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 Destination:Freedom 

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

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

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March 17, 2014
Vol. 14 No. 11

Copyright © 2014
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 14th Newsletter Year

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

  Guest Commentary…
Honoring The Texas Eagle At 40
  Amtrak Lines…
Saving The Southwest Chief
  Safety Lines…
FRA Weighs In On Metro-North Accident
  Infrastructure Lines…
250 Amtrak Passengers Stranded On Tracks
   For Hours
Amtrak Sets Key 2014 Capital Projects
  Transit Lines…
New Executive Director Brings Change To
   New Jersey Transit
  Ridership Lines…
Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On U.S. Public
   Transportation In 2013
USPIRG: New California Data Shows Alternatives
   To Driving Taking Hold
  Funding Lines…
APTA Asks Congress To Authorize $100 B
   Federal Transit Program
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Intermodal Lines…
MBTA Shutters Commuter Ferry, Quincy to Boston
  Freight Lines…
BNSF Plans $250 Million In Capacity Enhancements
   In North Dakota
  Across The Pond…
Eurail Launches Mediterranean Deals
  Off The Main Line…
Summer Rail Camp For High School Students
  Publication Notes …



GUEST COMMENTARY... Guest Commentary...  

Honoring The Texas Eagle At 40

Offered By Bill Pollard, chair
Texas Eagle Marketing & Performance Organization

Forty years ago, I was the ticket clerk on duty at Little Rock Union Station when the first Inter-American, Amtrak train #21, arrived in Little Rock. The train had departed St. Louis on the afternoon of March 13, 1974 and had been scheduled into Little Rock at 10:45pm, but inaugural festivities along the route caused delays. The train was further delayed at Little Rock until about 12:30am as a crowd of several thousand listened to Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers praise the return of passenger service along this route. When the first train headed for Texarkana, Amtrak ticket agent Griff Hubbard was on duty to oversee the inaugural arrival at that point.

Texas Eagle 40th anniversary

Photo Kevin Green / news-journal.com

The Eagle has landed and passes through the celebration Longview

Many of those present had witnessed the agonizing curtailment of private rail passenger service as Missouri Pacific aggressively discontinued trains in advance of Railpax (Amtrak). Service to Dallas had ended in May 1969, service to Longview, Austin and San Antonio in September 1970, and service to Little Rock and Texarkana in April 1971. After seeing an entire mode of transportation move to the edge of extinction, it was a day of great celebration to see the return of passenger train service, although that first trip was not without its drama. Passenger train speeds were arbitrarily capped at 60mph by MoPac, despite 79mph speeds allowed in the waning days of MoPac service a few years earlier. West of Texarkana, where the new train would operate over the Texas & Pacific Railway, it was necessary to obtain a last-minute federal court injunction because MoPac claimed that wholly owned and wholly controlled subsidiary T&P was not required to observe Amtrak access legislation. From this shaky tri-weekly start, the Inter-American gradually evolved into today's daily Texas Eagle operation, with the highly successful through cars to Los Angeles.

As we pause to recognize this anniversary, we need to remember that the advances that are achieved today are possible because we stand on the shoulders of advocates and railroaders who had the vision and fought the fight before us. Leaders like John Mills at Little Rock and Dan Monaghan in Dallas come to mind, but they were aided by many others who did the necessary to see that this route has train service today. Members of the media also understood the importance. In Arkansas, Jim Powell-editor and Richard Allin-Our Town columnist for the Arkansas Gazette, along with Randy Tardy-business writer for the Arkansas Democrat, repeatedly addressed this issue and were instrumental in raising public awareness about the importance of rail passenger service. Other cities along the route had similar champions who advanced the cause.

Make no mistake that we still have challenges - today's #21 was several hours late at Longview for a planned ceremony because of freight train interference. Sold out trains over spring break mean passengers are being turned away because of no additional cars to increase capacity. The continued operation of the Texas Eagle with a single locomotive places it at greater risk of mechanical failure than other long-distance trains, and the schedule times in Chicago are not optimal for connectivity. Despite all that, we have made great progress over the past 40 years, and because of the continued teamwork of everyone involved with the Texas Eagle, that progress will continue.

For additional information see: http://www.texaseagle.com/

For an additional press story on the anniversary see: http://www.news-journal.com/news/local/city-celebrates-years-of-texas-eagle-service/article_71824724-6605-53ef-a5a5-ef591241a2fe.html


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AMTRAK LINES... Amtrak Lines...  

Saving The Southwest Chief

An Alternate Route

Second Of A Series
By David Peter Alan

When Amtrak was first formed, most railroads could not wait to join. Joining Amtrak meant that the railroads could get rid of their intercity passenger trains, which included saving the cost of those trains and the cost of the managers and crews who ran them. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (Santa Fe Railroad) waited until the last minute to join Amtrak. At that time, the Santa Fe was running the Super Chief (sleeping car train) and El Capitan (coach train) combined, over the Raton Pass Route, the route of today’s Southwest Chief. The Grand Canyon, a downgraded train that lacked the amenities of the “El Cap” ran over the Raton Pass route, too. The San Francisco Chief ran on the Transcon, a more southerly route through Amarillo, Texas. The Santa Fe also ran a train between Denver and La Junta, Colorado to connect with the Raton Pass route, a train between Kansas City and Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Texas Chief between Chicago and Houston, and three daily Surf Line trains between Los Angeles and San Diego. Today, that line is California’s highly-successful Pacific Surfliner corridor, with trains running every hour or two, throughout the service day.

