Vol. 8 No. 48
December 3, 2007

Copyright © 2007
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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A weekly North American transportation update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

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

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

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

  January Conference…
  News Items…
Presidential Emergency Labor Board In Place; Countdown to
    Nationwide Amtrak Strike Begins
Cities and Towns Called to Pittsburgh for Station Summit
  High-Speed Lines…
California High-Speed Train Project Chugs Ahead
  Commuter lines…
150 Million Dollar Smile for MBTA
Gannett Fleming To Take Close Look At Commuter Rail
    For Northeast Florida
  Livable communities…
Taking the Trolley Back to the Future
  Selected Rail Stocks…
Trent Lott, Bi-Partisanship, and the Future of Passenger Rail
Has Amtrak’s Time Come?
  We Get Letters…
  End notes…


Jan 2008 Conference Poster
Carmichael Conference On The Future of American Transportation

January 28-29, 2008 - St. Louis Hyatt Regency Hotel, St. Louis, Mo.

Click Here For Details And To Register

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters (Invited)
Presidential Nominee Governor Michael S. Dukakis (Confirmed)
Alex Kummant, President, Amtrak (Invited)
Gilbert E. Carmichael, Chair, Univ. of Denver Intermodal Institute (Confirmed)
John Horsley, President, AASHTO (Confirmed)
Todd Alexander Litman, Exec. Dir., Victoria Transportation Policy Institute (Confirmed)
Robert L. Crandall, former Chairman & CEO, American Airlines (Confirmed)
James P. RePass, President & CEO, The National Corridors Initiative (Confirmed)
Conference fees (until January 1):
Advocates, Non-Profits $199
Unions: $299
Corporate: $499

A limited number of conference scholarships in the amount of $100 are available for elected officials and non-profits

Major Co-Sponsors of The Carmichael Conference On
The Future of American Transportation Are, Thus Far:

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)
American Public Transportation Association
Association of American Railroads
Bombardier Transit
Midwest High Speed Rail Association
National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Corridors Initiative
InTrans Incorporated: A New Direction in Transportation Advocacy
The Railway Users' Network
National Association of Railroad Passengers
The Regional Plan Association
The Sierra Club
The Surdna Foundation
Train Riders NorthEast
Victoria Transportation Policy Institute

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

Presidential Emergency Labor Board In Place;
Countdown to Nationwide Amtrak Strike Begins

By DF Staff and from Internet sources

WASHINGTON --- President Bush has appointed a Presidential Emergency Board, the next step in a series of procedures required to avoid a nationwide strike by several Amtrak unions starting in late January.

The Board is a part of the unique labor law relating to railroads, whose employees are forbidden to strike once the Federal intervention process begins and until it is concluded, but who nevertheless have the right to organize into unions and bargain with their employer.

Presidential Emergency Board 242, which came into being Saturday, December 1, will investigate the collective bargaining disagreements which have prevented settlement of contract talks with a number of Amtrak’s 13 unions and make a recommendation within 30 days.

Once the Emergency Board makes its recommendations, the company and the union have 30 days to accept or jointly modify them. Strikes are banned following the creation of the board, and for 30 days after the board issues its report.

The issue involves both pay and work rules.

Amtrak has offered union employees, who have received only cost-of-living wage increases since 2000, a $4500 “signing bonus” to help make up for lost wages, and a 24% pay raise over the next three years.

The unions have rejected this offer, demanding back pay raise payments that would cost between $200-$215 million additional, Amtrak says.

Negotiations have been on-going since 2000 between Amtrak and its unions, without success.

One of the chief sticking points, aside from wages, is work rules changes that Amtrak management wants to introduce to reduce costs. These changes would allow workers from one union to perform multiple tasks, some outside their traditional “craft” area. This would effectively end the differentiation among many of the unions, and ultimately lead to consolidation. While more streamlined, the result would also be a loss of union officers’ jobs as various unions merged, an outcome which is being fiercely resisted by the union leadership.

