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 Destination:Freedom 

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

Publisher:  James P. RePass
Managing Editor:  Molly N. McKay
Foreign Editor:  David Beale
Contributing Editor:  David Peter Alan
Webmaster:  Dennis Kirkpatrick
 
For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

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January 28, 2013
Vol. 14 No. 4

Copyright © 2013
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 13th Newsletter Year

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

  Editorial…
Thanks, Mr. President
  Commentary…
Connect St. Louis And Chicago With True
   High-Speed Rail
  News Items…
New Orleans Opens Direct Streetcar Service
   Union Passenger Terminal To Canal Street
Detroit To Receive TIGER Grant
   For Streetcar Project
Virginia Governor Recommends
   $1 Billion For Rail, Transit
  News From Amtrak…
Statement From Amtrak President And CEO   
   Joe Boardman On Governor McDonnell’s
   Plan To Return Passenger Rail To Roanoke
 
  High-Speed Lines…
High-Speed Rail Kicks Off 2013 With
   Key Milestones
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Advocacy Lines…
Criticism Of New Jersey Transit In The Wake
   Of Hurricane Sandy Increases
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …



EDITORIAL... Editorial...

Thanks, Mr. President

 

The philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky spent a lot of time and effort writing and speaking about the importance of semiotics --- symbolism and signs, basically --- in culture and communication.

While Chomsky’s left-wing politics doesn’t endear him to all people, his essential insight that what is said, and unsaid, is no more and no less important than the context in which it is delivered, or the symbols that surround and infuse the transmission of ideas.

One time where semiotics really rises to the top in terms of significance is the delivery of a Presidential Inaugural Speech, which by design is a rare and important occurrence in the life of this democracy: in our entire history, there have been only about 60 such speeches.

President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address therefore is important, almost no matter what is actually said, but because it is being said at all by the one human being whose imprint will, in one way or another, be on everything that our government does for the next four years.

That is why it was so gratifying that, very early on in his address this past week, President Obama made a point of citing “railroads,” by name, as one of the important matters he plans to address during his final term of office, as part of his opening statement about our nation’s history:

“The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

For more than two hundred years, we have.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.”

It is not only gratifying that the President mentioned rail, but also the way in which he mentioned it --- as a part of a whole, as an element of the system we rely upon to permit and promote commerce, and travel, and economic growth, as one of the signposts along the road we are all walking together, in this great nation.

Let us hope that his words will lead to actions, and his actions to success, and that we as a nation will once again build a transportation system --- a system, not just rail --- that serves all the people, rich and poor, old and young, able and challenged, and that brings America back to the forefront of competition in the world’s economy. There is no doubt that we can do it --- and there is no doubt that we must.

Godspeed, Mr. President. Godspeed.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Connect St. Louis And Chicago
With True High-Speed Rail

By Richard Harnish
This Op-Ed Was Published In The St. Louis Post-Dispatch On January 23, 2013
Reprinted With Permission

The St. Louis-Chicago corridor took another step toward high-speed rail recently when the Federal Railroad Administration approved the plan to double-track the existing Union Pacific mainline.

This plan does not go far enough — literally. It doesn’t go fast enough, either. The current plan proposes to add tracks to the existing freight line to reduce the St. Louis to Chicago travel time to four hours just nine times a day. Also, it does not link to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

We must do better.

True high-speed trains, using proven technology, could slash the St. Louis to the Chicago Loop trip to just 90 minutes, with hourly departures. If existing rail infrastructure were blended with long segments of new high-speed construction, similar to what is being done in California, trains could easily beat the 2.5-hour travel time needed to truly change today’s journey into a commute. The same trains could stop at both downtown and Lambert, creating new opportunities for more people to take advantage of the reduced costs and improved access created by fast trains.

In truth, we’re not just talking about a train. We’re talking about an economic powerhouse. A truly modern rail system, beginning with the proposed new Chicago/St. Louis line, can become the driver of economic development throughout the nation’s heartland and beyond. From an environmental standpoint it can be a huge “win,” diminishing our dependence on fossil fuels and helping to reduce air and auto emissions. Above all, this line can become the anchor of a modern transport web linking the big cities of the Midwest, and incubating new enterprises along its path.

The St. Louis-Chicago project will span a big stretch of the nation’s economic engine — the heartland of steel production, Midwest coal production, varied manufacturing and agricultural.