Today’s Southwest Chief is the surviving remnant of the once-proud Santa Fe long-distance rail travel tradition. It is now a typical Amtrak long-distance train: comfortable, but without the amenities of the Santa Fe era. It also takes three hours longer to travel between Chicago and Los Angeles, compared to the 1971 schedule. If the Santa Fe had stayed out of Amtrak, it is highly likely that the San Francisco Chief on the Transcon route would have lasted for several more years. The Texas Chief lasted until 1979 under Amtrak auspices, and the portion of its route between Oklahoma City and Temple, Texas hosts passenger trains today. The Heartland Flyer runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, and the portion of the Texas Eagle between Fort Worth and Temple runs on historic Santa Fe rail and the two trains connect at Fort Worth. Even if the Santa Fe had not joined Amtrak at the beginning, it is reasonable to expect that the railroad would have done what the Southern and the Denver & Rio Grande Western did; they joined Amtrak and turned the operation of their feature train over to Amtrak (the Southern discontinued its other trains). It is reasonable to speculate that, if the Santa Fe had not joined Amtrak, passenger service would have ended on the Transcon route by the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The Santa Fe merged with the Burlington Northern in 1995 to form BNSF, which now wants to downgrade the Raton Pass route to a condition that will not support a passenger train in the future. BNSF has pegged the cost of the maintenance needed to keep the Southwest Chief operating on it at $200 million over the next ten years. There is a plan under consideration that would divide that sum into five parts, with BNSF, Amtrak, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico each picking up one fifth of the total cost. That plan must be in place by the end of next year, if the train is to continue running on its historic route. In our last report, we examined the route and the history of the trains that ran on it.

There are two other alternatives. One is total discontinuance of the train. The other is to move it onto the Transcon. In that event, the train would no longer stop between Newton, Kansas and Gallup, New Mexico. Although the Transcon bypasses Albuquerque and runs directly between Belen and Gallup, Amtrak and BNSF could agree to maintain the segment between Albuquerque and Gallup, and run over the New Mexico Rail Runner line between Belen and Albuquerque. That would also require the State of New Mexico to agree to the arrangement, since it owns the Rail Runner tracks. It would also lengthen the running time of the train, although some advocates claim that the train would run faster on the Transcon than on the Raton Pass Route. Historically, passenger trains took about the same amount of time between endpoints, whichever route they used.

In that event, the Transcon route would replace the Raton Pass route. Until 1971, the San Francisco Chief ran on the route and made many local stops. It is unlikely that a rerouted Southwest Chief would make many of those stops, which would reduce running time. Nonetheless, there are some towns that would probably see a resumption of rail passenger service if the train moves to the Transcon. The largest would be the two cities on the line: Wichita, Kansas and Amarillo, Texas.

Wichita is the largest city in Kansas and is the junction where the Transcon splits from the line to Texas. Roger Carter, Vice-Chair of the Oklahoma Passenger Rail Association (OPRA) told this writer that the Heartland Flyer was supposed to run between Newton and Fort Worth, when it began operating in 1999. Instead, only that segment between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth was restored. In effect, the southern half of the promised route came back and still operates today, while the northern half of the promised route was never restored.

If the northern half of the Heartland Flyer were to come back, Wichita would be a stop, and on a schedule similar to the stopping times it would have if the Southwest Chief were to move to the Transcon. That means a stop in the middle of the night, in both directions. Wichita is a large and spread-out city, but the old station was on an elevated segment of track within walking distance of downtown. It could have been worse, but the middle of the night is never a good time for a train to stop, as far as local riders are concerned. Today, people who live in Wichita and have automobiles can catch the train at Newton. If they do not, they can take a bus to Newton and endure a half-hour walk to the train station. A few years ago, the bus stopped at the Newton train station, but no longer.

Amarillo is located in the Texas Panhandle, and has a population of about 190,000. There are about another 35,000 people in the metropolitan area. Amarillo has a downtown area, and historic Route 66 passed through it. Despite any downtown revitalization that Amarillo may be experiencing, many of the city’s attractions are located a substantial distance from downtown, and the city’s local transit buses do not go out that far. Still, if the train is rerouted, the City of Amarillo is looking forward to hosting it.

The other proposed stops for the Transcon reroute are even smaller. Wellington, Kansas is a town of about 10,000, known for its location near the Chisholm Trail, a trail used for driving cattle to the railheads in Kansas during the 1870s and 80s. Waynoka, Oklahoma has its place in rail and aviation history. It was the transfer point between trains on the Santa Fe going west toward Los Angeles and connecting flights on Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), which later became Trans-World Airlines (TWA). Both of these segments were part of the legendary Airways Limited, which offered air/rail service that allowed a 48-hour schedule between New York and Los Angeles. The service started in 1929 and lasted for less than two years. Not much has happened since then in Waynoka, and less than 1000 people live there today. Woodward, Oklahoma is a town of about 12,000 people in northwestern Oklahoma. It had a reputation as a rough-and-ready Western town, like Dodge City, Kansas. There is considerably less activity there today.

West of Amarillo, the train would stop at Clovis and Belen, New Mexico; which would replace the current service on former Santa Fe track in southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico. Clovis is a mid-size town, known for arrowheads made by prehistoric Native people who lived in the area, as well as for record producer Norm Petty, who was active during the Rock ‘n’ Roll era of the 1960s. Belen has rail service today, as the southern terminus of New Mexico Rail Runner trains from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Belen features a former Harvey House restaurant, which is now the community museum, and some historic homes, but not much else. The Harvey Houses were a chain of restaurants, established by restaurateur Fred Harvey in the late 1800s. The wait staff were “Harvey Girls” hired from the East or from foreign countries. The Fred Harvey organization also ran the dining service on Santa Fe trains.

