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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May 1, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 17

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

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

  News Items…
The Region CAN Be Connected By Rail ---
   But Word Needs To Get Out
  Funding Lines…
U.S. Dot Says New Jersey Must Return $271 Million
   Spent On Hudson Tunnel
  Safety Lines…
CT Governor Malloy Pushes Station Security But Note:
   Traveling Public “First Line Of Defense”
  Investment Lines…
Virginia Bucks The Anti-Infrastructure Spending Trend
 
  Maintenance Lines…
MassDOT Submits Application For Merrimack River
   Rail Bridge Replacement
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Commentary…
America’s Infrastructure Problem: The (Low) Gas Tax
Is It Suburban Or Commuter Rail?
VA HSR - Fog, Bluster & Posturing?
  Publication Notes …


 

We salute our armed forces, and the leadership of our President, on the death of the murderer Osama bin Laden, with this, the fourth verse of our National Anthem:

~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~  ~ ~ 
  O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heavín rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

 

 

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

The News From New England:

 

The Region CAN Be Connected By Rail ---
But Word Needs To Get Out

By DF Staff

NEW HAVEN, APRIL 29 --- Nearly 50 of the region’s transportation activists, gathering at New Haven Friday last, heard one message loud and clear: the New England region’s vastly underutilized but still largely extant rail system could be a major boost to travel and shipping, and lead to a reduction of destructive truck travel over the region’s highways which are in increasingly dangerous disrepair due to the lack of basic maintenance, in favor of new construction (“ribbon-cutting”) projects, but only if the advocacy community gets the word out to elected and appointed representatives in Government, and the news media.

The communications process takes a comprehensive approach, noted several of the more than 20 featured speakers: freight, passenger rail, transit, and shippers all need to be included in the mix, so that legislators and governors, as well as appointed officials, can understand clearly the message the critical state of the region’s transportation system, and the very positive and cost-effective role better rail and transit utilization could play.

Representatives of every New England state, New York, New Jersey, and the Canadian province of Québec, New England’s major trading partner to the North, were all in attendance Friday to share experiences, and to hear American Public Transportation Association Keynoter Art Guzzetti, one of the nation’s most experienced Washington hands in the transportation field, describe the scene in Washington, and how recent events would be effecting rail and transit expenditures. His surprisingly upbeat message: not as much as the headlines indicate.

Guzzetti, vice present for policy of the nation’s largest public transportation association, noted that the present Congress’ budget-cutting deal which sharply cut back the budget for the fiscal year already in effect had “nicked” transportation but had not delivered a body blow.

Noting that support for transit and rail transportation has been bi-partisan over the years, he also noted that cuts had been largely in unobligated (uncommitted) funds, and that no transit agencies would suffer project cuts this year for works already under way. Of $3.6 billion cut, $3.2 billion was for the ARC project cancelled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie last year, and another $400 from other unobligated funds. He said he expected a real debate this summer on the gas price spike: as others noted, there is no real sudden shortage of gasoline, but speculation in the marketplace has created higher prices anyway.

Friday’s conference was organized by the Rail Users Network -- railusers.net, The Sierra Club of Connecticut -- connecticut.sierraclub.org; The National Corridors Initiative -- www.nationalcorridors.org, and; The New England Rail Coalition – www.newenglandrailcoalition.org.

Another major speaker Québec’s Delegate to New England, Jean-Stéphane Bernard, who was recently appointed to represent Québec’s interests in New England [Editor’s note: the Canadian provinces are much more independent from their Federal government than are America’s states are from Washington; Delegate Bernard is in effect a regional ambassador.], who urged the conference attendees to “find out what we have in common, and then work together.”

One area for future cooperation will be shortening and modernizing the border crossings protocol between Canada and the United States, which now adds two hours or more to every trip, and has greatly slowed shipping and raised its costs; NCI, one of the conference’s organizers, is seeking a meeting with the State Department to confront this issue.

