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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November 10, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 47

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
California Voters Approve $10B Bond Issue For 21st-Century
   High Speed Rail System
AGC Revolutionizes France’s Branch Lines By Improving
   On An Old American Idea
  Commuter Lines…
No Surge In Demand For Transit On Greenbush Line
  Safety Lines…
NTSB Adds Safety Measures To 2009 List
  Across The Pond…
Short Background on Rail Travel in Switzerland
  Selected Rail Stocks…
Future Mobility of The Commonwealth (MA)
New Jersey Transit’s ARC Tunnel Project: The Hoboken Plan
Thomas Jefferson, At Peace At Last
  Publication Notes …

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

California Voters Approve $10B Bond Issue
For 21st-Century High Speed Rail System

By DF Staff and from the Internet

SACRAMENTO --- California voters have voted solidly to tax themselves and create America’s first European-standard high speed rail system, to connect Los Angeles, and San Francisco by 2020, and San Diego and Sacramento shortly after that, in an 800-mile network.

The vote came on November 4 on a statewide ballot initiative that was passed 52-47%. The proposal has been supported by both Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled California state Assembly and Senate.

Wired Magazine reports: “Before the final ballots had even been tallied, high-speed rail advocates in California were getting down to work, laying the foundation for a bullet train that will link San Francisco and Los Angeles as early as 2020.”

“Voters on Tuesday approved the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, more commonly known as Proposition 1A, by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent. The law authorizes the Legislature to issue almost $10 billion in bonds to fund the first phase of an 800-mile high speed rail link between Northern and Southern California. Advocates of high-speed rail hailed the victory as a watershed for high-speed rail in America,” wrote reporter Dave Demerjian.

Acela high-speed train leaves Washington's Union Station.

Something similar for California soon? Here an Acela high-speed train leaves Washington’s Union Station.

“I’ve been a big fan of this proposal [Prop 1A] for a long time,” former Massachusetts governor and Amtrak board member Michael Dukakis told “It’s a no brainer, and the fact that it passed makes me hopeful about rail in this country.”

Rod Diridon, Sr, Chair of the American Public Transportation Association High Speed and Intercity Rail Committee, who is also Chair emeritus and a member of the California High Speed Rail Authority Board, as well as Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, was exultant, but ready to go to work:

“Now the California High Speed Rail Authority Board must shift focus to obtaining the matching federal funds a portion of which will be sought from the $1.5 billion for HSR from the $13 billion created by the just-approved Railroad Safety Act. U.S. House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Oberstar pledges to bring forward an infrastructure jobs bill on November 17 which could/should include the rest of the federal 1/3 for the …starter lines funding. The final private investment of 1/3 to 40% is available via the 41 major inventors who have signed Letters of Intent to Invest pending the passage of prop 1A,” noted Diridon.

“That’s $30+ billion in 2008 dollars that will not only create mobility, clean up the air, and reduce dependence on foreign oil but most importantly right now, that’s 320,000 person-years of work to build a project that creates an added 450,000 permanent jobs, jobs in California, by the economic stimulations of our sagging economy. Yes, as FDR proved, we can build ourselves out of this recession if we build the right projects fast enough, said Diridon, widely regarded as the leading advocate for the California High Speed Rail Project, first proposed more than two decades ago, and a frequent speaker at National Corridors Initiative Conference. NCI has supported the California HSR project since it became a national organization in 1995, 13 years ago.

“So we have a project!” continued Diridon. “The next step is to complete the Project Level Environmental Clearance and the 30% engineering and the other specifications that lead to bids by 2011 followed by the largest single construction project in the nation’s history. We all look forward to riding that first train between San Francesco, San Jose, Gilroy, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale, Burbank, Los Angeles, and Anaheim by 2020! Then on to Sacramento and San Diego shortly thereafter.”

“Proponents say the project is essential for a state choking on jammed highways and crowded airports, and predict that a well-planned north-south rail link could draw over 115 million riders a year by 2030. Gov. Schwarzenegger, one of the initiative’s biggest advocates, argued high-speed rail will not only solve California’s infamous gridlock, it will give the Golden State an economic competitive advantage,” wrote Wired.

California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), also strong supporters of the project, also released a statement by Emily Rusch, Transportation Advocate for CALPIRG.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled with voters’ approval of Prop 1A. With this vote, Californians decided to reduce our oil dependence, to build alternatives to traffic and long airport lines, and to help solve global warming. Californians were also voting to boost the economy.

