The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick
 

Contribute To NCI

July 5, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 26

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

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

  News Items…
Mica Bill Critics Point To Britain’s Disastrous ‘Britrail’
   Privatization Fiasco, Issue Warning
Amtrak Sues Trucking Firm That Rammed California
   Zephyr And Killed Six On Board
  Announcement…
“The Economic & Community Benefits Of High-Speed
   & Intercity Passenger Rail” July 7 At CVC
  Political Lines…
U.S. House And Senate Committees Announce Timeline
   For Surface Trans Bill
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Across The Pond…
Beijing – Shanghai High-Speed Rail Corridor
   Opens For Business
  Commentary…
Fix The Railroad Before You Expand It
  We Get Letters…
  Editorial…
Happy 4th Of July, America…
  Publication Notes …


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

Mica Bill Critics Point To Britain’s Disastrous
‘Britrail’ Privatization Fiasco, Issue Warning

From: Mass Transit;
Found at:
http://www.masstransitmag.com/news/10287477/amtrak-privatization-foes-point-to-britain

Opponents of a plan to privatize Amtrak are pointing to experiences in Great Britain, saying privatization would lead to layoffs, higher fares and poor service.

Two House Republicans are spearheading efforts to privatize the nation’s passenger rail system - Rep. John Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, both D-W.Va., are longtime supporters of using federal funds to support Amtrak’s national railroad system.

Last week, Rockefeller warned that the Republican legislation would likely eliminate passenger train service in West Virginia, which serves cities including Charleston, Huntington, Montgomery, White Sulphur Springs, Hinton, Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry.

When Mica and Shuster proposed their legislation - the Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act of 2011 - on June 15, they cited the privatization of railroads in Great Britain, which happened in the early 1990s. The bill was formally introduced last Tuesday.

Mica and Shuster say their plan would reduce taxpayer subsidization of Amtrak, and hasten the development of high-speed rail.

But Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, called the proposal to privatize Amtrak using the British model “the wrong road to go down.”

“British privatization ended up costing taxpayers there even more money, after the railroads went bankrupt, than the public subsidies cost before privatization,” Zuckett said.

“Why are we proposing to go down the same road?” Zuckett added. “I agree with Congressman Rahall and Sen. Rockefeller that this is not a good idea. We need to support our rail system, not sell it off.”

Reconnecting America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates for transit-oriented development, is working to preserve Amtrak.

Today, heavily traveled, profitable rail lines in the Northeast help finance railroad lines in less populated areas throughout the United States.

“Very few, if any, of the long-distance lines will attract private sector funding,” said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America. Smith is a former Chairman of the Board of the National Corridors Initiative, and Board member of Amtrak. “The focus on privatizing the Northeast Corridor will weaken the existing national system ... Removing the profitable [above the rails] Northeast Corridor from the current system of shared benefits deprives the rest of the nation’s rail system of critically needed operating assistance.”

In a report, Reconnecting America wrote that Mica’s proposed changes were likely to “weaken or terminate the intercity rail connections that are the lifelines in small towns from Montana to West Virginia, as well as big cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.”

Zuckett said the plan would “allow private entities to cherry pick the profitable lines and leave the other ones to flounder.”

“We need to keep Amtrak intact and support the whole system,” he said. “It is good that profitable areas help areas like West Virginia and western states that really need rail service.”

The legislation proposed by House Republicans to privatize Amtrak would put it on sale to the highest bidder in the private market.

Reconnecting America says the Republican-backed legislation would put at least 110,000 jobs at risk later this year.

The group also compared Mica’s proposed legislation to what happened in Great Britain.

“The plan is very similar to the United Kingdom’s attempt to privatize its rail network. Taxpayers had to bail out the infrastructure company and increase their annual subsidy to support the rail network,” the group wrote in the report. “The system is now more expensive than before privatization.”

Reconnecting America predicts private investors in the U.S. would show little or no interest in investing money in railroads anywhere outside the Northeast.

