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 15, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 47

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

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

  News Items…
Amtrak Has No “Plans” for ARC Engineering Work
  HSR…
Vermont’s High-Speed Rail Project Kicks Off
  Station Lines…
Government Of Canada, VIA Rail Unveil
   New Belleville Station Design
Joliet, Illinois, Plans Regional Transit Hub
  Commuter Lines…
FTA Bills New Jersey Transit For $271 Million
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Political Lines…
LaHood: HSR Funds Are For Rail - Not Roads
  Political Lines…
With Oberstar Out, Who Will Be Top Dem ?
As A New Congress Sets Up Shop, Questions About
   The Future Of Transportation Funding
  Editorial…
The Coming Conflict Over Transportation $
  Publication Notes …


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

The ARC Tunnel…

 

Amtrak “Remains Open” To Improving
Trans-Hudson Rail Capacity, But Has No “Plans”
To Purchase NJ Transit’s Engineering Work

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON---In response to continued media coverage about the New York-New Jersey “Access to the Region’s Core (“ARC”) trans-Hudson rail tunnel project, which was shut down by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie last month because of $3-$5 billion in projected major cost over-runs, Amtrak stated this past week “We remain open to exploring ways to expand trans-Hudson passenger rail capacity with NJT (“New Jersey Transit”), but Amtrak’s primary interest is in advancing Northeast Corridor high-speed rail service.”

Amtrak issued the statement saying said that it wanted to make clear that “Amtrak is not having formal discussions with NJT regarding a joint tunnel project” and that it “…has no plans to purchase any NJT work related to the ARC project” at this time.

“As with any potential joint rail project with a commuter rail agency, such a collaboration with NJT would require their commitment to fully fund all costs associated with creating additional commuter train capacity,” Amtrak stated in its press announcement.

The ARC project, nearly 20 years in development, was originally a joint Amtrak-NJT project designed to add two new passenger tunnels to the existing pair now serving Penn Station, but in 2007 NJ Transit decided to go it alone on the project, and change the tunnel alignment so that it no longer passed through Penn Station, but instead terminated in an entirely new dead-end station under 34th Street.

“We are no longer interested in this project,” said Vernae Graham, spokeswoman for the national rail agency, in an interview with the Bergen (NJ) Record.

Gov. Christie has repeatedly offered to look at alternatives to the ARC alignment that would reduce the project’s costs and better serve the region, and has made it clear he will work with Federal or Amtrak officials so long as all of the project’s costs beyond the Federal government’s and Port Authority’s share, which were pegged at $3.3 and $3 billion, respectively, are not borne by New Jersey taxpayers alone. The project cost of $8.7 billion suddenly ballooned by $3-$5 billion, depending on the source, to $12-$15 billion, because of costs associated with the NJT-only dead-end cavern tunnel that was not a part of the original Trans-Hudson tunnel project.

Rail advocates, including New Jersey’s unit of the National Association of Rail Passengers, the Lackawanna Coalition, and the National Corridors Initiative, have overwhelmingly supported Governor Christie’s decision, and have worked to find alternatives that would allow the original Penn Station alignment to be built.

Critics of the dead-end version of the ARC killed by Governor Christie have noted that aside from costing too much, the NJT-only version literally cut out New England and Eastern Canada from rail passenger traffic growth, leaving the entire region to continue being served by the 100-year-old existing tunnels which are in need of major repair, and whose long-term reliability without such major maintenance has been questioned.


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HIGH-SPEED LINES... High-Speed Lines...  

Vermont’s High-Speed Rail Project Kicks Off

Federal Money To Upgrade Vermonter Line

From WPTZ.Com By Reporter Ashley Johnson

ST. ALBANS, VT, NOVEMBER 9 -- A freight train carrying new tracks for a high-speed rail project made its way to St. Albans, Vermont, last Tuesday after state officials held a news conference to announce the largest rail project in Vermont since Amtrak was created.