There are no large cities on the portion of the Raton Pass route that would lose service if the train is rerouted. Except for Amarillo, the towns on the Transcon are even smaller. The communities along the Raton Pass route have developed a loyalty to the train, and there is no way to know if the same would happen along the Transcon route if the train is rerouted.

Beyond that question, there are policy issues revolving around which route the train takes in the future.

At the present time, there is no passenger rail infrastructure on the Transcon, except for a station at Belen, New Mexico. There was once a platform on the elevated railroad at Wichita, and it can be rebuilt. The same probably holds for other locations where Santa Fe stropped its trains until 1971. Still, there has been no passenger service anywhere on the Transcon line since 1971, except for Wichita, where service lasted until 1979. The $200 million cost of maintaining the Raton Pass route for the next ten years must be offset by the cost of rebuilding passenger infrastructure on the Transcon, in order to make a valid cost comparison. At this writing, such a cost comparison appears impossible; nobody seems to know exactly how much it would cost to add passenger infrastructure to the Transcon.

There is little freight moving on the Raton Pass route today. The Transcon is crowded with freight, as can be seen east of Newton or west of Gallup, as the Southwest Chief encounters many freight trains on both ends of its journey. It does not encounter many in the middle of the trip, however. If the Transcon remains crowded with freight that raises the issue of whether there is sufficient capacity to accommodate a passenger train without delaying the freight schedule. Further north, BNSF also owns the lines in North Dakota that carry crude oil from the Bakken Oil Formation around Williston. The Empire Builder has often been delayed due to heavy traffic of oil trains; sometimes it did not run at all.

At the present time, Amtrak has stated repeatedly that it wishes to keep the train on the Raton Pass route. Elected leaders like Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico argue that, if Amtrak wants to keep the train where it is, it is Amtrak’s responsibility to pay the costs associated with keeping it there. We will have more to say about that debate in a future article in this series. In the meantime, Amtrak has something to gain by discontinuing the Southwest Chief. Amtrak is short of Superliner equipment for its western trains. Just as the equipment that had been assigned to the train that once ran between New Orleans and Florida has been reassigned to other trains, the equipment now used for the Southwest Chief can be relegated to the same fate. If other long-distance trains, such as the Empire Builder or the Coast Starlight, become more popular, there will not be enough equipment for the additional riders. Without the Southwest Chief using five train sets, there should be enough.

That is not to say that Amtrak is working to undermine the Southwest Chief so it can be eliminated. That would not be necessary. BNSF has demanded the money to perform the track work that would be needed to keep the train on its present route, and it is unclear that a move to the Transcon would bring any improvement. The Transcon is not as scenic as the Raton Pass route, and it lacks much of the Western heritage and style found on the Raton Pass route. Amarillo is steeped in the culture of Route 66, but so is every town on the route from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. It seems that Gallup, Winslow, Flagstaff and other places offer more to visitors than Amarillo or the smaller towns on the Transcon.

Kansas City advocate David Peironnet began his career on the Santa Fe in the early 1970s and has written about the railroad’s passenger service at the beginning of the Amtrak era and the time immediately before it. He commented on the differences between the two routes in the following statement:

Vistas on Santa Fe’s southern transcontinental route (now known as the BNSF Transcon) aren’t that exciting. It’s sort of like central & western Kansas -- mile after mile of nothing but mile after mile. This is why the Super Chief and El Capitan traversed this part of the route at night.

There actually were a couple of good cities on the route to generate traffic. Amarillo is the most obvious though there are others. Clovis drew passengers from a large radius. Even Shattuck, Oklahoma and Waynoka, Kansas were something like Fort Madison, Iowa -- not that big or impressive, but drawing passengers from all over. Belen, New Mexico was another town which drew passengers from a large circle.

As to whether the combination of those towns would equal what is presently coming to the train from collector cities along the northern route (Hutchison, Dodge City, & Garden City, KS; LaJunta, CO; and Raton & Las Vegas, NM), I don’t know. My guess is that they could not, owing to the fact that people are accustomed to taking trains on the northern route whereas Amtrak would have to build an entirely new market base on the southern route.

Don’t expect people to buy tickets for the scenery, however. Raton Pass is the big draw along with northern New Mexico.

Throughout this series so far, we have presented the Raton Pass route and the Transcon as alternatives. There is the implicit assumption that only one will have a passenger train on it when the dust settles, and it is possible that neither will host one by then. Although most observers believe that to be the case, not all advocates are willing to accept that outcome.

J.W. Madison is president of Rails, Inc., an advocacy organization for New Mexico, headquartered in Albuquerque. Madison complains that too many advocates are unwilling to fight for improvements in local rail service. He believes that both the Raton Pass and the Transcon should host passenger trains, so that more communities will have passenger rail service, and so riders going between a point east of Newton and a point west of Albuquerque will have a choice of departure times, rather than having only one departure time each day. Until 1971, riders had a choice of a morning departure or an early-evening departure from Chicago for the West Coast.

Garl Latham, a railroad planner and operations consultant in Texas, agrees. He told this writer: “If we had a national transportation policy, we wouldn’t be having this debate. We would have a train on both lines.” Latham went on to say that people are unwilling to spend money, so the rail system we have is too skeletal. In essence, he said that a more robust passenger rail network with more trains would perform better than the current Amtrak network; a position with which many rail advocates agree.