“Prop 1A is another historic example of California leading the nation. This vote confirms California’s commitment to building high-speed rail. Now California leaders must continue fighting for the project in order to start laying the tracks as quickly as possible. Before we spend bond funds on construction, Congress and private companies will have to match California’s commitment to the train. We need that to happen quickly because this project cannot be delayed any longer. We saw gas prices hover well above $4 a gallon in California all summer. California has three of the top five most congested regions in the country, costing commuters billions in time and money. Continued oil dependence puts our environment, our economy, and national security at risk. And we know that we need to take dramatic steps now in order to prevent the most devastating impacts of global warming. For all of these reasons, Californians urgently need the high-speed train up and running.”

“Luckily, California leaders like Speaker Pelosi, Senator Feinstein, Congressman Jim Costa, and many others in Congress are strong supporters of high-speed rail. We thank them, and so many others, for their past leadership. We urge them to stay the course and see this project through.

“Looking ahead, the impacts of Prop 1A’s passage extend well beyond California. Other regions, from the Midwest to Florida, are also considering high-speed rail to help meet their growing transportation needs. With this vote, California is again leading the way. I look forward to riding the train!”

CALPIRG “…takes on powerful interests on behalf of Californians, working to win concrete results for our health and well-being. With researchers, advocates, organizers and students, we stand up to powerful special interests to protect consumers, advocate transportation solutions, fight political corruption, expand access to quality, affordable health care, and more.”

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There’s No Excuse --- Part 4 Of Still Writing…


AGC Revolutionizes France’s Branch Lines
By Improving On An Old American Idea

By Jim RePass, Publisher, Destination:Freedom

BORDEAUX TO MONT DE MARSAN, FRANCE --- As the Interstate Highway system cut into the local and mid-range part of the passenger rail business in the 1950’s, while the new Boeing 707 jet aircraft, built around the military-funded KC-135 tanker, did the same to long-distance trains in the United States, some American railroads fought back by introducing the Budd RDC (Rail Diesel Car).

This loud, smelly, but relatively cost-effective self-powered (two separate diesel motors) train car was built by the Budd Company from 1949 to 1956, and introduced on branch line service as a cost-cutting measure, but by that time, the railroads were actively trying to give up on passenger service any way they could, and spending on R&D came to a virtual halt.

Interlaken West train station awaits the next Swiss Rail Intercity

All Photos: Jim RePass, NCI

Interlaken West train station awaits the next Swiss Rail Intercity, Sunday morning.

True, the Urban Mass Transit Administration stepped in a decade later in its good-natured, goofy way, in an attempt to aid the barely beating heart of commuter passenger service, and Amtrak in 1970 with the dregs of old locomotives and equipment, tried to do the same for intercity passenger service. But to all intents and purposes R&D on passenger car rail service was dead in America, as all domestically-owned passenger rail car manufacturing companies gradually went out of business or were absorbed by foreign counterparts.

But R&D did not stop. It merely stopped in America. In Europe, and later in Asia, work went on at a steady and growing pace as the Japanese, Europeans, and now Koreans and Chinese invested mightily in passenger rail technology while America was in the process of building highways/suburbs and hollowing out its cities.

Comfortable first classlounge area, Swiss Rail Intercity

Comfortable first classlounge area, Swiss Rail Intercity.

That work has taken many paths and shapes, from the famed Shinkanshen Japanese Bullet Train, (the first ones based on American designs abandoned in the 1950’s), to the ALSTOM French TGV, German Siemens Intercity Express, for intercity service, and an unbelievable number and variety of city trams, light rail, interurban, and everything in between for commuter and mid-range service.

The American RDCs were all (almost) eventually retired, because while they were low-cost to operate, they had a fatal flaw: they were diesel-powered only; and along the Northeasat Corridor, electrified New Haven to New York 1906-1912 and New York to Washington in the 1930’s, that meant a change of trains from the branches to the big cities. And, as any transportation consultant will tell you, every seat change required in a rail trip knocks out 1/3-1/2 of your ridership, who simply won’t put up with the long waits between trains in America’s sparse and underfunded system.

Green, misty farmland West of Interlaken in the route to Bern

Green, misty farmland West of Interlaken in the route to Bern.

Cut to the future, or rather recent past, to a development which prompted in large part my recent trip to Europe: Bombardier’s “AGC” trains (Autorail Grande Capacité), a rail innovation that is revolutionizing transportation in France, because it solves the fatal flaw of DMU-only or EMU-only technology ---- by being both, and thereby converting to a one-seat ride what had been two or even three-seat rides.

I began my trip to see these AGCs in service after an inspection at Berlin’s InnoTrans rail show the previous week, where the latest AGC was on display. I determined through some consultations that one good place to see the AGC in service would be on the Bordeaux-Mont de Marsan run of “TER Aquitaine,” the regional commuter rail line in the Aquitaine region in the south of France.

