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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March 7, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 9

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

This E-Zine is best viewed at
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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
Florida Supreme Court Sides With Governor,
   Ensuring Death Of Florida’s High-Speed Rail
  Commuter Lines…
Massachusetts Commuter Rail Riders Short Tempered
   As MBTA Deteriorates
  Political Lines…
President Signs Surface Transportation Extension;
   Gas Price Boosts Value Of Traveling By Train
  Security Lines…
Did The TSA Unit Violate Citizens’ Civil Rights?
   Amtrak’s Security Chief Thinks So, Issues Ban
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Across The Pond…
Britain Gives Green Light For New Trains & Rail Electrification
Train Drivers Union Strikes German Rail Network Again
And Finally . . .
  Commentary…
The Amtrak “Gateway” Project: A New Way Into Manhattan?
  Editorial…
Willful Ignorance In Florida Sets Rail Back Once More
  Events…
NARP To Host Key March 26 Conference
Connecting New England by Rail - April 29
  Publication Notes …


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

Florida Supreme Court Sides With Governor,
Ensuring Death Of Florida’s High-Speed Rail

By DF Staff

TALLAHASSEE--- For the second time in a dozen years, a Florida Governor has intervened to kill a major high-speed rail project.

In 1999 newly elected Gov. Jeb Bush, citing the advice of rail opponent Wendell Cox, killed FOX, the Florida Overland Express which would have linked three major cities in that state.

This week, the Supreme Court of Florida, in response to a lawsuit by Florida legislators who favor rail, upheld Gov. Rick Scott’s right to refuse $2.4 billion in Federal aid to begin a project linking Tampa and Orlando.

Scott said that he opposed the project because, he asserted, taxpayers would be responsible for operating cost over runs. Project proponents point out that that specific concern was addressed in the design of this iteration of the rail project, but Scott ignored their advice and also a written guarantee from the United States Secretary of Transportation that such was not the case with the configuration of this project.

The American High-Speed Rail Alliance, which was created following the demise of the High-Speed Ground Transportation Association when Presidential candidate and then President Barack Obama made it clear he would support investment in an American High-Speed Rail System, issued the following statement:

Today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the Florida Supreme Court upheld Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to reject $2.4 billion in rail federal stimulus funding intended for the state. The funding will now be redistributed to other states.

The American High-Speed Rail Alliance is extremely disappointed with Governor Scott’s decision to reject the $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funding awarded to Florida, said Mary Ellen Curto, Executive Director. “While this is a significant loss for the future of high-speed rail in Florida, AHSRA believes this is a great opportunity for the US DOT to redistribute to the dozens of other states that are willing to invest in 21st century infrastructure projects.

Secretary LaHood’s statement reaffirmed that the president’s high-speed rail program would move forward. “The Obama Administration’s bold high-speed rail plan will not only create jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing sector in the near-term, it is a crucial and strategic investment in America’s future prosperity. I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens.”

Ten Senators from the Northeast, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, as well as the California High-Speed Rail Authority made their case to receive a portion of the rejected funding. Additionally, Washington State DOT recently issued a press release saying that the state is ready to put Florida’s funds to work.

Meanwhile, recall efforts in Florida aimed at removing Scott gained ground, as fury increased in both the business and labor community that Scott not only would kill the program, but was ignoring straightforward facts that ran counter to his stated reasons for killing it.

Florida has 30% unemployment in its construction sector, and this project would have produced a quick 24,000 jobs; in addition, the state is in the trough of one of its periodic real estate busts, with an estimated five years of unsold housing inventory sitting on the market.

After hearing of the Supreme Court decision effectively killing the rail project that would have produced those jobs, Scott announced that he would now turn his attention to “creating jobs and building infrastructure,” a statement which baffled even some of his supporters.

Other states such as those in the Northeast and on the West Coast, as well as Illinois, are clamoring for the money Florida has turned down.

Meanwhile, polls continue to show strong support for High-Speed Rail across the political spectrum, as last week’ Harris Poll (D:F February 28).


