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 17, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 48

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

  News Items…
Former US DOT Deputy Mort Downey To Head
   Obama Transportation Team
Mass Governor Takes The Axe To Mass Patronage Haven
Alex Kummant Resigns Amtrak Presidency
  Across The Pond…
French High Speed Train Hits Concrete Slab On Track Days
   After Electric System Tampering
Deutsche Bahn Survives Another Week Of Bad Publicity
Rotem Wins Contract To Supply Marmaray Tunnel
   EMU Trainsets To Turkey
  Amtrak 2009 Calendars
  Selected Rail Stocks…
There’s No Excuse --- Part 5 Of Apparently Endless Series
New Jersey Transit’s “T.H.E. Tunnel”
   Project: Portal Bridge
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …

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

Former US DOT Deputy Mort Downey
To Head Obama Transportation Team

By Df Staff
Copyright 2008 The National Corridors Initiative

WASHNGTON --- Former US DOT Deputy Secretary Mortimer L. Downey has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to head the incoming administration’s transportation transition team, Destination:Freedom has confirmed.

Former Deputy Secretary Downey, who served as the number-two US DOT executive for eight years in the Clinton Administration under DOT Secretaries Federico Pena and Rodney Slater, is Chairman of the Board of PB Consult, a part of Parsons Brinckerhoff, one of the oldest and largest transportation design, engineering, construction, and consulting firms in the world. PB was founded in 1885 and headquartered in New York City.

“Mort Downey is simply an outstanding choice to head President-elect Obama’s transportation transition team,” stated National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass. “We worked closely with Mort during the Clinton Administration as the Northeast Corridor was being electrified, and he was of enormous help in seeing that project through to its successful conclusion in 1999.”

“In addition, Mort Downey was indefatigable in his dedication to public service and to the advancing the role of transportation in building a strong and free America, and President-elect Obama has in our opinion chosen very wisely in naming Mort as his key transportation transition advisor and manager. I am proud that the National Corridors Initiative saw fit to present Mort with its second Claiborne Pell Award, the highest award we give for public service in transportation, and an award we do not give every year.

[ The first recipient was Senator Claiborne Pell himself, who accepted it at an NCI conference in Newport, RI in 1995, two years before serious illness forced his retirement from the United States Senate. The Senator, who was the creator in 1970 of Amtrak along with President Lyndon Johnson, is retired and living with his wife Nuala in Newport, and will turn 90 this week, on November 22. ]

“Mort Downey knows both government and industry, and the complex relationships between those two worlds, better than anyone I know, and while knowing full well that Mort’s self-deprecatory and gentle nature will no doubt cause him to protest that statement, it is in fact true. He is a wonderful person, and President-elect Obama has made a brilliant choice. I have not been so hopeful about the future of American transportation since I founded NCI in 1989, as I am right now.”

Here is Mort Downey’s biography, as presented by Parsons Brinckerhoff:

Mort Downey is the Chairman of the Board of PB Consult Inc. and represents its strategic consulting practice in the transportation industry as a distinguished leader and trusted advisor to major public agency clients.

Mr. Downey completed 8 years as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation and managed the department’s highly regarded strategic planning process.  He also served on the President’s Management Council, as chair of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology, and as a member of the board of directors of Amtrak.

For a prior administration he served as the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Transportation with significant responsibilities for matters in the international arena, including bilateral negotiations, multinational conferences and international trade and development missions.

Mr. Downey also served as executive director and chief financial officer at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York, the nation's largest independent public transportation authority.

During his 12 years at the MTA, he was involved in initiating the capital rebuilding of the MTA system, overseeing the financing for and programming of more than $20 billion of capital investment into its regional transportation facilities.

Mortimer Downey

Photo: US DOT  

Former US DOT Deputy Secretary Mortimer L. Downey

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Turnpike Authority To Bite The Dust


Mass Governor Takes The Axe
To Mass Patronage Haven

From The Boston Globe And By DF Staff

BOSTON --- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is taking an axe to one of Massachusetts’ oldest and most patronage-happy transportation systems, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Boston Globe reported this week.

Patrick “…is planning to dismantle the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to improve efficiency and try to mollify public complaints about planned toll hikes,” two government officials told the Globe

Operations within Route 128, the so-called Metropolitan Highway System, would be folded into the Massachusetts Port Authority, the paper reported. Massport already runs the Mystic Tobin Bridge and tunnels leading to and from Logan International Airport.