Still, it appears that one daily train, or even three times per week on two routes, is the Amtrak standard. Amtrak does not run more than one train on any long-distance route, except for the Silver Star and Silver Meteor between New York and Florida. The schedules are not very different; southbound, the trains arrive in Florida within a few minutes of each other, northbound they run a few hours apart. The difference is that, in the middle of the route, the two trains use different lines. That would be analogous to Madison’s suggestion of running different trains on the Raton Pass route and the Transcon in the middle of the routes between Chicago and California. If the trains ran on complimentary schedules, each would serve a different area by daylight, and both could be successful.

Madison is not the only advocate who is pushing to save the Southwest Chief and keep it on the Raton Pass route. Advocates in New Mexico and Colorado, as well as on the national scene are making efforts to prevent the loss of the train. We will examine some of these efforts in the next article in this series.


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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

FRA Weighs In On Metro-North Accident

From An FRA Press Release

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today announced its findings and recommendations from an intensive 60-day comprehensive safety assessment of Metro-North Commuter Railroad. The assessment, known as Operation Deep Dive, found that Metro-North’s management emphasizes on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure, resulting in a deficient safety culture, increased risk and reduced safety on the Metro-North system. The report requires Metro-North to submit plans to FRA within 60-days on how it will improve the effectiveness of its Safety Department and training programs.

“Safety is our top priority, and this in-depth assessment should serve as a wake-up call to Metro-North as they work to make their operations safer,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Efficiency and on-time performance are important, but they cannot come before the safety of every passenger on board or those communities along the system.”

The report instructs Metro-North to take the following actions to mitigate risk and to begin a turnaround of the railroad’s safety culture:

The assessment directs Metro-North to address twenty-five (25) specific recommendations covering eight (8) safety critical concerns identified by FRA. These include:

“Safety is and must always be a railroad’s number one priority,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “It is essential that Metro-North ensure a safety culture that clearly prioritizes safety first – the traveling public deserves no less.”

FRA announced Operation Deep Dive on December 16, 2013 following a train crash near Spuyten Duyvil Station that killed four people and injured nearly 70 others. The tragic accident is one of four notable accidents that occurred on the railroad in 2013. Review the entire report on Metro-North. Read our original announcement of Operation Deep Dive.

FRA is committed to continuous safety improvement through a rigorous regulatory oversight driven by thorough inspections and enforcement actions when necessary. This strategy builds upon FRA’s data-driven approach that is a driving force in achieving historic safety gains across the rail industry over the last decade. Learn more about the next generation of safety.


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INFRASTRUCTURE LINES... Infrastructure Lines...  

250 Amtrak Passengers Stranded
On Tracks For Hours

Busy NEC Corridor Train Languishes At A Standstill

By Ari Mason - nbcconnecticut.com
And DF Staff

More than 250 Amtrak passengers were stranded on the tracks for hours with no power or bathroom access after their train lost power and got stuck near Greenwich, CT, according to the railroad. The incident points to ongoing equipment and infrastructure problems along this segment of the NEC.

Railroad officials said a mechanical problem stalled the train around 2:35 p.m. on March 11 and left passengers with no bathroom or electrical services for nearly five hours.

According to the railroad, Train 173 on the Northeast Regional line was traveling from Boston to Penn Station in New York City when a mechanical problem halted the train between Greenwich and New Rochelle.

A rescue train arrived around 6 p.m., but that train also became disabled as well. About an hour later, Train 173 was eventually towed back to Stamford, where passengers transferred to another train and continued on to New York City.

One woman on board stated the train traveled onto a part of the tracks that apparently had no electricity and stalled there. Another train was brought in to push it forward, but the effort was unsuccessful.

Train 173 departed Boston’s Back Bay around 11:15 a.m. and was due to arrive in New York by 3:15 p.m., according to a schedule posted on the Amtrak website, but did not arrive until after 8:00 p.m.

For the original article see:
http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/amtrak-mechanical-electrical-power-problem-stranded-railroad-249638011.html


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Amtrak Sets Key 2014 Capital Projects

By William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Railway Age

During 2014, Amtrak plans to move forward on key capital improvement projects, including continued installation of PTC (Positive Train Control) safety technology, the start of major construction to upgrade Northeast Corridor high-speed rail, and expansion of station accessibility for passengers with disabilities.

Among the planned upgrades:

Positive Train Control

In 2014, Amtrak is continuing its aggressive program to install ACSES (Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System) and ITCS (Incremental Train Control System), its versions of PTC on an additional 1,200 track-miles beyond the approximately 530 track-miles where it is already in operation on some Amtrak-owned sections of the Northeast Corridor (ACSES) and all of its Michigan Line (ITCS). Amtrak is also taking action to obtain needed radio spectrum to transmit data critical to make PTC operational in the new areas. PTC is an overlay on the existing signaling and train control system that can prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, and certain human-caused incidents such as misaligned turnouts. Amtrak says it is on target to meet the Dec. 31, 2015 federal deadline for PTC.

Northeast Corridor High-Speed Rail

In 2014, Amtrak is beginning major construction activities on the “New Jersey Raceway,” a 23-mile section of the Northeast Corridor between Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., to increase top train speeds to 160 mph from 135 mph and improve reliability along this heavily used section. The project will upgrade track and various elements of the electrical and signal systems (such as replacing the existing variable-tension catenary with modern constant-tension catenary) to support the higher speeds, and reconfigure the interlocking plant at Penn Station New York to mitigate congestion issues.

ADA Station Accessibility

In 2014, Amtrak will advance its Accessible Stations Development Program with continuation of existing construction work at eight stations in three states and new construction activities at 21 stations in eight additional states. In addition, necessary ADA-related design work will be completed at 61 stations in 20 states.