Hotels are convenient in Europe: here are a pair visible from the station platform at Bern

Hotels are convenient in Europe: here are a pair visible from the station platform at Bern.

To accomplish this I took intercity express trains from Interlaken, Switzerland, to Paris, on Sunday September 28, changing trains at Bern and then Geneva, and staying in Paris that night; the following day is my Paris to Bordeaux/Mont de Marsan, and return, excursion to the AGC.

Up at 6:30 a.m. for an elegant breakfast in the large formal dining room of the City Swiss Overland Hotel at Interlaken (included in the room cost of about 150 Swiss Francs, or $138 at that date) at 9:05 I walk to Interlaken West Train Station for a Swiss Rail Intercity arriving at Bern at 9:52; then at Bern at 10:34 a.m. I catch an SBB IC double-decker bound for Geneva. In less than three hours I walk from the main station area in Geneva through the customs area to the waiting TGV 6572 for Paris, which consists of two complete TGV single-level trainsets coupled together, a common practice. It leaves promptly at 13:17 (1:17 p.m. U.S. style) for Paris’ Gare de Lyon.

Interior of the TGV to Bordeaux, First Class compartment

Interior of the TGV to Bordeaux, First Class compartment.

From Seat 63 I watch the industrial outskirts of Geneva go by, and then we are in the countryside, following the river valley into France and North, where a hundred swans are swimming lazily in glacial (grey, misty) water. An announcement (in French only, even though this is an international train) about the café car going on break (already?)! At 14:49 at Bourge-en-Bresse, we stop, and a number of people get off to light up and inhale like they’ve been deprived for days: the Europeans are still heavy cigarette smokers, although smoking is now banned on the trains themselves (or at least, on those I travelled)

Back up to track speed we flash through farms and fields where cows and sheep absolutely ignore the train; we meet and pass another train; the passage takes less than two seconds. I estimate the joint speed of the two trains, given their length, is at least 350 mph.

Bordeaux St.-Jean's baroquely beautiful Gare

Bordeaux St.-Jean’s baroquely beautiful Gare.

At 16:03 we cross an impressive four-track main line that goes E-W; we are going due North towards Paris.At 16:25 we are almost to Paris, yet still in the country side. The car grows warm as the lowering sun blazes in; at 16:40 the Paris skyline is in the distance.

At 16:43 we are in the suburbs of Paris, and then at 16:45 in the Gare de Lyon yards. There sit scores of TGV trainsets of all kinds; there are more high speed trains marshaled and awaiting service in this one rail yard, outside this one rail station (Paris has six) than are in actual service in all of the United States! Think about it.

We gain the platform at Gare de Lyon and at 16:49 “Arrete a Paris”. Dinner at L’Auberge on the Blvd. S. Michel, then to bed.

21st Century Trams outside the station door in 15th century Bordeaux

21st Century Trams outside the station door in 15th century Bordeaux.

Monday September 29

I go to the Metro entry way a few steps from my Hotel Isteria and take the Paris Metro M6 two stops to Gare Montparnasse. I entrain on the 8:10 TGV to Bordeaux, to catch the Ter Aquitaine AGC there for Mont de Marsan. Train is actually two TGV’s coupled together, so it is sixteen coaches long. We start out at 8:20, after an announcement apologizing profusely (in French) for the delay. I have the feeling we will make up the time. We pass a lot of “Ile de France”-marked commuter trains, which are the ones that serve the Paris region, plus trains maked TER. It is very foggy. A young lady sits in the compartment opposite my single window seat; her dog, a big brown lab, is with her. He squeezes under the seat and lies down peacefully, looking at me. I ask the dog’s name; it is “Ecout” “What a good dog…” I say. Ecout blinks happily.

First Class is quite empty on this run, somewhat surprisingly, since the train gets into Bordeaux in time for lunch. We arrive on time, as I expected, at 11:20 a.m., Bordeaux St. Jean Station, large but, nevertheless, undergoing expansion. The weather is glorious, cool, blue skies, sunny; wonderful architecture everywhere. Gare Bordeaux-St. Jean is magnificent.

A pair of AGC Dual Mode DMU/EMUs at Mont de Marsan

A pair of AGC Dual Mode DMU/EMUs at Mont de Marsan.

I stop into the Billets area; it is very busy, and I take a number for international ticket service so as to purchase tomorrow’s Paris-Karlsruhe reservations, but no light is on any clerk’s number board for that service, only for domestic. I notice a woman talking behind a counter to another clerk, laughing and gossiping, with her light off, as she shuffles through papers. I suspect that she is the one who hadn’t activated her “ready” light, and I go over to talk to her. I decide to test the old theory that French railway clerks are deliberately surly to English speakers, so I say to her, “Excuse me, do you speak English,” to which she immediately snaps “Pas de tout” and immediately --- immediately --- turns away.

