2002, just a few weeks after assuming the job. Gunn discovered soon after taking office that Congress had so under-funded the railroad that it was about to run out of operating money even after mortgaging its most famous asset, Pennsylvania Station in New York, to obtain operating cash.

Gunn went to Congress and threatened to start shutting down the railroad, unless funding was immediately appropriated for operations and repairs. Congress backed down, and Gunn kept the company in business, but Amtrak literally came within days of missing its payroll.

“This is a huge victory for anyone who’s tired of sitting in traffic or waiting in airports.  When we give Amtrak the resources it needs, more Americans take the train,” said Sen. Lautenberg, member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and a long time advocate of improved rail transportation in the United States.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) have worked together closely to develop bi-partisan support for Amtrak. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Jim Oberstar (D-MN), a strong Amtrak advocate, will be in charge of the bill’s progress.

The last time the House received an Amtrak authorization bill, it was never advanced despite bi-partisan support in the House because of blocking actions by Amtrak opponents within the hard-right GOP leadership. However, control of the House changed in the 2006 elections to give Democrats the majority, and such death-by-stealth is not likely for the bill this time around.

While many Republican Congressman support Amtrak, its opponents are nevertheless expected to make a stand once more against the company that they have tried to kill, without success, since its foundation in 1970. While many anti-Amtrak House Republicans were sent packing by the voters in 2006, Amtrak-bashing has become a touchstone for the extreme libertarian wing of the GOP, which fundamentally does not believe in government.

Inouye Praises Senate Approval of Amtrak Bill

Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, issued the following statement upon full Senate passage of S. 294, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007

“I fully support S. 294, a bill that will finally reauthorize Amtrak and make important changes to secure a prosperous future for intercity passenger rail in the United States. Congestion delays at our airports and on our roads are making more and more travelers dependent on passenger rail. We need to ensure that our national passenger rail system is adequately prepared to accommodate this increased ridership.

“I congratulate Senator Lautenberg and Senator Lott for crafting this important bill, which I am pleased to cosponsor. This bill encourages the development of new rail corridors, provides incentives for Amtrak to operate more efficiently, and strengthens the relationship between Amtrak and the states in which it operates. This measure will also provide more transparency into Amtrak’s operations and help Amtrak better control its costs. I believe it will further fortify Amtrak as an important, necessary, and viable option in the United States’ transportation landscape.”

The Transportation Communications Union (TCU) called it “a victory for members working on Amtrak and for the future of Amtrak itself.”

One of several amendments that opponents of Amtrak proposed came from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).  It would have required discontinuing food service on lines that rely on subsidies to cover losses on those services.  By a vote of 67-24, this amendment was soundly defeated. 

“Sen. Coburn and other right-wing Senators never stop trying to kill Amtrak,” said International President Bob Scardelletti.  “Taking a shot at our on-board service worker members shows the utter contempt that Coburn and others have for working people.”  International Vice President and National Legislative Director Bob Davis added, “When Sen. Coburn compares our on-board members with workers at local restaurants and complains that Amtrak workers make too much money, he shows what little understanding he has of what our members have to put up with traveling on these trains.” 

Legislative History:

On April 25, 2007, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee favorably reported S. 294 with amendments by voice vote.

On May 22, 2007, S. 294 was placed on the Senate Calendar.

The 109th Congress passed an almost identical version of S. 294 as an amendment to the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 by a vote of 93 to 6 in 2005, but the measure was dropped in conference because, as noted above, the Republican leadership in the House refused to include the measure. The last reauthorization bill that passed was in 1997 when the Amtrak Reform Council was created. Amtrak accepted an authorization of approximately $570 million annually with an agreement to become independent of federal subsidy for operating costs by 2002.

