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
 

Contribute To NCI

February 28, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 8

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

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

  News Items…
Florida Fight Over High-Speed Rail Turns Increasingly Nasty,
   Governor May Face Bipartisan Recall Challenge
More Improvements Under Study For
   The St. Louis-Chicago Rail Corridor
  Survey Lines…
Nearly Two-Thirds Of Americans Support High-Speed Rail Projects
   In Their State One In Five Oppose, 15% Remain Unsure
  Commuter Lines…
“Amtrak Business Class -- Why Pay?”
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Across The Pond…
Striking Train Drivers Disrupt German Rail Traffic
Environmentalists Protest Deutsche Bahn Energy Purchasing Policies
  Commentary…
A Vision Of Trains And Windmills?
The Amtrak Gateway Plan: A New Way Into Manhattan?
  Events…
Association For Public Transportation, NARP To Host
   Key March 26 Conference
Connecting New England by Rail - April 29
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …


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

Florida Fight Over High-Speed Rail
Turns Increasingly Nasty, Governor
May Face Bipartisan Recall Challenge

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

TALLAHASSEE - Governor Rick Scott of Florida, already under bi-partisan attack for trying to spike the state’s long-planned High-Speed Rail project Tampa-Orlando, is now coming under the threat of recall by Florida voters for violating his oath of office.

Scott, who in November was elected in the closest contest in Florida history as a Tea Party Republican and is a critic of government spending, spent $74 million of his own money in that race.

He was formerly head of Columbia HCI, from which he was forced to resign in 1997 because of massive Federal Medicare fraud charges filed against the company; after Scott’s removal as CEO, the company plead guilty to 14 felony counts and paid a $1.7 billion fine.

Florida was to have received $2.4 billion for a Tampa-Orlando High-Speed Rail line under a plan approved by the legislature, and funded by the Federal Government and private sector investment. Scott has claimed he needs to kill the project because it would leave Florida voters at risk for operating losses; however, the Florida project was specifically written to insulate the taxpayers against that eventuality, by assigning that risk to the private-sector contractors seeking to build the rail line.

Scott’s recall problems stem from the fact that he is required by oath to enforce Florida law, as are all Florida Governors, but is refusing to go ahead with the rail plan even though it was passed by the legislature, and signed into law by his predecessor Charlie Crist. Crist was defeated in a bid for election to the United States Senate in November and did not seek re-election as Governor.

A Facebook page has been created to organize the recall of the Florida Governor at: www.facebook.com.

Passenger Transport wrote that on Feb. 24 Scott rejected an alternative plan proposed by Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, that would have continued the state’s high-speed rail project connecting Orlando and Tampa and transferred the project to local government grantees.

In a statement, Mica said he understands the governor’s “concerns with the overall project, which would incur certain risks,” but added: “I have done all that I can to salvage the project to this point and present what I consider to be a viable alternative plan that places the risk with the private sector and protects the taxpayers.”

When he announced his proposal, which he called a “partial project rescue plan,” Mica said: “The first 21-mile section of the proposed corridor, from the Orlando Airport to the Convention Center and Disney World, holds the potential for not only being a viable project, but one that could turn a profit with a qualified private operator.”

According to the proposal, the project would include a 21-mile initial operating segment; an inter-local agreement crafted with Orange and Osceola counties and the city of Orlando as initial participants, with the potential for additional future partners; federal financial support for construction of the first segment, up to an agreed-upon funding amount; a solicitation of private-sector proposals by the inter-local parties to finance, design, construct, operate, and maintain the project; and an agreement that all parties will proceed only if the project is financially viable and they have unanimous consent regarding the terms of ownership, development, and operation of the project, Passenger Transport reported.

Even short of outright recall, the responses from Florida’s state legislators and Congressional delegation indicate there may be bipartisan support for bypassing Scott’s behavior.

Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Scott’s decision to cancel the project even before receiving bids “defies logic.”

He and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson are examining ways to get the line built regardless, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Scott was one of three “Tea Party” Republican Governors swept to power in November when Democrats, demoralized by the jobless “recovery” from the current Great Recession, simply stayed home on election day, and a large number of new voters responded to the well-funded Tea Party campaign to unseat incumbents. Funded with heavy contributions from the oil lobby and given prominent coverage by Fox News, one of whose former commentators, John Kasich, was in fact elected Governor of Ohio, Tea Party Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio immediately began to dismantle high-speed rail projects in their home states, some of which, such as Ohio’s 3C (Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati) corridor, had been in the works for two decades.