If a strike occurs, it would come at the end of January or in early February, and would then be subject to a Congressionally-imposed settlement. It is believed that the unions want to avoid this outcome, as Congress knows better than most the tight financial conditions at Amtrak, and is unlikely to force through large wage increases that the railroad can ill afford.

A strike would shut down the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor (Richmond-DC-Boston-Portland) and many commuter rail lines operated by Amtrak under contract.

Unions involved are: Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, Joint Council of Carmen, comprised of the Transportation Communications, International Union/Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division and the Transport Workers Union of America, American Train Dispatchers Association, National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/Service Employees International Union, Transportation Communications International Union – American Railway and Airline Supervisors Association.

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Cities and Towns Called to Pittsburgh for Station Summit

From Amtrak and Internet Sources

WASHINGTON --- Citing the need for a greater exchange of success stories and to provide additional passenger rail station improvement resources, Amtrak has invited communities to a “Civic Conversation” in Pittsburgh on December 6 as part of its “Great American Stations” Initiative.

Amtrak President and CEO Alex Kummant sent “Great American Stations Civic Conversation” invitations to mayors and other civic leaders and state officials in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana.

Case studies will be highlighted from large and small communities. Representatives of those cities will explain how they shepherded their projects to successes that sparked additional redevelopment in their community. A forthcoming deadline to meet standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act will be discussed in detail.

Amtrak officials will attend the day-long workshop, which will include information on station standards and a how-to session on getting started on a station renewal project and the types of state and federal grants available for station improvements.

This is the second “Civic Conversation” held this year by Amtrak, following a session on July 24 in Denver that exceeded the expectations of communities and Amtrak. Future meetings are being planned along other routes in the 46-state Amtrak network.

“While Amtrak today serves more passengers than at any time in its history, too many of America’s passenger rail stations — most not owned by Amtrak — are falling into disrepair,” Kummant said. “Passenger rail stations greatly benefit the communities they serve, welcome visitors and function as connection points to other public transportation. They also have the potential to spark greater economic opportunities in the heart of these communities.

Cities will also see the results of a recently concluded review of the stations on the routes of the Capitol Limited (Washington-Pittsburgh-Chicago), Pennsylvanian (Philadelphia-Pittsburgh), and the Pennsylvania portions of the Keystone Corridor (Harrisburg-New York City) and Lake Shore Limited (New York City-Chicago) routes, with specific suggestions for upgrades at each facility.

“We have a lot of experience and know-how about improving stations and we want to share that with our communities,” Kummant added.

Amtrak recently updated the www.greatamericanstations.com website, which enables an exchange of information, empowers communities and provides a point of initial contact to develop partnerships in this initiative to rebuild and revitalize stations.

The site will include descriptions of the Amtrak Capitol Limited and Amtrak Pennsylvanian/Keystone Corridor routes, along with the complete Amtrak California Zephyr (Chicago-San Francisco Bay) and Amtrak Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland) routes. Other stations and routes will be also added to the site, which features the latest Amtrak news headlines.

The website now spotlights the success of the station project in Mineola, Texas, and the story of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, station will soon be featured.

The event at the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh is by invitation-only. A complete list of invitees is available upon request to Amtrak Media Relations. Reporters wishing to attend the “Civic Conversation” should also contact Amtrak Media Relations regarding availability.

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

California High-Speed Train Project Chugs Ahead

By DF staff from HSRA staff reports and other Internet sources

NOVEMBER 29 --- California is poised to build a high speed rail system that could become the “Northeast Corridor of the West.” In a state where highways have been king for decades, major air pollution and congestion problems are driving officials to change the way Californians get around.

In 1996, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) was established for the purpose of implementing a statewide high-speed train system for California. Consisting of nine members (five appointed by the Governor, two appointed by the Senate Rules Committee, and two by the Speaker of the Assembly), the Board took on the charge of planning a system that would connect San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento in the north -- with service to the Central Valley -- to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south.

With bullet trains operating at speeds up to 220 mph, the express travel time from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles is expected to be just under 2 _ hours.