Whereas the 1997 was aimed at eventually liquidating Amtrak and selling off the Northeast Corridor to private interests, the 2007 bill will leave the railroad intact and strengthen it in major areas: improved and expanded service, equipment maintenance and capital improvements. Over the life of the bill, Amtrak’s operating subsidy will be reduced by 40% through cost cutting, restructuring and reform, while capital funding to Amtrak and the States will be increased. The bill also creates a new intercity passenger rail capital grant program for the States, which will work in effect as a replacement for the outright privatization of Amtrak formerly proposed, by providing new sources of non-Federal funding for the railroad that it can leverage for Federal grant money.

Major Provisions

Title I: Authorizations
 6-Year Funding TotalsAverage Annual
Amtrak Operating Grants$3.3 billion$556 million
Amtrak Capital Grants$4.9 billion$818 million
State Grants$1.4 billion$230 million
Repayment of Existing Amtrak Debt$1.7 billion$287 million
Rail Security$1.2 billion$275 million (FY08-FY11)
Total$12.4 billion$2.1 billion
From Democratic Policy Committee website

Some of the reforms in the bill address problems that have plagued Amtrak for years and hindered its ability to provide good service:

An abbreviated list of reforms:

Amtrak Board of Directors.  S. 294 would create a new, bipartisan nine-member Board, whose members are required to have either a rail, transportation, or business background. ( Editor’s note: Under the Bush administration, some board members were appointed who had no background in rail or transportation. )

Improved financial accounting and financial plan development.  S. 294 would require the development of a new Amtrak financial accounting system and Amtrak’s Board of Directors to submit an annual budget and five-year financial plans.  The system would be monitored by the Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG). ( Editor’s note: this would be the first time Amtrak could adopt a multi-year plan. Budgeting was dependent on an annual appropriation which hindered their ability to plan ahead. )

Debt reduction measures.  S. 294 includes provisions suggested by the DOT IG that would direct the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation and Amtrak, to negotiate the restructuring of Amtrak’s existing debt, within one year of enactment.  If restructuring would result in significant savings to the federal government, the Secretary of Treasury is authorized to assume and repay the restructured debt, with the full faith and credit of the Treasury.  If no restructuring is possible, Amtrak remains responsible for repaying the debt, and such debt is solely the responsibility of Amtrak, without any implied federal guarantee.

State supported routes and auditing.  Under S. 294, Amtrak would have to develop, after consulting the States and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a uniform cost allocation methodology to assign costs and determine compensation for state-supported services.  If Amtrak and the states do not implement the proposal developed by the commission, the Surface Transportation Board would be authorized to impose restructured compensation rates.

Passenger service improvements.  S. 294 would establish protocols that if the on-time performance record for an individual route falls below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters or fails to meet other requirements set by the FRA, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) may initiate, or Amtrak, another passenger rail operator, or host freight railroad may petition the STB to initiate, an investigation into the cause of delays.  Following an investigation, the STB must make recommendations to Amtrak or a freight railroad on ways to improve on-time performance and service quality of the route under investigation.  If the STB determines that delays or service failure to passenger trains are the result of host freight railroads not providing priority access to Amtrak, as required under law, the Board may award damages and proscribe other relief to Amtrak.

Long distance routes.  Beginning in 2008, S. 294 would require Amtrak to establish and implement performance improvement plans for its lowest-performing trains.  As Amtrak develops these plans, it must consider options to improve the route, including routing and frequency changes, on-board and customer service improvements, and modified amenities such as sleeper car service and food service.  In 2009 and 2010, Amtrak must implement plans for the remaining long distance services and the FRA may withhold operating funds for a route if the plan is not implemented by Amtrak. 

Northeast Corridor.  Amtrak must develop a capital spending plan to return the NEC to a state of good repair by the end of Fiscal Year 2012.  The capital funds authorized in the bill would be used to carry out the plan at a 100 percent federal share.  The bill establishes an advisory commission to provide advice and oversight of the NEC’s operations and infrastructure.  The commission membership includes Amtrak, the FRA, and each state in the NEC.  The commission must develop a proposal for determining the proper costs and access fees for NEC passenger and commuter trains.  If Amtrak and the states fail to implement the proposal, the parties shall either submit to binding arbitration or petition the STB to impose restructured fees for the users of the NEC.