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More Improvements Under Study For
The St. Louis-Chicago Rail Corridor

By DF Staff And From The New York Times Online

CHICAGO --- The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration recently began a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement to study the impacts of potential additional improvements along the Chicago to St. Louis high-speed rail corridor.

In 2010, Illinois received $1.25 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to complete the environmental study. The purpose of this project is to expand the frequency of high-speed rail between Chicago and St. Louis, which includes the full build-out additional second track and other improvements. The current corridor operates on a single track shared by both traditional freight and passenger rail service.

The project includes work from Dwight to Pontiac. Streator City Manager Paul Nicholson said while it is purely a conceptual idea now, Streator hopes in the future to possibly acquire the Burlington Northern Santa Fe station and use it as a shuttle hub to Dwight for people wanting to access the train.

“I know that’s a little long-range, but that’s how we view it conceptually,” Nicholson previously said. “Obviously I view it from a positive perspective.”

“The study provides Illinois with a great opportunity to examine additional enhancement possibilities on the Chicago-St. Louis high-speed rail corridor,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig said in a press release. “We hope Illinoisans also will take the opportunity to attend these public information meetings and help us by taking part in the process.”

IDOT is hosting five open house meetings to seek public input regarding the rail project. The public is invited to stop by anytime between 4 and 7 p.m. to learn more about the project and provide feedback at the following meetings:

The meetings will be accessible to people with disabilities. Anyone needing special assistance should contact Paula Hughes of Vector Communications Corporation at 314-621-5566. People planning to attend who will need a sign language interpreter or other similar accommodations should notify TTY/TTD number 800-526-0844 or 711; TTY users (Spanish) 800-501-0864 or 711; and for Telebraille dial 877-526-6670 at least five days prior to the meeting.


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SURVEYLINES... Survey Lines...  

Major News From The Harris Poll:

 

Nearly Two-Thirds Of Americans Support
High-Speed Rail Projects In Their State
One In Five Oppose, 15% Remain Unsure

Found at:  http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/mid/1508/articleId/700/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/Default.aspx

NEW YORK, N.Y. - February 24, 2011 - President Obama announced in April 2009, and reconfirmed during his recent State of the Union address, his commitment to develop high-speed intercity passenger rail across the United States.

The Harris Poll conducted an online survey among 2,566 adults between January 17 and 24, 2011 to gauge awareness, intention to use and position on funding for high-speed rail. At the time of the survey, there were ten proposed high-speed rail corridors across the United Statesª. To-date, projects in California and Florida have been the most visible.

When Americans were asked about awareness of high-speed rail projects, only a little more than a third (35%) of those living in one of the proposed high-speed rail corridors said they are aware of a high-speed rail project that is either proposed or under development in their state, with more than four in ten (45%) unsure. “The relatively low awareness of high-speed rail across the country is not surprising given the disparate, regional nature of today’s hottest HSR debates,” said Linda Schulz, Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at Harris Interactive. “However, as discussions become more prominent in more areas, and as projects get underway, we will be well positioned to monitor changing awareness and attitudes.” Not surprisingly, awareness is highest in states where HSR is developing the fastest (68% are aware in California corridor, 60% in Florida). Awareness in other states with proposed high-speed rail projects include the Chicago Hub at 31% and New York at 28%.

After explaining HSR, two thirds of Americans (66%) indicate they are somewhat or very likely to consider using the service when traveling for pleasure, but that number drops in half (33%) when asked about travel for business. Men, however, are more likely to consider HSR travel than women for both business and pleasure. Additionally, those with more education and greater income are also more likely to consider traveling by high-speed rail.

Factors in Choosing High-Speed Rail

There are many factors that may impact the use of high-speed rail, but cost (81%), location of train stations (68%), overall trip time (65%) and safety (61%) are the primary factors that people would consider before choosing to utilize high-speed rail. Both cost and safety are especially important to women compared to men.

Funding High-Speed Rail

A very public issue surrounding high-speed rail today is funding. Several states have declined the use of federal funds including Ohio, Wisconsin and most recently Florida (this survey was conducted before Florida declined funding). However, almost two thirds of Americans (64%) say they somewhat or strongly support using state funding for HSR and a similar number (62%) support using federal funds. The areas with the greatest support for high-speed rail funding include the California corridor where 70% support state funding being used and 73% support federal funding. 70% of both the Pacific North West and Gulf corridor residents also support state funding with more than 60% each also supporting federal funding. Additionally, more than two thirds of Florida residents support state and federal funding of high-speed rail, “a particularly poignant point,” notes Schulz, as Florida recently declined federal HSR funding the state had actively sought. While those in states without a high-speed rail project still support state funding (61%), they are more likely to oppose federal funding for these projects (32%).