“High-speed 220 mile per hour trains offer the only realistic and comprehensive strategy for alleviating gridlock and improving the ability of our citizens to move quickly and easily from one part of the state to another. Once built, high-speed trains will be an important transportation solution for California, said The Honorable Quentin Kopp, Chairman of the Board of the Authority.

The proposal involves one of the biggest, most costly infrastructure projects the state has ever undertaken, and they are proceeding with fiscal caution.

In August of this year, the High-Speed Rail Authority’s budget was restricted. The 2007-08 allocation was reduced from the Legislature’s provision of nearly $60 million down to $20.7 million.

This reduction will restrict much of the engineering and design work that was slated to begin within the next year, but officials remain optimistic that progress on the project will be sustained.

“Despite the reduced funding ......, I am very optimistic about our ability to sustain progress on this vital solution to California’s transportation crisis,” said Judge Kopp.

The budget will allow the Authority to complete the Bay Area environmental analysis and select a preferred route.

“We will also continue the vital engineering and design work needed to receive the regulatory approvals to build the system,” said Mehdi Morshed, HSRA executive director. “This project has great momentum and we will move the project forward responsibly and quickly so that voters can confidently approve the $9.95 billion bond next year.”

Funding will come from public and private partnerships, the federal government, and state funding through California’s bond measure scheduled for the November 2008 ballot.

At a recent meeting of the High Speed Rail Authority, financial experts from Infrastructure Management Group/Lehman Brothers provided Board members with an update on their work to explore federal and private sector interest in financing the construction of the project.

“Meetings with Senator Feinstein and Boxer as well as other members of Congress were very successful and we've made significant inroads with potential private sector partners,” said Kopp. “These initial meetings are consistent with the program outlined by the finance team as part of the Authority's efforts to obtain financing from state, federal and private investors.”

The Authority is also charged with improving regional rail commuter and high-speed rail service via the Altamont Pass between Sacramento/northern San Joaquin Valley and Oakland/San Jose in partnership with local and regional agencies such as BART. The Authority is scheduled to vote on the recommendation at its next meeting on December 14.

Air quality control officials praised this endeavor. “The San Joaquin Valley's challenge in meeting the state and federal clean air standards is unmatched by any other region in the state. The Authority's work to bring high-speed trains to California is the right decision to help to improve air quality,” says Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District. “The route selected by high-speed train planners links major metropolitan areas to the north and south for Valley residents, and brings a viable alternative to car travel for the entire state. This will mean a reduction in smog and CO2 emissions - a win-win situation for all.”

California mayors who have lined up behind the project,are Antonio Villaraigosa (Los Angeles), Curt Pringle (Anaheim), Alan Autry (Fresno) and Gavin Newsom (San Francisco). In addition to strong support from U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, bipartisan support from the majority of California’s Congressional delegation is strong. The delegation recently signed a letter urging Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Senate to provide adequate funding to keep the high-speed train project on schedule. Other supporters include Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Don Antonovich and Don Knabe, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and State Senate President Pro-Tem Don Perata.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter Lines...

150 Million Dollar Smile for MBTA

From Internet sources

Fitchburg riders get the nod

BOSTON, NOVEMBER 30 — Hopes are running high that a slow commuter line between Fitchburg and North Station will improve to the point where it is actually fast and frequent enough to serve commuters. Right now, there are 17 stops along that route, and would-be train commuters like State Representatives Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, and Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, say the trip is just too slow to be useful for them.

But according to a story by Telegram and Gazette staffer John Monahan, this is about to change. Governor Patrick’s administration has a plan to spend $150 million to upgrade the service – part of a $2.9 billion, three-year transportation bond plan.

“It is a huge hurdle that Central Massachusetts has had to overcome,” Ms. Flanagan said of getting the project included in the state bond plan. “This is the farthest we have ever gotten,” in efforts to improve commuter service to northern Worcester County, she said, adding that the federal government is also in line to support the project now.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said the bond package did not include rail money for Worcester because funds to expand train service here already have been authorized and await only the completion of a deal over track use with CSX, the freight company that owns portions of the tracks.