According to the plan, the Globe said, “…tolls likely will be raised inside Route 128 to pay off debt associated with Big Dig. Toll booths outside Route 128 will be eliminated, except in West Stockbridge near the New York border and in Sturbridge, close to the Connecticut border.”

The Massachusetts Turnpike was constructed in the decade between 1955 and 1965 between the New York State Line and Boston, becoming the first leg of I-90, the northernmost Interstate to cross all the way to the West Coast, ending in Seattle.

The Turnpike Authority was supposed to put itself out of business when the bonds used to pay for it were paid off by the tolls collected, but when that happened in the 1990’s the then-Commissioners instead voted to borrow more money – thereby keeping themselves in their jobs, and keeping hundreds of toll-takers on the Turnpike payroll, at salaries that exceeded those paid to school teachers in Massachusetts. A toll-taker’s job became one of the most prized “no-heavy-lifting” positions in Massachusetts.

Originally 123 miles long, from the New York State line to Route 128, a 12-mile “extension” to downtown Boston was completed in 1965 by taking most of an existing rail corridor, plus adjoining land, that had served the Commonwealth. Years later increasing highway congestion and the demand for rail service forced a re-creation of those tracks in the “Southwest Corridor” --- itself originally also planned as a highway into the heart of Boston --- at a high cost.

Cost over-runs on the so-called Big Dig project to bury the former Central Artery under downtown Boston required financial legerdemain when the Federal Government “capped” its share of the project. This was achieved via assigning the Mass Turnpike the task of owning, managing, and paying for --- by bonding again, and tolls to pay those bonds --- the Central Artery/Tunnel and related roads in Boston. This elicited an angry reaction from toll payers in Western Massachusetts who saw themselves as being stuck with Boston’s cost over-runs, which was essentially correct. Years of infighting saw some toll booths torn down, other tolls raised sharply, and other machinations, until the Authority and its highly paid Chairman and staff were seen as too much of a liability to survive.

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Alex Kummant Resigns
Amtrak Presidency

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 14 --- Alex Kummant, who took over as president of the nation’s passenger rail service company, Amtrak, after the firing of David Gunn, announced his resignation today.

Kummant was brought in by the Amtrak Board when Gunn was fired for refusing a Bush Administration order to break up and sell Amtrak off in pieces.

Despite the fractious start of his tenure, over time Kummant won the respect of rail advocates, including the National Association of Rail Passengers, the National Corridors Initiative, and others who had admired Gunn, and lamented the micro-interference in Amtrak management of the Bush White House.

While Amtrak has a Board of Directors, its marching orders for most of the past eight years have come directly from the White House Office of Management and Budget and its representative to the United States Department of Transportation, locus of the ideological centers of the extreme libertarian wing of the Republican Party which has dominated Bush Administration economic policy. This core of ideologues is considered largely responsible for the extreme deregulatory bent, and lack of fiscal oversight of business, especially the financial markets, which has wrecked the current world economic system and threatens to pitch the world into its worst economic decline since the 1930’s.

Despite that provenance Kummant continued Gunn’s work to improve operating efficiencies and bring the railroad to a “state of good repair”, a process begun by Gunn in 2002 when he took over the railroad when it faced almost certain bankruptcy due to years of drastic underfunding by the then-GOP dominated Congress; in part Kummant benefited from bi-partisan support which upped Amtrak’s annual appropriation to the level sought originally by Gunn, even as the Bush Administration’s focus shifted away from the destruction of Amtrak as far larger problems, like the Iraq war, drew its attention.

“On behalf of the entire Board, I’d like to thank Alex for his leadership over the past two years,” said Donna McLean, Chair of the Board. “During the past two years, the company experienced exciting economic times, strong ridership and revenue growth, solid profit and loss performance, and the advancement of the Amtrak brand overall. He also successfully oversaw the completion of labor agreements with all of the unions representing Amtrak’s employees. We are grateful to Alex for his contributions to the company. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

In October Congress passed, and President George W. Bush quietly signed despite repeated veto threats, legislation authorizing $13.1 billion over five years for passenger rail spending, largely for Amtrak operations, capital and debt service, a boost of $600 million annually for Amtrak over its current allocation.