Amtrak has operated its rail system for more than 40 years sharing revenues between different regions in the country. As a result, Amtrak has political support from both conservative Southern Republicans and liberal Democrats along the Northeastern coast.

In Great Britain, Railtrack, the railroad infrastructure and maintenance company, went bankrupt after five years of private ownership.

“The taxpayer portion of passenger rail funding in the UK increased after privatization [and] proposed savings did not materialize,” Reconnecting America stated in its report.

Earlier this year, Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, told a congressional committee that British privatization had poor results.

“Fares jumped, severe layoffs were implemented, and maintenance and safety suffered,” he said, adding that accident rates increased.

Last week, Rockefeller called Amtrak “a lifeline for our nation’s communities - including many among the Cardinal and Capitol Limited lines in West Virginia - and is an engine of economic growth.”

“Amtrak provides West Virginians with an affordable way to get between small communities and big cities,” he said, “and the Republican plan would put it in jeopardy.”

Written for Mass Transit by Paul J. Nyden. Reach him at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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Amtrak Sues Trucking Firm That Rammed
California Zephyr And Killed Six On Board

From The Lahontan Valley News
Written By: Maddie Reynolds

WASHOE COUNTY, NV --- Amtrak has filed suit against John Davis Trucking of Battle Mountain, NV, joining others who are suing the company after its driver Lawrence Ruben Valli, driving a semi-trailer truck, crashed through downed crossing gates into the fourth rail car of an Amtrak passenger train last week, resulting in an inferno that killed six and injured scores.

Amtrak, also known as National Railroad Passenger Corp., is suing the trucking company, in addition to an injured Amtrak attendant who filed on Tuesday a negligence suit in district court in Washoe County.

Amtrak filed the lawsuit June 29 in federal court, stating the company has sustained more than $10 million in property damages, although the exact amount is not known at this time. The suit also stated that the trucking company failed to properly train driver Valli, and that the trucking company is therefore responsible for the driver’s negligent actions. Valli was killed in the crash, along with five others on board the train.

Amtrak Media Relations Manager Mark Magliari said they are also reviewing the litigation that has been filed.

The National Transportation Safety Board has taken the lead on investigating the wreckage of the train and big rig. The wreckage of Valli’s truck has been moved to the Nevada Department of Transportation maintenance yard in Fallon, NV for investigation. The two rail cars most damaged in the wreck have been removed from the tracks and placed 100 yards from the U.S. Highway 95 near the railroad crossing. The wreckage is under 24-hour surveillance by ESI Security Services.

National Transportation Safety Board inspectors on site said the wreckage from the train would be covered and shipped to another location by truck within the week. Originally, they thought NTSB would cut the two rail cars into six pieces: a judge handling the train attendant’s litigation made an order prohibiting the destruction or disposal of any evidence linked to the incident.

Magliari said the two passenger cars will remain intact and in Churchill County for an undetermined amount of time.

On scene, crews wearing white gloves have been sifting through charred debris, looking for any telltale signs to help determine the cause. One car looks as though a giant robot grabbed the train with a claw and tore open the roof, while a fireball burned the red and blue Amtrak stripes away, leaving behind a rainbow sheen on the burnt metal, wrote reporter Maddie Reynolds.

In addition, NTSB member Earl Weener and Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Chuck Allen have both confirmed that damage to the railroad crossing signals and railroad tracks has been fixed, and all are in working condition.

Two drivers behind Valli’s truck and the train’s engineer saw the railroad signal activate, Weener said, but Valli did not brake his 2008 Peterbilt truck-tractor until at least 320 feet before the crossing. In Amtrak’s lawsuit, it also said the locomotive horn was sounded as a warning.

In a statement from the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office, “The number of fatalities remains at six including the train conductor, the truck driver and the four passengers recovered from inside the train.”

However, one person has yet to be identified. CCSO added that contact had been made with all passengers or family members of people believed to have been on the train.

A Washoe County medical examiner conducted toxicology and other tests on Valli, but the reports have not been released.