So What?

With the relatively steep prices and the time consuming security processes associated with current airline travel, and increases in the cost of gasoline affecting highway travel, American consumers may be looking for a travel alternative. While many of them are not aware of high-speed rail plans, on balance they support using government funds to develop high-speed rail projects, yet time will tell how many of these projects successfully get underway, and how many Americans then take advantage of them. Of course, it should also be noted, this has become a highly politicized issue with Republicans, Democrats and Independents expressing varying levels of support for the development and allocation of funds to HSR.

TABLE 1
AWARENESS OF HSR

“High-speed rail is a type of passenger rail transport between major cities that operates at substantially faster speeds than current intercity passenger trains in the U.S. high-speed rail is designed to provide fast, reliable, and convenient service between select major cities. It operates using electric power and often includes onboard amenities such as food and beverage service and Wi-Fi access. Do you know if high-speed passenger rail service is being proposed or under development in your state?”

Base: All adults


All charts: Harris Polls

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding; * indicates less than .05%

a) 10 High-Speed Rail Corridors - South East Corridor (Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina), California Corridor (California & Nevada), Pacific North West Corridor (Washington & Oregon), South central Corridor (Oklahoma and Arkansas), Gulf Coast Corridor (Texas Louisiana & Alabama), Chicago Hub (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Minnesota), Florida Corridor (Florida), Keystone Corridor (Pennsylvania) Empire Corridor (New York) and Northern New England Corridor (Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut).

Other States Impacted by High-Speed Rail - Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

NON-High-Speed Rail States - Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont [editor’s note: this is an error; Vermont is part of the Montreal-Boston HSR Corridor] , West Virginia and Wyoming.

TABLE 2A
FUNDING FOR HSR - STATE FUNDING

“Development of the intercity passenger rail system is paid for by both Federal and state governments, similar to how most other infrastructure projects are funded. Operating costs are the responsibility of each state and/or the private sector. Currently the Federal Government is offering funds to the states for high-speed rail projects. Knowing this, how do you feel about state and federal funds being used for High-speed Rail?”

STATE FUNDING

Base: All adults


Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 2B

FUNDING FOR HSR - FEDERAL FUNDING

“Development of the intercity passenger rail system is paid for by both Federal and state governments, similar to how most other infrastructure projects are funded. Operating costs are the responsibility of each state and/or the private sector. Currently the Federal Government is offering funds to the states for high-speed rail projects. Knowing this, how do you feel about state and federal funds being used for High-speed Rail?”

Federal funding

Base: All adults


Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

From The Huffington Post

“Amtrak Business Class -- Why Pay?”

Publisher’s Note: It is with a sense of sorrow that we publish the following story, which appeared on The Huffington Post website. Over the decades most Amtrak employees have gone out of their way to serve their public, despite often being forced to work with unreliable or outmoded equipment, an intermittently hostile Congress, and the kind of morale that develops when like clockwork some Congressman or Senator announces that he is going “shut down” Amtrak once and for all. Nevertheless, there is a way to deal with the public, and there is a way not to, and Amtrak needs to re-enforce that in this and other cases. NCI has fought for Amtrak for more than two decades, at great personal financial sacrifice to its officers, staffers, and board members, because we recognize the essential nature of rail service, and because we know, as the general public does not, the circumstances with which Amtrak’s people, and too often their customers, must cope.

 

Amtrak has endured an attempt by the U.S. House of Representatives to cut all funding and another to cut $447 million. The company continues to struggle for survival, standing to lose $224 million already included in the House budget bill for fiscal year 2011.

It’s no secret that the rail’s northeastern corridor, which caters to high-powered politicians, businessmen and lobbyists, is largely supported by lawmakers who ride this route, primarily as business class travelers. But perhaps Amtrak President & CEO Joseph Boardman is unaware that employees at Washington’s Union Station are mistreating the company’s business passengers.

This was the case February 19th on Amtrak’s 10:20 AM Regional # 82 train from Washington, DC to New York.

Ticketed business class travelers, having paid $185 a ticket were prevented from pre-boarding because the ticket taker unilaterally decided those who paid extra would be denied their right to pre-board.

“You don’t pay extra to board first. You pay extra to have a seat,” she proclaimed.

Meanwhile calls via the intercom for preferred passengers to pre-board other trains could be heard throughout the station.