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Massachusetts Commuter Rail Riders
Short Tempered As MBTA Deteriorates

From Internet Sources

BOSTON ---- The once-successful Massachusetts Commuter Rail service built up by former Governor Michael Dukakis continues to deteriorate, as service outages and late trains become nearly daily headline stories and passengers flee back to automobiles because of an inability to count on printed MVTA schedules to get to work.

Anger has become so widespread with the performance of Mass Bay Commuter Rail, the privatized service that operates the line under contract to the MBTA, that Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, himself a strong rail advocate, is calling for the state to consider taking back over the operation.

The Boston Globe reported this past week:

“Nearly 1 in 4 commuter rail trains ran behind schedule last month, new figures show, adding to a winter of persistent delays that have infuriated passengers and sparked demands for immediate improvements in service from an outdated fleet. Following a January that ranked as the commuter rail’s worst month’s performance in three years, with 27 percent of trains delayed and more than 100 runs canceled, the system’s continued woes have cast a harsh spotlight on the chronically underfunded transit system, and have created among many riders a crisis of confidence,” wrote Globe reporter Peter Schwarz this past weekend.

“Under growing public pressure, railroad officials said yesterday that February’s struggles were largely concentrated in the first few days of the month, when snow and icy rain caused widespread disruptions to the system. On Feb. 1-2, for example, nearly three-quarters of the trains were at least five minutes late, with many lengthy delays that left riders shivering on snow-swept platforms, unsure if or when their train might come.

As the weather improved, service became more reliable, with just 10 percent of trains between Feb. 12-28 arriving late, according to records obtained yesterday from the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, a private consortium that is hired by the MBTA to operate the commuter rail,” wrote the Globe.

One of the key reasons for the growing inability of the MBTA system to perform is a decade of disinvestment in rail infrastructure and capital repairs under Republican Governor Mitt Romney and his successor Jane Swift. Under Romney, funding for repairs and maintenance shrank as funds were diverted to pay for the massive cost over-runs of Boston’s “Big Dig,” the highway project that ultimately will cost at least $21 billion, when the Federal government refused to cover those over-runs.


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

President Signs Surface Transportation Extension;
Gas Price Boosts Value Of Traveling By Train

From The American Public Transportation Association

WASHINGTON --- On March 4, President Obama signed into law H.R. 662, the “Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011,” which provides funding for surface transportation programs such as the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) for the period March 5 through Sept. 30, 2011; and extends the authority to make expenditures from the HTF for HTF-financed programs through Sept. 30, 2011.

On March 3, the Senate passed the bill; the previous day, the House passed it overwhelmingly by a 421-4 vote.

Transportation leaders in the House and Senate have indicated it is their hope that this longer extension will allow Congress sufficient time to enact a full six-year authorization bill some time later this year. For more details, see the latest APTA Legislative Alert.

Also, APTA noted that rising gas prices have resulted in the highest transit savings in two years.

APTA’s latest Transit Savings Report (released monthly) examines how an individual in a two-person household can save money by taking public transportation and living with one less car. Gas prices increased 28 cents a gallon in the last 10 days and are expected to continue rising. As a result, people who ride public transportation save, on average, $9,904 annually, and $825 per month. These results, based on the March 4 average national gas price and the national unreserved monthly parking rate, show the highest savings for public transit riders in two years.

“Using public transportation is the quickest way people can beat high gasoline prices,” said APTA President William Millar.


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SECURITY LINES... Security Lines...  

An Incident In Savannah, As Reported By Trains Magazine’s Don Phillips

 

Did The TSA Unit Violate Citizens’ Civil Rights?
Amtrak’s Security Chief Thinks So, Issues Ban

From Don Phillips And Trains Magazine

Trains Magazine’s Don Phillips, the guru of transportation reporting in America for 40 years, is reporting a recent incident in this month’s TRAINS magazine website that has got Amtrak’s own security people hopping mad. It is posted on the website for Trainorders, http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?4,2408237

“In late February, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took over the Amtrak station in Savannah, Georgia, and thoroughly searched every person who entered. None of the passengers got into trouble, but the TSA certainly did – big time. Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor said he first thought a blog posting about the incident was a joke. When he discovered that the TSA’s VIPR (“Visible Intermodal Protection and Response”) team did at least some of what the blog said, he was livid. He ordered the VIPR teams off Amtrak property, at least until a firm agreement can be drawn up to prevent the TSA from taking actions that the chief said were illegal and clearly contrary to Amtrak policy.”