Conference speakers included Richard Rudolph, Chair, Rail Users’ Network (RUN), Kathie Hurley, Director of Public Information New Haven Public Library, Keynoter Art Guzzetti, Molly McKay, Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club, Jean –Stéphane Bernard, Québec’s Delegate to New England, James P. RePass, Chairman, The National Corridors Initiative, Former Rep. John Businger, Chair, North/South Rail Link Committee, Tim Brennan, Pioneer Valley Planning Association; Christopher Parker, President, Vermont Rail Action Network; Peter Griffin, NH Railroad Revitalization Association; Tony Donovan, Maine Rail Transit Coalition; Wig Zamore, Somerville Transit Equity Partnership; Charlie Beckers, RI Association of Rail Passengers; David Peter Alan, Attorney-At-Law, RUN Board Member, Chair Lackawanna Coalition; Rick Arena, President, Association for Public Transportation; Jim Raleigh, Political Director, Lackawanna Coalition; Joe Clift, LC Technical Director, Lackawanna Coalition; Andrew Albert, Chair, NYC Transit Riders Council, Non-voting member, MTA Board; Jim Cameron, Chair, Connecticut Commuters’ Council, and community organizer Pamela Bush of Boston, formerly of the MBTA Oversight Committee, who was instrumental in restoring service to the Fairmont line.

[Editor’s note ---More to come in future weeks on some of the addresses given at the Conference]


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

U.S. Dot Says New Jersey Must Return
$271 Million Spent On Hudson Tunnel

By New York Times Writer
Patrick Mc Geeham

APRIL 29 -- Last fall, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, canceled the infamous Hudson River tunnel project because of fears that the projected $5 billion, or so, in cost overruns would fall upon his state to pay, the federal government’s response was that New Jersey would have to reimburse U.S. DOT the $271 million spent on the project.

Governor Christie refused to pay. Lately, the feds are threatening to get tough.

“In a letter to New Jersey’s senators and representatives in Congress,” the article continues, [Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood] “warned that his department had ‘many tools under the Debt Collection Act to recoup the lost federal taxpayer funds, including withholding future state funding from a wide variety of sources.’ But ‘in consideration of the current economic challenges burdening New Jersey,’ Mr. LaHood added, he hoped to ‘develop a workable payment schedule’ and avoid having to resort to those collection methods.”

Mr. Christie had again declared in January that “we are not paying the money back.”

In response to the most recent declaration by Secretary LaHood, Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, said the governor’s staff would “review the decision before determining next steps moving forward.” He would not say if a lawsuit is being considered.

If the federal government insists on payment and uses “tools” under the Debt Collection Act, the interest, at a rate of 1 percent a year, could amount to more than $50,000 a week.

Christie had chosen to halt the project known as Access to the Region’s Core, or the ARC tunnel, which had just begun and was projected to cost $8.7 billion, when he learned that the cost overruns would fall entirely on New Jersey, and also because he disagreed with the plan to have the tunnels by-pass Penn Station. But Secretary LaHood stated in his letter that the New Jersey governor had approved the plan a year before he changed his mind and also that he knew of the extra cost and the plan to send the tunnels to a stub end terminal under Macy’s Basement instead of ending at Penn Station.

New Jersey hired Patton Boggs, a Washington law firm, to challenge that federal government’s demand. The lawyers, who reportedly have billed the state and New Jersey Transit about $800,000, argued that the state stopped the project because of unforeseen costs that were beyond its control.

Another option was available to the governor. He could have offered to repay as little as $1 and the government would have been obligated to negotiate a settlement, a process which might drag on for years. All the while, no interest would have accrued on the debt, according to a federal official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

(Editor’s question: All interested parties now agree that new tunnels are necessary and they must tie in with Penn Station. The existing ones are 100 years old and every weekend one is closed for repairs. My question is - If the $271 million was used for construction work that would be useful when the tunnels are built, why should New Jersey have to repay it?)


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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

CT Governor Malloy Pushes Station Security
But Note: Traveling Public “First Line Of Defense”

From The Waterbury Republican-American

NEW HAVEN — State Police on Tuesday launched the first security unit dedicated to protecting the state’s mass transit system, a move Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called an important milestone in safeguarding train passengers, reported The Waterbury Republican- American’s Kevin Little this week.