Business class travelers were shocked.

“I’m stunned that I didn’t pay extra to be able to board early only for the privilege of riding in business class,” said Larry Werner, a Washington lobbyist traveling to New York for the holiday weekend. Werner deals with rail issues and is very familiar with what’s happening in Congress. He says he’s never before experienced such discrimination.

Another passenger noted that the business class car was at the very end of the platform. “If we were the last to board we’d be running to get to our car.”

But passengers riding this train were punished for paying extra.

“The supreme of punishments hits many levels,” Werner explained.

“You pay significantly extra and yet, here’s the abuse. The ticket taker was publicly abusive. At least four times she boasted about how she doesn’t give any preference to people who pay extra for business class.”

When asked why business travelers were not being allowed to board early, the ticket taker responded, “It’s at my discretion. You already have a car. You don’t get to board early.”

A man who frequently travels business class to New York from Washington was enraged. “It’s not like that person is the captain of a ship. There’s a big difference.”

It’s the kind of public relationship blunder that Amtrak doesn’t need especially at a time when the House is threatening to cut its budget.

“The New York to Washington route is the only route that’s profitable for Amtrak.” Werner says. “That’s the one they shouldn’t be messing with.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)71.9272.30
Canadian Pacific (CP) 66.85 68.48
CSX (CSX)73.3274.76
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)51.6654.73
Kansas City Southern (KSU)54.0955.47
Norfolk Southern (NSC)64.6665.00
Providence & Worcester(PWX)17.1517.13
Union Pacific (UNP)94.0397.14


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ACROSSTHE POND... Across The Pond...  

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

Striking Train Drivers Disrupt
German Rail Traffic

Warning Strikes Target 3rd Party Train Operators But Instead Hit DBAG

Hannover – the union which represents the vast majority of train and locomotive drivers in Germany, GDL, staged a series of brief strikes on Tuesday and Friday this past week. The intended target was a handful of independent rail operators and companies which pay their train drivers up to 30% less than the wages paid to train drivers employed by several divisions of Germany’s incumbent and dominant passenger and freight train operator, Deutsche Bahn AG (DBAG), but instead heavily disrupted operations at DBAG, although the union does not have an active dispute with the transportation and logistics giant.

The introduction of open rail network access in Germany and most other EU countries in the past two decades has lead to the start-up of numerous independent train operators which pay for train paths on various national rail network but otherwise use their own personnel and lease or buy and maintain their own rolling stock independent from the incumbent rail companies such as DBAG in Germany, SNCF in France, PKP in Poland, NS in Holland and so on. In Germany the independent rail operators have managed to take nearly 40% of the regional and commuter train business away from DBAG’s regional passenger rail group in the past 15 years, while independent rail freight haulers in Germany now account for nearly 25% of German rail freight traffic, up from about 5% in the early 1990s. Most of the independent train-operating companies in Germany tend to pay their employees slightly less in wages and benefits than DBAG and offer employ far fewer workers per 1000 train passengers carried or 1000 tons of freight hauled. Neither statistic sits well with several labor unions which represent workers in the German rail transit industry.


Photo: David Beale

Displacement – a pair of ET 425 electric multiple-unit (EMU) train sets operating as a Regional Express for DB Regio from Hannover to Wolfsburg leave Lehrte on the afternoon of 26th February 2011. These ET 425 train sets were previously in operation around the Bremen region, but became redundant in Dec. 2010, when independent train operator Nordwest Bahn took over many of the commuter and regional rail lines in the Bremen/Oldenburg/Osnabrück metro area with new Alstom EMUs (D:F Vol. 12 No. 3). DB Regio redeployed the redundant ET 425’s, which are property of the Lower Saxony state government, to the Hannover – Wolfsburg regional express route, thereby pushing some of the far older locomotive-hauled “Silberling” rolling stock used on this route into retirement. The ET 425 train sets are nearly identical to the ET 424 train set series used for S-Bahn commuter rail services in the Hannover region, the only significant difference between the two models is the design of the entry doors and steps.

GDL, the union of German train drivers, has been pushing to harmonize pay scales across the industry for a number of years, and recently has gained political support from both DBAG and from the current CDU/FDP conservative-libertarian coalition government in the German parliament to bring pay and benefits of train drivers at these independent train operators up to those negotiated between DBAG and its train drivers. However, several of the independent train operators have yet to agree to do so.