I then say, “Il n y pas de quoi, Madame, je parle Francais;” she turns around, somewhat startled, and I continue, “J’avais un nombre pour les billets international, mais personne ne les vend ici, seulement domestique” She shrugs and says nothing; I walk away slowly and watch the sign board over her head, which suddenly lights – with the number I have in my hand. I walk back across the room: “Mois encore,” I smile. She sullenly sells me my ticket for Paris-Karlsruhe for tomorrow’s early train from Gare de L’Est.

Waiting for the AGC dual-mode train to Mont de Marsan, I watch the space-age ultramodern trams come and go on the street in front of the train station. It is eerie, to be surrounded by 300-500 year-old architecture, while these surrealistically, aggressively modern trams glide to and fro silently about the ancient city. Once the capital of Roman Aquitaine, Bordeaux was the home of Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine (1133-1189) who married Count Henri Plantagenet, later the first Plantagenet King of England, Henry II.

Picturesque town square, Mont de Marsan, a one-seat ride from Bordeaux via AGC

Picturesque town square, Mont de Marsan, a one-seat ride from Bordeaux via AGC.

At 12:00 noon I have lunch in the station bistro –jambon on a bread roll plus Orangina. Unlike American “grinders,” these French sandwiches have very little ham, some lettuce, and mayonnaise, but the bread is very, very fresh. At 12:36 I go to Platform B (stub end track on South side of station) and see the Bombardier AGC, painted in TER Aquitaine (Aquitaine Regional Transport) livery, a three-car DMU/EMU with diesel power at one end, and a pantograph to pick up electricity from the overhead wires on the other. We are operating under electricity on heavy rail line.

At 12:39, we stop at Pessac. I am riding in 2nd class, because 1st class is isolated in a small section of the train up near the driver, walled off with glass partitions and feels claustrophobic. It is also quite hot from sitting in the sun. We are going at least 100 mph. It is a spacious, open train (except for first-class!), with low-level entrances in center, ramps up to higher levels and connections between cars. One operator only; low cost operation. We are traversing farmland, grape plantings everywhere, very flat. At 13:14 we are at Ychoux, the first decrepit-looking station I have seen in Europe thus far, and then at 13:22 we are stopped at Labouheyre, with its large number of tracks but disused; grass is growing up through most of them; low platforms. We are still under electric power, but it is clear that we are on a branch line. We are in a pine barrens/tree farm area --- for Xmas trees, it looks like. At 13:31 in Morcenx, we are stopped, there is no overhead wire, and the diesels at the other end of the three-car set fire up. I also see some ancient diesel locos parked in the yard; we are now under diesel power, headlining down a branch line, heading right along. A few minutes later we are on rough track, but we are still going close to 100 mph. The woods close in on both sides of the track, definitely countryside. At 13:45 at Ygos, we stop, and an agent of SNCF takes conductors’ papers, signs them, takes one copy, blows his whistle, and waves us to proceed: an ancient rail ritual giving permission to advance. This is a pretty little town, but the track is still a little rough.

At 13:57 we arrive at Mont de Marsan, end of this branch line. Neat station, staffed, several tracks, yards nearby, although they look old; a mechanical switch gear lever, pulled by station attendant, changes the setting of the “points” or switch track as I watch. The AGC looks like a ship from another century, set down in an ancient French river town. And so it is --- but now it is a town with quick, modern, one-seat rail service to the Big Cities, and it is blossoming again. More to come…

[ Next week --- the economic benefits of re-connecting small towns to big ones. ]

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

No Surge In Demand For Transit On Greenbush Line

By DF Staff

At the end of October, The Patriot Ledger in Scituate, Massachusetts, published a story about the disappointing ridership numbers on a line that opened just one year ago.

“In the 10 months since service started on the Greenbush commuter train line, ridership has increased 45 percent. That’s less than half the percentage increase in ridership seen a decade ago during the first 10 months of service to Plymouth and Middleboro on the two other branches of the Old Colony rail line.”

The MBTA had high expectations for the Greenbush line between Boston and Scituate marked one year in service on October 31. Not only has it failed to meet the expectations of the MBTA, but the new line’s debut has paralleled a drastic drop in those taking commuter boats between the South Shore and Boston. The number of commuters riding ferries out of Hingham fell 17 percent from September 2007 to September 2008. The drop was even steeper for the MBTA’s Quincy/Hull commuter boats, which saw a 22 percent decline in ridership.

This came at a time when the MBTA boasted record numbers of subway riders. But apparently, not all public transportation benefited from high gas prices.