John Davis Trucking also made a statement saying they are cooperating with the investigation.

[Wire reports contributed to this article].


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ANNOUNCEMENTS... Announcement...  

“The Economic & Community Benefits
Of High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail”
July 7 At CVC

From Internet Sources AND Reconnecting America

WASHINGTON --- The Congressional High-Speed Rail Caucus is sponsoring a briefing on Thursday, July 7 at 11:00 AM in the Congressional Visitors Center Meeting Room North entitled, “The Economic & Community Benefits of High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail.” 

The briefing is being organized by Reconnecting America Deputy Policy Director Darnell Grisby.

The panel will be made up of national and regional experts in the field, including John Robert Smith, President & CEO of Reconnecting America, Steve Geil, President & CEO of Fresno Economic Development Corporation and Dan Schned, Associate Planner of America 2050.  They will discuss in depth the various economic and community benefits of high-speed and intercity passenger rail.

 The United States Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) is a large underground addition to the United States Capitol complex which serves as a gathering point for up to 4,000 tourists, and an expansion space for the US Congress. It is located below the East Front of the Capitol and its plaza, between the Capitol building and 1st Street East. The complex contains 580,000 square feet (54,000 m2) of space below ground on three floors. The overall project’s budget was $621 million.

The CVC has space for use by the Congress, including multiple new meeting and conference rooms. On the House side, there is a large room which will most likely be used by a committee. The new Congressional Auditorium, a 450-seat theater, will be available for use by members of Congress or for either House of Congress should their respective chamber be unavailable.

The CVC officially opened on December 2, 2008. This date was selected to coincide with the 145th anniversary of placing Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol building in 1863, signifying the completion of construction of its dome.


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POLITICALLINES... Political Lines...  

APTA Legislative Alert Issued July 1 2011

 

U.S. House And Senate Committees
Announce Timeline For Surface Trans Bill

From The American Public Transportation Association

House Of Representatives

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) announced tentative plans to unveil details on his proposal for a six-year surface transportation authorization bill. In recent meetings with transportation industry leaders, Mica announced that he will release bill text following the July 4th holiday, with formal introduction of the legislation to take place the week of July 11, and committee markup the week of July 25.

In a document distributed at the industry group meeting, Mica outlined some of the program and policy components currently included in his draft legislation. Limited to the confines of the House-passed budget resolution developed by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), which requires cuts in transportation programs of over 30 percent compared to current levels, the authorized funding level will be approximately $230 billion over six years. This is the funding level that the committee believes can be sustained by revenues deposited into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) over that period, assuming no increases in revenue or additional general fund transfers. The bill will also authorize funding to be appropriated from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury for specific programs, although how this impacts the New Starts program and other General Fund surface transportation programs has not yet been detailed.

It is anticipated that Mica’s bill will focus on program consolidation, streamlining the project delivery process, and greater use of innovative financing and public-private partnerships. The bill is not expected to include his recent proposal to privatize passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor.

The outlook for introduction remains somewhat unclear, based on signals from the Republican leadership. Several weeks ago House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) did not include surface transportation authorization on his list of bills that would be allocated floor time before the August recess. Despite the uncertainty of floor time, Mica has said that he plans to release his bill. Action on authorization will be required before September 30, when the current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires.

APTA is conducting a survey of its members to detail the impacts that 30 percent cuts would have on transit agencies and businesses.

ACTION ALERT

All APTA Members are urged to respond to our survey on the impact of 30 percent cuts on their transit systems or businesses.

As discussed in the previous legislative alert, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced that the Democrat and Republican leadership of her committee have reached an agreement in principle on an authorization bill at funding levels of $339.2 billion, which is equal to current levels, adjusted for inflation. It is not clear, however, whether Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and David Vitter (R-LA) will have the support of Republican leaders in the Senate.