“The team, made up of five bomb-sniffing Labrador retrievers and their police handlers, will begin what law enforcement officials called “proactive explosive detection sweeps” throughout the commuter Metro-North Railroad stations along the shoreline and in central and western Connecticut, including the Waterbury line. MTA-North provided 81.1 million trips to commuters in 2010,” reported the paper.

“The units will patrol stations and trains to sniff out explosives that could be used by terrorists. The team is being funded by a $1.9 million federal grant awarded by Federal Emergency Management Agency. Gov. Malloy said during a news conference at Union Station that while the K-9 units ‘will make our fellow citizens feel safer,’ he also sought to highlight the national antiterrorism education program that uses the slogan, ‘If you see something, say something.’

One trainman interviewed by NCI this week said he had seen no evidence of dogs on his trains or at stations as of yet, and was waiting to see how the program was implemented. On Friday last, a team of bomb-sniffing dogs was, however, seen to be very conspicuously on duty at New London train station, along with two police K-9 officers, who were clearly surveying crowds as they debarked from trains.


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INVESTMENT LINES... Investment Lines...  

Virginia Bucks The Anti-Infrastructure
Spending Trend

From Progressive Railroading Magazine

Gov. McDonnell signs bill to invest $4 billion in Virginia’s transportation infrastructure

RICHMOND -- Earlier this week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation that will provide $4 billion for the state’s road, rail and transit networks, and fund more than 900 projects over the next three years. 

The legislation uses several financing mechanisms that will enable Virginia to take advantage of historically low interest rates on bonds and construction bids that are coming in well below estimates, Virginia officials said in a prepared statement.

The measure also will create a new Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, funded with $283 million from a fiscal-year 2010 surplus and savings from the Virginia Department of Transportation‘s performance audit, to provide low-interest loans and grants to localities, transportation authorities and private-sector partners for transportation projects. The McDonnell administration plans to put $1 billion in the bank though a number of mechanisms over the next three years.

Projects to be funded under the new law include work at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Hampton Roads Transit light rail and a Virginia Railway Express extension into Spotsylvania County. 

The legislation represents the “most significant” investment in Virginia’s transportation infrastructure in a generation, McDonnell said.

“This common sense legislation takes advantage of previously authorized and innovative new financing mechanisms at a time when interest rates and construction costs are at near historic lows and Virginians are in dire need of jobs,” he said.


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MAINTENANCE LINES... Maintenance Lines...  

MassDOT Submits Application For
Merrimack River Rail Bridge Replacement

By DF Staff And MBTA Press Release

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced it has submitted a formal application for $98.4 million in federal High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail funds for the replacement of a critical rail bridge in Haverhill, MA. that serves Amtrak’s “Downeaster” service between Boston and Portland, Maine and the MBTA’s commuter rail Haverhill Line. If approved by Federal Railroad Administration, the grant would fund the final design and replacement of the bridge, thus expanding service and enhancing on-time performance for both Amtrak regional and commuter rail service.

“The Haverhill bridge project would represent another dramatic step toward improved high-speed and intercity rail service in the Commonwealth and across New England,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Jeffrey Mullan, “Our application for these funds is being submitted in close cooperation with our regional partners and their own applications for projects that will improve rail service across the Northeast.”

The Merrimack River Bridge replacement application was made under the High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program, and follows earlier successful grant applications by Massachusetts and other New England states for rail project funds. Additional funds became available under the program when other states decided not to participate.

F9 class locomotive pulling several non-powered former RDCs

Photo: MBTA

From a bygone era, an F9 class locomotive pulling several non-powered former RDC “Buddliners” over the Merrimack Bridge.

At present the condition of the bridge requires trains to pass over at a substantially reduced speed which restricts train scheduling in both directions.

The [Gov.] Patrick- [Lt Gov.] Murray Administration also joined the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), in sending a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressing collective support for a set of rail infrastructure projects being submitted by nine states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak for the recently available high speed intercity passenger rail grant funds.