CSX negotiations have been stalled on the issue of indemnification — liability. “We’ve made progress in the last year but are stuck on that one point,” Mr. Murray said. “We are intensifying our efforts to get it resolved.”

Under the bond bill plan announced by the governor yesterday, the Gazette story continues, $75 million for the northern Worcester County project would come from the state bond, and another $75 million in matching funds would come from the federal government.

It would cover the cost of building a double track along a seven-mile stretch around Acton that now relies on a single track shared with freight lines, which limits the frequency of commuter trains on the line.

The upgrade would also pay for new cab signal controls, cutting significant time off the current 1-1/2 hour ride from Fitchburg to Boston.

The plan calls of the 17 stops along the Fitchburg line — most of which are grouped closely together on the final leg of the trip in the Boston area — to be consolidated, and some would be eliminated. This could cut trip time down to about one hour, making it much more workable for commuters.

Purchase of new rail cars and equipment would be necessary as many of the cars are in bad condition, with doors that don’t close properly.

Also included in the bond package are the South Coast Rail extension, a Blue Line extension to Lynn, improvements to other rail lines such as the ones in Fairmont and Medford, and a chance for the state to catch up on deferred maintenance on roads and bridges.

The proposal will be filed as a bond bill that will be up for public hearings next year before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation and the Committee on bonding Capital Expenditures and State Assets in advance of full consideration by the House and Senate.

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Gannett Fleming To Take Close Look At
Commuter Rail For Northeast Florida

By Leo King
Special to Destination: Freedom

JACKSONVILLE, Nov. 27 - When Gannett Fleming begins looking into the potential for commuter rail in a few days on Florida’s “First Coast” and within six counties, it will be a look-see that will include a myriad of details. The region ranges from the Georgia border to about 30 miles south of Green Cove Springs at Palatka, Fla. and over to St. Augustine.

Gannett Fleming was awarded the job today. The firm was selected from a field of seven bidders, and over the last two months have been working out contract details with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA).

Bids were opened on May 11 to begin looking into commuter rail, but the selection was not made until August 30 when the JTA directors selected Gannett Fleming.

JTA project manager James Boyle said “The actual contract amount agreed upon is $394,739. We should have the study concluded by February” 2009.

Some of the bidders were heavyweights in the design-build process, including Parsons-Brinckerhoff and Wilbur Smith Associates. Boyle said JTA had $400,000 allocated for the study - $250,000 this fiscal year and $150,000 in fiscal 2009.

The results from Gannett Fleming’s study will be known in about 14 months, according to the 2004 study outline written by the First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization (FCMPO), so that will be sometime in February 2009.

In the big picture, CSX’s “S Line” originates in Jacksonville and travels westward to Baldwin, and continues to Tallahassee and beyond, but a branch line, which is really a heavy-duty main freight service track, heads southward from Baldwin toward the middle of the state at Lakeland and several various routes, and on to Miami.

The “A Line” originates in Washington, D.C., passes through Jacksonville and on to Miami. This is the route Amtrak trains pass over, and is farther east that the S Line. At one time, the railroad was named Seaboard Air Line.

Using population data from the 2000 census and future projections through 2030, Gannett Fleming is tasked to “develop transit propensity characteristics and map the potential for ridership along the corridors.”

In short, where will the commuters come from, and where will they want to go, and how many?

Colorado Railcar double-decker trainset pauses briefly in Jacksonville, Fla.

Photo: Leo King

Colorado Railcar double-decker trainset pauses briefly in Jacksonville, Fla., on Florida East Coast Railway iron the day the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) said it would be conducting a commuter rail study. Gannett Fleming was the eventual successful bidder, and they signed the contract with JTA on Nov. 27. The trainset moved on to Miami's Florida Tri-Rail the next day via CSX.

Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, and St Johns counties will be studied.