New tracks will be put along the 190-mile route from St. Albans to Vernon, a small town close to the Massachusetts and Connecticut borders. $50 million in federal funds will be used for the upgrade, creating jobs and giving Vermonters an improved service to the south where the train will travel up to 79 mph at certain parts.

“This is going to reduce the travel time from this part of Vermont to New York City by about an hour and a half,” said Gov. Jim Douglas.

“There’s about 25 people here in St. Albans right now assigned to this project,” said Charles Hunter from Rail America Inc. “And there will be people here for two years so there will be a lot of jobs.”

Douglas said he hopes to see even more jobs on rail projects in the future.

“We’ve received also a half-million dollar planning grant to look at the possibility of restoring service in the Manchester, Bennington area,” Douglas said.

US Senator Bernie Sanders said he plans to see rail go even farther. He plans to fight for investments in rail to connect his state to Boston also.

“Today if you want to go from St. Albans to Boston, you have to drive,” Sanders said. “We can do better than that.”

He stressed the importance of investments like this rather than giving “tax breaks to billionaires.”


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STATION LINES... Station Lines...  

Government Of Canada, VIA Rail Unveil
New Belleville Station Design

From Railway Age And The Intelligencer On The Internet

BELLEVILLE,ON, NOVEMBER 10 -- VIA Rail in Canada is moving forward. Major investments on their Ontario-Quebec line and plans to expand service, replace and restore track, retrofit rail cars and generally run more and faster trains throughout their system indicate a new commitment by the government that rail must be an essential part of Canada’s transportation system.

One of the beneficiaries of these investments is a small, nineteenth century historic train station in Belleville, Ontario. Often criticized for being too small and uncomfortable, this “little station that couldn’t,” will get a major rehabilitation.

Image:Wikipedia

The Station At Belleville
The renovation will include a new large glass structure, an enlarged waiting room to accommodate 50 passengers with free Internet service, an island boarding platform and overhead bridge to accommodate the addition of two main rail lines. The additional lines are part of a C$300-million project to expand and improve track between Montreal and Toronto.

Last week was the celebration to unveil the design plans. Present were Daryl Kramp, Member of Parliament for Prince Edward-Hastings, Neil Ellis, Mayor of Belleville, Ont., and Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, General Counsel and Secretary of VIA Rail Canada.

The new station design will enhance and complement the existing heritage station, which dates back to 1856 and will be preserved. Desjardins-Siciliano pointed out that the Belleville station is one of the top 15 in Canada in terms of passenger volumes today.  “It serves far more travelers than the builders of the original station ever imagined possible. And that volume will keep growing as VIA continues to add faster, more efficient, more reliable and frequent train services in the Ontario-Quebec corridor.”

The station will have a welcoming environment, airy and light with large windows where waiting passengers can view the trains arriving and departing. Wider platforms, convenient drop-off and parking facilities, and enhanced landscaping are all geared to making an enjoyable atmosphere.

“This is tremendous,” said Kramp, who noted he had lobbied his federal counterparts on behalf of the project and that the new building is “going to have quite an impact -- not just on transportation needs but on the perception of the area.

“It demonstrates a real level of confidence in our community and our region. If more people take VIA trains there will be fewer cars on the road.”

Construction will begin next year. Funding for this project is part of an unprecedented C$923 million capital investment in passenger rail by the Government of Canada. This investment is stimulating job creation, skills development and private sector activity. Additional infrastructure projects are aimed at improving service quality and cost efficiency at points across VIA’s network.

C$300 million will go toward expanding and improving the track between Montreal and Toronto. The goal is to reduce travel time between the two cities by 30 minutes.

The Belleville Intelligencer ran a commentary on the story entitled:

“Finally some good news coming down the track”

“For too many years, Canada’s national rail service has been, quite frankly, a joke,” the article continued. “Too slow, too expensive, too disorganized, take your pick, nearly everyone who has ever ventured near a VIA Rail train -- and many who didn’t -- has had something to say about the service and generally it wasn’t good.