We need high-speed rail to support the new economic drivers of today’s Midwest: commerce, information technology, medical research and high-tech manufacturing. The high-speed rail project itself will be a generator of new jobs, breathing new energy into surrounding communities — especially if we take the time to engage the leaders from Missouri, Illinois and the federal transportation authorities in meaningful planning. The plan should demonstrate a great and immediate benefit to intermediate cities between Chicago and St. Louis, and eventually become the hub of a web that includes Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and other cities in need of this economic kick-start.

Speed is a real issue. To be a successful venture, high-speed rail must offer a clear alternative to both driving and flying. It must be affordable, convenient, and substantially faster than driving. It must offer amenities for a new century — such as a supportive working environment with WiFi throughout. This means developing an advanced infrastructure surrounding the high-speed lines and stations, one that can attract a new ridership and make the public investment pay off for decades to come.

A project of this size would require a combined public/private investment, with federal, state and local governments providing proportionate shares of the cost. This is far from the first time such a mixed investment project will be undertaken, but it will take time to put together the pieces. That is why it is critical to get started now.

We can take the first concrete step now. Soon, the Illinois Department of Transportation will begin designing a new railroad bridge over the Mississippi. Let’s make sure that it is designed to carry the true high-speed trains that we desperately need.

PS: Our annual membership meeting will be held in Chicago on May 11.  Please save the date.

Also, here are some other events you may want to check out:

US High-Speed Rail Association Conference
Monday, February 11 & Tuesday, February 12
Washington, DC
http://www.ushsr.com/events/washingtondc2013.html

The 9th China International Rail Transit Technology Exhibition
Sunday, May 5 - Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Shanghai, China
http://www.crtschina.com/en/

2013 High-Speed Rail Tour - China
Sunday, September 8 - September 21, 2013
Hong Kong, China
http://midwesthsr.org/china2013/

Rick Harnish is Executive Director of the Midwest High- Speed Rail Association 4765 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60625


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NEWS ITEMS... News Items...  

New Orleans Opens Direct Streetcar Service
Union Passenger Terminal To Canal Street

By James P. RePass
Publisher
Destination:Freedom

NEW ORLEANS --- In a feat of urban transportation engineering that defied both the betting and the odds, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) has today opened the brand-new Loyola Streetcar Line serving connecting Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street, and the first step in a long-dreamed goal of bringing back to New Orleans the famed Streetcar Named Desire.

RTA sign in New Orleans

All Images DF Staff

RTA sign in New Orleans

RTA signs have been installed to guide passengers on their journey

NORTA, which is managed by world-wide transportation specialist Veolia Transportation and headed up in the Big Easy by New Orleans’ own home-grown transit guru, transit expert and New Orleans’ native Justin Augustine, built the line along Loyola Avenue across Poydras Street --- where the nearby mammoth Super Dome hosts the Super Bowl February 3 --- past City Hall, and on to Canal Street, giving direct visitor access from the Amtrak intercity train station and Greyhound Bus Terminal to the Super Dome, the municipal government center complex, and the Canal Street and French Quarter hotel districts.

Union Passenger Terminal New Orleans

Union Passenger Terminal – Start or stop here, to go to or from Canal Street

The train station is served by the New York City-New Orleans Southern Crescent, the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, which despite the classic song does not have “the disappearing railroad blues” but instead is frequently sold out, and the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles that once originated in Miami, and then Orlando, but which since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been truncated, despite CSX track which has long since been repaired.

The 1.5-mile line includes three miles of track, and will cost a total of $52 million, or about $17 million a mile, considered a bargain for construction projects built in densely urban settings such as New Orleans. The three-year project encountered the usual New Orleans geography --- soggy ground the consistency of sponge rubber in some places, and river sand in others --- plus some archeologically important artifacts of New Orleans’ nearly 300-year history, discovered and dug up along the way during construction, whose care and handling added about $7 million to the original $45 million cost estimate.

The next phase of this project --- for which the turnouts or “switch tracks” as they are also called have already been installed at Canal Street and Rampart Street --- will take the line down the Northern edge of the French Quarter through the Faubourg Marigny (immediately downriver from the French Quarter) to Press Street, with the hope of further construction across Press Street and into the Bywater District, where Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois acted out their famous, torrid encounter in the Tennessee Williams Play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in an old apartment on the street of that same name.