Some of the railroad characteristics the planners will have to examine include whether existing rail lines are active or not, passenger and freight capacity, dispatching control, track conditions, bridges, speed limits and speed restrictions.

Eventually, at least three preferred corridors will be selected, along with a no-build option.

Other considerations will include planned stations, adjacent land ownership for new station construction, total acreage, access (car, transit, bike, and pedestrian), parking needs, and neighborhood impact.

The consultant will also have to recommend what will be the best solution for equipment - diesel multiple units, locomotive-drawn trains or some other kind of power.

How much will it all cost is a big consideration, and the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” program should go a long way in helping out - up to half, in practical terms. The state Transportation department will be another source of funding. The rest will come from county coffers. They will also consider public-private partnerships to own, operate and maintain the commuter system - including the railroads involved.

The JTA issued a request for proposals in April 2007 that would include CSX Railroad lines west of St. Johns River, and the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) east of the river.

FEC operates from Jacksonville to Miami east of the river, which is a three-mile wide divider between the two carriers until they get south of St. Augustine, and Palatka on CSX.

The overall idea is to operate commuter trains from St. Augustine to Jacksonville to the former Seaboard Jacksonville Terminal built in 1919. It is currently called the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, named after a former CSX CEO. He was chairman of the task force that put the convention center concept together and nurtured it to fruition. Early in 1986, a resolution from the mayor and city council named the convention center after him, according to The Florida Railroad Co., Inc. website, at http://www.flarr.com/jtc.htm. The last passenger train rolled out of the station on January 3, 1974.

On CSX in today’s situation, commuter trains could originate in Palatka, Gainesville, or Hilliard. The First Coast Railroad would handle trains from Fernandina Beach as far as Yulee then hand them off to CSX. All the trains would go to a common point: Jacksonville Terminal.

Now, stated JTA from FCMPO’s 2004 document, the contractor will have to “identify the demand for commuter rail service for the years 2005, 2015 and 2030,” assess the interregional and commuter travel demand in the study area, and “identify and evaluate preferred alignments and potential station sites.”

Another task will include providing “capacity analysis of existing rail system[s] to accommodate commuter rail and the effect of commuter rail service on existing and planned rail freight operation, and Amtrak service.”

They will also be required to “assess other potential corridors including existing highway and new corridors for commuter rail implementation and operation,” and to explore the possibilities of private-public partnerships “to operate and maintain the commuter rail system.”

Other plans will also be reviewed, including Florida Intercity Passenger Rail Vision Plan, North Jacksonville Rail/Port Access Study, waterborne transit study, rapid transit, Jacksonville’s downtown master plan and its Better Jacksonville Plan, and several other plans including I-95 notions in Nassau County.

The consultant will have to coordinate with several other agencies besides the project manager - a project task force, a citizen’s advisory committee and various public agencies. County and agency staffers will make up the task force, and the citizen’s group or advisory committee “will be created to enhance the public involvement process.”

Meanwhile, Gannett Fleming will be required to take a close looks at some peer cities “that have demonstrated successful commuter rail operations,” including Nashville’s Music City Star, the Austin-San Antonio commuter rail system now under development and New Mexico’s Rail Runner Express as well as Miami’s Florida Tri-Rail and the developing Central Florida Commuter Rail system. The Northeast Florida planners are expected to create a website as well.

The state is buying some 60 track miles in the Orlando area from CSX and its A Line.

Links of Interest:

[ Ed. - Leo King is a past editor and contributer to Destination: Freedom and is presently living in Florida. ]

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LIVABLE COMMUNITIES...  Livable Communities...

Taking the Trolley Back to the Future

By Alex Marshall, Editor, Spotlight on the Region
Regional Plan Association of New York
Reprinted by permission

(NEW YORK CITY) ---Those getting on in years and those who dip themselves in urban history will know that the picturesque streetcar used to run on virtually every major street in every small, medium or large city in the Tri-state area (NY-NJ-CT).