While a significant improvement over previous starvation allocations, Amtrak still falls far short of the support received by the national rail systems of other industrialized countries, which have used high speed rail service to supplant far more expensive air travel for short distance (< 500 mile) trips.

The new Amtrak authorization bill --- which will still require annual appropriations fights to fund the railroad --- also creates a new Amtrak Board of Directors. Here, in its entirety, is how the bill treats the new board:


(a) In General- Section 24302 is amended to read as follows:
Sec. 24302. Board of directors
(a) Composition and Terms-
(1) The Amtrak Board of Directors (referred to in this section as the `Board’) is composed of the following 9 directors, each of whom must be a citizen of the United States:
(A) The Secretary of Transportation.
(B) The President of Amtrak.
(C) 7 individuals appointed by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, with general business and financial experience, experience or qualifications in transportation, freight and passenger rail transportation, travel, hospitality, cruise line, or passenger air transportation businesses, or representatives of employees or users of passenger rail transportation or a State government.
(2) In selecting individuals described in paragraph (1) for nominations for appointments to the Board, the President shall consult with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, the majority leader of the Senate, and the minority leader of the Senate and try to provide adequate and balanced representation of the major geographic regions of the United States served by Amtrak.
(3) An individual appointed under paragraph (1)(C) of this subsection shall be appointed for a term of 5 years. Such term may be extended until the individual’s successor is appointed and qualified. Not more than 5 individuals appointed under paragraph (1)(C) may be members of the same political party.
(4) The Board shall elect a chairman and a vice chairman, other than the President of Amtrak, from among its membership. The vice chairman shall serve as chairman in the absence of the chairman.
(5) The Secretary may be represented at Board meetings by the Secretary’s designee.
(b) Pay and Expenses- Each director not employed by the United States Government or Amtrak is entitled to reasonable pay when performing Board duties. Each director not employed by the United States Government is entitled to reimbursement from Amtrak for necessary travel, reasonable secretarial and professional staff support, and subsistence expenses incurred in attending Board meetings.
(c) Travel- (1) Each director not employed by the United States Government shall be subject to the same travel and reimbursable business travel expense policies and guidelines that apply to Amtrak’s executive management when performing Board duties.
(2) Not later than 60 days after the end of each fiscal year, the Board shall submit a report describing all travel and reimbursable business travel expenses paid to each director when performing Board duties to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate.
(3) The report submitted under paragraph (2) shall include a detailed justification for any travel or reimbursable business travel expense that deviates from Amtrak’s travel and reimbursable business travel expense policies and guidelines.
(d) Vacancies- A vacancy on the Board is filled in the same way as the original selection, except that an individual appointed by the President of the United States under subsection (a)(1)(C) of this section to fill a vacancy occurring before the end of the term for which the predecessor of that individual was appointed is appointed for the remainder of that term. A vacancy required to be filled by appointment under subsection (a)(1)(C) must be filled not later than 120 days after the vacancy occurs.
(e) Quorum- A majority of the members serving shall constitute a quorum for doing business.
(f) Bylaws- The Board may adopt and amend bylaws governing the operation of Amtrak. The bylaws shall be consistent with this part and the articles of incorporation.’.
(b) Effective Date for Directors’ Provision- The amendment made by subsection (a) shall take effect 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act. The members of the Amtrak Board of Directors serving as of the date of enactment of this Act may continue to serve for the remainder of the term to which they were appointed.

The current Board members are:

Mr. R. Hunter Biden
Vice Chairman of the Board
Term expires 2011

Thomas C. Carper
Term expires 2013

Ms. Donna McLean
Chairman of the Board
Term expires 2011

Nancy A. Naples
Term expires 2013

The President of Amtrak
Acting President William Crosbie

Ex officio: The Honorable Mary Peters
Secretary of Transportation
U. S. Department of Transportation

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

Sabotage Suspected


French High Speed Train Hits Concrete Slab On Track
Days After Electric System Tampering

From Internet Sources

PARIS --- A French high speed train bound from Brussels to Perpignan in the South of France struck two concrete slaps deliberately laid across the railroad track, French officials said this week.

The incident was the second act of deliberate sabotage on the French railroads in the past two weeks. On Saturday November 8 the French railroad, SNCF, said that more than 20,000 passengers suffered delays when after vandals sabotaged electrical lines on high-speed routes, disrupting some 160 trains.