NOL Streetcar

NOL Streetcar
Similar to the movie, Streetcars 2005 and 2009 are painted in familiar livery.

In a quirk of history that could only take place in New Orleans, the actual Perley A. Thomas streetcar used in the Marlon Brando film A Streetcar Named Desire, numbered 922, is still in regular service, and has been since the mid-1920’s.

New Orleans has restored and maintains and operates in regular service the 90-year-old Perley A. Thomas Carworks fleet built in High Point, North Carolina, plus some newer reproduction streetcars ---painted red, rather than the classic Streetcar Olive Green of the Perley A. Thomas cars on St. Charles Avenue. The newer cars, which include modern amenities like air conditioning, and handicap access, will be used on the new Loyola Street Line.


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Detroit To Receive TIGER Grant For Streetcar Project

A Light Rail Plan Is Shelved For Now In Favor Of A Streetcar System And Bus Rapid Transit

Progressive Railroading, Huffington Post And DF Staff

A streetcar project in Detroit can now move forward “immediately,” using a $25 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant previously awarded for transit in the city, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced on January 18.

The grant will be used to help pay for construction of a planned 3.3-mile streetcar line designed to help revitalize Detroit’s historic Woodward Avenue corridor, U.S. Department of Transportation officials said in a prepared statement.

The funding announcement comes weeks after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law legislation creating a Regional Transportation Authority to develop and operate public transportation projects in Detroit and across the state.

The streetcar project has taken the name, M-1 Rail, because the M-1 Rail Corporation, a non-profit coalition, has committed more than $100 million toward construction and operation of the $137 million project. That sum, and the Tiger Grant’s $25 million, will be enhanced by state and local sources. M-1 Rail Corp. initially will operate the streetcar line.

The line will include 11 stations, with connections to Campus Martius; Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team; Detroit Medical Center; and Wayne State University.

The original idea – a private endeavor

This 3.3 mile streetcar line did not start as such. An article from Huffington Post reveals a somewhat bumpy, complicated process which started as a solely private initiative. The M-1 Rail Corporation, a coalition of private businesses, foundations, and public and private institutions, envisioned a light rail system for Detroit which would accommodate the suburbs and the center city as a commuter system serving riders going in and out of the city. It would have been a 9.3-mile dedicated track costing $550 million paid for with private funds.

Huffington Post describes the light rail plan as a “system -- back from the grave more times than a character on As The World Turns.” The very first idea by M-1 Rail was to have light rail just in downtown, terminating in the New Center neighborhood. The purpose was to foster development along Woodward Avenue, not to help suburban commuters get to jobs in the city. That proposal was expanded after pressure from politicians in the city and in the suburbs.

As for public transportation to serve the city and surrounding areas, the plan now is to coordinate the streetcar system with bus rapid transit service.


Photo By Frank Deanrdo via Flickr.Com

This car’s exterior commemorates Detroit, which operated PCC streetcars from 1947 to 1956.


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Virginia Governor Recommends
$1 Billion For Rail, Transit

From Progressive Railroading And DF Staff

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed “Virginia’s Road to the Future” transportation project list includes $1 billion for new rail and transit projects, his office announced Tuesday. The governor’s long-term transportation funding proposal would provide the Virginia Department of Transportation with $1.28 billion in new state funding that could be used for 158 highway projects, and $1.07 billion in new funds for rail and transit projects, state officials said in a prepared statement.

In addition, the plan would provide $500 million so projects in the existing six-year improvement program would not be delayed due to lower revenue projections. The passenger-rail and transit projects that McDonnell recommends include the Dulles Metrorail Extension; a passenger-rail extension to Roanoke; increased train service to and from Norfolk; and track improvements from Newport News to Richmond, and Richmond to Washington, D.C.

“The recommended list of transportation infrastructure projects represents a significant down payment on Virginia’s transportation future,” McDonnell said. “A world-class transportation system is vital to both economic opportunity and to the quality of life for every Virginian.”

Funding for the projects would be in addition to dollars in the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s existing six-year improvement program. McDonnell plans to recommend that the board advance the projects once his proposal passes the General Assembly, state officials said.

Virginia has made its own commitments to rail:

The Rail Enhancement Fund was created in 2005 as the first dedicated revenues stream for investment in rail infrastructure in Virginia’s history. The Fund supports improvements for passenger and freight rail transportation throughout Virginia.