As a result train drivers staged 3-hour long strikes on two mornings this past week in much of Germany to protest the refusal of several independent train operators to increase wages and benefits up to levels at DBAG. The warning strikes resulted in serious delays or cancellations to nearly 80% of passenger trains during those two days. Although the warning strikes had ended by about noon time on both Tuesday and Friday, the disruptions to train schedules lasted well into the afternoon and evening commute time on both days.

Although DBAG was not the target of the strikes, the company complained bitterly to the union and government officials that the strikes caused far more disruption to its train operations and financial losses, than to those of independent train operators, who were the true target of the strikes. The GDL union remained adamant about its demands and said that more warning strikes could be staged in the very near future, including open-ended shut-down rather than the time-limited strikes staged this past week.


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Environmentalists Protest Deutsche Bahn
Energy Purchasing Policies

Is Greenpeace Barking Up The Wrong Tree?

Via HAZ newspaper

DB Protest banners on station roof

Photo: Hannoverische Allgemeine Zeitung  

Preaching to the choir? Greenpeace protests against Deutsche Bahn at the Berlin central train station of the 24th of February due to support which DBAG chairman Rüdiger Grube has given to extend the planned shut-down date of German nuclear power plants.
Berlin – Aside from dealing with heavy disruptions caused by warning strikes targeting its competitors on numerous rail lines across Germany, Deutsche Bahn – German Railways – was confronted with a protest by the environmentalist group Greenpeace at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof last Thursday (24th Feb. 2011). Greenpeace stretched a large banner across part of the glass roof over the east-west track platforms and staged protests around the flagship rail station of the German rail network. The banner and the demonstrators criticized the purchase and use of nuclear and coal generated electricity for DBAG’s thousands of electrically powered trains.

Greenpeace has been in the forefront in Germany of promoting renewable forms of electrical power generation such as wind, solar and geothermal power as well as being active in fighting against atomic / nuclear power and advocating for the early retirement of all of Germany’s existing nuclear power plants. Publicly advocating against early retirement of these atomic power plants is Dr. Rüdiger Grube, chief of the German railroad concern. The German government, under the leadership of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, had recently extended the planned shut-down date of a number of existing German nuclear power plants by several years.

Deutsche Bahn, through its infrastructure and energy subsidiaries DB Netz and DB Energie, is by far the biggest single consumer of electricity in Germany. Although the rail company generates some of the electricity which it consumes with its trains via several company-owned coal fired, natural gas fired and hydroelectric dams, it purchases the lion’s share of electrical power from various utility companies on the German and continental European electrical grid. About 25% of DBAG’s electrical power consumption is supplied from nuclear power and another 40% from coal-fired power plants. The remainder is supplied from a mix of natural gas fired power plants, hydroelectric dams and wind power.

Deutsche Bahn shot back at the criticism with a number of facts and figures which show the company being in the forefront of changing over to renewable energy source: 18% of energy used by DBAG for its trains comes from renewable sources verses about 8% for the entire German electrical power grid; 5% for vehicles on highways and roads, and 0% for commercial aviation and marine transportation. DBAG states that it has a corporate goal and program in place to move up to 30% of it energy consumption to renewable sources by the year 2020.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Virginia Rail Observations & Commentary

 

A Vision Of Trains And Windmills?

By Richard L. Beadles
Volume III, No. 4 February 26, 2011

Recently we awoke to a radio news broadcast of the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell characterizing President Obama’s proposed budget as being a misguided national “vision built upon trains and windmills.” So what’s wrong with trains and windmills? With oil currently flirting with $100 a barrel; maybe nothing!

At best, trains and windmills constitute but a fraction of the overall transportation and energy infrastructure systems envisioned by their advocates. The opposition attempts to make rail and wind power larger-than-life issues. Maybe they believe their own rhetoric? Perhaps it is just political posturing? However, should rail and wind power prove successful, and there is a good chance they will, it would seriously upset the status quo, and that prospect is extremely unsettling to the “establishment.” One of our favorite words is “inertia.” We all know the term, but a simple layman’s definition might be helpful: Objects at rest (including people and institutions) tend to remain at rest, while objects in motion tend to continue moving, and in the same direction. That well describes U.S. transportation and energy policies since mid-twentieth century. We just keep on doing what we’ve always done, with great reluctance to change.