French Transportation Minister Dominique Bussereau told Europe-1 radio “the train was traveling at 150 kilometers per hour (90 mph) when it hit the slabs. He said Monday it appeared to be ‘a new act of malice’ against France’s rail network.

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Deutsche Bahn Survives Another Week
Of Bad Publicity

Unrelated incidents whip up firestorm of criticism in the German news media

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

Source: NDR Info radio and Hannoverische Allgemeine Zeitung

Berlin – Yet another week of technical difficulties, adverse court decisions and unfavorable news reports battered Deutsche Bahn AG (German Railways), Europe’s largest full-service transportation firm. It certainly has become a “perfect storm” of negative press attention and adverse publicity for the German rail and logistics firm.

In the news media either for the first time or again as updates on on-going issues:

An ET 424 EMU train set makes a stop in the Hannover, Germany

Photo: David Beale, NCI

Slow Down For Saftety? An ET 424 EMU train set makes a stop in the Hannover suburb of Haste in May 2005 while on a scheduled trip to Minden. Numerous ET 423 - 426 family EMU train sets are likely to be affected by two unrelated safety directives issued by Germany’s EBA. The result will be more time taken during operations to ensure no passengers are in the way of the automatic doors just prior to departure as well as slower en-route speeds until the brake systems are upgraded to satisfy EBA requirements for braking performance on rails contaminated with autumn leaves, leaf residue, frost, ice or snow.

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Rotem Wins Contract To Supply Marmaray Tunnel
EMU Trainsets To Turkey

Source: Rotem Press Release And Hannoverische Allgemeine Zeitung

Istanbul – H yundai Rotem announced on 11th November that it had signed a EUR 580 million (US $ 700 million) contract to supply the rolling stock for the Marmaray cross-Bosporus tunnel project in Istanbul. The Korean firm was selected over other short listed bidders Alstom, CAF and a consortium of Bombardier, Siemens and Nurol for the 440-train-set contract which was placed by the Ministry of Transport’s General Directorate of Railways, Harbors & Airports.

The 22 meter long stainless steel cars will be assembled into ten and five-car EMU train sets. Some production will be carried out locally by Eurotem, Hyundai Rotem’s joint venture with Turkish rolling stock manufacturer Tüvasas. The cars will arrive in three batches, the first 160 cars by 2011, the last by June 2014.

The Marmaray tunnel reached an important milestone four weeks ago with the installation of the last tunnel tube in the Bosporus Strait. The Marmaray tunnel will provide a fixed rail link between the European and Asian parts of Istanbul. Although the Marmaray tunnels will be busy with local and regional passenger trains during the day, TCCD, the Turkish rail operator, has made it clear that it intends to use the cross-Bosporus rail tunels at night to provide for freight trains traveling between central Asia and the EU, as part of the so-called “Silk Road Route” to central Asia. Negotiations not directly related to the Marmary Tunnel project are ongoing between Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to increase rail services and improve rail connections to far-east Asia by developing the “Silk Road” rail corridor.

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The 2009 Amtrak ® Calendars Are In!

There are three ways to get your 2009 Amtrak Wall Calendar:

• Visit the Amtrak Online Store at

• Call 1-800 369-4257

• Mail your order to:

Staples Promotional Products
Attn: Amtrak Customer Service Representative
1520 Albany Place, S.E.
Orange City, Iowa 51041

This year’s calendar features a stunning photo – taken by Marcee Chipman of San Diego – of a Pacific Surfliner train as it departs the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego, California.

Amtrak ® is a registered service mark of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)79.6381.25
Canadian National (CNI)36.9342.97
Canadian Pacific (CP)34.2041.66
CSX (CSX)38.8242.77
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)29.1332.70
Kansas City Southern (KSU)22.7428.15
Norfolk Southern (NSC)51.9853.72
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.1512.61
Union Pacific (UNP)57.2760.99

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OPINION... Opinion...

There’s No Excuse --- Part 5 Of Apparently Endless Series…


A Small French Town Reconnected
By The Revolutionary AGC DMU/EMU

By Jim Repass, Publisher, Destination:Freedom

MONT DE MARSAN, FRANCE --- This Aquitaine town has been a crossroads in the South of France for centuries, and its fortunes have waxed and waned, as do those of all places over time. It possesses great charm, an unhurried air, and --- although equipped with excellent shopping --- a remoteness from the bustle of the “big city” that is no small part of its attraction.