For more information on details in the bill, see the Thomas website: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s294, or the website of the Democratic Policy Committee http://democrats.senate.gov/dpc/dpc-new.cfm?doc_name=lb-110-1-170.


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As Nation Struggles with “Plane Delays, High Gas Prices, and Congestion”

 

November 4 Parade Magazine Features
National Corridors Initiative, Rail Experts;
Cover Story Asks: “Can We Save Our Trains?”

By DF Staff and From The Internet

NEW YORK CITY --- PARADE Magazine, at 34.7 million readers one of the largest-circulation news publications in the United States, published a cover story November 4 that, for the first time in the broader news media in many years, intelligently explained what has happened to our nation’s transportation system, and how we need to turn that situation around.

With the exception of The New York Times’ editorial pages, the news columns of The Wall Street Journal, and until recently only a handful of other general news circulation papers, few news outlets, print or otherwise, have understood or written about in depth the transportation crisis we have created, or successfully explained it.

The article, by author Peter Richmond, is one of the most important to appear in more than a generation of generally spotty or shallow news coverage of the American transportation crisis, outside of specialty or academic periodicals, in large part because of its broad reach. Until recent congestion became “gridlock”, general assignment reporters were usually only able to spend a small amount of time on any given subject, and could not become instant experts at everything they covered.

PARADE’S article was also unusually timely for a weekly newsmagazine, as the United Senate just this past week passed a multi-year Amtrak authorization bill of $12.4 billion. “American spent about 3.7 billion hours stuck in traffic last year, burning gasoline whose price had soared by 60%. At the airports, security lines snake endlessly, runways are choked, and delays are common. One recent study found that, between January and August 2007, one in four flights arrived late; 159 flights were kept on the tarmac for more than three hours in August. As a result, more than half of U.S. businesses augment commercial air travel with expensive corporate jets and charters. Isn’t there a better way?” asks author Richmond, who then writes:

“One solution is staring us in the face. Many transportation experts insist that the best answer to transportation gridlock is efficient intercity rail travel. Trains use one-fifth less energy than cars or planes. They run in bad weather. They’re business-efficient and tourist-friendly. Yet, since the early 1960’s–with the exception of the Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington, D.C.–railroad transportation in the U.S. has become largely irrelevant. For most Americans, train travel from city to city remains an afterthought. And for good reason: Our national rail system is inadequate, relying on aging equipment and a shrinking route-map. The system sorely lacks both financial resources and government support.”

Quoting the National Corridors Initiative in the next paragraph, PARADE relates: “The transportation funding mechanism is skewed toward highway construction,” says James RePass, principal executive of the National Corridors Initiative, a transportation advocacy group. “The game is rigged against rail.”

PARADE then goes on to analyze how America has fallen so far behind Asia and Europe: “Blame it on our love affair with the automobile and a historical antipathy of legislators for subsidizing the nation’s railroads. Our government’s disdain for trains began with FDR, who in the late 1930s turned his back on fat-cat railroad barons asking for federal handouts. Two decades later, President Eisenhower certified our commitment to cars when he built the interstate highway system.

The current administration has been particularly unfriendly. Amtrak, which is federally funded, received just $1.3 billion last year–the same as 25 years ago. Compare that to the $40 billion allocated for highways and the $14 billion for airlines in 2006. For the 2008 fiscal year, the Bush Administration proposed just $800 million for the railroad–a $500 million cut from 2007. In 2005, the President proposed pulling the plug entirely on Amtrak’s subsidy.

Later Richmond writes: “As our airways and highways have slowed down, demand for train travel has been increasing. In fact, Amtrak ridership was up for the fifth year in a row, reaching record levels–despite the fact that a third of trains arrived late last year. In the Northeast, since Amtrak introduced higher-speed Acela trains in 2000, the railroad’s share of 10,000 daily commuters between Washington, D.C., and New York City increased from 45% to 54%.”