( Editor’s note: DF Staff plans to investigate why this transit service in a major metropolitan area has not been as successful as expected. Stay tuned. )

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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...

NTSB Adds Safety Measures To 2009 List

Positive Train Control And Fatigue Removed

NTSB Press Release On The Internet

WASHINGTON, DC, OCTOBER 28 --The National Transportation Safety Board today issued its 2009 Federal Most Wanted List of safety improvements. Newly added to the list of 15 areas of concern were: Improve Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Flight Operations, Restrict the Use of Cell Phones by motorcoach drivers, and require Electronic On-Board Recorders by all motor carriers.
Among the issues removed from the list were positive train control (PTS), fatigue in the railroad industry, and aircraft fuel tank flammability. PTS and fatigue had been on the list since its inception in 1990.

“Our Most Wanted List, which was created in 1990, was designed to raise the public’s awareness and support for transportation safety issues,” said NTSB Chairman Mark V.

Rosenker. “The safety issues on this list are critical to improving transportation safety. When acted upon, these recommendations will reduce accidents and save lives.”

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


Short Background On Rail Travel In Switzerland

A Follow-up to Jim RePass’s “There Is No Excuse” series

By David Beale, NCI Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Almost the entire Swiss rail network (the standard gauge national network operated by SBB and BLS plus 48 various assorted narrow gauge and rack railways) in the country are electrified. With nearly 100% electric trains, Switzerland is the only country in Europe (other than the tiny city-states such as Monaco, Liechtenstein, etc.) to achieve a totally electrified rail network (with exceptions of a few sidings here and there in industrial parks). The only exceptions are diesel powered work trains for rail track and overhead power line maintenance and diesel switcher locomotives. The total amount of non-electrified track is 41 km out of a total of approximately 5100 km of standard gauge and narrow gauge rail lines.

The standard gauge network and a large number of the narrow gauge rail lines are electrified at 15 kV AC 16.7 Hz, which is common with main line electrification in neighboring Germany and Austria. Voltage on other narrow gauge lines range from 500 VDC to 3000 VDC.

The rail network in Switzerland is Europe’s most dense, when evaluated on km of rail line per 100 km land area. It is also considered the benchmark for railroads in the rest of Europe in terms of on-time reliability, technology and infrastructure. Several passenger rail associations and rail advocacy groups in Germany typically use examples from the Swiss rail industry as standards, which they want Germany to meet, especially station up-keep, appearance and cleanliness. Switzerland is one of the first countries in Europe to deploy ETCS Level 2 signaling and positive train control. ETCS is a universal signal, train protection and control system which will eventually replace country specific signaling and train protection systems across Europe and other areas such as South Africa, India, China and elsewhere. The country is served by daily ICE-1, ICE-3 and ICE-T high-speed trains based in Germany and TGV trains based in France.

A locomotive hauled narrow-gauge passenger train pauses in Rueun, southeast Switzerland in May 2007

Photo: David Beale

A locomotive hauled narrow-gauge passenger train pauses in Rueun, southeast Switzerland in May 2007.

Switzerland has a land area of approximately 41,000 sq. km., about 11 percent more land area than the combined land areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. About 15% of this land area is not inhabitable due to being part of steep mountain slopes or peaks of the Alps mountain range or bodies of water. The total resident population of Switzerland is approximately 7.6 million, about 3.5 million less than the combined populations of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, thus making the country somewhat less densely populated than the three lower New England states.

The number of diesel powered third party freight trains, which run into or through the country (as is common here in Germany) is very limited due to the high rail access charges; thus, it is cheaper to find and lease an electric locomotive to haul such freight operations within Switzerland. Switzerland recently (2006 or thereabouts) started requiring that diesel locomotives, which operate any sort of mainline freight or passenger services, to be equipped with exhaust particulate filters and meet the latest EU Norms for diesel exhaust emissions, thus ruling out about 90% of the existing diesel locomotive and DMU fleets in France, Germany and Austria from entering Switzerland, including EMD’s “Class 66,” DB Railion’s Soviet Union built Class 232 series and third-party owned variants thereof, GE’s “Blue Tiger,” and any number of other diesel locomotive models which have come on to the used locomotive market out of Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Hungary, Germany, Romania, Denmark, Great Britain and Belgium. There are a quite a few newer DMUs in operation in France, Germany and Austria that could meet the Swiss diesel exhaust emissions requirements, but what’s the point when 100% of the passenger rail lines have electrification.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)81.2589.06
Canadian National (CNI)42.9743.25
Canadian Pacific (CP)41.6645.00
CSX (CSX)42.7745.72
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)32.7033.35
Kansas City Southern (KSU)28.1530.87
Norfolk Southern (NSC)53.7259.94
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.6114.00
Union Pacific (UNP)60.9966.77

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EVENTS... Events...