Besides the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), there is also:

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) whose mission is to improve the mobility of people and goods while expanding transportation choices in the Commonwealth.

DRPT has three primary areas of activity: Rail, Public Transportation, and Commuter Services


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NEWS FROM AMTRAK... News From Amtrak...  

Statement From Amtrak President And CEO
Joe Boardman On Governor McDonnell’s
Plan To Return Passenger Rail To Roanoke

WASHINGTON – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced today a plan to return passenger rail service to Roanoke. The statement below is from Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman:

“Amtrak applauds Governor McDonnell for continuing to offer a true vision and tangible support of intercity passenger rail as a relief to the growing problems of highway congestion. Passenger rail is a vital alternative in Virginia’s overall transportation solution and will be a contributor to Virginia’s future economic success.

“Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the return of intercity passenger rail to Roanoke as Amtrak Virginia. It would be the fourth expansion of intercity passenger rail in the Commonwealth since 2009 following new or additional service to Lynchburg, Richmond and Norfolk. These services are made possible through a partnership between Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Amtrak and the host railroads along the routes.”


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

High-Speed Rail Kicks Off 2013
With Key Milestones

From Internet Sources

WASHINGTON, JANUARY 23 --Last week, even before President Obama reminded us in his inaugural address of the importance of railroads to the American economy, two events marked a significant step forward in U.S. high-speed rail.

First, on Wednesday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced that by the end of the week the state would receive final sealed bids for the first leg of the Golden State’s high-speed rail project. On the following day, Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority jointly issued a “Request For Information” seeking to purchase high-speed rail locomotives and passenger cars currently being manufactured and in commercial service that are capable of operating safely at speeds up to 220 mph.

Acela Trainset nose

Photo: fastlane.dot.gov

One of Amtrak’s high-speed Acela trainsets.

True to the CaHSRA announcement, on Friday five major firms submitted their final bids to build the first 29 miles of high-speed train track in California’s Central Valley. This brings the state’s largest infrastructure undertaking in history one step closer to breaking ground later this year. And that means President Obama’s vision of high-speed rail in America is one step closer to reality.

Also last week, the state gave the CaHSRA permission to begin acquiring the necessary land for the Central Valley line, and that’s even more good news. Given the increasing number of passengers on Amtrak routes in the Central Valley--up 6.4 percent in Bakersfield and 5.9 percent in Fresno for 2012--construction can’t start soon enough.


Photo: Kitty Felde/KPCC via fastlane.dot.gov

CaHSRA CEO Jeff Morales, FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo, and Amtrak President Joe Boardman.

Teaming up to develop a fleet of high-speed train sets for service on both the east and west coasts just makes sense for Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Combining orders will make it easier and more attractive for high-speed rail manufacturers to build factories here in the USA, bringing new high-quality jobs and creating ripple effects throughout our domestic supply chain.

Through the collaboration, the two partners hope to drive down manufacturing costs by combining their buying power. CaHSRA CEO Jeff Morales says it’s simple: “When you buy in bulk, you get a better price.”

The end result? The riding public will have lighter, faster, more energy efficient passenger rail service. This is exactly why we encouraged the two partners to explore joint purchasing opportunities for the next generation of high-speed rail equipment, and we applaud them for answering that call.

And, as Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo pointed out, the benefits of the new US-made rail cars won’t be limited to the company that submits the best proposal.

A separate order for 130 new railcars for existing Amtrak service in California and the Midwest shows the potential for new train equipment to create manufacturing jobs. The new order is creating more than 250 new jobs at the newly built Nippon Sharyo plant in Rochelle, Illinois. 

“Thanks to our tough Buy America standards for this order, which requires all of the rail car parts to be made in the U.S., the jobs gains won’t begin and end in a single plant,” said Administrator Szabo. “Paint companies, ball bearing manufacturers, and many other employers across the country will also have a hand in manufacturing these train sets.”

This all goes back to President Obama’s vision to not only build true 21st century rail, but to put Americans to work doing it. And today, thanks to Amtrak, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and all of our state partners, that vision is moving forward.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

 
Title
 
Ticker
This
Week
Previous
Week
Berkshire Hathaway B (BNSF)(BRK.B)97.3995.16
Canadian National (CNI)94.9295.36
Canadian Pacific (CP) 111.94110.19
CSX (CSX)22.2420.91
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)85.2383.45
Kansas City Southern (KSU)94.0287.63
Norfolk Southern (NSC)69.6966.70
Providence & Worcester(PWX)16.3316.23
Union Pacific (UNP)134.77132.49


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ADVOCACY LINES... Advocacy Lines...  