Phillips cites the blog gizmodo.com http://gizmodo.com/ as the source of the story, but notes that there were significant errors in the blog site’s report.

For further information go to http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?4,2408237 or look for the story in the May issue of TRAINS.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)73.8671.92
Canadian Pacific (CP) 66.2666.85
CSX (CSX)74.9673.32
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)53.3051.66
Kansas City Southern (KSU)53.9554.09
Norfolk Southern (NSC)65.3064.66
Providence & Worcester(PWX)16.5117.15
Union Pacific (UNP)95.3694.03


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

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor
 

Britain Gives Green Light For New
Trains & Rail Electrification

Despite major government budget cutbacks, a key EU member country continues aggressive investment plans in rail transit

via UK Government / DofT press release

LONDON - Scotland, Wales plus northern and southwest ENGLAND will get a fleet of new trains and more reliable rail links to London, creating thousands of jobs, boosting the economy and improving services for passengers, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced on the 1st of March. He gave the go-ahead for the GBP 4.5 billion (US $7.3 billion) Intercity Express Program (IEP) and the GBP 704 million (US $1.1 billion) plan to electrify the Great Western Main Line (GWML) rail corridor between Cardiff, Bristol and Didcot.

The UK Government announced today it has decided to resume the IEP procurement and proceed with the Agility Trains (Hitachi and John Laing) consortium’s plans for replacement for the nation’s fleet of aging intercity high-speed trains. This will mean 500 new carriages which will provide 11,000 more peak-time seats for passengers, every day on the GWML and the East Coast Main Line (ECML).

Hitachi had previously announced its intention to build a new train factory in County Durham to build the new order, creating more than 500 new jobs and securing thousands of additional jobs in sub-supplier industries in north east England, giving a further boost to Britain’s manufacturing industry. This factory is expected to be operational by 2013.

The announcement to electrify the sections between Cardiff, Bristol and Didcot builds on November’s announcement of electrification between London Paddington, Didcot, Newbury and Oxford, and will give Wales its very first main line electrified railway, cutting 17 minutes from Cardiff to London journeys and 22 minutes from Bristol to London journeys. Electric trains are not only quicker, but quieter, smoother and more reliable than diesels. They are also cleaner - producing no emissions at their point of use. The UK uses the European standard for railway electrification of 25 kVAC 50 Hz in most of the country, although the rail network south of London and the River Thames is mostly electrified with 750 VDC third rail.

The Bristol central train station, seen in this 2006 photo

Photo: Network Rail

Electrifying – the Bristol central train station, seen in this 2006 photo, will soon see electric trains when the WCML rail corridor is electrified in the next few years.

Philip Hammond said: “This is good news for jobs, passengers and the economy. Our decision to buy a new fleet of trains and electrify new lines will allow rail passengers along the Great Western and East Coast corridors to benefit from massive improvements to journey times, more seats and more reliable services. Alongside our plans for High-Speed Rail, it completes a picture of massive upgrades to our intercity rail corridors over the coming years.”

Mr. Hammond added: “While this is, of course, subject to the Government continuing to be satisfied that the proposal offers value for money as the commercial negotiations are concluded and that the final arrangements are compliant with the United Kingdom’s EU obligations, I expect that the first of the new trains will be in service by 2016. Extending electrification westwards to Bristol and Cardiff will also bring all the benefits of electric trains - faster acceleration, greater comfort and cleaner, greener travel - to rail passengers in Wales and the south west.”

“We have also established that a strong high-level case may exist for electrifying some of the Valley lines north of Cardiff. My Department will now work with the Welsh Assembly Government to develop a business case for the electrification of the Cardiff Valley lines,” stated Mr. Hammond.

