The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick
 

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February 22, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 7

Copyright © 2011
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 12th Newsletter Year

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

  News Items…
House GOP Fringe Members Push Cuts To Trigger
   March 4 Government Shutdown
  Political Lines…
Florida Governor Rejects High-Speed Rail $
   But Florida Political Leaders Of Both Parties May Seek To Save
   A Re-Aligned Rail Route
  Economic Lines…
McKinsey Report Says America’s Poor Infrastructure
   Is Holding Back Economic Growth
  Select Rail Stocks…
 
  Across The Pond…
Spain Completes Drilling Of High-Speed Rail Tunnel
   In Central Madrid
Greece Suspends International Passenger Rail
   Services Indefinitely
China’s High-Speed Rail Minister Suddenly Fired
  Commentary…
The Amtrak “Gateway” Project: A New Way Into Manhattan?
  Events…
Connecting New England By Rail
  Publication Notes …


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

House GOP Fringe Members Push Cuts To
Trigger March 4 Government Shutdown

High-Speed Rail, Amtrak Face Huge Cuts

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON--- Defying the leadership of their own party, the wing of the Republican Party now controlling the House is threatening such deep cuts to spending that a government shut-down on March 4 looms ever larger, with the chaotic results that would ensue.

Unable to reach final agreement on spending to replace the budget which expired last September 30, the House and Senate have passed continuing resolutions that fund existing programs at roughly 2010 levels; however, the present “CR” expires March 4 and the GOP hard core swept into power by the Tea Party rebellion in November shows no signs of compromise.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) is also on record as saying no to any CR without deep cuts from 2010 budget levels; his right wing’s even deeper proposed cuts go further than the GOP leadership would like, but compromise is looking less likely as March 4 approaches.

Unless a compromise is hammered out, the Democrat-controlled Senate will almost certainly refuse to accept the House budget bill now under debate, which would gut the President’s High-Speed Rail program and reduce Amtrak capital spending, which is already decades behind schedule due to 40 years of persistent Congressional under-funding for capital and maintenance --- even as individual Congressmen and Senators often insisted on train service to their states --- and would target many social programs aimed at benefiting the poor, sick, and elderly at a time when the nation faces the highest persistent unemployment levels since the Great Depression.

The stage is thus being set for a replay of 1995, when the GOP-controlled Congress under then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also forced a shutdown; Democrats are betting that the public will see this year’s GOP-led brinksmanship in the same light, and punish the party at the polls.

The House has voted to cut $60 billion from 2010 level spending, through September 30 of this year, but because programs have been receiving their old allocations for nearly five months, the cutbacks would cause massive layoffs in government staffing in most programs.


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Florida Governor Rejects High-Speed Rail $
But Florida Political Leaders Of Both Parties
May Seek To Save A Re-Aligned Rail Route

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

TALLAHASSEE--- Florida Gov. Rick Scott has acted to kill Florida’s long-planned High-Speed Rail line Tampa-Orlando, citing unknown future expenses as the reason.

Scott joins the GOP governors of Ohio, John Kasich, and Wisconsin, Scott Walker who are turning back billions in Federal funding for high-speed Rail.

In a February 16 statement announcing his refusal of the project, coming when unemployment in the Florida construction area looms at 30%, he said: “Moments ago I spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to inform him of my decision.   I appreciate the Secretary’s efforts to work with us and I look forward to working with him in the future. My decision to reject the project comes down to three main economic realities:

First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.

Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (From $300 million – $575 million over 10 years.)

Third – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” stated Scott.

Referring to Scott’s decision as a “Train Wreck,” the Huffington Post reported that the Obama administration said last week it would send $2.4 billion in stimulus money to other states should Governor Scott not back down on his rejection of the federal government’s national high-speed rail project.

Speaking just hours after Scott announced he was abandoning the project due to cost concerns for the state, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney relayed the president’s preparedness to simply send the allocated money to other locales rather than, say, use it to lower the federal deficit.

“We think that is an unfortunate decision,” Carney said. “This goes right to the essence of what we have been talking about here. There has been a lot of bipartisan support for the need to create the kind of modern infrastructure in this country that will enable us to compete. High-speed rail is very much a part of that and we will make sure that that money is used elsewhere to advance the infrastructure and innovation agenda that is essential for economic growth.