Let’s just deal with conventional, but improved, trains -- even before considering the futuristic Obama vision of a high-speed network connecting 80% of the U. S. population. Solid evidence confirms that people will opt for the train, in good numbers, when reasonably convenient, reliable, highway and aviation-competitive passenger trains are available to them in corridors of 100-400 miles, and often beyond. A spokesman for the airline industry, commenting on the Obama passenger rail vision, opined that it would discourage people from flying. Of course it would. In fact that is being demonstrated in Virginia year after year as the state’s modest Amtrak network of service gradually expands. Richmond recently saw the introduction of “One Dollar” bus service from Main Street Station to D.C., yet the extremely limited, slow, expensive, and delay-prone, Amtrak service to and from Main Street Station saw an increase of 13% in train ridership there in January, despite the new competition.

Across the U. S. there has developed a huge business complex, economically dependent upon our vast system of publicly-sponsored highway and aviation infrastructure. These opportunistic private businesses, tethered to road and air, naturally feel threatened by anything new or different that might detract in any way from their present position of power and political influence. While critics “rail” at Obama, few seem to be aware of the large public subsidies required to make such air and road systems work. Nor is it clear that rail development would cost more or less. We ought to know.

The President’s vision would gradually augment what we have while providing faster, more energy-efficient mobility, enhanced productivity, marginally reducing our dependence upon foreign oil (think of our 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf), and a safer, cleaner environment. Let’s find out. Let’s at least go the first round.


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The Amtrak Gateway Plan:
A New Way Into Manhattan?

What The Project Is Not

Third Of A Series

By David Peter Alan

Three weeks ago, Amtrak proposed its “Gateway” Plan to bring new tracks into Penn Station, New York, and build an annex adjacent to the station. The plan was unveiled at an event sponsored by New Jersey’s two Senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. The Amtrak proposal came as a response to Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to terminate New Jersey Transit’s ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) project, which would have also built new tracks to Manhattan, but brought them into a deep-cavern terminal, a facility that would have been located twenty stories below 34th Street.

The previous article in this series described the Gateway project in detail. This article will focus on what the project is not. It is not a unified effort among all concerned parties to build a new railroad that would benefit both Amtrak and NJT riders, as Gov. Christie suggested. It does not have a known source of funding. It also does not accomplish all of the strategic goals of the original ARC Project. Although it provides more capacity in Manhattan and improved redundancy for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) line, it does not call for expansion to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan, one of the original project’s three strategic goals.

The Gateway proposal would cost enough money to get to the East Side, but it would not go there. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is spending billions of dollars to give Long Island rail riders access to both East and West sides of Midtown Manhattan, and Metro-North plans to provide the same for Hudson and New Haven Line riders. Because the Gateway Project will not reach the East Side, New Jersey riders will not have similar access to both sides of Midtown, which will leave many of them with a more time-consuming commute than their counterparts in New York State.

The new Amtrak proposal can be divided into four parts. First, the line would be augmented to four tracks from Newark to Swift Interlocking, where the Morris & Essex Line meets Amtrak’s NEC. Second, like the former NJT plan, a new two-track line would run separately from the existing NEC, eastward from Swift Interlocking, and under the Hudson River. On that stretch, the existing Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River would be replaced with a new high-level bridge and a similar bridge would be built on the new line. The new line would be located south of the existing one, and it would follow a bowed alignment under the river. Third, the new line would go onto new approach tracks into the station. Finally, it would terminate in a seven-track stub-end terminal, which Amtrak now calls “Penn Station South.” The new terminal would be located between 30th and 31st Streets, south of the existing Penn Station. In effect, the plan would build two new tracks from just east of Newark to a new annex south of Penn Station.

In terminating the former ARC Project, Gov. Christie called for Transportation Commissioner James Simpson and NJT Executive Director James Weinstein to work with Amtrak and other concerned parties cooperatively, to produce a new plan which would bring new tunnels into Manhattan. The Amtrak Gateway plan is a new proposal, and Christie mentioned it favorably the day it was presented to the public, but it is Amtrak’s plan alone, not a cooperative one. Christie did not comment on the substance of the plan, but noted with approval that Amtrak had proposed a plan for new trans-Hudson rail tunnels so soon after he had terminated the former ARC proposal.

The Gateway proposal does not comply with Christie’s request. It does not appear that New York City or State (or the MTA, which is an instrumentality of New York State) had anything to do with it. The proposed “Penn Station South” annex would be built in Manhattan, and at least 1 1/4 blocks of buildings in Midtown would be torn down to build it. Nonetheless, New York seems to be out of the picture in the decision-making process.

It does not appear that NJT was involved in the process, either. Asbury Park Press reporter Larry Higgs quoted Weinstein in a feature article in the February 20th edition: “I’ve spoken to Joe [Boardman, Amtrak President] and it’s their project, so I assume they call us. It’s not like we’re in a foreign country.” It appears that whatever contact NJT and Amtrak had about the project was far less than the amount required to produce a joint plan.