Criticism Of New Jersey Transit In The
Wake Of Hurricane Sandy Increases

By David Peter Alan

Critics of New Jersey Transit’s slow recovery after Hurricane Sandy are turning up the heat, but NJT’s top managers are keeping quiet and hoping they can ride out the criticism.

Frustration among riders and advocates is growing. At this writing, it has been twelve weeks since Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York City, particularly low-lying places like the New Jersey Shore on October 29th. Ironically, the riders who feel most of the pain today go to or from NJT’s Hoboken Terminal, and the line with the least service is a branch through the rolling hills of Central Jersey to Gladstone. That line, the Gladstone Branch, is nowhere near the Shore area. To make matters worse, PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) trains are still not operating between Hoboken and the Financial District in Lower Manhattan, and nobody knows when they will be back. Trains are operating between Hoboken and 33d Street in Midtown, but that does not help Wall Street commuters.

Tom Nemeth, editor of Railpace Magazine, is NJT’s most vocal critic so far. In an editorial in the magazine’s January issue, entitled “Time to Clean House at NJ Transit,” Nemeth blasted NJT management for leaving their locomotives and cars in low-lying areas with a severe storm coming. He began: “NJ Transit’s cabal of management slackers has finally outdone themselves with their non-response to the threat of Hurricane Sandy. While much of the damage to rail rights-of-way was likely unavoidable, their complete abdication of responsibility to protect valuable rolling stock and locomotives in advance of the well-publicized storm was inexcusable.” He went on to say: “Since the railroad was shut down 24 hours prior to the storm, trains could easily have been parked right on the main line at places such as High Bridge or Summit. There’s a reason why they call the town ‘Summit.’ ”

The road back to full rail service has been filled with obstacles, and advocates for the riders blame the slow progress on the lack of usable equipment as a result of the flooding. Service to and from Penn Station, New York is back to pre-Sandy schedules, even though it took until January 14th to achieve that level of recovery. Hoboken service has not recovered nearly as well, and the terminal building itself is locked. Health officials closed it down after finding mold contamination, due to flooding caused by the storm. The offices upstairs are still functioning, and crew members have a lounge there, relocated from the ground floor of the terminal. Passengers are not so fortunate; the customer service and ticket offices are in temporary structures, there is no warm place to wait (the historic waiting room is closed), and all of the stores at the terminal have been shuttered. Commuters and other riders must wait for their trains in the cold, with no convenient opportunity to buy a drink or a bite to eat.

Some, but not all, of the trains to and from Hoboken, running on several lines, have been restored. The Gladstone Branch, which splits off from the Morris and Essex (M&E) Line at Summit and proceeds due west through another twelve semi-bucolic stops, has fared the worst. Riders on that line used to complain about the three-hour-and-twenty-minute gap in service on weekdays, because no trains ran against prevailing flow during peak commuting hours. That gap is now exactly four hours, with a three-hour inbound gap immediately preceding it. At other times on weekdays, trains run only every two hours outside of peak commuting times, although the pre-Sandy schedule offered hourly service. According to John Bobsin, Vice-Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, “the Branch” only has 61% of the weekday service that ran three months ago. Ironically week-end service, which ran hourly, is back to that level. Bobsin also found deficits on the M&E, Montclair-Boonton, Main/Bergen and North Jersey Coast Lines to and from Hoboken, compared to pre-Sandy levels of service. The only Hoboken based line running at 100% of pre-storm service is the Pascack Valley Line, which has the fewest trains.

NJT’s bus service following the storm was not immune from criticism, either. Lackawanna Coalition Legislative Director James T. Raleigh, who lives near the Shore, criticized NJT for operating an inadequate level of substitute bus service after the storm, when the trains were not running.