An AGC duela mode trainset awaits departure on the South platform of Bordeaux-St.Jean

All Photos: Jim RePass, NCI

An AGC duela mode trainset awaits departure on the South platform of Bordeaux-St.Jean.

But that remoteness may be at an end, a boon for travelers to France who want to sample the country life without taking a long drive, but perhaps a question mark for the French themselves, whose transportation system is making more and more of France as easily accessible --- and car free --- as a walk down the street in America.

Bike racks aplenty inside the Aquitaine TER AGC at Bordeaux

Bike racks aplenty inside the Aquitaine TER AGC at Bordeaux.

Mont de Marsan used to be a stop on a very pokey rail line, requiring a train change, and a wait on the platform at Morcenx , on the way down from Bordeaux for those so inclined to make the trip

Diesel Power on the branch line to Mont de Marsan from Bordeaux

Diesel Power on the branch line to Mont de Marsan from Bordeaux.

But as of a few years ago, it became the final stop of a one-seat ride from Bordeaux using the new Bombardier “AGC” trains (Autorail Grande Capacité),

As reported last week, this trainset is revolutionizing transportation in France, because it solves the fatal flaw of DMU-only or EMU-only technology ---- by being both, thereby converting to a one-seat ride what had been two or even three-seat rides.

The winding streets of Mont de Marsan

The winding streets of Mont de Marsan.

The trip from Bordeaux to Mont de Marsan takes 1 hour and 21 minutes, even on a route that is not that direct, because 1) high speeds are possible with electric propulsion 2) the diesel unit is no slouch either, and; 3) the train stops and goes at Morcenx – where the electrification ends, and the branch line to Mont de Marsan begins --- with hardly a hint, inside the passenger cabin, that the propulsion system has changed over from electrical to diesel.

Old world charm, accessible

Old world charm, accessible.

With the advent of this new technology making Bordeaux easy commuting distance from the town, perhaps the relative peace and quiet of Mont de Marsan will be lost. On the other hand, because the French are ensuring that automobile/sprawl development isn’t the only choice, perhaps the opposite is true, since real estate values invariably rise as commuting time lessens, and Mont de Marsan is suddenly quite close to Bordeaux --- and that is only one city pair in a growing number that are increasingly close, time-wise, as technology makes travel easier. Time indeed will tell. In the meantime, a small-to-medium size French crossroads town can be reached, easily, without an automobile, on a modern train that would have many applications here in America, on the 400-mile long electrified Northeast Corridor.

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...

New Jersey Transit’s “T.H.E. Tunnel” Project:
Portal Bridge

A Bridge To Cross Before We Come To It

Seventh In A Series

By: David Peter Alan

In the Beginning, there was “ARC;” Access to the Region’s Core. To us, who represent the rail riders of the New York metropolitan area and particularly New Jersey, it was the Holy Grail. Back in the 1990s, and until 2003, New Jersey Transit proposed a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, going to Penn Station, and a track connection to Grand Central Terminal. New Jersey commuters and other train riders were to have access to both sides of Midtown Manhattan. All of that suddenly changed in 2003, when East Side Access as a goal for NJT was discarded. Further downgrades to the project continue to this day.

For years, “ARC” and its successor the “T.H.E.” (Trans-Hudson-Express) Tunnel were the talk of the transit scene. As far as NJT was concerned, the project by either name was to be the great new rail highway to the City, delivering 48 trains to Midtown during the busiest 60 minutes of the morning commute. The fact that such a level of service might not actually be necessary was irrelevant. As far as the advocates for the riders are concerned, the project is a massive boondoggle that will take people where they do not want to go, into an unsafe and inconvenient facility, and at a massive cost which the government of New Jersey cannot afford.

Occasionally, the letters “PBCEP” crept into the dialog. They stand for “Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project” and represent a project whose completion must, in fact, predate the opening of service through the much-touted “ARC” or “T.H.E.” Tunnel. Even today, the Portal Bridge project is seldom mentioned as part of the overall NJT mega-project. Without it, however, the proposed tunnel under the Hudson River would be essentially useless.

Portal Bridge is a two-track swing bridge that spans the Hackensack River, just west of the current Secaucus station and just east of the inappropriately-named Swift Interlocking, where the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line joins Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line. This allows today’s trains to go from the M&E and Montclair-Boonton Lines into Penn Station. This service pattern began in June, 1996 as “Midtown Direct” and has been phenomenally successful in attracting riders to the M&E Line and boosting real estate values in the towns along it.