Weinstein also said that NJT would benefit from the project, and he is correct. NJT would have more room for its trains going into Manhattan. Still, its goal under the former administrations of George Warrington and Richard Sarles was to have its own railroad into Manhattan and its own deep-cavern terminal, independent of Amtrak. Advocates for New Jersey’s rail riders strongly disapproved of that goal and fought against its implementation, and NJT did not get its way on that issue. Without the now-defunct ARC Project, its status would remain that of a tenant in Amtrak-owned Penn Station.

Nor is the Gateway project a comprehensive plan for a unified, integrated Penn Station. New York State and Amtrak are still pushing the Moynihan Station plan, which would extend the platforms of the existing station westward, across Eighth Avenue and under the Farley Post Office building. The retail post office, located up a long flight of stairs from street level, is historic and would retain its current use, unaltered. The Moynihan portion of the station would be located underground, and passengers would proceed downstairs from new entrances to the building. Amtrak plans to establish support services for its long-distance trains, such as checked baggage and food service support, on that side of the station.

The “Penn Station South” annex, primarily for NJT trains under normal operation, would be located south of the existing station. Customers wishing to transfer between NJT and Amtrak trains could only do so by going through the existing station; NJT would be located south of it and the Moynihan Station would be located west of it. Amtrak has not revealed how it would coordinate operations if both the Gateway and Moynihan projects are built, or how passengers would be directed through the station complex when changing trains.

The Gateway plan is also not a plan for improving access to subways for commuters. Penn Station has connections to the Eighth Avenue (A, C and E trains, with the uptown C and E being the most convenient) and Seventh Avenue (1, 2 and 3 trains) lines at the south end of the 34th Street subway stations on both lines. By concentrating NJT trains in an annex between 30th and 31st Streets, the Gateway Project would move most of NJT’s customers one block further from the subway than they are today when they come into Penn Station. They would be one block closer to the 28th Street station on the Seventh Avenue Line (a local stop serving only the #1 train), but that stop would be useful for only a limited number of commuters.

Figure 2 - Gateway Project NYC

Figure 2 from last week’s edition - Satelite enhanced overlay of proposed alignment.

The documents furnished at the press conference at which the Gateway Project was introduced to the public showed a proposed extension of the #7 (Flushing Line) train under 30th Street, from Eleventh to Seventh Avenues (shown as Fig. 2 in last week’s article in this series, and also shown here). There is no indication of any involvement in such a project by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) or the City. It appears that Amtrak considers such an extension to be its answer to East Side Access, on the theory that riders could take the #7 train and go to Grand Central Station (the name of the subway station located below metro-North’s Grand Central Terminal). It is unlikely that the existing subway station could accommodate thousands of New Jersey commuters, in addition to the riders who already get off there to transfer to another line or walk to their offices.

The #7 line is now being extended to the Javits Convention Center at 37th Street and Eleventh Avenue (on the far West Side), but it would be expensive to extend it further in an easterly direction under 30th Street. Grand Central Station on that line would also be overburdened by taking on thousands of New Jersey commuters as extra riders. Such a routing would also be incompatible with the proposed extension of the line to Secaucus, where it would connect with NJT commuter trains and bring commuters to Manhattan by an alternate route. Mayor Michel Bloomberg has expressed support for the Secaucus extension.

The most serious flaw in the Gateway Project is that it will not provide NJT riders with access to Manhattan’s East Side, although it would cost enough money to accomplish that goal. Such access was first proposed in 1995 as “Alternative AA” of the ARC Project, later called “Alternative G.” “ARC” stands for “Access to the Region’s Core”; a key project goal was to build a line that would allow access for New Jersey commuters to both East and West sides of Midtown Manhattan. After a one-seat ride, most commuters could walk from the train to their offices. Many rider advocates had expressed their strong support for “Alternative G” and were shocked when it was later withdrawn from consideration.

Since that time, they have fought against NJT’s proposal to build a deep-cavern terminal, partly because there was no practical way to extend it to the East Side. Gov. Christie mentioned that and other shortcomings of the project when he terminated it last October. The Gateway Project has the same flaw; it also calls for a stub-end terminal that cannot be extended to the East Side in a practical way. The costs of acquiring needed real estate and adding capacity in the form of a stub-end terminal would consume the amount of money needed to go to the East Side, even though the proposed project would not go there. Although rider advocates acknowledge that the now-defunct NJT proposal for a deep-cavern terminal would have been worse, a stub-end terminal on the West Side would still require East Side commuters to take an additional ride on a subway or local bus to get to their offices. For these reasons, advocates are still concerned that the Gateway Project is only a partial answer to today’s commuting problems, although it would cost as much as a complete solution.