While Boxer acknowledges that a six-year bill is preferable to a two-year bill, she stated recently that a six-year bill may be unrealistic, considering the additional funding needed to supplement the existing trust fund revenues required for a longer term bill. The Senate planned to recess during the week following the July 4th holiday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced this morning that the Senate will cancel its recess to work on a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Boxer plans to introduce her bill the week of July 11 and mark-up shortly thereafter assuming a financing solution. It is unknown whether the cancellation of next week’s recess will change her timeline.

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who is also the chairman of the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, needs to find approximately $12 billion in offsets to fund a two-year surface transportation bill. Senator Boxer has asked all transportation stakeholders to contact members of the Senate Finance Committee to urge them to support funding for a surface transportation authorization bill of at least two years.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which has jurisdiction over transit, will release its title on the bill following action by EPW. The Banking Committee is actively working on its portion of the bill and its Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development held a hearing this week to examine public transportation access issues for older adults and people with disabilities.

ACTION ALERT

All APTA Members are urged to call Senate Finance Committee Members that represent their state to urge them to provide sufficient resources to advance a surface transportation authorization bill this year. To view a list of Finance Committee members, Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’.

If your Senator does not sit on the Finance Committee, ask your senator to reach out to Finance Committee members.

Explain how a 30 percent cut in federal transit funding (as envisioned under the House-passed budget resolution would affect your transit system or business.

Remind your Senator that public transportation investment has proven economic rewards and creates jobs. Every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates 36,000 jobs.

For questions on this issue, please contact Paul Dean of APTA’s Government Affairs Department at (202) 496-4887, or pdean@apta.com.

House Appropriations Committee Sets Tentative Dates for THUD Consideration

In late May, the House Appropriations Committee chaired by Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced top line spending levels for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget that made significant cuts to transit discretionary spending levels, detailed here. According to committee staff, the tentative schedule for consideration of the FY 2012 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill is to hold the subcommittee markup on July 14, with the full committee markup on July 26. However, this schedule is subject to change.

For questions on this issue, please contact Brian Tynan of APTA’s Government Affairs Department at (202) 496-4897 or btynan@apta.com.

Support Builds for Spectrum Set-Aside for Positive Train Control Implementation

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) requires all passenger and certain freight railroads to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technologies by December 31, 2015. Included in this mandate is the requirement for interoperability to allow communication between passenger and freights railroads. To achieve this result, the purchase of radio frequency spectrum is necessary. However, spectrum is a finite and highly competitive commodity which is being sold on the open market for costly rates. APTA has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assess the spectrum needs of publicly funded commuter railroads to determine if a set-aside can be allocated.

The FCC recently issued a Request for Comments on spectrum needs of the needs commuter railroads. Please Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’ to see APTA’s comments. In addition to the FCC, APTA continues to work with the House and Senate to secure a spectrum set-aside. On June 28, 2011, eight Senators signed onto a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee requesting a hearing on the spectrum needs for PTC implementation on publicly funded commuter railroads.

APTA urges you to contact your Senators to support this hearing.

For questions on this issue, please contact Joni Zielinski of APTA’s Government Affairs Department at (202) 496-4865 or jzielinski@apta.com.

U.S. DOT and Federal Transit Administration Releases Multiple Notices of Funding Availability (NOFA), New Starts Allocations

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration has released several Notices of Funding Availability (NOFA) to distribute the discretionary bus funds made available earlier this year for Fiscal Year 2011. These include:

$527 million for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER Program). This multi-modal program provides grant opportunities for transit projects, as well as for highways, ports, freight rail and other programs. To read the Federal Register Notice, Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’.

$750 million of discretionary Bus and Bus Facilities funds in support of its state of good repair initiative. Complete proposals for these funds are due July 29, 2011. To read the Federal Register notice, Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’.

$150 million for bus livability projects through the Section 5309 Bus and Bus Facilities program and $25 million through the Alternative Analysis program. Complete proposals for these funds are due July 29, 2011. To read the Federal Register notice, Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’.