The GBP 4.5 billion program will see the building of a combination of around 100 electric trains and bi-mode - electric/diesel - intercity trains which will run to Great Western Main Line stations including Oxford, Swindon, Reading, Cardiff, Swansea, Bath and Bristol and to East Coast Main Line stations such as Peterborough, York, Doncaster, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness.

The train operating companies will contribute to the design and specification of the new fleet of IEP trains in greater detail than they had before. As soon as the trains become operational passengers will see improvements to reliability and comfort.

The British Department of Transportation made the following notes about the rail electrification program:

1. Benefits of electric trains over diesel

Electrified railways are essential to getting maximum efficiency and capacity from a modern railway.

Compared to non-electrified railways, electrified railways are:

Bombardier ElectroStar EMU commuter train (BR class 378)

Photo: Network Rail

A London Overground Bombardier ElectroStar EMU commuter train (BR class 378) heads into London in July 2010.

2. Greener journeys

Rail electrification is an important part of the Department’s carbon strategy. Typically an electric train emits between 20% and 35% less carbon per passenger mile than a diesel train. This benefit will only improve as the electricity generation industry reduces its carbon levels. Electric trains also have zero emissions at the point of use, of particular benefit for air quality in pollution hot spots like city centers and mainline stations such as London Paddington.

3. Rail investment

Today’s announcement is part of a wider Government rail strategy to meet future increases in passenger demand, promote a move from other transport modes to rail and ensure Britain has the world-class infrastructure it needs. Major projects on the agenda include the GBP 15 billion Crossrail project, the GBP 5.5 billion Thameslink modernization and the new high-speed rail link between London and the West Midlands and beyond.

The Department for Transport and Network Rail will work closely with the Welsh Assembly to develop a business case for the electrification of the Cardiff Valley Lines and to ensure that plans for electrifying the Great Western Main Line are coordinated with the Assembly’s own plans for rail rolling stock in the future Wales and Borders franchise.

4. Minimizing disruption

Electric trains are more reliable than diesels. An electric intercity train will travel 40% further than an equivalent diesel train before a technical failure and an electric commuter train will travel well over twice as far.

Network Rail will use newly developed construction techniques which minimize the inconvenience to passengers for work on the Great Western line through utilizing high-tech factory trains and extensively using overnight closures of less than eight hours. Passenger Focus will be given a key role in representing travelers’ views throughout the work.

Britain Begins Planning for HS2 – High-Speed Rail North of London

Separately at an earlier press conference on the 28th of February Mr. Hammond stated that the UK government will begin planning for the next phase of its high-speed rail program by opening up a tender / RFQ to select design / engineering consultants for HS2, the name given to the broad proposal to build high-speed rail corridors north and northwest out of London. HS1 is the name given to the recently built high-speed rail corridor from London St. Pancras station to the Channel Tunnel entrance near Dover, England.

Britain’s economic map would be redrawn, jobs created, prosperity spread and the way businesses work and compete transformed by a new high-speed rail network, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said today as he launched a consultation on the Government’s proposals.

Launching one of the biggest public consultations ever undertaken, the Transport Secretary also warned that Britain’s transport network cannot afford to be left behind while competitor countries improve their transport infrastructure.

The Government is proposing a ‘Y’ shaped network linking London, the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds, with stations in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands, and links to existing lines to enable through-running services to other cities including Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The scheme would deliver around GBP 44 billion of benefits and would cut journey times between London and other major cities by as much as an hour.


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Train Drivers Union Strikes
German Rail Network Again

HANNOVER -- The German train drivers union GDL staged yet another warning strike on Friday, 4th of March, between 8 and 11 AM. The union stage yet another strike again due to its ongoing dispute with several independent train operators in Germany, which so far have not agreed to increase pay of their train drivers up to those of Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), which is the dominant and incumbent train operator in the country.