The low-numbered tracks in Penn Station, located between 31st and 32d Streets, were designed for eastward extension into new tunnels under 31st Street, which can then be extended northward under Park Avenue, to Grand Central Terminal (GCT). Riders from New Jersey could connect with Metro-North trains there. The basement of Eleven Penn Plaza, across the street, has space for that extension; a part of the original Penn Station design by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) over 100 years ago. The PRR also planned for two additional tracks under 31st Street that were never built, so there is room for more tracks. On the East Side, GCT was planned for a build-out to the south. East Side access from New Jersey would require building the line to connect the terminals.

Under the Gateway plan, Amtrak would not send NJT trains to the low-numbered tracks, but to a separate stub-end annex, one block to the south. The buildings east of the proposed annex have no similar provision for an eastward right-of-way, so expansion to provide East Side Access does not appear practical under the Gateway Project plan. At the very least, it would be much more expensive to provide such access than it would be to build out from the low-numbered tracks of the existing station, using the previously-planned breakout provisions.

Perhaps the most significant shortcoming of the Gateway proposal is that nobody seems to know how it would be funded. Amtrak has estimated the cost at $13.5 billion; near the high end of the Federal Transit Administration’s cost projections for the former ARC Project, which Gov. Christie terminated because of its excessive cost. Gov. Christie said that there were insufficient funds to build the former ARC proposal, so it is doubtful that the equally-expensive Gateway proposal would fare any better. Because the Gateway plan is solely Amtrak’s proposal, it would be ineligible for New Starts funding from the FTA. NJT had counted on $3 billion of FTA money to fund the now-defunct ARC Project. Any funding plan for the Gateway Project cannot count on such funding, as long as it remains Amtrak’s project.

Even if the money could be found and the project built as planned, advocates fear that it would become impossible to raise the money to extend the line to the East Side later, and fulfill the original promise of “Access to the Region’s Core” that the ARC Project held in its original form. Money is scarce, and funding for transit is being reduced throughout the nation. New York rail advocate Joseph M. Clift has expressed doubt that elected leaders would be willing to spend additional billions of dollars to extend the line to the East Side, after spending the cost of building the project as currently proposed.

Clift suggested that some of the $50 million proposed for preliminary engineering on the project be spent on a new regional ridership forecast for NJT and the MTA railroads, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road. The previous forecast was compiled by NYMTC (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; the Metropolitan Planning Organization for New York City and its suburbs in New York State) before the economy slowed down in 2008. “Both New Jersey and New York should participate as partners in any new trans-Hudson rail project, and New York planners know the political and economic realities in Manhattan, especially the post-2008 realities,” Clift said.

Many advocates for New Jersey’s rail riders have serious concerns about the utility of the Gateway Project as Amtrak has proposed it, especially the cost-effectiveness. Much of the current discussion of the project is academic, because nobody has proposed a means to pay for it. The next article in this series will focus on the funding issue.


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EVENTS... Events...  

Amtrak’s Al Engel To Keynote

 

Association For Public Transportation,
NARP To Host Key March 26 Conference

From APT And NARP

BOSTON --- Amtrak’s highly regarded new Vice President of High-Speed Rail, Albrecht “Al” Engel, P.E., is the keynoter March 26 at the Massachusetts Association of Railroad Passengers (APT-MARP) New England members meeting, at the John Hancock Conference Center.

Also sponsored by TrainRiders Northeast, the Vermont Rail Action Network, and the RI Association of Railroad Passengers, the Saturday event will begin at 2:30 with registration, and conclude that evening with a reception for Al Engel and APT-MARP donor members.

Al Engel’s talk will be “Amtrak’s Vision for True High-Speed Rail.” To sign up (early bird deadline is March 4) go now to www.aptmarp.org


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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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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

Dear Editor,

I was surprised to read your references to the Belfast-Dublin train service in the most recent DF. Firstly, Northern Ireland is not “technically” part of the UK - it is as much a part of the UK as Wales or London or as Massachusetts is a part of the USA! Secondly, the service is not “limited” - it runs 8 times a day. Of course, it could and should run more often and it should be a lot faster, but many Amtrak routes run far less.

Guy Senior
guysenior@hotmail.co.uk


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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