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 ARC Tunnel Project:
The Hoboken Plan

Sixth in a Series

By David Peter Alan

It was the way transit worked in an earlier era. You took the train to a terminal on the waterfront and a ferry to Manhattan. Until 1967, many commuters and other riders on the Morris & Essex and other lines of the Lackawanna Railroad did just that. Many others reached lower Manhattan, the Village or Midtown on the PATH trains (Port Authority Trans-Hudson; Hudson & Manhattan Railroad in the old days). The Lackawanna Railroad obliged in 1907 by constructing a beautiful terminal in which to celebrate arrivals and make transfers.

Today, the ferries to Manhattan’s Financial District are back, many riders still transfer to the PATH lines, and the historic terminal has been restored to the look of its days of glory. All is not well in Hoboken, however, as New Jersey Transit has de-emphasized the historic terminal and shifted many of the M&E and Montclair-Boonton Line trains that formerly terminated there into New York’s Penn Station.

NJT plans for these Penn Station diversions to be temporary. If NJT’s managers have their way, all of these trains will go to a proposed terminal to be located nearly twenty stories (175 feet) below 34th Street in Manhattan. According to NJT, Hoboken will still be served to some extent, but it is unclear how many trains will go there after the proposed new tunnel and deep-cavern terminal are opened for service.

When M&E trains started rolling into the existing Penn Station in 1996 with NJT’s “Midtown Direct” service, many of the new Penn Station riders had switched their destination from Hoboken. With the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Financial District lost jobs, whose numbers have not recovered to pre-2001 levels. Because of this, fewer riders are commuting to Hoboken and taking PATH trains to the downtown terminal. About 38% of NJT’s peak-hour riders now commute to Hoboken.

NJT has responded by eliminating much of the service that went to Hoboken until August, 2006. At that time, half of the weekend service on the M&E Line to Hoboken was eliminated, and the rest was discontinued last May. Only a shuttle train to Newark every two hours remains. Essentially all weekday mid-day and many evening trains between Dover and Hoboken were eliminated at the same time. Gladstone trains still run to and from Hoboken on weekdays, but overall service on the line was essentially cut in half. There have also been cuts in service on the Montclair-Boonton and Main/Bergen Lines, which also run into Hoboken Terminal.

At the moment, NJT needs the terminal and yard capacity that Hoboken offers, at least at peak hours. The station’s 17 tracks can easily accommodate the four lines that go there. However, management’s operating plan for the new proposed “ARC” tunnel and deep-cavern terminal would provide for trains on the Main/Bergen, Montclair-Boonton and Pascack Valley Lines to go directly to the deep-cavern terminal through the use of dual-mode (diesel and overhead wire) locomotives. NJT has ordered 25 such engines, to be built at a cost of about $11.6 million each, about five times the cost of a conventional locomotive. When the other lines are transferred out of Hoboken and into the new proposed terminal, NJT expects that Hoboken will carry only about 13% of peak-hour riders.

Advocates for the riders, who oppose the proposed terminal, are concerned that NJT has shifted trains from Hoboken to Penn Station, as well as charging high fares to and from Hoboken on the M&E and Montclair-Boonton Lines, to increase demand for midtown service. Each schedule change has resulted in the removal of trains from Hoboken service, thereby further discouraging riders from using that station. While NJT publicly promotes connections at Hoboken for PATH, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and local buses, it appears that management is doing whatever it can to dissuade riders from going to Hoboken and using these connecting routes.

Two New Yorkers have expressed their alarm over the current situation by proposing an alternative to the current “ARC” plan. The alternate plan would change the location of the new proposed tunnel and build a new station at Hoboken, thereby integrating Hoboken into the line. The plan was proposed by George Haikalis, Chair of the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG) and President of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility (IRUM), a transit-oriented consulting firm. Haikalis first gained local fame in the 1970s when he was instrumental in stopping Westway, a proposed superhighway along Manhattans West Side. Joseph M. Clift, who heads the “ARC” task force for RRWG and served as Director of Strategic Planning for the Long Island Rail Road during the 1980s, is the Hoboken plan’s most vocal advocate.

The plan proposed by Haikalis and Clift, and favored by the allied rider advocacy organizations, would use the existing M&E Line to Hoboken. A new station would be built, just west of the existing terminal and still within easy walking distance of connections to PATH trains, ferries, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and local buses. The alignment of the tunnel to Manhattan under the Hudson River would be changed to start from the Hoboken location and connect into the existing Penn Station. From there, a further track connection would be built to Grand Central Terminal or a nearby location.