Photo: David Beale

Back on track – a Hannover – Wolfsburg Regional Express train formed by a set of Silberling coaches and a DB class 112 electric locomotive is ready to leave on-time the day after the strike on the 5th of March 2011 from Hannover to Wolfsburg. Both cities have large Volkswagen vehicle production facilities. The automotive giant’s headquartered in Wolfsburg and its commercial truck, sports/utility and mini-van vehicle plant in Hannover are respectively the largest private employers in the two cities.

In the Hannover area striking train drivers shut down services on Metronom, one of the targeted independent train operators, which resulted in Metronom trains blocking the important north-south Hamburg – Hannover – Göttingen corridor. A significant number of trains operated by Deutsche Bahn were also left without train drivers for several hours on Friday morning. In the Hannover area the effect of the strikes was particularly painful due to the CeBIT computer / electronics / IT convention, which attracts close to a half million attendees from all over the world. Many convention attendees were left standing at various train stations across north central and north western Germany, because of the warning strikes. As was the case one week ago, the strikes also played havoc with the afternoon and evening travel plans of hundreds of thousands of travelers, who were on the move across Germany for the weekend, due to both train crews and rolling stock left far out of their planned locations and schedules after the strikes ended late Friday morning.


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And Finally . . .

Police arrested a 21 year-old man near the northern German city of Flensburg last Friday evening after the DMU passenger train, in which he was a passenger, came to a sudden stop after the emergency brakes activated.

The man had decided to smoke a few cigarettes in the lavatory of the DMU. The cigarette smoke set off a smoke detector in the train’s lavatory, which then caused the train’s emergency brakes to be applied. After the train came to a halt, the crew was able to identify the illegal cigarette smoker and detained him until the police arrived. Aside from the no-smoking rules, unauthorized application of a train’s emergency brakes by a passenger is a criminal misdemeanor under German law, a charge the young man must now reckon with.

Germany outlawed smoking on all passenger trains three years ago. Smoking in German train stations, including much of the track platform areas, is also illegal except in designated smoking areas at the far ends of the track platforms, but the no-smoking regulations in train stations are apparently not enforced and smokers often openly flaunt the no-smoking regulations on many track platforms.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

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

Where’s The Money?

Fourth Of A Series
By David Peter Alan

Four weeks ago, New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators and Amtrak President Joseph H. Boardman announced the railroad’s “Gateway” Project, which would build a new rail line and tunnels into Manhattan, connect into the existing Penn Station, and also build a new seven-track stub-end terminal immediately south of the existing facility. The cost of the project was estimated at $13.5 billion. Amtrak spokesperson Cliff Cole told the Asbury Park Press and the other Gannett newspapers in New Jersey that there was no plan for raising the necessary funds.

The cost of the Amtrak project is comparable to the price tag for the former “Access to the Region’s Core” or “ARC” Project that New Jersey had planned and championed until last fall. Last October, Gov. Chris Christie terminated the project, citing excessive cost and also criticizing the project as “flawed” because it did not provide access to the existing Penn Station in Manhattan, connection with other trains or the prospect of eventually reaching the East Side of Midtown.

Whether the project was otherwise flawed or not, Christie’s main objection was cost. Until he terminated the project, NJT had continued to report that it was on budget at a total cost of $8.7 billion. The Federal Transit Administration, which had pledged a substantial portion of the project cost, disagreed. According to the FTA, the cost could have risen to at least $11.7 billion and possibly as high as $14 billion. Thus, the estimated cost of the current Amtrak proposal is only slightly less than the highest FTA estimate for the project that New Jersey’s governor terminated, due to its excessive cost.

Former Governor Jon Corzine, who lost to Christie when he ran for re-election in 2009, had proposed a plan to raise the publicly reported $8.7 billion cost of the project. State and NJT officials had expected to receive $3 billion from the FTA under a Full-Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) and another $3 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a local match. There were also plans to raise an additional $2.7 billion: $1.25 billion from a toll increase on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, $1.3 billion assigned to highway funds under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program and the rest through Stimulus grants.

Even if the Garden State could have raised that amount of money, it would not have covered any potential cost-overruns of up to $5 billion, which would have been New Jersey’s sole responsibility. The risk of such overruns, which New Jersey would have to pay, formed the basis of Christie’s decision to terminate the project. He said that New Jersey taxpayers should not be on the hook for potential cost overruns, especially since FTA cost estimates for the project were significantly higher than prior numbers had revealed.

