The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

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 16, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 19

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

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

  News Items…
US DOT Re-Allocates Florida’s Forfeited HSR $2B;
   America’s Rail Program Moves Forward
  Political Lines…
Blumenauer, House Dems Unveil “Commuter Relief Act”
  Commuter Lines…
Amtrak Tie Replacement Project Moves To The Beginning Of
   The NEC In Boston; Some Amtrak & MBTA Delays Expected
Quiet Commuting Expands In New Jersey
  Builder’s Lines…
GE Transportation To Open Locomotive Plant In Texas
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Across The Pond…
Route-Proving Runs Start On Beijing-Shanghai Corridor
Last Mile TRAXX Locomotive Unveiled In Munich
Why Are Railroads “Difficult”?
We CAN Connect New England by Rail, But It Won’t Be Easy
At Amtrak, Will Life Begin At 40?
  Publication Notes …

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

US DOT Re-Allocates Florida’s Forfeited HSR
$2B; America’s Rail Program Moves Forward

By DF Staff And From The U.S. DOT

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this week re-allocated $2 billion in high-speed rail awards forfeited earlier this year by Florida when its Governor, over the protests of that state’s business community, refused to accept an already-approved $2.4 billion sought by his predecessor for High Speed Rail in that state.

The projects receiving funding will have a major impact on travel times on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between New York City and Boston, where $795 million will go into long-neglected infrastructure improvements enabling Amtrak’s flagship fast train, the Acela, to reach 160 miles per hour on segments of that route, while improving reliability and decreasing travel time.

Also getting a big boost will be mid-west rail service Chicago-St Louis and Chicago-Milwaukee, as that part of the United States continues in its successful push for better rail, thanks in large part to decades of work by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association led by Rick Harnish, and by the Environmental Law and Policy Center of Chicago led by Howard Learner, with rail expert Kevin Brubaker in the lead on those projects.

In making the awards, Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood released the following statement:

“Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications, competing to be part of an historic investment that will create tens of thousands of jobs, improve mobility and stimulate American manufacturing.

“Earlier this year, President Obama and I made a commitment to improve and expand America’s transportation system, including the development of a modern, national high-speed rail network,” said Vice President Biden.

“And today, we’re announcing investments that will continue our progress toward making this vision a reality. These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year, and boost U.S. manufacturing by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation, American-made locomotives and railcars.”

“President Obama and Vice President Biden’s vision for a national rail system will help ensure America is equipped to win the future with the fastest, safest and most efficient transportation network in the world,” said Secretary LaHood. ”The investments we’re making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities.”

“The Department’s Federal Railroad Administration selected 15 states and Amtrak to receive $2.02 billion for 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects as part of a nationwide network that will connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail in 25 years. The dedicated rail dollars will:

Nearly 100 percent of the $2.02 billion announced today will go directly to construction of rail projects, bringing expanded and improved high-speed intercity passenger rail service to cities in all parts of the country. Thirty-two states across the U.S. and the District of Columbia are currently laying the foundation for high-speed rail corridors to link Americans with faster and more energy-efficient travel options, the Secretary stated.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and annual appropriations have, to date, provided $10.1 billion to put America on track towards providing rail access to new communities and improving the reliability, speed and frequency of existing lines. Of that, approximately $5.8 billion dollars has already been obligated for rail projects.

A strict “Buy America” requirement for high-speed rail projects ensures that U.S. manufacturers and workers will receive the maximum economic benefits from this federal investment. In 2009, Secretary LaHood secured a commitment from 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers to employ American workers and locate or expand their base of operations in the U.S. if they are selected for high-speed-rail contracts.

Rail project highlights include:


Amtrak – NEC Power, Signal, Track, Catenary Improvements – $450 million to boost capacity, reliability, and speed in one of the most heavily-traveled sections of the Northeast Corridor, creating a 24-mile segment of track capable of supporting train speeds up to 160-mph.

Maryland – NEC Bridge Replacement – $22 million for engineering and environmental work to replace the century-old Susquehanna River Bridge, which currently causes frequent delays for commuters due to the high volume of critical maintenance.

New York – NEC Harold Interlocking Amtrak Bypass Routes – $295 million to alleviate major delays for trains coming in and out of Manhattan with new routes that allow Amtrak trains to bypass the busiest passenger rail junction in the nation.