Portal Bridge was built in 1910 when Penn Station first opened, and accommodates a great many trains; some on Amtrak and most on NJT. It also opens occasionally for marine traffic, although an agreement with the Coast Guard keeps the bridge locked in “rail” position during peak commuting hours. Still, the bridge is old, and it fails to operate correctly from time to time. When this happens, the result can be an operational nightmare, spreading to several rail lines.

NJT claims that the existing Portal Bridge could never accommodate the amount of traffic that NJT would run into Midtown Manhattan (the existing Penn Station plus the proposed deep-cavern terminal to be located 175 feet below 34th Street), plus the expected level of service on Amtrak. Therefore, NJT never proposed that the bridge be rehabilitated. Going a step further, NJT did not even propose that the existing Portal Bridge be used to provide auxiliary rail capacity during peak hours or in an emergency. Instead, the plan is to replace the existing bridge, which lies 25 feet above mean high water with two spans situated higher above the river. One would be a fixed span, 50 feet above mean high tide. The other would be a lift span, located 40 feet above mean high tide. The bridge would occasionally lift to allow a tall ship to pass under it. No one has given a satisfactory explanation of why two bridges should be built next to each other, even though one is ten feet taller than the other.

Without some sort of alternative to Portal Bridge, operation of the proposed tunnel would be a disaster, especially for M&E Line riders. To reach the proposed deep-cavern terminal under 34th Street, M&E trains would have taken a dauntingly circuitous journey. They would have gone to West End, a junction only five minutes’ running time west of Hoboken. Instead of going to Hoboken Terminal (which would still be served by other trains, as the previous article in this series mentioned), they would traverse a curve for positioning onto a portion of the line known as the “Main Line” (historically part of the Lackawanna’s Boonton Line and later part of a spliced Erie “Main” Line) and proceed to a point near Secaucus Station. They would then round a larger curve constituting approximately 240° of arc around Secaucus Station, before stopping there. Then they would proceed into the deep-cavern terminal on the line used by Main/Bergen and Pascack Valley Line trains.

This highly circuitous route would add considerable running time to the trip for M&E and Montclair-Boonton Line riders. NJT claimed that the route would take seven minutes longer than the existing route to Penn Station. The Lackawanna Coalition calculated the extra time to be ten or eleven minutes per ride. Joe Versaggi, a Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) called the proposed routing “Midtown INdirect with the Loop-de-Loop” when he commented on the route in NJ-ARP’s newsletter.

So Portal Bridge was considered essential to the project as a whole. Still, NJT seldom mentioned the two together. Chief Planner Rich Roberts mentioned the Portal Bridge and tunnel projects together as parts of a “mega-project” at the June, 2006 APTA (American Public Transportation Association) Rail Conference in New York City. Elsewhere, the projects have been almost totally segregated.

NJT claims that the projects are kept separate because of funding and oversight. The Portal Bridge project comprises an improvement to an existing railroad, Amtrak’s NEC Line. Accordingly, it would lie within the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). On the other hand, NJT alleges that the new tunnel and deep-cavern terminal would constitute a new line, eligible for “new starts” funding under the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This separation of the projects has led to a lack of coordination and control over them. In this writer’s opinion, it has also led to poor communication, not only between NJT and the public but also between the regulatory bodies.

The schedules for construction of the two projects do not appear to fit well together. The tunnel project is further along in the FTA process than the Portal Bridge project is in the FRA process. Unfortunately, the proposed tunnel cannot be operated effectively without the replacement of Portal Bridge in place, so there is some friction between the two construction schedules. Even if the FRA and the FTA had agreed on a construction schedule for the two projects together, the confusion over funding remains.

The cost for the “ARC” tunnel project is now estimated at $7.6 billion and growing. It is clear to us, as advocates for the riders, that at least some of the downgrades were implemented to save money. Still, New Jersey political and transit officials claim that a proposed increase in tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike will raise enough money to pay for the tunnel project, when a contribution from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a grant from the FTA are added. Still, the numbers do not add up, as was mentioned earlier in this series.