Gateway Program, Bridges And Tunnels

Amtrak will also move forward in 2014 on other infrastructure projects including: various planning elements of the Gateway Program to expand track, tunnel, and station capacity between Newark, N.J., and Penn Station New York (among them, construction of two new Hudson River tunnels just south of the existing ones, and a new Portal Bridge); ongoing construction of a concrete casement through the Hudson Yards commercial development project to preserve a possible pathway for the future Hudson River tunnels into Manhattan; and design work for replacing major Northeast Corridor and century-old assets such as the Susquehanna River Bridge (Md.), the Pelham Bay Bridge (N.Y.), the Connecticut River Bridge (Conn.), and the B&P Tunnel (Md.).

Other Infrastructure Work

By the end of its 2014 maintenance program, Amtrak expects to install or replace nearly 165,000 crossties, 23 track-miles of rail, and several dozen track turnouts and interlockings. The railroad is also upgrading numerous sections of its electrical and signal systems along the Northeast and Keystone Corridors, and performing various maintenance projects on property it owns in Chicago, New Orleans, and elsewhere in the country. In addition, Amtrak forces will perform significant work as part of state-led projects to upgrade tracks and signal systems between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, Mich.; Poughkeepsie and Albany, N.Y.; and New Haven, Conn., and Springfield, Mass.

“With limited federal capital funding we are doing the work that needs to be done to keep the railroad operating and taking action where we can to achieve safety, operational, and passenger travel improvements,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman. “However, to truly realize the mobility and economic benefits offered by passenger rail, there must be dedicated federal funding to support a multi-year planning and construction program.”

For the full article see:
http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/passenger/high-performance/amtrak-sets-key-2014-capital-projects.html


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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

New Executive Director Brings Change
To New Jersey Transit

By David Peter Alan

You would not know it from checking the news releases on New Jersey Transit’s web site, www.njtransit.com, but there is plenty happening at the Garden State’s transit agency, including a new Executive Director who promises some changes, and a long-standing Commissioner who spoke his mind more freely than anyone else in his position has done for decades.

It all happened at NJT’s monthly meeting of the Board of Directors, which occurred last Wednesday, March 12th. This writer, who is also an advocate for better transit in the state, has observed NJT Board meetings for years. Until now, they have been dull affairs, where the Executive Director rattled off the latest initiatives that needed Board approval and the gubernatorial-appointed Board dutifully obeyed. Members of the public, including advocates for the riders and occasional elected officials, are given a few minutes to comment because the statute requires it. In the past, there was little notice taken of what they said.

Last Wednesday was different, and may have set a new standard for the agency in the future. It marked Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim’s first Board meeting as Executive Director. She began her new job at NJT at the beginning of March and spent her first weekday morning on the job meeting customers at the train station in South Orange. Hakim pledged to spend her first 30 days on the job listening to customers, employees and other stakeholders. She appeared to keep her word, inviting leaders of the Lackawanna Coalition (including this writer) and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) to a meeting last Friday.

Hakim said: “We are a people-driven organization” and called NJT “an important aspect of New Jersey’s quality of life.” Advocates have criticized past administrations at NJT as lacking concern for customers, and are hopeful that Hakim will be able to produce results which will change that perception. In addition, low employee morale is one of the challenges that Hakim will confront in her new job.

As a symbol of change, the seating arrangements for senior managers at the Board meeting were reversed from prior practice, which had been in effect for over 15 years. Managers were assigned to tables on the opposite side of the room from where they sat previously, and Hakim herself occupied a seat that enabled her to look to her left to see the Board members and to her right to see the audience; an observation post that gave her the opportunity to see more than her predecessors could. Ten speakers represented the public, including five from the Lackawanna Coalition and two from NJ-ARP. All commented on the changes they hoped NJT would implement, and Commissioner James S. Simpson responded to many of their comments in his remarks later.

By law, the Commissioner of Transportation is also the Chair of the NJT Board. Simpson is an animated and enthusiastic man, and he appeared to reach his full potential at NJT for the first time. After the public comments, he spoke for over 24 minutes, highlighting new initiatives and giving orders to the new Executive Director. He established a Safety Committee within the Board, and Hakim said that she would also appoint a safety officer. Simpson announced that the Administration and Customer Service Committees of the Board would open their meetings to the public for the first time next Wednesday as part of a three-month experiment. He called for a study of rail equipment utilization, saying that the current rail fleet strategy is a “non-strategy” and called for the sale of eighteen 1970s-vintage “Arrow” electric-multiple-unit cars for scrap to be halted, if possible. Advocates had called for all of these measures and welcomed these announcements. Simpson also complained that senior management had previously been unresponsive to his concerns.

Simpson said that NJT is in the passenger transportation business; not just the rail or the bus business, and he also ordered that detailed data be collected on where NJT’s customers go in New York and New Jersey, as an aid in making decisions concerning rail and bus capacity. He said that he had wanted the ARC tunnel to go to Grand Central Terminal. He talked about a more active partnership with Amtrak for their joint benefit. He also said that he had received a report that discounted “off-peak” rail fares were not feasible and added: “I threw the report in the garbage.” Until 2010, NJT had charged lower fares for rail trips on weekdays outside of peak-commuting hours and on week-ends. That practice ended with a massive fare hike that year, but lately Simpson has called for restoration of the discounted fares. Rider advocates have expressed their strong support for the lower fares outside of peak-commuting times, when there is more capacity for riders on the railroad. In addition, Simpson directed Hakim to “Embrace the stakeholders” and specifically mentioned the state’s three rider-advocacy organizations by name: the Lackawanna Coalition, NJ-ARP and the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition. He said: “they have the pulse” of what is happening on the railroad, and compared them to executives who don’t.