“Train travel is the thing for a one-day business trip,” PARADE quotes Malcolm Edgerton, a Chicago architect who travels often from Chicago to Springfield on Amtrak for work. A recent trip, he said, “would have meant seven hours of driving, and I would have been exhausted. Instead, I left in the morning, did work on the train, got there at noon, did my thing, even had time to visit a museum. Then, on the way back, I drank Scotch in the bar car and traded stories with a salesman and another architect. The round trip was $40.”

Perhaps the best quote came from an Amtrak sleeping car attendant, “It’s not a nostalgic thing, like, ‘Let’s save the old choo-choo,’ ” insists Lou Drummeter, a sleeping-car attendant on Amtrak’s Washington-Chicago Capitol Limited for 20 years. “It’s a 21st-century answer to our transportation problems. People want an alternative.”

Editor’s note: For the complete article go to: http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2007/edition_11-04-2007/A_Better_Way_to_Travel


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Big Doings in Downtown Boston:

 

USPS Looks to Move Major Facility

By DF Staff

BOSTON --- Those who thought that the “Big Dig” was Boston’s last major downtown infrastructure project for a decade or so got a surprise this week when the United States Postal Service announced its intention to redevelop its huge “South Boston Postal Annex” site, sell off another 23 acres it owns in the rapidly commercializing “A” Street area of South Boston, and relocate all of its facilities to yet another site in South Boston’s remaining industrial district.

The United States Postal Service this week asked for proposals for redevelopment of the 16-acre site at Dorchester Avenue and Summer Street where the mammoth processing and distribution center is now located. It has hired the firm CB Richard Ellis/New England to find a developer for that site, which is immediately adjacent to and will allow expansion of the railroad platforms and access tracks at the city’s historic South Station.

It will also permit the first opportunity in a decade to consider exactly where and how the long-proposed Rail Link between South Station and the North Station facility about a mile away, first put forward over a century ago, yet still the last open gap on the entire U.S. East Coast’s Miami-Portland passenger rail corridor, should go.

The Rail Link was originally supposed to be a part of the so-called Big Dig project, which tore down the Southeast Expressway --- Boston’s “other” Green Monster ---and buried it under the city, at a cost of about $16 billion. The project took more than 20 years from conceptual and design engineering to grand opening.

Instead, it was pulled from the project to save money, although space for a two-track tunnel was left in place as the Big Dig was being built, in an agreement between the state and environmental activists who had sought the Rail Link’s inclusion.. Protecting that alignment, Rail Link proponents say, now becomes essential to ensure that new development does not block it.

All that is required to re-launch work on the Rail Link --- stalled when the Romney Administration pulled its support for the project, citing costs, and to protect the alignment --- is a letter from an agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the US DOT, taking “sponsorship” of the project. Such a letter is pending now at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works. The EOTPW and Governor Deval Patrick, both strongly pro-transit, have publicly expressed verbal support for a fresh look at the Rail Link, and say they will support a re-start if they can identify more sources of funding, other than traditional Federal and state transportation monies. Such funding could come from private sector “Transit Oriented Development” sources, as they are coming to be known, and which developments Massachusetts (and other states with commuter rail lines, or the need for them) are encouraging.

 

[ Thanks to Bob O’Brien of the Downtown North Association alerting D:F to this story-the Editor ]


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MEETINGS...  Meetings...

Save the dates!