The Portal Bridge project makes funding for the mega-project even more of a challenge for New Jersey. In 2005, NJT Executive Director George Warrington told the Railgram, the newsletter of the Lackawanna Coalition, that he expected the Portal Bridge project to cost “a few hundred million” dollars. We interpreted his statement to estimate the cost at $300 to 400 million. Today, Joseph M. Clift, former Director of Strategic Planning for the Long Island Rail Road and now an advocate with the Regional Rail Working Group, estimates the cost of the Portal Bridge project as currently proposed to be $1.7 billion, approximately five times Warrington’s estimate from less than four years ago.

We have no idea how the Portal Bridge project would be funded. The State of New Jersey is having a difficult time coming up with its share of the money for the “ARC” Project, and they have not yet succeeded in doing so. NJT has consistently stated that Portal Bridge is a separate project, so cannot dispute that it must be funded separately from the “ARC” Project. It is highly doubtful that the FRA or Amtrak would pay for it, since essentially all of the benefit it could produce would inure to NJT.

Nobody is talking about how to fund the Portal Bridge project, and it is not even clear that Portal Bridge must be replaced to provide extra trans-Hudson capacity. Amtrak does not need it; since the two tracks on the existing Portal Bridge could accommodate any schedule that Amtrak could be expected to operate in the foreseeable future. Only NJT could claim to need the additional capacity that replacing Portal Bridge with two higher spans would deliver. NJT would not need this additional capacity, except for the proposed schedule to be operated into Midtown at the completion of the “ARC” Project, both to the existing Penn Station and to the proposed deep-cavern terminal. No additional capacity is needed to operate off-peak service. While NJT alleges that the Portal Bridge project has enough “independent utility” without the “ARC” project to justify its construction, this claim cannot be substantiated in fact.

This does not mean that Portal Bridge will never have to be rehabilitated. It is old, and infrastructure elements need repair, no matter how well they were originally built. Still, there is a great deal of difference between rehabilitating a two-track bridge and replacing it with two bridges that sit much higher above the water. To us in the advocacy community, rehabilitating Portal Bridge makes far more sense than spending the money required to replace it with two new, higher bridges. The Hoboken plan, which was discussed in the previous article in this series, would provide a route for trains to use while Portal Bridge is rehabilitated. After a scaled-down Portal Bridge project is completed, the Portal Bridge route and the Hoboken route would compliment each other in providing access to the existing Penn Station.

There are intangible issues concerning Portal Bridge, as well. The existing bridge is historic, and there is always some question of the desirability of demolishing a historic structure. There are also serious environmental issues, even if the appropriate environmental authorities approve the project. Track level would need to be raised an additional 25 feet, with new and long approaches built over the Meadowlands, an environmentally-sensitive wetlands area. At a 2% grade, the additional 25 feet of track elevation would require 1000 feet of additional support structure (500 feet on each side of the bridge). The current plan calls for two spans, so the span to be located 40 feet above the water would also need 600 feet of additional approach track.

Is the expanded Portal Bridge project necessary? We don’t think so. There is no money for it, and it would generate high monetary and non-monetary costs to provide rail service that could be operated more efficiently in other ways and on other routes.

The mega-project comprising the Portal Bridge and “ARC” Projects is designed specifically to bring many riders to a place in Midtown Manhattan (albeit not a particularly convenient place) with a “one-seat” ride. From NJT’s viewpoint, this means not having to change from one NJT train to another. The myth of the “one-seat ride” will be the subject of the next article in the series.

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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...

Dear Editor:

[ Editor’s note: In last week’s DF, we committed to exploring why ridership on the improved Greenbush line in the Greater Boston area has had disappointing ridership. Here are some reasons. ]

I am not surprised to hear that ridership on the MBTA Greenbush Line is not up to par. I rode the line last April and noticed something interesting, and unique, among commuter rail lines in America.

The line has no stations within walking distance of downtown areas, thanks in large measure to the constant opposition of the “town fathers” of Hingham. Every station is a park-and-ride, so the line is only useful for people with automobiles. In addition, the schedule (at least, as of seven months ago) did not list a single shuttle bus to take riders between a station on the line and the nearest town.

In short, the line is absolutely useless for anyone who is dependent on transit for mobility. Only people who have access to an automobile can get to that service. Personally, I am not surprised that a line so useless to many prospective riders should show disappointing ridership numbers.

David Peter Alan
Chair, Lackawanna Coalition
Board Member, Rail Users' Network (RUN)

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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