In addition to her first public remarks as head of NJT, Hakim added a new feature to the meeting format. Instead of the former practice of the Executive Director introducing each agenda item, Hakim directed senior managers to introduce the items that were within the purview of their departments.

Two former managers were conspicuous by their absence. Former rail chief Kevin O’Connor and bus chief Joyce Gallagher, were gone. NJT had not issued an official statement about their departure from the organization, but Hakim responded to a question on the subject from reporter Karen Rouse of the Bergen Record by saying that NJT had hired a search firm to look for replacements. Deputy General Manager Angel Soto represented the rail side at the meeting, and nobody represented the bus division.

Since the beginning of Hakim’s tenure until last Thursday, NJT had not issued a single news release on its web site, despite the arrival of a new chief executive, the departure of two senior managers, a service enhancement on the Raritan Valley Line (a one-seat ride to and from New York at mid-day on weekdays), a Board meeting that featured more comments from the Commissioner than at any other time in recent history, the groundbreaking for the new Westmont station in Bergen County, and a number of service disruptions and delays, some of which were not NJT’s fault. NJT broke its silence by issuing two press releases last Thursday: No. 14-020 about extra bus service to New York City for St. Patrick’s Day, and No. 14-021 about service disruptions due to a tank truck accident in Newark. The most recent previous release (on February 28th) was No. 14-018, and no release bearing the No. 14-019 was found on the NJT site. Many big events occurred between the last two news releases from NJT and the one before them. During NJT’s official silence for several days, local papers and New York radio station WNYC reported the news concerning NJT in what appeared to be their customary manner.

To the advocates for the riders, who have been looking forward to a more harmonious relationship with NJT management than they had in the past, that news sounded good.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and a member of the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) at NJT. He writes here in his personal capacity, and not as a member of either organization.

To see a video of the meeting (or any NJT Board meeting), go to the NJT web site, www.njtransit.com, click on “about us” at the lower left, and there is a link to Board meeting videos available for viewing.


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RIDERSHIP LINES... Ridership Lines...  

Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On
U.S. Public Transportation In 2013

The Highest Transit Ridership In 57 Years

From an APTA Press Release

March 10, 2014
Contact: Virginia Miller
202-496-4816
vmiller@apta.com

In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads (VMT) went up 0.3 percent, public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent.

“Last year people took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation. As the highest annual ridership number since 1956, Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities,” said Peter Varga, APTA Chair and CEO of The Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI. “Public transportation systems nationwide – in small, medium, and large communities – saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

Some of the public transit agencies reporting record ridership system-wide or on specific lines were located in the following cities: Ann Arbor, MI; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Espanola, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Los Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; Pompano Beach, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Carlos, CA; Tampa, FL; Yuma, AZ; and New York, NY.

Since 1995 public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth, which is up 20.3 percent, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is up 22.7 percent.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

“Access to public transportation matters,” continued Melaniphy. “Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”

Another reason behind the ridership increases is the economic recovery in certain areas.
When more people are employed, public transportation ridership increases since nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes.”

Found at:
http://www.apta.com/mediacenter/pressreleases/2014/Pages/140310_Ridership.aspx


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USPIRG: New California Data Shows
Alternatives To Driving Taking Hold

From A Press Release By Phineas Baxandall, Ph.D.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Phineas@PIRG.org

Travel Share of Transit, Biking and Walking Doubles, Fitch Ratings Calls on Policy Makers to Adapt to Changing Needs

A comprehensive California state travel survey released this week shows a doubling since 2000 in the percentage of residents walking, biking, or using public transportation on a typical day. The share of these trips in 2012 reached nearly 23 percent of total trips, up from 11 percent in 2000.

“These data provide more clear evidence that America’s driving boom is over,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “Governments need to wake up to this trend and invest more in these expanding modes of travel, rather than wasting money on new highways we often don’t need.”

The survey found that 49.7 percent of trips in 2012 were driving a car, van or truck – a drop from 60.2 percent in 2000. The percent of passenger trips on such vehicles remained flat at about 25 percent.

The new California data further indicate a national trend away from driving that has been led by Millennials. After nearly sixty years of near-constant increases, 2013 was the ninth year in a row that annual per-person driving miles have fallen. National Highway Administration data shows that among Americans aged 16 to 34, per-person driving miles fell 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

“This increasing interest in many transportation choices is another reason why we are on the path to more sustainability in California,” said California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly in a press release. “Caltrans will continue improving the state’s transportation system to help ensure Californians have many viable choices for how to travel.”

Fitch, a leading bond rating agency, in a statement Wednesday responding to a variety of new data, called for reform. “Public transportation investment strategies will need to transform if trends toward increased multifamily housing, declines in driving, and increasing public transportation usage continue over the long run,” said Fitch. “In our view, the transportation needs of the next 50 years will be markedly different from those of the past 50 years. U.S. policymakers must begin adapting their current decisions to these future needs.”

Another report co-released earlier this week by Taxpayers for Common Sense and Smart Growth America, showed that, according to the most recent data, California aggressively focused its transportation investments on building new and wider highways. Forty percent of highway funds were spent on expanding highways rather than repair and maintenance, despite the fact that 39 percent of the state’s road miles were in poor condition. A large backlog of rail and bus projects, as well as bike and pedestrian paths remains unfunded in California.

“How Americans get around is changing,” said Baxandall at U.S. PIRG. “Transportation policy needs to catch up to these trends.”