Rhode Island – NEC Kingston Track, Platform Improvements – $25 million for design and construction of an additional 1.5 miles of third track in Kingston, RI, so high-speed trains operating at speeds up to 150-mph can pass trains on a high-volume section of the Northeast Corridor.

Rhode Island – NEC Providence Station Improvements – $3 million for preliminary engineering and environmental work to renovate the Providence Station. These upgrades will enhance the passenger experience, keep the station in good working order and improve transit and pedestrian connectivity.


Connecticut – New Haven to Springfield Track Construction – $30 million to complete double-track segments on the corridor, bringing added intercity rail service to a route that plays an important role in the region, connecting communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts to the NEC, as well as Vermont.

Massachusetts/Maine – Downeaster Track Improvements – $20.8 million to construct a 10.4-mile section of double track between Wilmington and Andover, MA. Track upgrades will increase schedule performance and dependability for passengers traveling on the Northern New England Downeaster corridor.

New York – Empire Corridor Capacity Improvements – $58 million to construct upgrades to tracks, stations and signals, improving rail operations along the Empire Corridor. This includes replacement of the Schenectady Station and construction of a fourth station track at the Albany - Rensselaer Station, one of the corridor’s most significant bottlenecks.

New York – Rochester Station and Track Improvements – $1.4 million for a preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for a new Rochester Intermodal Station on the Empire Corridor, connecting passengers with additional transit and pedestrian options.

Pennsylvania – Keystone Corridor Interlocking Improvements – $40 million to rebuild an interlocking near Harrisburg on the Keystone Corridor, saving travelers time and improving passenger train schedule reliability.


Next Generation Passenger Rail Equipment Purchase – This state-of-the-art rail equipment will provide safe and reliable American-built vehicles for passenger travel, while boosting the U.S. manufacturing industry.


Illinois – Chicago - St. Louis Corridor – $186.3 million to construct upgrades on the Chicago - St. Louis Corridor between Dwight and Joliet, IL with trains operating at 110 mph for more than 220 miles of track. This investment will reduce trip times, enhance safety and add more seats on the corridor, increasing the number of people who can conveniently travel by train.

Michigan – Kalamazoo-Dearborn Service Development – $196.5 million to rehabilitate track and signal systems, bringing trains up to speeds of 110 mph on a 235-mile section of the Chicago to Detroit corridor, reducing trip times by 30 minutes.

Michigan – Ann Arbor Station Project – $2.8 million for an engineering and environmental analysis to construct a new high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor, MI, that will better serve passengers and allow more than one train to serve the station simultaneously.

Minnesota – Northern Lights Express – $5 million to complete engineering and environmental work for establishing the Northern Lights Express – a high-speed intercity passenger service – connecting Minneapolis to Duluth, with 110-mph high-speed rail service.

Missouri – Merchant’s Bridge Replacement – $13.5 million to advance the design of a new bridge over the Mississippi River on the Chicago to St. Louis Corridor, replacing a bridge built in the 1890s.


North Carolina – Charlotte to Richmond Service Enhancement – $4 million for environmental analysis on the Richmond to Raleigh section of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR). This advances the goal of extending high-speed rail service on the NEC into the southeast, with 110-mph capable service.

Texas – Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston Core Express Service – $15 million for engineering and environmental work to develop a high-speed rail corridor linking two of the largest metro areas in the U.S., Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston.


California – Central Valley Construction Project Extension – $300 million for a 20-mile extension along the Central Valley Corridor. This will continue to advance one of the highest priority projects in the nation that will ultimately provide 220 mph high-speed rail service from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The work funded in this round will extend the track and civil work from Fresno to the “Wye” junction, which will provide a connection to San Jose to the West and Merced to the North.

Oregon – Eugene Station Stub Tracks – $1.5 million for analysis of overnight parking tracks for passenger trains on the southern end of the Pacific Northwest Corridor, adding new capacity for increased passenger and freight rail service.

Washington – Port of Vancouver Grade Separation – $15 million to eliminate a congested intersection and bottleneck between freight and passenger tracks. By elevating one set of tracks over the other, travel along the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor will experience reduced delays and passenger trains will not have to wait for crossing freight traffic.

Broadcast quality video and audio of Secretary LaHood discussing the high-speed rail announcement is available for download via the following links:


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Blumenauer, House Dems Unveil
“Commuter Relief Act”

From MASS TRANSIT On The Internet
Provided By Lexis-Nexis, A Division Of Reed Elsevier Inc.