Why is the recovery taking so long? NJT is not talking, but it is commonly known around the advocacy community and among the local press that approximately one quarter of NJT’s equipment (casualties included 62 locomotives and 261 rail cars) was flooded, because it was left in low-lying yards at Hoboken and near at the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex. Electrical equipment at Hoboken was also flooded, so only diesel trains can go there. “Arrow” electrical multiple-unit (EMU) cars that ran between Hoboken and such outlying terminals as Montclair State Station, Gladstone and Dover (on the M&E Line) were replaced with diesel trains, which now appear to be scarce, since so much equipment was left in low-lying places to flood. NJT Executive Director James Weinstein has denied that there is an equipment shortage, but Gladstone riders would certainly give him an argument.

With little information forthcoming from official NJT sources, several news organizations began their own investigations to determine whether or not NJT managers had reason to believe that the Hoboken and Meadowlands yards would flood. Reuters obtained maps from the National Weather Service and other government agencies that showed a high probability of severe flooding, and is still reporting on the story. The Record of Bergen County has also reported on the situation.

On January 11th, Ryan McNeill and Janet Roberts reported for Reuters: “New Jersey Transit incorrectly used federal government software that otherwise could have warned officials against a disastrous decision to leave hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment in a low-lying rail yard before Superstorm Sandy struck, a Reuters examination has found.” The report continued: “Exactly how the agency used the software is unclear because the agency declined to answer any specific questions.” The report went on to say that NJT Executive Director James W. Weinstein defended the decision. In a follow-up report on January 17th, McNeill quoted Deputy Assembly Speaker John S Wisniewski, Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, as saying that it appeared to him that NJT had made “a deliberate effort to obfuscate the facts.” Wisniewski, a Democrat, is a frequent critic of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and the Administration in Trenton. McNeill reported that neither Christie nor NJT commented specifically on Reuters’ findings, but noted that NJT had disputed them, without providing details.

Local advocates, in addition to reporters and editors, are feeling the frustration. At a Transportation Research Forum (TRF) meeting, held on Thursday, January 17th in Newark, former Long Island Rail Road Planning Director Joseph M. Clift distributed a handout with questions for Kevin O’Connor, General Manager of NJT Rail, who gave a presentation on NJT’s preparation for Sandy and recovery after the storm. In the document, Clift asked O’Connor if he would “accept responsibility for the decisions that led to $100 million in damages to your car and locomotive fleet,” and if O’Connor would “Demonstrate that acceptance by offering your resignation to the NJT Board.” According to reporter Mike Frassinelli in the next morning’s edition of the Newark Star-Ledger:

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Clift began to
query O’Connor. The question for Kevin O’Connor is about the cars...”
“I’ll answer the question for you now” O’Connor jumped in. “No, I am
not going to resign.” Nervous laughter filled the room. “It’s in here,”
O’Connor said, pointing to Clift’s handout.

A source who was present said that Clift did not raise the issue verbally, but only in his handout.

In his Railpace editorial, Nemeth cited several other bad decisions that NJT had made during the past several years, and called on Weinstein to retire. According to the above-quoted Reuters report of Friday, January 11th, Weinstein told a hearing of the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee: “I can tell you unequivocally: The decisions on where to keep and move our rail cars and locomotives were sound, based on the best weather models and forecasts, historical experience and other information we had at the time.” Gov. Christie, who appointed him to the top job at NJT, has staunchly defended Weinstein, saying that leaving the equipment where he left it is “not a hanging offense.”

Christie’s attitude stands in contrast to his position in August, 2011, when Hurricane Irene threatened to pound the state, especially the Shore. At that time, Christie told beachgoers to truncate their vacations and “Get the hell off the beach!” He did not criticize NJT’s managers for not acting similarly with the cars and locomotives; a decision that resulted in damage of $100 million, according to Frassinelli.

Whatever the local advocates and the media may say, it does not appear that anybody in NJT management will be leaving their posts as a result of the criticism; at least not any time soon. Christie is running for re-election this year, and his strong advocacy for federal funds to help pay for recovery from the storm has earned him high marks with voters. His approval rating has been hovering around the 70% level, and few Trenton-watchers expect any Democrat to beat him. Some advocates have complained that Christie is holding his own political career above the interests of other New Jerseyans. They have said that before, though, and Christie is now more popular than ever.

The slow recovery of NJT service, especially from Hoboken, has produced at least one interesting by-product. NJT has spent about $8 million each for 28 dual-mode locomotives; diesel engines which can also run under catenary wire on electrified lines. Those units cost more than three times as much as conventional diesel units, but they have not yet run on non-electrified lines and into Penn Station, New York. There are no peak-hour slots available for trains to which they might be assigned, and Amtrak has not yet certified the units to run on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) line, which it owns. While the electrification into Hoboken is out of service, NJT has been running the dual-mode units on Gladstone trains, under wire between Gladstone and Newark, and in diesel mode the rest of the way to Hoboken.