“Now, however, all of that is apparently going to change, and Belleville’s little station that couldn’t will be front and centre among the beneficiaries.

“[This is] good news for not just Belleville but most of southern Ontario and beyond, where cries for better rail service have echoed in the wilderness for years.”


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Joliet, Illinois, Plans
Regional Transit Hub

Officials Have High Hopes To Put City On The Map
With Mixed-Use Transportation Center.

With a $32-million grant in hand, Joliet, Ill., officials are hopeful that a new transportation center will put their city on the map as a regional transportation hub.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Joliet officials learned of the state grant just one week after they were turned down for the federal grant. The state funding, announced Oct. 28, will allow for the construction of a transportation center immediately south of Union Station.

The proposed center, which would be the only one of its kind in the Southwest suburbs, would be a hub for commuter rail service, high-speed rail and local and long-distance buses. The plan also calls for four major bike trails to connect to the facility.

“Everything would come into one centralized location, from shoe leather all the way up to high-speed rail,” said Jim Haller, the city’s director for community and economic development. “You can walk downtown and take a bus to an airport or take a train to downtown Chicago and points beyond,” he said, noting Joliet would be the first stop on a proposed high-speed rail line from Chicago to St. Louis. “It really does open up Joliet to make it more accessible to the world.”

The project, which includes a new passenger platform, is expected to cost $41.7 million. The city will kick in $7.5 million from its transportation fund, and BNSF is expected to provide $2.2 million.

Currently, 750 commuters go through their station, and officials expect the project will attract at least another 400. Joliet is close to two interstates and will have two major commuter rail lines. It can also serve as a hub for nine bus routes.

“We already have the public transportation,” City Manager Tom Thanas said, referring to the commuter rail and bus services. “Having all those located in one spot in downtown Joliet will make the connection among all those forms of transportation much more efficient.”

Plans for additional residential development close to the center are being discussed. Many officials hope the project can be done in the next two years.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

FTA Bills New Jersey Transit For $271 Million Over ARC Work,
While Advocates Continue To Press For Tunnel To Penn Station

By David Peter Alan

When the New Jersey Transit (NJT) Board met last Wednesday, November 10th, Executive Director James Weinstein confirmed that he was carrying out Gov. Chris Christie’s order to shut down the ARC (“Access to the Region’s Core”) Project. He complimented the employees and contractors who had worked on the project and also added that “there is no more work ever to be done on the south part of Portal Bridge;” a companion project that would have built a new bridge for new tracks that would have also been built as part of the overall project.

Despite Weinstein’s tone of finality, there are unresolved issues concerning the project. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) wrote to NJT two days earlier, demanding the return of an estimated $271 million that the agency had advanced toward the cost of the project. The FTA demanded “immediate repayment” with interest and penalties yet to be determined. According to the FTA, money from the New Starts program had been expended toward preliminary work for the project, which was to have encompassed new tunnels for a line that would have terminated twenty stories below 34th Street in Manhattan, rather than connecting to the existing Penn Station. With the project canceled, the FTA demanded those advances back.

“We don’t believe it’s as clear-cut as the FTA would make it appear and, when we come to some conclusions on that, we’ll let you know,” Weinstein said after the Board meeting. He also said that “riders should not be concerned about a fare increase” to help pay the FTA bill. NJT had increased most rail fares by 25% on May 1st, with fares outside commuting hours increased by an average of 47%.

Meanwhile, advocates from the Regional Rail Working Group, Lackawanna Coalition and New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) continued to press for the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative; a new tunnel to the existing Penn Station combined with the Moynihan Station enhancements that New York is planning to fund and build. They called for cooperation between NJT, Amtrak and New York to build a project that would benefit both states, and tracks that both NJT and Amtrak could use. According to the advocates, now that the proposed deep-cavern terminal will not be built, the time is right to switch to a more useful and less expensive project.