It appears that Christie may be signaling a change in attitude of elected leaders toward accepting long-term loans for building transit projects. When Christie announced the termination of the project last fall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff offered an additional $378 million toward a potential Full-Funding Grant Agreement for the project, a 12.6% increase. They also offered a loan arrangement that they believed was generous. The loan package would have provided enough money to pay the FTA’s estimate of the project’s cost at the 50% probability level. In other words, there was a 50-50 chance (like tossing a coin) that the loan offer, along with other available funding, would pay for the entire cost of the project. If New Jersey lost the “coin toss” and the project ended up costing more, New Jersey would have to pay the difference. In any event, New Jersey would also have to repay the loan. Christie balked at taking on this amount of debt and declined the offer.

At the February 7th news conference in Newark where the Amtrak Gateway plan was introduced, officials ducked the question of whether or not funds that had been pledged toward the old ARC Project could be used for the Amtrak project. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said that things would not be the same with proposed FTA funding, but he refused to speculate on where money could be found. Anthony Coscia, a Board member of both Amtrak and the Port Authority, specifically refused on three occasions to answer a question about the $3 billion that the Port Authority had previously pledged toward the ARC Project.

At the time the Gateway Project was announced, it appeared unlikely that New Jersey would chip in toward the cost of the Amtrak plan; at least, not to a significant degree. Christie praised Amtrak for proposing it, and cited the promptness with which the proposal was announced as vindicating his decision to terminate the former ARC Project. He did not pledge any funds from New Jersey, however. It also appears unlikely that New York, City or State, will contribute significantly either. Neither state has pledged any money at this writing, and both states are in dire financial straits. Both Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have resorted to nontraditional means to keep their states going financially.

New York State is participating in funding the Moynihan Project, which would move much of Penn Station’s function west of Eighth Avenue, below the historic Farley Post Office Building, while keeping the retail post office intact. That project would be built at the other end of the Penn Station complex, two blocks from the proposed location for the “Penn Station South” annex that Amtrak would build as part of the Gateway Project. On the City side, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been pushing a proposal to extend the #7 subway (Flushing Line) across the Hudson River to Secaucus, where it would connect with NJT trains; a project that is unrelated to the Amtrak proposal. New York City is pursuing a feasibility study of the proposal, and NJT is participating in it.

Last week, Christie clarified his position on funding for the Amtrak project. He said on March 2d at a meeting billed as a “transportation summit” with business and labor leaders that New Jersey would invest in a new project as partners with Amtrak and the Federal government “only under the condition that New York State and New York City contribute as well.” He continued: “I’m ready to invest in mass transit between New Jersey and New York. I’m just not willing to be fleeced for it, and that’s what the ARC was. The ARC was a fleecing.” Christie acknowledged that New Jersey needs another tunnel under the Hudson River for transit. He also indicated that he would choose between the two potential projects; the Amtrak plan or the plan to extend the subway to Secaucus, based on what he believes is best for New Jersey.

Can the money that New Jersey had expected for the former ARC Project, be used toward the Amtrak proposal, or toward an alternative for new tunnels and tracks under the Hudson to Manhattan? Rider advocates in the region believe so, but not for the current Amtrak proposal, because Amtrak cannot receive New Starts grants from the FTA. When LaHood attempted to convince Christie to build the former ARC Project last fall, he added another $378 million to the anticipated FTA New Starts grant, which was already $3 billion. However, the New Starts program is strictly for local transit providers, and not for Amtrak. If the Amtrak plan could be changed to a cooperative plan with Amtrak and NJT participating, New Starts money could be spent toward the NJT portion of the project. This also holds for any potential participation by New York’s MTA.