Weinstein appeared at an event on December 3d of last year to announce the restoration of Gladstone service after a five-week absence. Lackawanna Coalition Vice-Chair John Bobsin, who lives on the line and rides it regularly, remarked to Weinstein that he noticed that NJT had finally found a use for the dual-mode locomotives. Bobsin later reported that Weinstein was not amused. At this time, neither are the advocates, who are still pushing for NJT to restore the level of service it had three months ago.

At press time, the Senate will soon vote on recovery money in the aftermath of Sandy. Stay tuned!

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, an organization which represents the riders and communities along NJT’s Morris & Essex, Montclair-Boonton and Gladstone rail lines. Joseph M. Clift is Technical Director of the Lackawanna Coalition, but appeared at the Newark meeting in his personal capacity. The Lackawanna Coalition has called for the speedy return of the level of service that ran before Hurricane Sandy.

The web site for the Star-Ledger is www.nj.com. The web site for Railpace Magazine is www.railpace.com. The Reuters articles can be found on their web site, www.reuters.com.


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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

Dear Editor,

I must take issue with David Peter Alan’s attack on bus rapid transit [BRT], “New Transit Starts Are Coming, But Watch Out For The Bus!” in your January 21, 2013 Destination Freedom.

The BRT system I am most familiar with is Boston’s much maligned Silver Line, which is actually two separate systems. Phase I, which runs on Washington Street, barely qualifies as BRT as it lacks a fully separated right of way. Phase II has a dedicated tunnel for part of its route and uses dual mode [diesel & electric] articulated vehicles. It’s [route number] SL1 service connects South Station with Logan Airport, the two biggest transportation hubs in New England. I use the SL1 regularly and find it very satisfactory. It provides me a quick, frequent, reliable and inexpensive way to get to and from the airport, despite a poorly planned circuitous route that adds several minutes to the run. Best of all it stops in front of each [passenger] terminal at Logan, a huge benefit when I’m traveling with heavy bags. A rail based system might have saved me 5 or 6 minutes on vehicle, but its stations would likely have been further away from the terminal, as they are on most other rail to airport lines I have experienced. I’d rather spend the extra minutes on the bus than hauling my bag down yet another endless corridor. As for TOD, development near the three Silver Line stops in East Boston has been massive despite the recession.

Recent MBTA statistics tell an even more dramatic story. (http://mbta.com/uploadedfiles/Fares_and_Passes_v2/Route%20Performance%20Indicators%207-6%20Fixed.pdf) On a system where the median bus route receives a net subsidy of $2.13 per passenger, the SL1 makes a small profit of 7 cents per passenger, while ranking tenth among 173 bus routes in daily ridership. And that lowly just-a-bus Phase I SL5 line? It ranks number one in ridership and is the only other full time bus route to break even, with a tiny profit of 3 cents per passenger.

Is there room for improvement? Sure. But the Silver Line got funded, got built and it works. Maybe it’s time for public transportation advocates to be a bit more open minded about bus rapid transit.

Arnold Reinhold
Cambridge, Massachusetts


 

Dear Editor,

Please correct the Stockholm story based upon news reports in Saturday newspapers, including the WSJ [Wall Street Journal], the authorities reported a mechanical malfunction caused the train to move and the cleaner may have been the heroine in trying to stop the train. Investigation continues.

J.N. Michel  

There is indeed an update to this story out of Stockholm, Sweden from last week.

The cleaning lady accused of commandeering an empty Swedish commuter train which crashed into a house did not steal the vehicle, officials say. Prosecutors in the capital, Stockholm, said that they had closed the criminal case against the woman, who sustained serious injuries in the accident.

Prosecutors said they now believe she started the vehicle by accident as she was cleaning it in the middle of the night. “Everything suggests it was a pure accident where several temporary and unfortunate circumstances caused the woman to set the train in motion when she was cleaning,” Paer Andersson said in a statement, according to the AFP news agency.

The train operating companies, Arriva and SL, may now face an investigation into a possible breach of safety laws. The official investigation continues.

- D. Beale, Foreign Editor


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