Of all the speakers at the Board meeting, only Zoe Baldwin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign criticized Gov. Christie for scrapping the project. She did not comment on how New Jersey could pay for cost overruns of up to $5 billion for the project, or on the other advocates’ proposal to build new tunnels into the existing Penn Station instead.

Joseph M. Clift of the Regional Rail Working Group commended the decision to scrap the deep-cavern terminal, even though there are costs to be paid. He said that it was far less expensive to absorb the money spent so far than to commit New Jersey to spending billions of dollars in cost overruns for the project. Gov. Christie termed it “flawed” because it would not go to Penn Station, Amtrak could not use it, and it could not be extended to the East Side. It is a standard business practice to make investment decisions without considering “sunk costs;” money that has already been paid or committed. According to Clift and other advocates, Christie followed the correct procedure in making his decision to kill the proposed project. NJT acknowledges having spent approximately $478 million in sunk costs through September 30th, presumably including the $271 million that the FTA wants repaid.

James T. Raleigh, Political Director of the Lackawanna Coalition, blames both the former administration at NJT and the FTA for the high cost expended so far. He said that NJT insisted on the deep-cavern because of alleged new discoveries about the geology of the area and got special permission to move the project forward very quickly. If that had not been done, less money would have been spent, and the FTA repayment request might not have been necessary.

Philip G. Craig of NJ-ARP suggested a way for NJT to save more than enough money to pay the FTA bill. He recommended that the agency cancel an order for 100 multi-level coaches and ten dual-mode locomotives that had been awarded on July 14th. Craig said that this equipment would not be needed without the ARC Project as previously proposed, and that canceling the order would save $386.3 million.

The advocates for the riders are glad to see the deep-cavern go, but they say that the struggle is not over. They will not be ready to declare victory until new tunnels are built that go to an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station, with tracks that both NJT and Amtrak can use. Until that time, they are prepared to continue the campaign.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and has participated in the riders’ advocacy efforts. He comments on New Jersey Network, the State’s public television station, about the possibility of a fare increase to pay the FTA bill. Now that Weinstein has denied that there will be such a fare increase, those comments are moot.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)63.4464.50
Canadian Pacific (CP) 64.1165.80
CSX (CSX)60.8561.80
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)45.0546.20
Kansas City Southern (KSU)44.7446.53
Norfolk Southern (NSC)60.9662.31
Providence & Worcester(PWX)12.6213.20
Union Pacific (UNP)90.2991.22


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

LaHood: HSR Funds Are For Rail - Not Roads

From Railway Age

WASHINGTON, DC NOVEMBER 10 -- DOT Secretary Ray LaHood had a blunt message Tuesday for states that want to spend their high-speed rail grants on highways or rail freight projects: Use the grants for passenger rail or return the money to Washington, said LaHood.

He was responding to a request from Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich in Ohio to use a $400 million high-speed rail grant to improve highways or freight railroads.

“I would like high-speed rail to be part of Ohio’s future,” said LaHood, adding that the alternative is “to wind down Ohio’s involvement in the project so that we do not waste taxpayers’ money.”

LaHood reminded Kasich that 30 foreign passenger rail manufacturers have made commitments to locate operations in the United States “so that we can restart idled manufacturing plants in Ohio and other states.”

A similar message went to Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker, also a Republican, who campaigned against spending an $810 million grant on a planned higher speed line connecting Madison and Milwaukee, and said he wanted instead to invest the money in highways.


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Image: Wikipedia

Rep. Jim Oberstar
With Oberstar Out, Who Will Be Top Dem
On Transportation Committee?

From The Infrastructurist On The Internet

WASHINGTON, DC -- Since Jim Oberstar of Minnesota unexpectedly lost his election on November 2, Hill members are speculating about who will be Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Everyone expects Republican John Mica of Florida to have the majority position, but with the transportation bill set for reauthorization early next year, the new ranking member will have a major say in the direction of the country.

The role becomes even more critical if, as the Wall Street Journal suggests, the legislation becomes a “flashpoint for a battle over government spending.”