$101.4 million available to promote innovative clean-fuel technologies in transit. $51.5 million is available through the discretionary Clean Fuels program and $49.9 million is available through what FTA is calling the TIGGER III program. Complete proposals are due August 23, 2011. To read the Federal Register notice, Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’.

In addition to the publication of the above NOFAs, the FTA also released funding allocations for the New Starts program. To view the Federal Register notice and list of projects, Go to ‘LegislativeAlert@apta.com’.

For questions on this issue, please contact Meredith Slesinger of APTA’s Government Affairs Department at (202) 496-4860 or mslesinger@apta.com.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)60.2975.29
Canadian Pacific (CP) 14.8858.33
CSX (CSX)81.0524.99
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.8155.48
Kansas City Southern (KSU)76.9355.59
Norfolk Southern (NSC)63.4471.67
Providence & Worcester(PWX)60.6171.67
Union Pacific (UNP)106.76100.04


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

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

Beijing – Shanghai High-Speed Rail Corridor
Opens For Business

Longest HSR In The World Begins Revenue Operations

Via Xinhua News Agency

BEIJING – Chinese Premiere Wen Jia Bao on Thursday joined other passengers to board the first bullet train on the landmark high-speed railway between the metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, calling it a ‘new chapter’ in China’s railway history. Before an inauguration ceremony held at the Beijing South Railway Station, Wen visited passengers at the waiting hall and listened to a report by the Ministry of Railways (MOR) on the construction and operation of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway.

Wen said the railway’s construction was an important decision by the state and of great significance to improve the country’s modern transportation system, and will promote the economic and social development, and satisfy people’s need for swift movement. It took 38 months to complete the 1,318-km (814 mile) long high-speed railway.

Chinese Premiere Wen Jia Bao gives a speech

Photo: Xinhua

Chinese Premiere Wen Jia Bao gives a speech before boarding the first revenue service train on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line.

Even though the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway has started operation, railway officials and managers still face arduous tasks to ensure the operation is safe, orderly and efficient, the premier said. “Railway departments must give top priority to the safety (of operation) while continuing to improve their service quality,” Wen said.

After a brief inauguration ceremony, Wen and Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang boarded the first bullet train G1 of the CRH380 series, which were independently developed by China. Upon the order of the Minister of Railways Sheng Guangzu, the train departed Beijing South Station at 3 p.m. The train accelerated to 300 k/mph only 10 minutes after leaving Beijing. Wen got off the train 21 minutes later when it arrived at Langfang Station, one of the 24 stations along the route.

The railway links China’s most prosperous regions of the Pan-Bohai areas and Yangtze River Delta economic zones, cutting travel time between the two regions to about five hours. The high-speed railway, which has been operating on a trial basis since mid-May, opened one year ahead of schedule.

“After three years of our hard work, the big day finally arrived,” said Wang Shoutian, an employee of China Railway’s 12th Bureau Group Co., which worked on the rail line’s construction. “Only 25 workers from our company were chosen to take the first bullet train, and I’m one of the lucky guys--I’m very proud and excited.”

The inaugural train leaves the massive new Beijing South Station complex

Photo: Xinhua

The inaugural train leaves the massive new Beijing South Station complex with Chinese Premiere Wen Jia Bao and guests and paying passengers on board.

Pei Zhiqiang, manager of China Communications Construction Co., said “The launch of the rail line shows our country’s strength in the railway sector; all our hard work was worthwhile.” Although the railway is designed to handle maximum speeds of 350 k/mph, most of the trains will run at speeds between 250 and 300 k/mph.

He Huawu, chief engineer at the Ministry of Railways, on Monday dismissed rumors that the railway’s operating speed was cut due to safety concerns.

“The adjustment to the operating speed of the railway was made to meet people’s needs, to increase transport capacity and reduce costs and energy consumption,” he said.

Tickets for the railway’s fastest trains, running at 300 k/mph, are priced between 555 Yuan (US $86) and 1,750 Yuan. Prices for slower trains, running at 250 k/mph, are priced between 410 Yuan and 650 Yuan. The railway is expected to transport more than 80 million passengers annually, according to the MOR.