WASHINGTON, MAY 12 – Last week, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Jim Moran (D-Virginia) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), together with business and transportation leaders, unveiled legislation that will give some relief to commuters faced with rising gas prices. The “Commuter Relief Act of 2011” offers incentives for businesses to provide transportation options to their employees such as public transit benefits, vanpools, and other market-based solutions.

“With workers and families getting clobbered by high gas prices, the Commuter Relief Act offers immediate, affordable alternatives to driving that will put money back in Americans’ pockets,” said Blumenauer. “Now is the time to set aside gimmicky rhetoric that promises the impossible: lower oil prices from drilling for the tiny amount of oil we have here in the United States. The only way to meaningfully protect Americans from spikes in gas prices is to make alternatives to driving more convenient and affordable.”

Representative Moran pointed out that his constituents in Northern Virginia are coping with “some of the worst traffic in the nation.” Instead of sitting in traffic wasting gasoline, they will have incentives to carpool, bike, and take public transportation. That is “not only good for our environment, but for our pocketbooks,” he said. It’s one of the best ways we can address traffic congestion in the region.”

In Hawaii, commuters are paying almost $5 a gallon, more than any other place in the country, said Representative Hirono. “At the same time, Big Oil just raked in $35 billion in profits this last quarter while still receiving $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies. That’s simply not right. We should give those tax benefits to the people who need them most--businesses and their employees who commute to work, which this bill will do.”

Specifically, the bill contains the following provisions:

The legislation is revenue neutral and will add no additional cost to the federal deficit. The additional credits are paid for by reducing the overall transit and parking cap from $230 to $200 a month.

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Service Alert:


Amtrak Tie Replacement Project Moves
To The Beginning Of The NEC In Boston;
Some Amtrak And MBTA Delays Expected

By DF Staff

Citing defective concrete railroad ties as the problem, Amtrak, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), and the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) have announced upcoming schedule changes that will have an impact on southbound (westbound) rail traffic arriving and departing Boston’s South Station. At press time for Destination: Freedom, a full impact statement was not as yet available.

Starting June 11, 2011 and lasting till sometime in September of 2011, work crews will be assigned to replace defective concrete railroad ties in a four-mile stretch of track corridor between Boston’s Back Bay Station and Forest Hills Station (Forest Hills Junction). The right-of-way in question is in a below-surface depressed trench and consists of a three-track service for most of its length and expanding to four tracks in the vicinity of Forest Hills Station where the Needham Branch cuts off.

Impact to the Amtrak schedule has yet to be announced, but MBTA commuter traffic along that segment of track is expected to have service changes to accommodate the work, in so far as one of the tracks will be out of service for repair at any given time. Those lines to be effected include the Attleboro/Providence, Canton/Stoughton, Franklin, and Needham trains in that they all share the same trunk line that will be under repair.

Of the three and four tracks in question, only two are electrified with overhead catenary wires, so Amtrak service will be limited to a single track in this area for some of the construction. Amtrak passengers may have to board on alternate platforms at some stations south of Boston as a result. Signs will direct passengers when necessary.

One known factor is that MBTA commuter trains will not stop at the Ruggles Station during morning peak hours. This will impact those who work in this region, students commuting to Northeastern University, or those who make other bus connections at the very busy Ruggles station which serves both the MBTA commuter trains and the Orange Line subway. Night rush hour changes have yet to be released.

MBTA patrons will have to continue to Boston’s Back Bay Station or South Station and make connections there for alternate service back to Ruggles via the Orange Line subway, or make connections via alternate bus and subway service from those stations to their destinations.

Temporary schedules are expected to be released sometime later this month so that commuters can make plans.

Information will be posted on the MBTA’s web site at when available.

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Quiet Commuting Expands In New Jersey

By David Peter Alan

More commuters in New Jersey, as well as those from Orange and Rockland Counties in New York State, will be able to enjoy a quieter ride, beginning June 1st.

New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein announced at the agency’s Board meeting last week that “Quiet Commute” cars will be offered on trains going to or from Hoboken Terminal at peak commuting hours, inbound to Hoboken between 6 and 10 a.m. and outbound from Hoboken between 4 and 8 p.m. The change affects the Main-Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines, as well as trains on the Morris & Essex Line (including Gladstone Branch) and Montclair-Boonton Lines that go to Hoboken. The car nearest to Hoboken will be designated the Quiet Commute Car. Cell phone use is not allowed in Quiet Commute cars, and conversations must be kept at a low level.