These old lines, although long gone, have left their mark on streets in big and small ways. For example, most local shopping streets tend to be where the old trolley lines ran. That’s because commerce tends to congregate around transportation lines. Those shopping streets are still there, even though the streetcar lines are not.

Another marker is in names, which, as in shopping streets, tend to persist after the original impetus is gone. The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, formerly of Brooklyn, derives its name from the hundreds of streetcars that used to roll down the streets of this New York City borough, and the “trolley dodgers” that had to jump out of their way.

While the Dodgers may be gone from the region, trolleys may be coming back. A streetcar renaissance is poised to happen, say many observers, or is even already underway. Dozens of cities have built, or are building, new streetcar lines. They include Portland, Kenosha, Charlotte, Little Rock, Lowell, Memphis, Tampa, San Diego and Charlotte. Some of them are installing vintage or antique cars; some are installing brand new ones. They join cities like New Orleans, Toronto, Melbourne and San Francisco that kept or revived existing lines.

There are various reasons for this renaissance. As people rediscover the joys of urban living, urban planners are taking a second look at the humble streetcar that used to be so ubiquitous. What they are finding is a mode of transportation that is relatively inexpensive, blends well with cars, bicycles and other means of traveling, and can be installed relatively quickly and, perhaps most importantly, more seamlessly into the urban fabric.

In general, streetcars can provide cities with a lower-cost way to get into the track transit game. As the streetcar companies of yore knew, they are relatively easy to build. Strip away a layer of street, install some tracks, relay the asphalt, and you’re good to go. Once you buy some cars, of course.

Streetcars are better than buses, which are the usual lower cost alternative, because they provide a smoother ride, even while traveling at higher speeds, and are more beloved by customers. One study showed that streetcars travel faster than buses, because drivers tend to defer to a train-like vehicle and get out of their way. As significantly, they tend to attract more private development because rails in the street have a permanence that inspires confidence in commercial and residential developers.

The other natural competitor to streetcars is light rail lines. Interestingly, there is no clear distinction between a light rail line and a streetcar line, although there are general ones. Light rail lines tend to have dedicated and separate right of way, tend to travel out of town rather than within town, tend to have longer trains, and tend to have fewer stops. And most significantly, tend to cost a lot more to build, often three times as much per mile.

Do streetcars have any place in the Tri-state region? Well, interestingly enough, Stamford solicited proposals just last week to examine the potential for a new four-mile line that would connect major nodes within the city. Whether this would qualify as a streetcar or a light rail line might be a matter of semantics.

I could see streetcars playing a substantial role within many cities in the region, even in New York City. With its incredible density, Manhattan would have fewer spots for streetcars, because customers would simply overwhelm them. But even there, there are opportunities, if the trolleys supplement, rather than replace, heavier rail systems like subways. RPA’s Third Regional Plan recommended a Midtown light rail loop. The Vision42 group has been pushing a streetcar, although they too call it “light rail,” along 42nd street for years as part of enhancing its pedestrian spaces.

A good place to start looking at the possibilities of streetcar revival is Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Gloria Ohland and Shelley Poticha of Reconnecting America. In a series of separately authored articles, it provides a range of both broad overview and technical analysis of the options involved. They look at vintage cars, new lines, even things like the “rapid streetcar,” that blends the best of both the streetcar and light rail styles.

To be sure, streetcars are a tiny amount of overall transportation in this country, and probably always will be. When present, streetcars in most cities fill niche markets of tourism and travel, although I think that’s changing. When combined with good land use policy and good urban design, streetcars can be once again a vital port of an urban transportation system.

Streetcars are an example of what the management gurus used to call low hanging fruit. Relatively cheap, they can be installed on the streets where they used to run, and be a part of re-orienting city streets at least away from just cars and back to people. That’s a trend I can jump on board with.