The first revenue service high-speed train, a CRH3 (Siemens Velaro)

Photo: Xinhua

The first revenue service high-speed train, a CRH3 (Siemens Velaro), to Shanghai moves through the outer city area of Beijing.

Sun Zhang, professor at the Shanghai Tongji University, said the launch of the line will help promote urban-rural integration and sustainable regional development. With 24 stops, the railway is expected to bring new development opportunities to the cities along the line. For example, Qufu, hometown of Confucius, had no direct trains to Shanghai before the launch of the rail line.

Han Fengju, deputy head of the local tourism bureau in the city of Qufu, expects the new line will help boost local tourism. “Visitors are likely to increase by 20 percent this year,” he said.

The launch of the high-speed rail also brought a larger number of passengers to Beijing’s subways on Thursday, especially to Line 4, which links the Beijing South Railway Station, the starting station of the bullet train, according to the metro management.

Metro Line 4 is expected to see 140,000 passengers daily after the launch of the high-speed rail, 50 percent up from the previous number, and during the summer vacation, a peak season for traveling, the subway line will carry a daily average of 970,000 people, a management official said.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Fix The Railroad Before You Expand It

By David Peter Alan

The events of two weeks ago sent riders on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) reeling. There were three major service disruptions in as many days; on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Many Amtrak riders on the NEC were affected, along with thousands of commuters and other riders on New Jersey Transit (NJT), as the trains literally stopped in their tracks.

The NEC is the busiest passenger railroad in the nation, and the portion that runs through New Jersey is the busiest part of that railroad. Amtrak trains between New York and Washington, and beyond, run on it. So do frequent NJT trains between New York and Trenton, or short turns along the route. So do North Jersey Coast Line trains as far south as Rahway, Raritan Valley Line trains for a short distance west of Newark and Morris & Essex Line Midtown Direct trains into Penn Station, New York. In short, when service on the railroad is disrupted during peak commuting time, tens of thousands of riders are affected.

There were three such disasters on successive days, less than two weeks ago. If something happens once, it could be an accident. If it happens twice, it could be a coincidence. If it happens three times, there is no “maybe” about it; there is a serious problem. The specific causes of these severe service disruptions do not matter. The general cause is infrastructure that was installed in the 1930s.

Historically, the Pennsylvania Railroad deserves credit for upgrading the electrification of their main line between New York and Washington, D.C. during the depths of the Depression. At that time, the railroad’s electrical system was state of the art. Despite the general economic downturn of that era, the Pennsy and other railroads looked forward to a return of prosperity, and World War II brought it. It was hardly foreseeable at the time that passenger rail would eventually sink into its own depression, from which it has yet to emerge. It was especially unforeseeable that a Federally-owned railroad named Amtrak and a State-owned railroad named New Jersey Transit would operate trains under the same wires as far into the future as 2011.

Yet, they are doing exactly that. Other parts of the NEC use a different electrical power standard. So do the Morris & Essex Lines (M&E) on NJT. For that line’s Midtown Direct service to Penn Station, only electric locomotives can be used, because they can switch between the different power systems. Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) cars run under the wires carrying both forms of power, but cannot switch between them, so they cannot operate on the M&E line to Penn Station, New York. Is this any way to run a railroad? Ask the people who got stuck when the power went down.

As the power fails and the riders sit on trains that stand still, rail managers and politicians keep talking about system expansion and high-speed rail. That is understandable, since it is much more exciting to plan and promote the railroad of tomorrow than to repair the railroad of today. Opening a new tunnel or a high-speed line brings photo ops; replacing a stretch of overhead wire does not.

Last fall, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie terminated the proposed “Access to the Region’s Core” (ARC) tunnel and deep-cavern terminal below Manhattan, because it was too expensive. He also acknowledged that it was flawed by not going to Penn Station or eventually to Manhattan’s East Side. Amtrak responded with its equally unaffordable Gateway Project. Amtrak also continues to promote its high-speed rail plan for the region, which is estimated to cost $117 billion before it is completed in 2030. At the same time, Congressman John Mica, Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, does not trust Amtrak and wants the project to be funded by the private sector, instead.