“[This] is part of the president’s priority agenda, and it is essential to us to build an infrastructure that allows us to compete in the 21st Century,” he added.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to keep the project alive, Florida Senators and Representatives are working to see if a different alignment, cutting out Tampa, might be acceptable to Scott.


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ECONOMIC LINES... Economic Lines...  

McKinsey Report Says America’s Poor Infrastructure
Is Holding Back Economic Growth

From The Infrastructurist

We’ll catch you someday, Barbados.

Earlier this week the McKinsey Global Institute released a report, “Growth and renewal in the United States: Retooling America’s economic engine,” which concludes that America’s poor infrastructure is one of the country’s foremost impediments to economic growth.

US infrastructure is inadequate to meet the needs of a dynamic, growing economy. At the same time, the quality of infrastructure from transportation to water systems has been in relative decline in the United States, which currently ranks 23rd in the quality of its overall infrastructure, undermining competitiveness. Multinational companies consistently rank infrastructure among the top four criteria they use to make decisions about where to invest.

data chart

The report highlights digital infrastructure as a central problem. In the United States, 27 percent of residents subscribe to broadband Internet service; in Sweden that figure is 41 percent. The effects of this relative disadvantage are particularly noticeable in the retail industry: according to the report, the U.S. households that lack broadband represent a loss of retail purchasing power that amounts to $450 billion.

The McKinsey report also cites highway congestion as a barrier to economic progress. Traffic costs the country $85 billion a year, according to the report, with an average cost per traveler of $1,084 in large urban areas to $384 outside cities. That’s slightly less than the $115 billion yearly figure calculated by the recent Urban Mobility Report, but still in the same ballpark.

Drawing figures from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which recently issued U.S. infrastructure a D grade, the report estimates that the country needs to invest more than $2 trillion over the next five years just to catch up. Considering the partisan fury that followed Obama’s six-year, $556 billion transportation budget plan, such a goal is politically impossible.

But precise investment figures aside, the report makes a few broad recommendations on how to improve this state of affairs. America should consider an “investment arm of the government” dedicated to infrastructure funding — a concept no doubt similar to President Obama’s proposed National Infrastructure Bank. McKinsey also encourages the pursuit of public-private infrastructure partnerships, which House Transportation Chair John Mica has championed as well of late.

In short, the report concludes, “the United States should study cases of best practice being adopted elsewhere.” Then maybe America will once again set the standard for infrastructure, instead of following it.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)72.3070.36
Canadian Pacific (CP) 68.4868.23
CSX (CSX)74.7673.24
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)54.7353.05
Kansas City Southern (KSU)55.4754.75
Norfolk Southern (NSC)65.0064.10
Providence & Worcester(PWX)17.1317.00
Union Pacific (UNP)97.1499.02


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

Installments by David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

Spain Completes Drilling Of High-Speed
Rail Tunnel In Central Madrid

New Tunnel Makes Vital Connection In Spain’s AVE High-Speed Train Network

Via Die Welt am Sonntag

MADRID – Tunnel boring on a vital link in the growing high-speed rail network in Spain was completed on Friday, 11th Feb. 2011 in central Madrid. The tunnel connects Madrid Chamartin and Madrid-Atocha stations to one another and will be used primarily by AVE high-speed trains and will enable through services from the Valliadolid – Madrid high-speed corridor to the rest of the AVE high-speed rail network’s hub at Madrid-Atocha. With boring completed, the construction enters the next phase, which includes installing cabling and related hardware for both the train signaling and train electrical power supply systems.

Construction of the 7.3 km (4.5 mi.) cross-town link, 6.7 km of which are underground in the new tunnel, started in April 2010 and is planned to go into full operation in mid 2013. The tunnel has a net width of 10.4 meters and it will be outfitted with twin standard-gauge tracks (most of the “classic” Spanish rail network is broad gauge) and 25 kVAC 50 Hz catenary, which is the standard power system for Spanish high-speed trains. The latest cost estimates show that the project will cost about EUR 206 million (US $340 million).