West Virginia’s Congressman Nick Rahall is a possible contender. He currently chairs the Natural Resources Committee, but he is next in line for the transportation position, and he is interested. If the Democrats follow the seniority ladder, he’s in, according to The Hill’s Energy and Environment News Blog, E2 Wire.

How Nahall will impact investment in rail and transit is an unknown. On the transportation page of his Congressional website, Rahall boasts that he’s “worked diligently to provide federal support to build better highways,” as well as bridges, water and sewer systems, and broadband infrastructure. But the words “rail,” “transit,” or “livability” are conspicuously absent.

Rahall’s 2010 requests for surface transportation funding in his rural district show a clear preference for road projects: Of roughly $604 million in funding requests, only a single, $2.88-million effort - less than half a percent of the total - was marked for rail, according to his website.

Other contenders for Oberstar’s spot are Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a public transit advocate; Jerry Costello of Illinois, a high-ranking Democrat on the committee; and Eleanor Holmes Norton, a representative of Washington, D.C., who lacks an actual vote on the House floor.


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From The Transport Politic

 

As A New Congress Sets Up Shop, Questions
About The Future Of Transportation Funding

“With split power in Congress and a compromised executive, moving forward on transportation
will be a delicate project, to say the least” writes Yonah Freemark in the superb on-line blog,
The Transport Politic.

“After the 2010 elections, the future of transportation funding in the United States has been subject to yet another round of questioning. Two years of Democratic control over the White House and Congress led to little serious agreement about how to find federal funding for highways and transit; meanwhile, despite advances in the fields of livable neighborhoods and high-speed rail, those programs may be subjected to considerable rethinking or even elimination after the change in power in the U.S. House,” continues Freemark.

“Whatever the current hysteria over the size of the annual federal deficit and government debt in general, the demand by states and localities for financial aid for the construction and maintenance of transportation projects is unlikely to subside. Repeated warning by groups like the American Society of Civil Engineers about the failure of our public infrastructure today and into the future are not imaginary. Thus at some point, there will have to be some agreement about how to move forward on collecting revenues and allocating grants for the purpose of relieving those difficulties,” writes Freemark.

For the complete blog plus comments see: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/11/11/as-a-new-congress-sets-up-shop-questions-about-the-future-of-transportation-funding/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+thetransportpolitic+(The+Transport+Politic)


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

The Coming Conflict
Over Transportation $

If there is one thing that can be taken as a certainty from the November 2 Congressional elections, it is that the fight over transportation spending is going to intensify.

Because so much of the negative campaign advertising we witnessed was funded by secret corporate contributions enabled by this year’s disastrously anti-human-rights Supreme Court decision defining corporations as “people” with the same right of unlimited “free speech” as an American citizen, it is hard to know who was paying for what.

But we do know, thanks to a significant series of stories in The New York Times, that a large chunk of the anti-incumbent (read “anti-Democrat”) advertising was paid for by the oil lobby, whose blind hatred for rail infrastructure investment --- transit or intercity --- has for decades of highway-centric construction emptied out and weakened our cities in favor of suburban enclaves whose very purpose is to exclude and stratify.

Already in two instances the Governors-elect of two states --- Scott Walker in Wisconsin and, and John Kasich in Ohio – are scuttling important intercity rail projects that promised at least some relief from highway dependency, and the social, economic, and health issues that our highway-only lifestyles create.

In California, Sierra Club readers warn, there is a movement to steal transit and rail funds and use them for HOV lanes, which of course do not work, and wind up making highway congestion worse while making highway building more expensive – the worst of all possible outcomes.

The voters sent a message to Washington, and to many state Capitols, on November 2. It read: “We are angry. Get out.” Those who benefitted from voter anger aimed at the “ins” should remember that they are the “ins” now. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2012, especially if this nation’s attempt to begin the rebuilding of our rail system is short-circuited by ideologues with no transportation vision other than “back to the highway.” We expect that the voters will be just as angry, but will have new targets.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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