Additional funding for Amtrak may have come a step closer last week, when Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called for allocation of high-speed rail money to Amtrak for projects in the Northeast Region. Since Florida Governor Rick Scott announced that he was refusing a grant of $2.4 billion that his state would have used to build an 84-mile high-speed line between the Orlando and Tampa areas, and the Florida Supreme Court dismissed a legislative challenge to Scott’s action, the money that Florida would have received is now up for grabs. To date, California, New York State and Washington State have applied for these funds.

New Jersey wants to use a large part of the $3 billion that the Port Authority would have given toward the ARC Project for rebuilding the Pulaski Skyway and other highway bridges, and has requested $1.8 billion for the purpose, even though the bridges slated for rehabilitation do not cross the state line into New York. New York wants to use Port Authority money to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River, located slightly north of the Port Authority’s region of geographic jurisdiction, at the river’s widest point and completely within the State of New York. Neither of these projects are the type of interstate project that the Port Authority typically funds. Still, the states’ capital programs are strapped for cash to pay for highway construction, and the governors of the two states ultimately control the Port Authority.

Rider advocates continue to pursue a more affordable option; building new tunnels that would go directly to the existing Penn Station, without Amtrak’s proposed stub-end terminal to the south, and building one new span next to the existing Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River and rehabilitating the existing bridge for peak-hour and emergency use. They claim that a project of that scope can be built for approximately $6 billion; the amount that New Jersey had previously expected from the FTA and the Port Authority, or a comparable amount from other sources. The current thinking is that the $3.378 billion offered by LaHood would form a basis of raising the rest of the $6 billion needed through grants to Amtrak and local funding from New Jersey and New York State.

The Rail Users’ Network (RUN) and the Lackawanna Coalition have taken such a position, and the Lackawanna Coalition has called for a partnership between Amtrak, NJT and New York’s MTA. Such a partnership would increase the likelihood of obtaining funding for the project, because Amtrak and the local railroads have different funding sources available. It would also ensure the needs of the region for both intercity and local rail service are met. The advocates also say that the $13.5 billion that the Amtrak Gateway project would cost could deliver an affordable tunnel project and access to the East Side, as well. A project of that scope is consistent with Gov. Christie’s call for an affordable project with all parties participating, and can be built as Phase I of an overall project that will eventually lead to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan.

Even the first phase of such a project can only be funded through a partnership between New Jersey Transit and Amtrak, with each applying for funding sources available to it and not to the other. Further participation by New York can bring more money for further project improvements.

Some rider advocates believe that the Gateway project proposed a political solution to an operational need. With no funding on the table for the Amtrak plan, the reason why it was proposed in the first place is open to speculation. The answer may lie in New Jersey politics. The next article in this series will explore the political drama surrounding the issue of a new rail tunnel into Manhattan.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Willful Ignorance In Florida
Sets Rail Back Once More

Why bother with facts, if you can have an opinion? Especially if you are a Governor!

Florida Governor Rick Scott demanded that Florida taxpayers not be on the hook for any over-runs on the Tampa-Orlando High-Speed Rail Project. He got that guarantee from the United States Secretary of Transportation.

He then killed the project anyway, saying he was not “convinced.”

He did however cite a conversation with Tea Party members opposed to the rail plans.

So, despite two decades of work, two separate projects each of which would have brought Florida at least part way into the 21st century by adding High-Speed Rail its highway-only ground transportation system, and millions of dollars of Florida taxpayer money spent on project design, it is back to square one for Florida.

The pity is, the Governor isn’t even right on the facts, as few of them as he cites.

Of course, the oil lobby has salivated to kill Florida high-speed rail, because it would work well there --- the Koch Brothers, oil barons both, are active funders of the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, and myriads of lesser known front groups whose sole purpose is to kill rail projects, and who do so by trotting out the same half truths about rail over and over again. Unfortunately, newspapers are so short-staffed they accept these “reports” at face value, and you can find them quoted everywhere, when even a little digging would expose these “think tanks” for what they are.

But this time, there may be something else at work. As one old political friend of ours put it, “Why blame conspiracy theories, when plain old incompetence will do?”

In Florida, they are getting to know their governor better, every day, and to understand, perhaps, what it means to have a real “maverick” in the Governor’s mansion. And what “maverick” can really mean.


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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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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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