In a separate development José Blanco, Spain’s minister of transportation, presented plans to the public on the 15th of Feb. for a new through-rail station in the city of Vigo, which will replace the existing terminal station. The new station will have six tracks and four platforms, and is expected to cost about EUR 181 million to build and develop. The new station in Vigo will be the focal point for a connection to the Portuguese rail network via the new Coruna – Santiago de Compostela – Vigo rail line in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula.


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Greece Suspends International Passenger Rail Services Indefinitely

Becomes First EU Mainland Country To Have No Passenger Rail Services Beyond Its Borders

Via HAZ newspaper

ATHENS – The ongoing financial and budgetary crisis in Greece has had dramatic negative consequences in the past six months on the country’s long-struggling passenger and freight rail network, and now the latest consequence of the severe government spending cuts will be a total loss of international passenger trains to its north, mainly to Bulgaria, Macedonia / Serbia and Turkey. The notice was given on the 13th of February with immediate effect and the suspension will remain in-place “until further notice.” The suspension of international passenger trains to and from Greece will leave the country in the unfortunately unique position of being the only non-island EU country with no scheduled passenger trains to and from neighboring countries. The island EU nations of Malta and Cypress have no international rail services, due to their geographical situation and the political division of Cypress. There are limited international train services on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland, which is technically part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland.

Greece’s rail network has long been a problem for the country with staff and personnel costs far above that of other EU nations on a per passenger or per ton of freight basis, relatively poor state of maintenance, one of the lowest percentage of electrified rail lines in Europe, and a reputation for low speeds and poor on-time reliability. A long-running program to convert several narrow gauge rail lines in the southern and western part of mainland Greece has fallen far behind its original schedule. Evidence of fraud and waste are rampant. New mandatory spending cuts implemented in recent months all across the Greek government have hit the state owned railroad OSE extraordinarily hard.


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China’s High-Speed Rail Minister Suddenly Fired

By DF Staff And From The New York Times

PEKING --- Just weeks after news reports began surfacing in Asian journals about quality control in the construction of China’s massive high-speed rail program (See D:F, February 14), China’s highest ranking rail official has been dismissed by the central government.

Issues included the quality of concrete ties made for the High-Speed Rail system, which may have used an inferior type of fly ash that will cause the ties to degrade more quickly under the stress of use, necessitating a reduction in speeds until they can be replaced.

Here is how The New York Times covered the story, by reporters Michael Wines, Keith Bradsher and Jonathan Kaiman (found at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/world/asia/18rail.html?_r=1):

“In his seven years as chief of the Chinese Railways Ministry, Liu Zhijun built a commercial and political colossus that spanned continents and elevated the lowly train to a national symbol of pride and technological prowess. His abrupt sacking by the Communist Party is casting that empire in a decidedly different light, raising doubts not only about Mr. Liu’s stewardship and the corruption that dogs China’s vast public-works projects, but also, perhaps, the safety, financial soundness and long-term viability of a rail system that has captured the world’s attention,” wrote The Times

“Mr. Liu, 58, was fired Saturday and is being investigated by the party’s disciplinary committee for “severe violations of discipline,” a euphemism for corruption. His high government rank — minister-level officials are rarely fired under such a cloud — hints at far deeper dissatisfaction with one of China’s most publicized and sweeping domestic initiatives. Until last week, Mr. Liu had led China’s program to lace the nation with nearly 8,100 miles of high-speed rail lines and to build more than 11,000 miles of traditional railroad lines. The sheer size and cost of the endeavor — the investment has been estimated at $750 billion, some $395 billion for high-speed rail alone — has led experts to compare it to the transcontinental railroad that opened the American West.”


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

The Amtrak “Gateway” Project:
A New Way Into Manhattan?

A Closer Look At The Project

Second Of A Series

By David Peter Alan

Two weeks ago, on February 7th, New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, unveiled a new plan by which Amtrak would increase capacity into New York’s Penn Station. With them were Amtrak Board Member and outgoing Port Authority Board Chair Anthony P. Coscia and Amtrak President Joseph H. Boardman. Much of the coverage surrounding the event was political: Nobody represented state government in New Jersey or any transit agency, or New York, even though the proposed new station would be built in that state. Last week’s edition of D:F reproduced coverage by Yonah Freemark’s web site, The Transport Politic. Given the political nature of the event, this was not surprising.