The projects are critical building blocks for expanded, higher speed and next generation intercity passenger rail service and will create jobs now and sustained economic growth in cities and towns throughout the region. The grant application submitted by the April 4 deadline includes “shovel ready” construction projects, such as the Haverhill bridge replacement in Massachusetts, along with double tracking and track expansion and power and signal upgrades that can be implemented quickly.

In January 2010, the Patrick-Murray Administration announced the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $70 million in High Speed Rail federal Recovery Act funds for final design and construction of the Knowledge Corridor along the Connecticut River rail line in western Massachusetts. The $70 million grant award was part of $485 million in Recovery Act funds invested to improve rail lines in the Northeast Corridor.

Governor Patrick joined New England Governors in July 2009 to announce plans to work together on a coordinated regional vision for high speed rail that will connect major cities and airports, and support economic growth throughout the region. The Vision for the New England High Speed and Intercity Rail Network lays out key projects to strengthen passenger and freight rail service along new and existing rail corridors. The goal is to double passenger rail ridership in the Northeast by 2030.

For transportation news and updates, visit the MassDOT website at www.mass.gov/massdot, the MassDOT blog at www.mass.gov/blog/transportation or follow MassDOT on twitter at twitter.com/massdot.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)77.4373.23
Canadian Pacific (CP) 66.2462.66
CSX (CSX)78.6974.65
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)61.9859.43
Kansas City Southern (KSU)58.1153.00
Norfolk Southern (NSC)74.6866.27
Providence & Worcester(PWX)15.9915.75
Union Pacific (UNP)103.4796.06


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COMMENTARY... Guest Commentary...  

What’s Ailing America’s Transportation System?

 

America’s Infrastructure Problem:
The (Low) Gas Tax

From: The Infrastructurist  © 2010
Posted On Friday April 29th
By Eric Jaffe

A long piece in a new issue of the Economist provides a great overview of America’s ailing transportation system. The country’s poor overall infrastructure quality, its heavy congestion and lengthy commute times, its crowded air hubs, its limited passenger rail network, its general lack of transport investments — all the major topics of recent times are stitched together nicely.

To punctuate the problem, the piece references a 2008 report from the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. That study concluded that while the United States needs to invest $255 billion a year in transport spending over the next half century to “ensure strong economic growth,” the country instead spends less than 40 percent of that figure. As the more recent budget debates have made clear, transportation spending will not be rising anytime soon.

So what is to blame for this failure to invest in transport? The Economist points a finger squarely at that America’s insufficient — and, from a global perspective, strikingly low — gasoline tax. As a result of this thin revenue stream, U.S. road taxes fail to pay for road costs. Citing Brookings, the Economist puts the coverage rate at about 72 percent for federal, state, and local road fees combined. As many readers have pointed out in the comments lately, federal highway user fees only cover about 50 percent of costs (46.6 percent to be exact, and that with vehicle taxes included too, according to the 2008 report).

Of course, raising the gas tax is not, politically speaking, a viable option; even President Obama recently noted the strong link between gas prices and his approval ratings. As if the problematic gas tax were not enough, the Economist continues, the current federal funding allocation system “is awash with perverse incentives:”

Petrol-tax revenues, for instance, are returned to the states according to the miles of highway they contain, the distances their residents drive, and the fuel they burn. … A state using road-pricing to limit travel and congestion would be punished for its efforts with reduced funding, whereas one that built highways it could not afford to maintain would receive a larger allocation.

When you mix widespread infrastructure failures and a limited revenue stream with a misguided federal allocation system and poor state management of transportation programs, you get a national infrastructure problem that will not be easy to solve.


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Is It Suburban Or Commuter Rail?

By Andrew Sharp
Director General
The International Air Rail Organization (Iaro)

London --- The April 25 issues of Destination:Freedom asked for reactions to the Transport Politic take on commuter rail. Here are mine - a transatlantic view.

To exaggerate a little, in North America there is commuter rail: elsewhere there is suburban rail.