The Quiet Commute program began last September on trains between New York and Trenton. It was expanded in January to include all trains to and from Penn Station, including all Northeast Corridor (NEC) trains at peak hours, the North Jersey Coast Line, and trains on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines that go to Penn Station, rather than Hoboken. Raritan Valley Line trains, which originate and terminate at Penn Station, Newark, were also included in the expansion. Weinstein said that the Quiet Commute Cars were popular with riders, and that is has not been difficult for crews to enforce the policy.

Pascack Valley Line trains and trains to Port Jervis are operated jointly by NJT and Metro-North, which will mark that railroad’s first experience with the quiet car concept. NJT has reported that Metro-North President Howard Permut said that, if the concept is well-received by riders on those lines, the railroad may implement it on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Lines Those lines operate from New York’s Grand Central Terminal and comprise nearly all of the railroad’s service.

Quiet cars for commuters are gaining popularity. SEPTA now offers them in Philadelphia, and VRE trains in northern Virginia and MARC trains in Maryland now offer them for Washington, D.C. area riders. They also operate on Capitol Corridor (Bay area to Sacramento) and Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) trains in California. The concept began on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line between Boston and Washington in 1999.

Commuter rail providers do not offer quiet cars outside of commuting hours yet, but that may change someday. There is no reason to believe that riders who use the train outside of peak commuting hours would not also want to enjoy a ride that is undisturbed by cell phones and loud conversation.

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BUILDERS LINES... Builder’s Lines...  

GE Transportation To Open Locomotive
Plant In Texas

Bloomberg News

FORT WORTH, TX, MAY 12 -- General Electric Co. (GE) announced last week that they will open a locomotive plant in Fort Worth, Texas, the hometown of Warren Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe. This will be the first U.S. factory the company has built in more than a century outside its Erie, Pennsylvania, base.

As demand for railroad shipments rises, GE Transportation sees encouraging business opportunities; they plan to invest as much as $96 million in the new factory and employ more than 500 people. That hiring and 250 new jobs in Erie will push the unit’s global workforce to about 10,000 employees, said Lorenzo Simonelli, the business’s chief executive officer.

“Since April, we’ve announced hiring nearly 1,000 employees,” Simonelli said in a telephone interview last Thursday. “North America we feel good about, but we also feel good about emerging markets. We see a good runway ahead.”

GE Transportation settled on the Texas location after reviewing options that included existing company factories in Massachusetts, Simonelli said. Texas has the most railroad route miles in the U.S. The state’s 10,405 route miles (16,741 kilometers) outstrips the 7,313 miles of No. 2 track in Illinois, according to the Association of American Railroads. The seven largest railroads in the U.S. operate a total of 139,679 route miles.

Texas is committing $4.2 million in incentives for the plant.

“What it came down to really was the aspects of the facility itself, which allows for flexibility,” Simonelli said. Connections to existing rail lines also played a role in the decision, he said.

GE is reworking an existing building and expanding it to almost double the facility’s size - to about 900,000 square feet.

The Texas factory will be able to make freight and passenger locomotives as GE Transportation lobbies for new Amtrak and high-speed passenger-rail contracts, as well as other vehicles used in industries like mining.

“As a major transportation hub, North Texas is the perfect location for GE Transportation’s new locomotive manufacturing facility,” Texas State Senator Jane Nelson said in a statement released by Governor Rick Perry’s office.

For the full-length article, go to:

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Canadian National (CNI)75.6476.64
Canadian Pacific (CP) 61.6665.17
CSX (CSX)74.7579.10
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)59.0759.57
Kansas City Southern (KSU)54.6656.44
Norfolk Southern (NSC)71.5773.02
Providence & Worcester(PWX)15.5515.50
Union Pacific (UNP)100.46102.34

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

Installments by David Beale, NCI Foreign Editor


Route-Proving Runs Start On
Beijing-Shanghai Corridor

China Gets Ready For Revenue Service Of HSR Between Beijing And Shanghai

Via Peoples Daily and South China Morning Post

Shanghai – Trains began running over the full length of the Beijing - Shanghai high speed line on the 11th of May, with CRH380A high speed train-sets in operation for a month of familiarization, fault simulation and emergency drills before the opening ceremony which is planned for the end of June. Several sections of the line have been in operation since nine months ago, however the complete length of the high speed corridor was only recently completed and opened for testing.