The California Household Travel Survey (http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tsip/otfa/tab/chts_travelsurvey.html) provides a snapshot of the travel behavior of approximately 109,000 persons from more than 42,000 households in 58 California counties in 2012 and into 2013. It is based on asking respondents to fill in travel diaries for a random day.

California is not the only state where driving has been in relative decline. A 2013 analysis of federal highway data by U.S. PIRG found reduced driving in 46 states.

U.S. PIRG has released a series of reports documenting this trend at the national, state and city level, as well as the connection to new technology.

About USPIRG:

U.S. PIRG, the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. Visit our website at www.uspirg.org.


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

APTA Asks Congress To Authorize $100 B
Federal Transit Program

From An Article Found At
www.rtands.com

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has released its recommendations for authorization of the transportation bill that is set to expire at the end of September 2014.

The APTA plan calls on Congress to authorize a $100.4-billion federal transit program over six years, which would grow the current $10.7-billion annual program to $22.2 billion by 2020. It also calls for a number of policy changes in the program that the association says will ensure that the industry provides effective and efficient public transportation.

“The industry has come together and developed a consensus recommendation that creates American jobs and addresses the growing demand for public transportation,” said Peter Varga, chair of APTA and CEO of the Rapid in Grand Rapid Michigan. “Our future is riding on public transportation and we are moving forward to work with Congress to implement this plan that will help our local communities grow.”

According to APTA, the return on investment of its recommendations will result in an additional 1.1 million jobs created or sustained annually, $66 billion in business sales generated yearly and $9.5 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue generated each year. Meaning, for every $1 communities invest in public transportation, approximately $4 is generated in economic returns.

“This multimodal plan we are recommending fosters community growth by driving economic development and revitalizes neighborhoods,” said Michael Melaniphy, President and CEO of APTA. “Increasing investment in public transportation and roads is essential for growing our economy in the U.S. and remaining competitive in a global economy.”

Some highlights of the APTA recommendations for authorization of the federal transportation funding bill includes authorizing a public transportation program that provides strong funding for no less than six years; establishes a new dedicated Trust Fund funding mechanism that supplements existing dedicated revenues for the Highway Trust Fund and the Mass Transit Account; increasing and balance federal capital investments in programs for formula funding, new starts and extensions and state of good repair; ensures existing public transportation infrastructure and facilities are maintained and updated through major capital investments in current and future projects and enacts a robust and long-term program for investment in high-speed and intercity passenger rail.

In support of its recommendations to Congress, the association also launched a new nationwide integrated outreach campaign called “Where Public Transportation Goes, Communities Grow,” which features research-based advertising, public relations and social media, as well as a digital grassroots outreach initiative.

Read more: http://www.rtands.com/index.php/passenger/intercity/apta-asks-congress-to-authorize-100-billion-federal-transit-program.html


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

 
Title
 
Ticker
This
Week
Previous
Week
Berkshire Hathaway B (BNSF)(BRK.B)122.51115.78
Canadian National (CNI)55.8856.09
Canadian Pacific (CP) 153.24156.10
CSX (CSX)28.3828.87
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)96.6699.89
Kansas City Southern (KSU)96.6098.37
Norfolk Southern (NSC)94.5394.29
Providence & Worcester(PWX)17.8517.91
Union Pacific (UNP)185.14187.57


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INTERMODAL LINES... Intermodal Lines...  

MBTA Shutters Commuter Ferry,
Quincy to Boston

Failed Dock And Cost To Repair, Shifts Boardings To Nearby Hingham

From A Story By Johanna Seltz - Boston Globe
And DF Staff

MBTA FERRY BOAT

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

MBTA commuter ferry boat, the Flying Cloud, leaves Quincy en route to Boston in 2008. The T says it is permanently canceling its Quincy ferry service and selling its terminal there.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is permanently shuttering commuter boat service between the cities of Quincy and Boston, and selling the ferry terminal and associated wharf on the Fore River. The MBTA states the site is in dangerously poor condition and the repair cost is prohibitively expensive.

“Because of the exorbitant cost of repairing the significantly damaged sea wall and wharf, the MBTA has decided to dispose of the property as soon as possible,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “The property will be sold ‘as is,’ and the buyer will assume responsibility for all repair liabilities.”

He estimated that making the property usable for five years would have cost the cash-strapped MBTA about $15 million, and more comprehensive repairs lasting 50 years would reach $50 million.

The MBTA will adjust its commuter boat schedule to continue to provide extra ferry service from the Town of Hingham, which is south of Quincy, to make up for the loss of the Quincy boats, which have been running to Boston and across Boston Harbor to Logan Airport since 1996.

The last boat left the Quincy ferry terminal near the Fore River Bridge on Oct. 14, 2013 with 222 commuters headed into the state’s capital city. Service stopped the next day after a water main break further weakened existing structural problems associated with a 55-year-old sea wall and wharf. State engineers determined the area was not safe. At the time the transit agency said the terminal would be closed for at least six months and directed commuters to use other options, including the Hingham ferries.

By January 2014, ridership on the Hingham commuter boats was 68,138 passenger trips, compared with 54,616 passenger trips in January 2013 – when the Quincy boat was still operating.

Sheila Green, a spokeswoman for Boston Harbor Cruises, which runs the ferries under contract for the MBTA, said former Quincy boat commuters have been riding the Hingham boats “…and it’s worked out really well. We appreciate the cooperation from the MBTA.”

Pesaturo said the “process to dispose of the property has been initiated” and appraisers are determining its value. Next step is to issue an “invitation to bid,” he said. “Obviously the property will be sold to the highest bidder,” he added.