The new Hoboken station would be a “line” station with trains running through it, rather than a multi-track stub-end terminal. It would have two tracks, one running in each direction. For extra capacity, a third track would be added between the other two. This would be a pocket track, for trains that would terminate at Hoboken, as diesel-powered trains do today. Riders going to Manhattan could change trains at Hoboken and, under the Haikalis/Clift plan, would have access to the existing Penn Station (West Side) or the East Side of Midtown Manhattan.

The Hoboken plan has several advantages over the current NJT proposal. First, it allows a rider the choice of going to Hoboken, Manhattan’s West Side or Manhattan’s East Side. Trains operating at off-peak hours could stop at all three locations. Peak-hour trains might not stop at all three locations, but transfers would be available to take riders to the destination of their choice. Connections now available to other transit at Hoboken would still be available, and Hoboken riders would not be marginalized or faced with further service reductions.

Second, the Hoboken plan allows for future development of the waterfront area in Hoboken and Jersey City. This area has changed considerably since On the Waterfront was shot in Hoboken in the early 1950s. Residential and office development have replaced the old docks, and Hoboken has become a popular town among the rich and powerful. Even Gov. Jon Corzine lives there. The Lefrak organization and other developers have their eyes on the waterfront, which they call the “Gold Coast” of Hudson County. These developers wish to build high-rise office complexes and residential buildings at the location now occupied by NJT’s Hoboken Yard. Construction of the proposed through-station at Hoboken will eliminate much of the need for the yard, thereby freeing much of the land which it now occupies for development. In addition, the proposed station will provide residents and employees of the area with access to both sides of midtown Manhattan, faster than they could reach Midtown on PATH.

Third, the Hoboken proposal eliminates the need for replacing Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, just west of Secaucus Station. All trains bound for Penn Station, whether operated by Amtrak or NJT, now go over Portal Bridge. Under the Haikalis/Clift plan, many NJT trains would be diverted onto the existing M&E Line into Hoboken, which has the capacity to accommodate them. There are four tracks into the existing Hoboken Terminal, compared to only two into the existing Penn Station. Trains routed through Hoboken under this plan would not need to go over Portal Bridge, which has enough capacity for existing and future Amtrak service, plus some NJT trains. It could be rehabilitated instead of replaced, thereby saving billions of dollars in construction costs. Current estimates peg the cost of the Portal Bridge project alone at $1.7 billion. While New Jersey’s political leaders are working on finding the money to pay for the “ARC” project itself (now estimated at $7.6 billion), little has been said about how the Garden State will pay for a replacement for Portal Bridge and its related infrastructure, a project that must be completed before the new line proposed by NJT can begin to operate.

The proposed Hoboken routing would also provide additional access to Manhattan, in the event of an emergency or under normal operation. Under the current NJT plan, Amtrak trains could not be re-routed over the new line, even in case of emergency. The new line proposed by NJT would be completely separate from Penn Station, so even a detour of NJT trains would become an operational nightmare. The Haikalis-Clift plan eliminates this problem. Trains could access Penn Station by going over Portal Bridge or going through the proposed new Hoboken station, thus providing flexibility and redundancy that are not available under the NJT plan. The Hoboken plan also provides for five tracks of capacity between Kearny Junction (where the M&E and Northeast Corridor Lines meet) and Penn Station. This is a level of capacity that will meet transportation needs for many years to come.

The advocates believe that it is time for new thinking about how to best serve the riding public. With the elimination of the massive Portal Bridge project, New Jersey could save billions of dollars and use them elsewhere. The riders who would continue to go to Hoboken, whether ending their trips there or connecting to other transit, would continue to be served. Hoboken riders would also enjoy new rapid service to Midtown Manhattan, while riders from points farther from the City would be spared the inconvenience of having to ascend a vertical distance of 175 feet every time they arrived in or left the Midtown terminal. Everyone seems to come out ahead, compared to the results under NJT’s proposal. In addition, the Hoboken project requires less work than the NJT proposal, so it could be operating sooner.

Still, New Jersey’s decision makers have not thoroughly considered the advantages of the Hoboken alternative. They seem fixated on the deep-cavern terminal. Before that terminal and the tunnel that would lead to it are built, Portal Bridge must be replaced to allow the proposed operation to proceed. The proposed replacement of Portal Bridge will be the subject of the next article in this series.

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EDITORIAL... Editorial...

Thomas Jefferson, At Peace At Last

By Jim RePass


“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

----Thomas Jefferson (b. 1743– d. 1826), 3rd President of the United States (1801-1809), reflecting on the institution of slavery, from his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” published in 1784.