Questions or comments on what’s in this issue? Send them to the editor of Spotlight On The Region, Alex Marshall at alex@rpa.org.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)83.5282.45
Canadian National (CNI)49.0446.68
Canadian Pacific (CP)66.9261.10
CSX (CSX)42.0041.31
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.5162.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.2024.81
Kansas City Southern (KSU)34.4333.08
Norfolk Southern (NSC)51.2149.55
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.5018.00
Union Pacific (UNP)126.14124.68

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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

Trent Lott, Bi-Partisanship,
and the Future of Passenger Rail

A Commentary by Jim RePass
Pres. & CEO, NCI Inc.

WASHINGTON---When Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) steps down from his post shortly, the railroad community will be losing an important ally.

But just as importantly, the United States Senate will be losing a man who, while a fighter for his own party elected again and again to leadership positions within the GOP, nevertheless forged strong and enduring working relationships with his counterparts across the aisle, particularly Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), and others who shared Trent Lott’s view that America must have a balanced national transportation system, one serving the whole nation, not just the Northeast Corridor

The legacy of Trent Lott’s principled bi-partisanship is on display now, in S. 294, the Lott-Lautenberg Bill authorizing Amtrak $12.4 billion in capital, operating, and debt-repayment funding over the next six years, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and soon to be before the House of Representatives.

This bill, crafted under the sponsorship of Sen. Frank Lautenberg and other Senators from both parties, is a critical first step to end the decades of marginal, hand-to-mouth existence that has hobbled Amtrak and prevented it from becoming the kind of world-class transportation system this country ought to have. Despite years of ideologically inspired attacks by the extreme, anti-government libertarian wing of the GOP, Amtrak has survived, and with the Lott-Lautenberg bill, could begin to build a truly successful national rail system for which America will no longer have to apologize to the rest of the industrialized world.

We wish Senator Trent Lott all good speed and good luck in his return to the private sector, and we hope that he will stay involved in the development of rail transportation in America. His leadership has shown the way, and especially over the past decade, he was a bulwark against destructive forces within his own party, and a reasonable, hard-working partner to those on the opposite side of the halls of Congress. Very few people understand just how close we came to losing Amtrak in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and what a central figure Trent Lott was to its survival, both when in the majority, and in the minority.

It would be highly appropriate for this landmark authorization bill, S. 294, to now be passed by the House and signed by the President not merely on its merits, which are self-evident, but because Trent Lott’s legacy as a national leader is embodied in this bill, and what it does to make us stronger. And it would be a good way for the nation to say, “Thank you, Senator Lott. Thank you.”

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Has Amtrak’s Time Come?

By Neal Peirce

A commentary by Neal Peirce of the 2007Washington Post Writers Group offers guarded hope
that things are improving in the American transportation system.

Are the stars finally coming into alignment for an American passenger rail system that’s even mildly comparable to 21st century world standards?

America’s train advocates are mildly optimistic. And for some good reasons. Amtrak is reporting impressive ridership gains. Oil has been pushing toward $100 a barrel, throwing a long shadow over affordability of travel on already-congested highways. Airport delays hit an all-time high last summer. Global climate concerns are mounting.

Rail freight demands, meanwhile, are rising fast, suggesting joint improvements with passenger rail. Worries are rising about mobility gaps hindering the ability of America’s “megaregions” -- the Northeast, Great Lakes, California and others -- to match the performance of competitive regions worldwide.

Also positive for Amtrak: signs of a much friendlier reception in Congress. Add to that an array of states anxious to expand rail service, especially if they can get a federal “match” comparable to the 80-20 percent federal-to-state match for highways.M

For years, polls have shown Americans strongly in favor of Amtrak subsidies that would build a strong national rail system. But only slowly have legislators -- federal and state -- shown an openness to system expansion. And the Bush administration has been hostile; it has even tried to zero-fund Amtrak.

So here’s the irony: Amtrak is able to report it carried 25.8 million passenger in the last fiscal year -- up 1.5 million from the year before. Ticket revenue rose 11 percent. Trains on the Northeast Corridor and other popular corridors are increasingly sold out.