If You Believe America Needs a Modern Transportation System Then:
Mark your calendar - January 28-29, 2008

For the first
Carmichael Conference
On The Future of American Transportation

For All North American Transportation Advocates and Leaders

St. Louis Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Including: U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters (Invited)
Presidential Nominee Governor Michael S. Dukakis (Confirmed)
Alex Kummant, President, Amtrak (Invited)
Gilbert E. Carmichael, Chair, University of Denver Intermodal Institute (Confirmed)
John Horsley, President, AASHTO (Confirmed)
Todd Alexander Litman, Executive Director, Victoria Transportation Policy Institute (Confirmed)
Robert L. Crandall, former Chairman and CEO, American Airlines (Confirmed)
James P. RePass, President & CEO, The National Corridors Initiative (Confirmed)

Conference fees (until January 1):
Advocates, Non-Profits $199
Unions: $299
Corporate: $499

Space is limited. Reserve now on-line at www.nationalcorridors.org

A special room rate is being made available through The Hyatt Regency St. Louis (www.hyatt.com)

1 St. Louis Union Station
Saint Louis, MO 63103
(314) 231-1234

Reserve rooms directly with the hotel. The appropriate rate will be applied for the conference

The purpose of this conference is to develop a unified Advocates’ Statement on the Future of American Transportation
for presentation to each of the Candidates for the Presidency of the United States


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter Lines...

MBTA Lead F40 for Greenbus Reopening in special livery

All Photos: Frank DiMasi  

Special livery for the occasion. An F40PHC locomotive, one of the MBTA’s fleet of F40s is decorated for the special occasion and tacked onto the front as lead engine.

Opened at Last:

 

Greenbush Line Completes Old Colony Restoration

By DF Staff and from the MBTA

BOSTON-SCITUATE-BOSTON ---Nearly half a century after the last riders clambered down from a Greenbush Line train in 1959 and ended rail service to Massachusetts’ South Shore region, the final leg of the three Old Colony Railroad lines is back in business.

Lt. Governor Tim Murray, Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen, MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas, Mass Bay Rail Corporation President Jim O’Leary, and a host of other senior officials, rail advocates, and both friends and foes of the project were on board Tuesday, October 30, as the MBTA line, train and stations, hung with bunting, re-opened at last.

Mass. Lt. Gov Tim Murray, the T’s Kristina Egan, and Rail Freight Chair Frank DeMasi

Mass. Lt. Gov Tim Murray, the T’s Kristina Egan, and Rail Freight Chair Frank DeMasi at the Greenbush Inaugural run.

“This is the other ‘rolling rally,’” proclaimed Lt. Governor Murray, to cheers and applause, referring to the on-going festivities in downtown Boston featuring a Duckboat parade of the victorious Boston Red Sox, which as luck would have it came about exactly as the carefully-planned Inaugural Train made its run. Several hundred thousand members of Red Sox Nation turned out for that party, but at least 1000 more were on the train and at the half-dozen stops along the way stood out in the brilliant sun of a perfect New England Autumn day

Officials cut the ribbon opening the Greenbush Line

Officials cut the ribbon officially opening the line.

Joined by state and local officials, Lt. Gov. Murray, a recognized transportation advocate from his days as Mayor of Worcester, who successfully used rail service to help revive that city’s economy, led an inaugural train ride eighteen miles through the South Shore towns of Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate marking the opening of the MBTA’s 13th Commuter Rail Line, the Greenbush Line.

“This is a major milestone for the commuter rail and the South Shore,” said Lt. Governor Murray. “It has been a long road, but we are delighted that commuters on the South Shore and in Boston will finally be able to enjoy this important rail service,” said the Lieutenant Governor, just two weeks after he chaired a major regional transportation summit for the National Corridors Initiative.

People gather at Greenbush Station on opening day

People gather at Greenbush Station in Scituate.

At that summit, Connecticut State Senate President Donald Williams called for the creation of a regional interstate compact to build a true regional rail system for New England and the Northeast, and officials in several New England states --- all were represented at the NCI Conference, plus Canadian business and political leaders --- are meeting in answer to that call already.