The 1318 km (830 mile) line from Beijing South to Shanghai Hongqiao will cut journey times between the cities by around a half to around 5 hours, competitive with air travel. The fastest trains are expected to take 4 h 48 min, with a single stop in Nanjing.

The new rail corridor is designed for running at up to 380 km/h, but the Ministry of Railways has announced that trains will run at two speeds, 250 km/h and 300 km/h, to keep energy and maintenance costs at a lower, more economical level. This will lower operating costs, with two fare bands expected, as well as enabling the use of a wider range of train types and providing capacity for more stopping services.

As reported previously in D:F, the start of high speed rail services on the new Beijing-Shanghai rail line will place significant price pressure on several Chinese airlines flying the heavily loaded Beijing-Shanghai air route, as the travel times will be competitive to air travel and with energy consumption of the trains at a small fraction of the fuel consumption of the B737, B757, B767, A320 and A321 aircraft flown between the two Asian mega cities, operating costs of the trains are significantly lower than of the airlines.

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Last Mile TRAXX Locomotive
Unveiled In Munich

Latest Bombardier Locomotive Has Dual-Mode Electric And Diesel Capabilities

Via Bombardier press release

Munich – Bombardier displayed the latest variation of its highly successful TRAXX series locomotives at the Transport Logistic trade fair show in Munich, Germany this past week. The latest TRAXX model is a derivative of the current TRAXX AC series electric locomotive equipped with a diesel engine and traction generator to allow the locomotive to maneuver onto rail sidings and spur lines, which are not electrified, hence its name “Last Mile Diesel”. The primary operating mode of the locomotive will be electric, whereby it will have on the order of 5000 hp. In diesel mode, it will have approximately 1500 hp available, thus a lower maximum speed and lower acceleration than when operating from overhead AC catenary in electric mode.

The new locomotive offers increased flexibility, for example at stations where a system change takes place, or at terminals, and at ports or on construction sites. There the last meters of rail, the so-called last mile, are generally not electrified. Until now shunting locomotives have had to replace electric locomotives in these areas to close the gap. The new TRAXX AC Locomotive with Last Mile Diesel enables the seamless transport of goods by rail.

Bombardier TRAXX AC electric locomotive with an auxiliary diesel engine

Photo: Bombardier Transportation

New degree of freedom – the Bombardier TRAXX AC electric locomotive with an auxiliary diesel engine can venture without problems onto non-electrified rail sidings and spur lines, the so-called last mile of many freight trains, without the use of a separate diesel switcher locomotive. Note the updated / redesigned cab ends, compared to previous TRAXX locomotives.

The first five locomotives of this type were already ordered by the leasing firm Railpool at the end of last year. “This fulfills a long-held wish for us, the market has been waiting for this opportunity. We are convinced by this solution,” explained Dr Walter Breinl, Managing Director of Railpool GmbH.

Three of these five locomotives will be leased by the Swiss private rail firm BLS Cargo. “The Last Mile Locomotive enables us to develop new markets for BLS Cargo,” said Dr. Dirk Stahl, CEO of BLS Cargo. “We can offer customers in Switzerland, Germany and Austria innovative and above all efficient rail logistics solutions.”

The TRAXX AC locomotive with Last Mile Diesel is a further development of the proven TRAXX platform that has been developed in close co-operation with Bombardier customers. The development of the Last Mile Diesel is based on the positive experiences with the two-system BOMBARDIER ALP 45 Dual Power locomotive in the North American market. As a next step, the development of a TRAXX DC locomotive with a Last Mile Diesel engine is planned. A number of European countries, including Poland, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia and Spain, have mostly DC-type rail electrification.

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Why Are Railroads “Difficult”?

From Virginia Rail Observations & Commentary Volume III, No. 9

By Richard L. Beadles

Unresponsive, unrealistic, difficult -- words occasionally uttered by those, particularly those in the public sector, who seek to gain the cooperation of private railroads in various “public service” endeavors, most notably of late, in regard to passenger trains.

Then there is the new, politically-charged, pejorative: high speed rail. If the relationship between the private railroads and the public sector were personal, it might well represent the longest running love-hate affair on record, dating back to 1830.