Still, what did come as a surprise is that so little coverage of the event actually discussed in detail what the project would build. If you wonder just what Amtrak plans to do with $13.5 billion (if they can raise it) to improve access to Manhattan and capacity in that city by 2020, this column will attempt to explain.

Gateway Plan

Image: Amtrak

Figure 1 - The suggested alignment.

The schematic for the new line was available at the unveiling ceremony in Newark two weeks ago. D:F reproduced it from The Transport Politic last week, and we reproduce it again as Fig. 1. It and the other drawing figures mentioned in this article can be found on the Amtrak web site, www.amtrak.com, under “news and media” (on the list at the bottom of the home page). Going east from Newark’s Penn Station, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) line contracts from four tracks to three at Dock Interlocking, and then from three to two further east at Swift Interlocking. Under the Gateway proposal, the railroad would be expanded to four tracks from Dock eastward to Swift, where it would split into two separate two-track lines.

Going eastward from Swift, the new two-track railroad would diverge to the south of the existing NEC line. The Amtrak plan would replace the existing Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, a two-track, low-level bridge, with two new high-level spans. The new line would continue south of the existing one, stopping at a new annex adjacent to Secaucus Station, a major transfer point for commuter trains (all Amtrak trains go through without stopping). The line would then go under the Hudson River in a tunnel on an alignment bowed toward the south under the river. The bowed alignment facilitates construction on the New York side of the river.

The proposed alignment appears remarkably similar to the one that New Jersey Transit planned for the now-defunct Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project and the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Project, which Gov. Chris Christie terminated last fall. He did that because of excessive cost, although Christie also complained that the ARC Project would not go to Penn Station, connect with other trains, or be extended to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan; instead, it would terminate deep under Macy’s basement.

It is well-known that using existing engineering for a redesigned project has the advantage of reducing overall project cost. Still, there may also be a political reason for retaining as much of the alignment from the old Portal Bridge and ARC proposals as possible. The Federal Transit Administration has demanded that NJT return $271 million that the FTA claims it advanced for the ARC Project. Now that ARC will not be built, it is in NJT’s interest, as well as New Jersey’s interest as a state, for Amtrak to use as much of the previous work as possible. This includes the engineering for the former ARC and Portal Bridge alignments. It is also in Sen. Lautenberg’s interest, because he has fought to reduce the amount that NJT would have to repay, and would like it even better if no repayment were needed at all.

One feature of the former ARC project in New Jersey, which is not in the Amtrak Gateway Project, was a loop to the south and west of the Secaucus Junction Station. The loop was designed to allow through-running from the Main/Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines, which now only go to Hoboken Terminal, into the deep-cavern terminal below Manhattan instead. The NEC line crosses the Main-Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines at Secaucus, but at a higher elevation. The loop was designed to allow trains to get off the line below and onto the line above, or the other way around. Rider advocates in the Garden State had ridiculed the proposed loop, saying it would result in “Midtown Indirect” service, when combined with terminating the trains in a deep-cavern terminal. Without the loop, riders on the Main-Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines will not have a one-seat ride to Manhattan; they would continue to transfer from Hoboken-bound trains at Secaucus.

Gateway Alignment - satelite enhanced

Image: Amtrak

Figure 2 - Satelite enhanced overlay of proposed alignment.

Amtrak’s “Network Expansion in Manhattan” is reproduced here as Fig.2. Instead of going north to 34th Street and descending to cavern depths (the old ARC plan), the new tracks would enter the approach tracks into the existing Penn Station, beginning at Tenth Avenue. The new line would terminate in an annex which Amtrak calls “Penn Station South” or “Penn South.” It would be located between 30th and 31st Streets, running from Eighth to Seventh Avenues and then slightly eastward.


Image: Amtrak

Figure 3 - Proposed track alignments and new platforms

The actual connections that Amtrak proposes are depicted in the “Gateway – Concept Track Plan in Manhattan” shown here as Fig. 3. The new tracks from New Jersey would leave the tunnels and run immediately south of the existing terminal approach tracks and the track from the Empire Corridor Line, into the existing Penn Station. Trains could be sent there, or they could be directed onto a new ladder to the seven tracks of “Penn Station South.” It appears that all Amtrak trains would be sent to the existing station under normal operation, while NJT trains would be sent to the “Penn Station South” annex at off-peak hours and as much as possible during peak commuting hours. Amtrak proposes to add another connection from the existing line to the southerly annex in “Phase II” of the project. This would add connectivity and flexibility, but it is unclear when that feature would be added, if ever.