[ Coordinated by NCI, the two state leaders have met to advance the re-opening of passenger service on the New London-Worcester line---editor’s note. ]


View the videos of opening day here Courtesy of YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz7Iu_CSwKU
3 mins - Ceremony and additional footage - Patriot Ledger News

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut-monmusgs
1 min - 30 secs - Arrives Weymouth Landing Station - By THMedia

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOUYC_TdJRs
1 min - 12 secs - Arriving at Greenbush, Patriot Ledger News


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Portland eyes more streetcar routes

PORTLAND, OR -- City planners are considering expansion of the Portland streetcar into a full-fledged network criss-crossing the city, and plan to seek neighborhood input to determine which areas would welcome such service first. About 140 miles of the city’s busiest streets show potential for new streetcar routes, said Patrick Sweeney, project manager for the Portland Office of Transportation. In the next six months, the city’s transportation office will rank potential routes based not just on neighborhood and business support, but also on details such as relatively flat terrain and wide intersections for railcar turns.

For more on this story, visit: Railway Age Breaking News http://www.railwayage.com/breaking_news.shtml#Feature5.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)86.7285.65
Canadian National (CNI)55.2353.30
Canadian Pacific (CP)70.2369.05
CSX (CSX)43.6244.76
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.3629.08
Kansas City Southern (KSU)38.2037.96
Norfolk Southern (NSC)50.8451.15
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.9017.70
Union Pacific (UNP)126.00127.90


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FINANCIAL LINES...  Financial Lines...

Chinese Ministry of Railways Includes
Sleeper EMUs In Order

From the Railway Age website:

The world’s first EMU sleeper cars are included in a $1.5 billion order for 40, 16-car EMU trains (640 cars) that the Chinese Ministry of Railways has awarded to the joint venture of Bombardier Sifang Power (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd. (BSP).

The joint venture members are: Bombardier Transportation, whose share of the contract is valued at $596 million; Power Corp. of Canada; and China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Corp. It’s the largest single order for rail passenger cars ever placed at one time in China.

Twenty of the trains will be designed for 155-mph-overnight sleeper service. The remaining 20 trains will be upgraded, 16-car versions of successful eight-car trains now being delivered to the Ministry of Railways as part of orders placed in October 2004 and May 2005.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight Lines...

2007’s Railway Age conference:

 

Passenger, Freight Rail Interests In Tune

WASHINGTON --- One of the nation’s premiere rail industry conferences, Railway Age Magazine’s “Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads” Oct. 22-23 was founded in part because of concern by the freight rail industry at the increasing (and quite unexpected at the time) popularity of passenger and commuter rail service, which often sought access to freight rail’s right-of-way to operate, even as rail freight shipments began to surge. Early conferences were focused on defenses against encroachment; today, some 15 years later, the tone has changed considerably --- but the problem of capacity remains the same.

[Here is Railway Age Magazine’s own take on the story --- editor’s note ]

From Railway Age Magazine ( www.railwayage.com )

WASHINGTON, DC, OCTOBER 24, -- If there was one recurring theme at Railway Age’s 14th Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference, held Oct. 22-23 in Washington, D.C., it was this: Passenger rail and freight rail operators share common goals and common interests, and each understands that the health and long term growth of both are interdependent. Freight railroads are facing some tough challenges: strained capacity stemming from record volume growth, a need for public investment capital to supplement private funds, and the emergence of various interests—legislators and disaffected shippers, among others—that have banded together in an attempt to impose re-regulation and other sanctions that will ultimately cripple the industry. For their part, passenger rail interests—carrying a banner that declares, “This is one industry”—stand ready to do their part in ensuring the railroads’ future.