Government -- initially states, cities and towns -- was a major investor in pre-Civil War rail development. There followed the transcontinental railroad projects which brought the federal government into the mainstream of rail investment. Most started out in a financial embrace, leading to something akin to marriage. After the Civil War, the public began unloading most of its railroad stock, often in deals which reeked of political corruption, Virginia being a notorious example. Private-sector speculation in rail development brought forth more railroads than the country could support (there always was, and still is, more money to be made in design, financing and construction than in the operation of transportation enterprises, e.g. think about Virginia’s PPTA program). Intense competition led to discriminatory pricing, and related abuses, which ushered in the age of regulation in the 1880’s. By then the public sector and the rails were in divorce court. Teddy Roosevelt came along at the beginning of the 20th century with his trust-busting campaign, further weakening the private rail industry. Woodrow Wilson took over the rail system during WWI, which the industry never forgot, nor forgave. It’s in the rails’ DNA. The Great Depression was a blow to the restored private operators.

With World War II on the horizon, the rails were called upon to give their all, which they did, at great cost to the physical and financial condition of the network. Rail revenue and profits were largely confiscated by the federal government in taxes. As a reward, post-war administrations in Washington seemingly lost no opportunity to punish the private rail industry with out-dated regulation while investing billions, out of the general funds of the U.S.A.(into which rail taxes had gone), in highways, waterways and aviation, all of which siphoned off declining rail revenue. By the 1960’s the rail industry was generally viewed as in “terminal” financial condition. This brought forth Conrail and Amtrak. A further insult to the private rails was to have to pay millions into an Amtrak start-up fund, administered by the feds, who promptly cut in half the national passenger system (routes and trains), an action the regulators had earlier rejected when sought by private operators. Finally, with Conrail and others struggling, and because Congress was sick and tired of dealing with railroad problems, the rails were deregulated.

Whereupon, the private rails dramatically restructured the rail freight system and created a business model that works for private investors, which is why rail stocks are highly valued. Rail has now been rediscovered. The White House, with some support, wants reconciliation. But can the original love affair be rekindled? We hope so, because the public sector and the rails will need each other in their old age!

[Richard L. Beadles is an organizer and founding member of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute board, as well as being a VRPI fellow, is an independent rail and transportation analyst, commentator and critic. He has had extensive experience in both rail transportation and urban real estate asset management and development. Originally an up-from-the-ranks railroader, becoming President of the RF&P Railroad, Beadles has had more than fifty years experience as both a practitioner, as well as a follower, of transportation and land planning, development and asset management with both the RF&P and CSX. Over the past three decades, environmental and energy issues have become an area of particular interest and focus to Beadles, who currently serves on the Virginia State Rail Advisory Board. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, and resides in Richmond.]

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We CAN Connect New England by Rail,
But It Won’t Be Easy

Connecting New England by Rail -- Second of a Series

By David Peter Alan

New England is not well-connected by rail today. It is true that there is relatively frequent service between Boston and New York/Washington on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) line; both Acela and conventional trains. It is also true that running time has been shorter in recent years than it had been in the past. There is also strong local transit on the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known locally as the “T”) in the Boston area.

Elsewhere, rail service is limited or nonexistent. Branch lines that extend northward from Metro-North’s New Haven Line to Danbury, Waterbury and Hartford/Springfield (the latter operated by Amtrak) do not connect with other rail service, except to a limited extent at Springfield. Commuter service from Boston is strictly local in nature and the Downeaster trains between Boston and Portland do not even reach downtown Portland.

In a past century, Bostonians considered their city to be the hub of the universe. Today, Boston is not even an effective rail hub. While there is more commuter service than there had been in the past, North Side services (from North Station on lines that were historically part of the Boston & Maine Railroad) and South Side services (from South Station through Back Bay Station on historically New Haven lines or the Boston & Albany route to Framingham and Worcester) do not interact in any way. It is not even certain that schedules for North Side service are available at South Station. There is a means for moving equipment between the two sides of town, but the only means for moving people across town is on the “T” Orange Line subway. The infamous Big Dig, which disrupted the city for years and cost billions of dollars over budget, built a highway connection but no rail.

Beyond Boston, there is no train that serves both Northern and Southern New England, except the Vermonter, which Amtrak operates between Washington, D.C. and St. Albans, Vermont. The train once ran through to Montreal as the Montrealer. At one time, there was a connecting bus between St. Albans and Montreal, but today, even that is gone. The Vermonter does not even run directly north of Springfield toward Vermont, because the track has deteriorated so badly that it is now unfit for passenger service. There is an ongoing effort to secure a grant to improve the track, but today the train must detour eastward from Springfield to Palmer, change ends and go up the Central Vermont line to Brattleboro, where it returns to its traditional route. This move, over the short leg or a triangle and then along the hypotenuse, adds at least one hour to travel time.