So, while the planners and the politicians dither and argue, the railroad breaks down. Should Amtrak get busy and repair the railroad? Of course; it’s Amtrak’s railroad. Should New Jersey Transit get busy and repair the railroad? Of course; most of the riders who get stuck are on NJT’s trains. It is unlikely that the riders would care, or even notice, who eventually brings the railroad and its power system into a state of good repair. It is certain that the riders care that the work gets done. To use the analogy of a commercial landlord-tenant situation, the customers have no reason to care whether the owner of the store (the tenant) or the owner of the building (the landlord) spends the money to keep a store in a state of good repair, so it can serve them. They want to shop at the store, just as Amtrak’s and NJT’s riders want to get on a train and feel confident that they will reach their destinations without the railroad breaking down.

There will come a time when new projects will be built and our rail system expanded. Given recent events, it does not appear that such a time will come soon. There is not much money available for new projects, so the little there is must be spent wisely. That means keeping the railroad in a state of good repair, so riders can again feel confidence in its ability to take them where they want to go. Until then, any discussion of grandiose projects is useless at best and counterproductive at worst.

Priorities must be set: First, concentrate on fixing the existing electrical and any other infrastructure defects. Second, standardize the electrical system, so the entire NEC runs on the same power, which should also be used on lines that connect with it in places like New Jersey and Philadelphia. There would be no need for dual-power electric locomotives, and EMU cars could be operated on all electrified lines. Third, upgrade the infrastructure generally to accommodate the schedules that commuter trains operated during the 1960s and 70s. In New Jersey, at least, they were significantly faster forty years ago.

When these repairs are completed, expansion of the system will make good economic and political sense, and the riders will be ready for it.

David Peter Alan is involved in several rail organizations, and has extensive experience riding the rail lines in the NEC and around the nation. The opinions expressed are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of any other individual or organization.


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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

In Response to our editorial: “Bridge, Tunnel, or Close It.”

Rising kerbs [raised stone or barriers] are also effective means for preventing autos or trucks from colliding with trains at grade crossings. I’ve seen them in place on suburban rail lines in St. Petersburg, Russia. Successful application would work well in the U. S. A.

Sloan Auchincloss
sloan@auchincloss.com

[ Our brackets – Ed. ]


 

In Response to our editorial: “Amtrak, The Baby and the Bathwater”

Dear Mr. RePass,

While private investment which Amtrak is now pursuing is a good idea, I disagree with your assessment in saying John Mica is right because he has not proven to have one iota of interest in the system we have now; one that benefits his constituents quite well. These very people who starve the rail road from adequate capital funding would be the same ones looking to crucify it if a major infrastructure failure took lives.

They are hypocrites.

Given the way Amtrak came into existence and the fact that it has been starved by Republican and Democrat alike despite public opinion, gives me no reason to believe any one in Washington really wants passenger rail and no reason to believe what “we the people” want even matters to these folks. Chairman Mica appears to be looking to carry out exactly what failed under Reagan and then the Bush administration (using perhaps a different methodology) which is to kill passenger rail as a national entity and/or line some private operators pocket with tax payer dollars for the gravy routes. This approach will not produce a national system and the very fact Amtrak trains are jammed coast to coast shows a national system is needed.

Additionally at the introductory press conference for the Mica/Schuster plan most of the language so critical of Amtrak is disingenuous and false. People choose with their money and in case I have missed something Amtrak is the major transportation carrier in the NEC [North East Corridor] despite Metro North trackage from New Rochelle New York to New Haven, Connecticut. Bill Schuster’s state has benefited greatly from a project Amtrak ran (on time and budget) which improved Harrisburg to Philadelphia service immensely. How he can stand there and suggest otherwise sickens me.