An additional feature shown in Fig. 2 is the dashed yellow line along 30th Street. That would be an extension of the #7 subway (which originates in Flushing, Queens and currently terminates at Times Square; 42d Street and Seventh Avenue). Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been advocating for extending the line to the Javits convention Center at 37th Street and Eleventh Avenue. Fig. 2 shows the line extending further south and turning under 30th Street for four long blocks, heading eastward to the new station. There has been no other mention of this feature, and no conjecture about who would pay for it and how the money would be raised. It is also at odds with a proposal to extend the #7 line to Secaucus, which Bloomberg supports.

The location for “Penn Station South” would be under Block 780, named for its number on the City Tax Map. It is bounded by 30th and 31st Streets, and by Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Part of the proposed station would also be located under the westerly portion of Block 806, heading toward Sixth Avenue. The buildings on those blocks would have to be demolished for station construction.

The southerly annex would also be a stub-end terminal, but unlike NJT’s stub end terminal under Macy’s basement, this new line would have the potential to continue east to connect with Grand Central and the Long Island Railroad. It will also connect to the new “Penn Station South” and to the existing station facility. The new annex would house seven tracks (designated “A” through “G”) on four platforms. It appears that these platforms would be able to accommodate 12-car commuter trains, and the location of the new part of the terminal restricts its use for NJT trains and some Amtrak trains going south from New York. The new platforms would extend eastward past Seventh Avenue.

When the ARC Project was originally under discussion, about ten years ago, there was a proposal called “Alternative P.” That plan would have built an eight-track stub-end terminal for NJT on two levels, below the existing Penn Station. Rider advocates disliked that alternative, because it would not provide redundancy or flexibility for operations, connect into the existing Penn Station, or go to the East Side. Over time,“Alternative P” became the NJT proposal for the deep-cavern terminal; the stub-end feature was retained and the location was moved further underground. The Amtrak Gateway plan also proposes a stub-end terminal for NJT trains, but it would be on the same level as the rest of Penn Station. This is an improvement for connectivity, and some improvement for redundancy and flexibility, but it still will not go to the East Side, yet.

One of the primary objectives expressed by rider advocates is access to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is spending billions of dollars to provide such access for riders on the Long Island Rail Road by building a deep-cavern terminal under Grand Central Terminal. Advocates in the region do not know if the planned stub-end terminal between 30th and 31st Streets can feasibly be extended eastward at an affordable cost. The low-numbered tracks of the existing Penn Station, located between 31st and 32d Streets, can, because the buildings across the street were built around a potential right-of-way for eastward expansion. Nobody seems to know for sure if the same can be said of the proposed “Penn Station South” tracks.

In summary, the project proposed two weeks ago is not the “Access to the Region’s Core” that was proposed in 1995, and which rider advocates received so enthusiastically at the time. It delivers some benefits: additional redundancy for Amtrak, although not optimal, and capacity growth for NJT. It also has drawbacks: it fails to deliver East Side Access and it would be as expensive as the former ARC Project that Gov. Christie terminated because of its excessive cost. The Lackawanna Coalition, the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) and other rider advocates continue to press for an affordable alternative that will allow for East Side Access, as they have in the recent past. In addition, the Amtrak plan faces political and monetary hurdles. To some members of the advocacy community, the Amtrak Gateway plan has serious flaws. The next article in this series will describe “What the Plan is Not.”

[ Ed Note: A copy of the Gateway proposal is available at the Amtrak web site or by CLICKING HERE. This is an Adobe PDF File which will open ina new window. ]


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EVENTS... Events...  

SAVE THE DATE!!

FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2011

RAIL CONFERENCE IN NEW HAVEN
At The New Haven Public Library

“Connecting New England by Rail”

Sponsors:

Sierra Club of Connecticut
Rail Users Network
National Corridors Initiative

Keynote Speaker Art Guzzetti from APTA
Other speakers from New England states and more.

Topics will focus on what is happening now and what are the opportunities to connect the New England states with Eastern Canada to the north and the mid-Atlantic - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania - and points south.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2011 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

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