And no one knows, notes Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, how expansive demand for Amtrak service would be if many more routes were opened, offering at least three or four trains daily for reasonable frequency. His bet is that millions of Americans would opt for the more convenient system, especially as oil soars in cost: “For 50 years we assumed we could do everything by car. It’s now painfully clear that’s not true.”

But there’s an irony: Amtrak expansion could get derailed. Why? If demand keeps rising as seems likely, Amtrak estimates it will lack sufficient cars and backup equipment by the 2010-2012 time frame. Given the multi-year lead times for equipment design and manufacture, that means the procurement process needs to begin right away.

Congress can help significantly if it moves swiftly on current bills -- the major boost being a $1.9 billion a year Amtrak support recently voted by the Senate, and a separate Senate Finance Committee proposal for $900 million a year to let states issue tax-free bonds to finance new intercity passenger rail infrastructure. Critical first steps will have been taken (assuming both bills can be tracked around expected Bush vetoes).

But state initiatives are also vital. Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi heads the “States for Passenger Rail Coalition” of 30 state transportation departments appealing for an 80-20 federal-state funding split to put some real steam behind rail expansion.

Fourteen states, notes Busalacchi, already provide operating support for Amtrak corridor services -- routes responsible for virtually all of Amtrak’s recent ridership gains. The “Hiawatha Service” in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, he boasts, has boosted ridership 48 percent, to 588,000, in the last five years, with 90 percent on-time performance.

And there have been other breakthroughs. Pennsylvania, in a 50-50 cost split with Amtrak, electrified and rehabilitated the Philadelphia-Harrisburg corridor so well it now offers 110-mile-per-hour service.

In California, a $2 billion rail bond issue that voters OK’d in 1990 sparked work on three major corridors (Central Valley, San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara and Sacramento-San Jose). The bond issue, notes Ross Capon of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, was originally “rammed down the throat” of a highway-dominated Caltrans (state transportation department). “But today,” Capon continued, “Caltrans is proud to boast at every opportunity about the 4 million riders yearly on the combined California corridors.”

Illinois made a splash last fall by doubling the number of trains it sponsors, increasing, for example, Chicago-St. Louis runs from three to five trains daily. Cascadia service (Oregon-Washington) had 674,000 passengers last year. Maine scored a breakthrough (even when New Hampshire and Massachusetts wouldn’t help it) by starting up Boston-Portland “Downeaster” service; last year it carried 362,000 passengers.

But many legislators, federal and state, remain skeptical. A longtime rail system advocacy group, the National Corridors Initiative, aims to convince more of them through a Jan. 28-29 conference on U.S. transportation competitiveness at St. Louis’ Hyatt Regency Hotel (within the once-derelict, now restored historic Union Station).

The affair will be called the “Carmichael Conference on the Future of American Transportation” in honor of Gilbert Carmichael, a Federal Railroad Commissioner who served under (remember him?) President George W.H. Bush. Carmichael is an enthusiastic rail supporter -- a reminder that rails to meet America’s needs will have to be a bipartisan effort -- or likely not happen at all.

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WE GET LETTERS...  We Get Letters...

Dear Editor,

Just a brief note to let you know that the images posted on the MTA Capital Construction web site, and reproduced in the article “2nd Avenue Subway Gets Infusion of Money from Feds” (Destination Freedom, Nov 26, 2007), are a bit dated. I live in the area of the construction and to me the photos appear to be from May 2007.

Construction of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) “Launch Box” is well underway on 2nd Avenue, as you can see for yourself on this photoblog: http://thelaunchbox.blogspot.com/

In the spirit of full disclosure -- I am in fact the editor, if that is the correct term, of the blog referenced above.


Ben Heckscher
New York, NY

[ Thank You Ben, and for the readers here is a recent image from ben’s Blog which is available atthe URL mentioned in the letter. - Ed. ]


AT RIGHT: Near the SW corner of 93rd and 2nd looking north Trench work continues. The rotary drilling rig has now moved all the way up to the north end of the launch box, at 95th street. (Yes, the shadow is in fact the person who took this picture.

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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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