On the plus side, there have been service improvements in recent years. Shore Line East, which began providing commuter service eastward from New Haven twenty years ago, now runs in week-ends. The Downeaster trains between Boston and South Portland are successful, even though no passenger trains ran on that line for 36 years before they came back. Still, these are local improvements, and they do not improve connectivity within the New England region generally.

New Jersey rail advocate Jesse S. Gribin attended the New Haven conference on April 29th and later expressed his concern that, even though the presenters offered projects that appeared worthwhile locally, they would not offer better regional connectivity. A look at the proposals shows that his concern is well-founded. Extensions of service to places like Concord, New Hampshire or Brunswick, Maine would enlarge the rail network in New England, which would be a positive development. Still, these extensions would do nothing to bridge the gaps now existing between service areas.

Any expansion of rail service is a hard sell, especially in the current political and economic climate. Nonetheless, New England cannot become a region that is well-connected by rail without such expansion. Unfortunately, it appears that New England’s planners are thinking locally, rather than regionally. Cost-effective projects that benefit local communities should be built, but planners must also look at an expanded picture, if that want residents and visitors to get on a train in one part of New England and travel easily to a destination in another.

First and foremost, there must be more and better service along the Boston-New York corridor. Amtrak runs more service than it had in the past, but Acela fares are extremely high and fares on conventional trains are also too high to meet the needs of budget-conscious travelers. Many of these travelers have been lured onto buses, and should be brought back to the rails. That requires more service at lower fares. If Amtrak insists on keeping its coach fares high, the answer is local rail service to bridge the gap between Connecticut and Rhode Island. Today, Metro-North runs from New York City to New Haven, Shore Line East extends to New London and trains on “T” commuter rail go from Boston to Providence. A few now go to the T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, and there are plans to extend service to Wickford Junction. The gap is becoming narrower, but it is still there.

While this proposal would require serious cooperation between the states in the region, local trains should run from Boston to New London on a full-service basis. So should Shore Line East trains between New London and New Haven. These railroads and Metro-North would then cover the entire corridor. It would take between five and six hours to go between Boston and New York (Grand Central Terminal) on three local trains, but fares would be considerably lower than Amtrak’s, and the local stops would provide a measure of convenience for riders who are not going to and from a major city. Before the segment of the NEC between New Haven and Boston was electrified, Amtrak scheduled five hours and fifteen minutes for the trip. Connecting local services could make it almost that quickly.

There is also a need to connect the corridors which planners and advocates now propose. The proposed local service between New Haven and Springfield should be operated as soon as possible, and it should be scheduled to connect with Metro-North trains to New York. North of Springfield, there should also be frequent service to the Five College area (immediately north of Springfield), as well as more Vermont service than a single daily train. The proposed New Hampshire corridor to Concord should be built and then extended to White River Junction, to connect with trains between Vermont and New York. Service on the Providence & Worcester Railroad should be established, to give Rhode Islanders a means for going to points north and west of their city, without having to go to New York first.

There are many possibilities, beyond the ones just mentioned. Implementing them requires a new mind set; regional, rather than merely local, thought. It requires strong leadership at the New England Rail Coalition and other advocacy organizations. It requires state and local planners to think about and then operate trains beyond their boarders. It requires the funding to build the sort of network that New England needs. These changes would enable most New Englanders to travel quickly and comfortably within their region, as well as beyond it. The next article in this series will focus on improving connectivity between New England and other regions to the north, west and south.

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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

At Amtrak, Will Life Begin At 40?

By Jim RePass

In 1970 Congress created Amtrak, at the behest of not only the failing American freight railroads, who in those days were compelled by the Interstate Commerce Commission “common carrier” law to run passenger trains, but also by visionaries such as the late Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) who convinced first President Lyndon Johnson, then Congress, and finally President Richard Nixon, to launch America’s national passenger rail system, which began operations in May of 1971, 40 years ago this month.

From the very beginning, the capital promised to rebuild the rail system, reeling under the simultaneous impact of government regulation and competition from truckers using the 40,000 miles of the brand new taxpayer funded Interstate Highway System, was absent. Instead of cash, the freight railroads donated their used passenger equipment, which by that time was so decrepit in most cases as to be barely functioning.