Thomas Jefferson trembled because of his well-founded fears at the failure of his new nation to abolish slavery at its inception, instead permitting its continuation by deciding at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, to count slaves as “3/5 of a person” for purposes of apportionment and taxes, while denying them the right to vote. This was done to win over Southern states, which wanted the votes and taxes that the slaves would bring via greater Southern apportionment of the House of Representatives, without the bother of having to recognize them as citizens.

But perhaps another influence on Jefferson, a complicated and brilliant young man, was his own conscience; he who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the soul of America’s national creed, owned slaves himself, and did not free them until his death.

The compromise enacted at the Constitutional Convention decision gave broadly disproportionate political power to the Southern slave states for nearly 100 years, and ensured the continuation of slavery until, as Jefferson had likely foreseen, a terrible Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation swept slavery away.

But the Civil War did not end the injustice of the slave culture; in 1876, just 11 years after the guns fell silent at Appomattox, a “corrupt bargain” between the Republican Party and the southern Democrat heirs to the wreckage of the ante-bellum South gave the Presidency to losing candidate Rutherford B. Hayes (by giving him the electoral votes of three disputed states), in return for an end to Federal troops in the South, and a pledge of future non-interference in Southern affairs. The result was the end of Reconstruction, the start of Jim Crow rule, and another century of shame wherein black Americans were systematically denied representation, the right to vote, and basic human dignity, until the onset of massive Federal intervention in the political process in the South that culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Act Rights itself turned American politics on its head, and ensured the rise of Southern Republicanism, the “Southern Strategy” of Richard Nixon, and the racist presidential campaigns of Alabama Gov. George Wallace ---and others. President Lyndon Johnson said privately, after signing the Act, speaking of his own political party, “We have lost the South for a generation,” and he was right.

But now, 231 years since the drafting of our flawed Constitution, two centuries since the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, 143 years since the end of the Civil War, and 43 years since the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, all this has changed.

The election of Barack Obama as President is all the things the pundits say, and more. No matter how anyone voted on November 4, the elevation of this remarkable young first-term Senator from Illinois to the Presidency is the realization in fact, as well as in theory, of our nation’s great unkept promise, “…that all men are created equal.”

And it is something else, as well, for as much as Barak Obama’s election is a symbol of hope, freedom and pride to America’s citizens of Afro-American heritage, it also allows all of us, black, white, red and brown, to join in with the Rev. Martin Luther King and make our own his famous line from the Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

There are those who will note that America is in a fix, in more ways than one, and no matter who is President our path back upwards will be rocky. And they are right.

But we have something we didn’t have last week, and it is not just a new President-Elect: we are a new nation, once again. It is the singular gift of this country to re-invent itself when it has to; that has been a skein running through our history, and it is based in part on the fact that while we have not always been able to live up to our founding principles, at least we have founding principles to live up to.

Over the next few weeks and months you will be reading and hearing a lot about Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. This is in part because President-Elect Obama hails from Illinois, as did Abraham Lincoln, but that is not the main thing. You will be hearing and reading about it because we are living at a time of our country’s history that is in its own way very similar to that of Lincoln’s, a time of tremendous change and challenge, at the end of a very long period of struggle, a time of danger, and a time when courage will be needed. Here in its entirety is what Abraham Lincoln said in 1865, upon his second inaugural:


At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


We have not had four years of Civil War, but we have had decades of contention, of resentment, and its consequences, sometimes explicit, sometimes under the surface, in its century-and-a-half-long aftermath.

Few people other than historians recollect this, but it was Abraham Lincoln who first proposed the building of a Transcontinental Railroad. He did so even though the country was in the midst of the Civil War. He saw the law through Congress, and he did not live to see it built – it was completed in 1869 --- but as much as any man he was its godfather. He fought for the railroad because even in the midst of incredible civil carnage he saw a day coming when the nation would be united again, and need the sinews and muscle that only a strong transportation system can provide to commerce, and to our people.

For a generation and more we have endured a divisive and short-sighted political ideology that derided public investment in things like transportation, and gave all power to the “magic of the marketplace.” And we have now seen the consequences of that ideology, allowed to range unbridled and willfully over our nation --- just as we did in 1929, and then forgot the lesson.

Today our infrastructure – not just rail service, but the overburdened highways, decrepit bridges, congested airports, and inchoate port systems --- is in tatters, even as we face the fiscal crisis brought on by the incredible mismanagement of past years on the part of both political parties. It is this which we must, first and foremost, rebuild, if America is to rise as the phoenix from the present ashes. That will not be easy. But in the 1930’s, with dams, and rural electrification, and yes, highway construction, and most of all, with leadership, we began to work our way back. President-elect Obama faces the most daunting challenges any President has faced in a generation, or more. Let us make it our business to rise to the occasion with him, and rebuild our infrastructure.

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