The property includes the pier leading to the USS Salem, a retired Des Moines Class heavy Navy cruiser that was built in the nearby Fore River shipyard in the 1940s and has been operating as a museum since 1995. The Salem (http://www.uss-salem.org/) has been closed since September 2013 because of safety issues with the pier.

While the future of the museum-ship is uncertain, the MBTA will help maintain “critical functions” such as heat, power, and bilge pumps on the USS Salem, Pesaturo said.

“The MBTA has determined that until the property is sold, it is in its best interest to keep the ship stable and secure,” he said.

Pesaturo said the first signs of problems at the Quincy terminal surfaced in late 2011 when rushing water from a broken main pushed the sea wall away from the shore. Investigation revealed that much of the steel supporting the wall was severely deteriorated, he said. Further investigation in 2013 showed more extensive damage; the water main break last fall led to even more damage and large cracks in the pavement leading to the gangway used to get on and off the boats, he said.


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

BNSF Plans $250 Million In Capacity Enhancements
In North Dakota

From An Article At www.rtands.com
And DF Staff

BNSF has committed to making $250 million in investments for rail transportation improvements in North Dakota.

Enhancements include spending:

“With the great increase in rail transportation in North Dakota, BNSF needs to make significant investments so the line can meet the many needs of our state,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “Whether it is for rail safety, improved agriculture shipments or Amtrak delays, our businesses need to know their products will be transported efficiently by rail and North Dakotans must be able to have reliable passenger rail.”

“In 2014, we plan to make our largest, single-year capital investment in our company's history. Our investments of capital in expansion and maintenance in North Dakota will be a critical part of efficiently and safely facilitating the growth from the state, in particular, crude and agriculture and growth elsewhere on the network,” said BNSF CEO Carl Ice.

North Dakota has seen a major increase in rail movement of freight, specifically oil, due to the Bakken Formation, which is rich in shale oil deposits. However, the oil movements have also caused backlogs in the transportation of other goods shipped by rail, as well as passenger rail service in the region.

Earlier this year, rtands.com reported BNSF's plans for a $5 billion Capital Plan which can be seen at: http://www.rtands.com/index.php/freight/class-1/bnsf-plans-whopping-5-billion-capital-program.html


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

Eurail Launches Mediterranean Deals

Special Promotion on Selected Eurail Passes from March 15 to April 30, 2014

From emma.garton@prnewswire.co.uk
And DF Staff

UTRECHT, The Netherlands – This could be good news for U. S. travelers, and others, this spring. Travelers who have Eurail Passes can now take advantage of the “Mediterranean Deals” promotion, adding one free travel day to the Italian One Country Pass and one free travel day to the Regional Passes France-Italy, France-Spain and Italy-Spain. The offer is valid for any variations of these products purchased from March 15 through April 30, 2014.

 With these special “Mediterranean Deals,” Eurail plans to entice its non-European customers to travel in the three most popular European tourism destinations, France, Italy and Spain.** The railway companies in these three countries offer an extensive and modern rail network, making traveling by train comfortable, relaxing and hassle free. Moreover, these Eurail Passes provide the traveler with the flexibility to choose from a selection of available travel days and dates, within a period of two months.

**(In fact, in a related story, AP reported that 1.9 million people went by train between Spanish cities in January, up 22 percent on the same month 2013. By comparison, 1.8 million people took internal flights, down 7.3 percent from 2013.)

As recently as March 6th, 2014, Eurail announced that France will return to a revamped Eurail Select Pass from April 1, 2014, after a one year absence. The Eurail Select Pass re-launches as a Four-Country Pass only. Three, Four and Five Country Select Passes in its current format will still be available for sale until March 31, 2014, not including France. Starting on April 1st, only Four Country Select Passes can be purchased, with France as one of the 26 Eurail countries to choose from.

Eurail offers four types of Eurail Passes as part of its product portfolio to those residing outside of Europe: the Eurail Global Pass valid in 24 member countries, the Eurail Select Pass, the Eurail Regional Pass and the Eurail One Country Pass. Travelers can also still benefit from the previously announced “Early Bird Promotion,” which offers non-European residents free travel days on Eurail Global Passes purchased by March 31, 2014.

Eurail Passes are available from a worldwide network of Authorized General Sales Agents: www.eurailgroup.org/eurail-vendors.

Eurail Group G.I.E., the organization dedicated to the marketing and management of the Eurail Passes, is wholly owned by over thirty participating railways and shipping companies. In addition, Eurail Group has many benefit partners, including hotels, transport companies and museums, which offer their services either at a reduced rate or free of charge to pass holders.


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OFF THE MAIN LINE... Off The Main Line...  

Summer Rail Camp For High
School Students

From Amtrak

Do you know any high school age students who might be interested in attending RailCamp? Spaces are still available for the 2014 RailCamp programs which provide hands-on railroading and preservation experience. The National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) teams up with rail industry partners to offer students on both coasts an unforgettable week of facility tours, train operations, workshops, train rides and more.

RailCamp East will be held July 6-11, 2014, in Newark, Del., with some activities in Strasburg, Pa. The RailCamp Northwest program will take place from July 27 – Aug. 2, 2014, and again be held in Tacoma, Wash.

Throughout its 15 year history, the NRHS program has given unique, hands-on railroad experience to nearly 500 high school boys and girls. In past years, students have also learned about preservation techniques, railroad history and career opportunities.

Registration forms and news updates can be found at nrhs.com/program/railcamp and also on the NHRS Facebook page at facebook.com/railpreservation. Questions should be directed to infor@nrhs.com


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PUBLICATION NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2014 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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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

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