“Amtrak’s strategic focus is on development of passenger corridors,” President and CEO Alex Kummant said in his keynote address. “Our goal is fast, frequent, reliable service over shorter distances,” defined as up to 400 miles. To accomplish this, Amtrak is trying to leverage existing infrastructure to develop new corridor-type services. Examples he cited are California’s various corridors, where train frequencies have been added (the best example being the Capitol Corridor); Pennsylvania’s Keystone Corridor, where re-electrification has added frequencies; the Illinois corridors originating in Chicago, which have seen significant growth; and the Boston-Portland, Maine., Downeaster, where capital investment has decreased trip time and allowed for a modest service expansion. “We can’t grow corridor services if we can’t provide frequent service, reliable performance, and inter-corridor, long distance, and commuter rail connections,” Kummant said.

Declaring that “future corridor services will operate primarily on freight lines, Kummant--a former Union Pacific executive--said that Amtrak is “very interested in the condition of those systems. Traffic on freight railroads is growing. Capacity is growing, too—but not fast enough. The freights invest large sums in their infrastructure, but projected traffic growth will outstrip investment. Traffic increases are great news—if we have the infrastructure to handle them. Without adequate investment, we will see widespread congestion throughout the system.”

Citing “episodic congestion” during the past decade in Los Angeles-originated container traffic and Texas-based chemical movements, Kummant said that such symptoms as longer actual transit times, lower speeds, and “harder, costlier” maintenance of infrastructure and equipment “are beginning to manifest themselves” on freight railroads. Such congestion, and the resulting lack of fluidity, is a real concern for Amtrak. “Congestion is not the sole cause of poor Amtrak on-time performance on freight railroads, but it’s a contributing factor,” Kummant said. “Passengers rate OTP highly. Up to a point, it’s better to be reliable than late. Amtrak has temporarily lengthened certain schedules where there are physical impediments to achieving good OTP, in return for host railroad commitments to improve OTP while the impediments are removed--what we call ‘Get Well Plans.’ But lengthening schedules is not a strategy we can continue indefinitely, as it leads to higher crew and other costs, lower revenues, shorter equipment turns, and increased equipment requirements.”

“System fluidity is not a railroad-only problem,” Kummant stressed. “It’s a transportation industry problem. The railroads have reestablished themselves as part of the national transportation economy, so the spotlight now shines on both their problems and opportunities.”

Kummant called for “a national investment strategy to keep the rail system fluid. The recent AAR capacity study suggests Class I railroads will be able to generate about 70% of the capital they will need through 2035. This projection assumes no additional freight traffic diverted from highways, and also assumes no increases in intercity passenger or commuter traffic. This is a remarkable statement from the freight rail industry.”

One problem: “Railroads are not rewarded by Wall Street for capital investment,” Kummant noted. “Between 1996 and 2005, U.S. freight railroads invested 17.2% of revenue in recapitalization--five times the national industrial average. This is still not enough, so we need to take some bold steps. America needs significant investment in national transportation infrastructure, and capital improvements take time in the railroad industry. We shouldn’t let signs of [an economic downturn] stop us, if they appear. A recession will slow growth, but won’t stop it entirely. We should invest in anticipation of need--not in response to it. It will be easier to deal with the service disruptions capital improvement projects may cause during a slack period. Public-private partnerships may spur countercyclical investment.”

Echoing the beliefs of many passenger rail interests, Kummant said that there are numerous opportunities for partnership. “There are limits to private capital availability,” he said. “There is growing government interest for promoting rail investment as part of a genuine multi-modal transportation policy. A coalition of freight and passenger rail supporters would cross the political spectrum. Such a coalition would include chambers of commerce, environmental groups, labor, manufacturers, airlines, shippers, and the construction and real estate industries. To do this, Amtrak and the freight railroads will need a federal rail capacity policy. Congressional reauthorization of Amtrak could be part of the solution. Amtrak needs a dedicated funding source, so states and federal government must partner to establish a matching funding program for state investment in passenger rail. This proposal must come from within the industry, and we must work together.”

Kummant said that such a funding program should be managed by states, in close cooperation with freight carriers and Amtrak—“a joint effort on the part of Amtrak, the freight railroads, commuter authorities, and government at all levels. Private property interests must be protected, but we must work with government to address the national mobility crisis.”


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