The difference? Commuter rail has maybe three daily trips from suburbs to city in the morning, three back again in the evening. It typically uses big powerful locos and 10-12 coaches - think GO Transit in Toronto. Suburban rail has an all-day, two-way service, typically using multiple-unit trains whose length is tailored to the level of demand.

Commuter rail is fine if that’s what the demand is like. It’s no good for reverse commute: it’s no good if you happen to have to work late one night, or finish early so that you can attend a school function. OK, there are “Get you home” programs - but would you build your life round them?

Suburban rail is what I see in Europe. I know that between about one in the morning and five in the morning there are few trains: otherwise there’s a pretty good service. Fine for my normal 20 mile commute, fine if I need to catch an early flight out or arrive on a late flight home. Fine if I need to go in late after a visit to the dentist, fine if I need to come home early.

In the peaks, there are 8-car trains with 450-600 seats: off peak there are 4-car trains with half those numbers. Train size, train consist, can be varied with demand: multiple unit trains have a constant power: weight ratio however long they are. By contrast, running a big powerful loco with two or three coaches out of the peaks is just not economic.

That kind of service pattern captures more people, more economically, and gives them good service. It catches those who don’t work 9 to 5: it catches those who work flexi-time or just go to the city occasionally - for business or leisure. It captures those who just need to travel a few stops - in either direction. It works.


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Virginia Rail Observations & Commentary

 

VA HSR - Fog, Bluster & Posturing?

By Richard L. Beadles Volume III,   No. 8.   April 28, 2011

Earlier this month, in-state media sources reported that Virginia public transportation officials had elected not to further pursue potentially-available high-speed rail (“HSR”) funds. Shortly after, national business media sources quoted the CEO of CSX as having said he wanted nothing to do with it, regardless. As of this writing, nothing has been officially heard from U. S. transportation officials about the Virginia decision, but we suspect they were surprised and disappointed. The real story requires a reading of the blank spaces between the lines. Frankly, this sounds like a case involving unfortunate rigidity of positions, inadequate preparation, a corporate temper tantrum, and perhaps raw politics. Unless resolved, the public will be the big loser. Development of the DC-Richmond rail corridor is an essential prerequisite to virtually all 21st century rail progress in the urban corridors of Virginia and in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

This is not just about “high speed rail”. It starts with improving existing rail infrastructure and service -- both passenger and freight -- which, as a matter of principle, public officials have largely agreed to underwrite. Nobody in their right mind is expecting CSX to operate true HSR on existing tracks. Nobody is expecting CSX to incur the operating losses often attributed to rail passenger services. In the past, the problem has simply been one of attempting to obtain some reasonable assurances from CSX that public investment on their rail line would yield measurable improvement in conventional rail service, and thus public benefit -- the very least we should expect.

As for the feds, the state bureaucrats, and their political bosses: Neither the federal nor the state camp was ready to expeditiously implement the ambitious Obama rail initiative, which by the way was not, and is not, exclusively one that requires the launch of TGV-type HSR service in the next several years. There had never before been such a rail program orchestrated from D.C. As we understand it, the so-called Obama rail plan would, at best, move us forward, layer by layer, step by step. One could say that it is designed to enable the U.S. to begin to catch up with the rest of the modern world.

While much progress has been made in Virginia over the past decade, dating back to Governor Jim Gilmore’s 1999-2000 effort to increase rail infrastructure funding and to collaborate with Amtrak in the DC-RIC corridor, we have had a herky-jerky existence. Our every-four-year revolving door gubernatorial administrations have brought a sizable string of different leaders into the rail planning group, some quite competent, some only marginally so. Until some future governor and legislature organizes, staffs, and funds Virginia’s rail program for success, we are likely to continue to be disappointed.

Finally, some “R’s” apparently dislike President Obama so much that they are against anything he proposes, particularly his HSR program, which has become a favored target. New governors in Virginia seem to immediately begin to cast eyes upon national office. Why then would our incumbent governor want to be associated with anything Obama? If that’s the case, it would be a shame!


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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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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