Then for decades, with the exception of occasional bursts of investment in the Northeast Corridor, which had been more or less bequeathed to Amtrak by the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad, Amtrak was left to its own devices. Despite some truly wonderful leadership from people like Paul Reistrup, Graham Claytor, and David Gunn, and a core of dedicated employees, it therefore suffered the inevitable decline in service scope and reliability that occurs in any capital-intensive business when the capital Just Isn’t There.

The shortfall in capital investment has been massive: the Congressional Budget Office, in one report, estimated that the Corridor segment between Washington and New York City had been shorted some $6 billion in basic infrastructure repairs since Amtrak’s formation. Only in the New Haven-Boston segment of the Northeast Corridor, thanks to the intervention of the National Corridors Initiative at the White House level in the early 1990’s, was significant capital, $2.7 billion in all, invested in electrifying that last non-electrified segment of the Corridor, upgrading the track and signaling system, and in purchasing the new Acela trainsets.

The result has been nothing short of breath-taking: a trip between New York and Boston that once regularly took 5-6 hours now takes 3 1/2 --- and could be reduced to under three hours, if the State of Connecticut, which owns the corridor segment between New Haven and the New York State line, ever finishes the job of replacing the 100-year-old catenary that keeps track speed below 70 miles per hour, on a route on which the old New Haven Railroad regularly hit 100 mph a century ago. This inexcusable bottleneck delays not only Amtrak’s flagship Acela, but adds 20-30 minutes to the commute home of tens of thousands of Connecticut residents working in New York City or vice versa, whose Metro North Railroad uses the same tracks. Again, the cause is a lack of capital, as well as a lack of leadership.

Image: Amtrak

From the cover of Amtrak Ink, Amtrak’s employee newsletter, May 2011 edition, in celebration of 40 years of service.

But there is a change in the air, and that change emanates from Washington.

Barack Obama is the first President since Dwight David Eisenhower to truly understand, care about, and act upon the relationship between infrastructure, national prosperity, and preparedness. It was Eisenhower’s vision 60 years ago, informed by his exposure to the system of German Autobahns during World War II, to build the greatest highway system the world had ever seen.

It has been Obama’s vision to understand that a critical leg of the nation’s transportation land-sea-air tripod was falling way behind world standards, and needed to be addressed, which he has done with his High Speed Rail program.

Critics, including some powerful ones like House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL), believe we should be spending our billions on creating one true European-style, dedicated right-of-way 200-mph+ rail line, probably in the Northeast, rather than distributing the funds among a wide variety of rail projects, most of which are “higher-speed-rail” rather than “high speed rail.”

Oddly enough, both men are right.

We do need to take at least one line, and Do It Right.

But we also need to remember this: the Perfect is the Enemy of the Possible.

As Graham Claytor explained to me many years ago, it is not the top speed of a train that matters --- it is the average speed. The Acela may be capable of 160-mph speeds, and reaches close to that in Rhode Island now, on the Northeast Corridor --- but the fact that the New York City-Boston trip time has been cut nearly in half is what makes that route successful, as is the three-hour New York-Washington run; three hours between city-pairs is faster than flying, when airport access and delays are taken into account; that’s why Amtrak’s market share has soared to 50% and higher on those segments of the Northeast Corridor.

Make no mistake about it: we do need to make those basic infrastructure repairs on the corridor, and keep chipping away at the travel time.

But if there is one route in America, in addition to Los Angeles-San Francisco, that cries out for true high speed rail, that route is Tampa-Miami. The terrain is flat, the travel time would be under three hours, and the population centers served are massive, and growing.

So we propose this: President Obama and John Mica need to meet, and make a plan --- to continue the incremental improvements in city pairs like Chicago-St Louis and Chicago-Milwaukee, and others that are under way --- but to re-instate a serious Florida High Speed Rail project, and to do it as a Federal priority. Combined with the aggressive pro-rail business community that is pushing DC-Richmond-the Carolinas-Atlanta High Speed Rail, we stand on the brink of transforming the Eastern Seaboard of the United States into a world-class rail system once more. All it takes is will, and money --- and if we want to supply the latter, we must get serious about that issue, too, and go to $1 a gallon gas tax at least, and implement it now, as the price of gasoline drops again when the current speculative bubble bursts, as it is doing.

Amtrak, the National Rail Passenger System, is 40, and it has survived. Contrary to the common wisdom, it is right now one of the most cost-effective national rail systems in the world, recovering 85% of its costs from ticket revenues. But it has achieved that with chewing gum and bailing wire. Let’s turn it into the world leader America needs to prosper in the 21st Century.

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