While this bills introduction may open a debate (yet again) using untruths and falsifications is in no way noble nor does it help anyone accept in any way that the motive of these men is good or that they are truly interested in honest debate. In fact they do more to confuse the public and fuel the media with false information polarizing more people ignorant of the facts and further fueling misconceptions like only Amtrak is subsidized.

The US Government should fund Amtrak to do what it was created to do for the reasons it was created to do it and allow people who know how to run a railroad run it, instead of having a merry go round of rooky politicians with their hands in operations and on all the purse strings over ideological nonsense. Per the usual they insist on breaking something that could work in order to “fix it” and in the end they end up with fewer options and more issues. This appears to be a new business model in private industry especially in “customer service” where they are endlessly recording calls to improved constantly degrading service quality. Apparently the real motive is to cover their own back sides and use the metrics to criticize the workforce.

It’s been forty years for Amtrak and equipment and speed overall has only improved marginally thanks’ to the boys in Washington. And while Amtrak has put forth a respected and realistic plan to modernize the NEC, it gets no positive play in the media due to Congressmen Mica and Schuster’s “plan” with its fantasy timelines and results..... may I repeat..... fantasy.

While real people like me suffer every day with an Amtrak system that could have already been dramatically improved, we get lip service, misdirected criticism and mostly inaction on the subject from Washington. I am willing to bet that both you and I will be long dead before any 220 MPH service on the NEC, and this endless ideological debate of private versus public along with oil and automobile industry money is precisely why.

Regards
Don Shaw
DShaw@vertafore.com

[ Our brackets – Ed. ]


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Happy 4th Of July, America...

It has been nearly 238 years since December 16, 1773, when the real Tea Party dumped that taxed tea into Boston Harbor, protesting the British Parliament’s taxation-without-representation policy, as well as the Tea monopoly given to the British East India Company. BEI was a mercantilist company quite common at the time, but by far the most powerful, which enjoyed essentially absolute power, extending to the right to govern English colonies.

Although the tax was the main incendiary, it was also the extension of BEI authority over the American colonies, especially but not only Massachusetts, that fueled the rage. And with good reason.

Why make a point of the Tea Party, whose anniversary isn’t until December 16, when this is the 4th of July?

For two reasons:

1) The Boston Tea Party, like a number of other discrete events, was one of the critical underpinnings of the American Revolution, the coercive reaction to which, by Britain, led to the calling of the First Continental Congress in 1774, and then the second in 1775. It was the Second Continental Congress which issued the Declaration of Independence we celebrate today; it was passed July 2, but promulgated two days later on July 4, thereby confusing historians for generations to come.

2) We live in an era when a small group of angry and ignorant people have tried to claim the honorable mantle of “Tea Party” for themselves, and use it to oppose not simply taxation without representation, but taxation of any kind --- ensuring our continued decline.

They have become powerful enough, as a result of our reactionary Supreme Court’s United Citizens ruling, to ride to power on a mixture of corporate-financed elections in 2010, and because of the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to fight back. They have cowered the leaders of their own Republican Party, which finds itself riding the proverbial tiger which has led to repeated stand-offs on routine issues and votes – like the debt ceiling limit, which is a procedural requirement, not a policy, but which failure to confirm in the usual routine manner plays Russian Roulette with world market’s confidence in the value of U.S. Treasury debt.

Our country’s word in basic international finance and our word’s unblemished sanctity for two centuries --- remember the phrase, “It’s as sound as the dollar?” --- is the underpinning of what is left of confidence in world financial markets --- confidence, however tenuous right now as Greece teeters and Europe awaits the result, that someone will be strong enough to lead us out of the global collapse engineered by the unregulated and still-defiant international, but largely American-based, banking community – and we note, to our shame, that not a single senior member of any of those banks and/or investment firms whose fraud brought on this deep recession has yet been jailed, or even indicted. Why not? Bernie Madoff is said to need company.

International fiscal confidence is now squarely placed on the shoulders of America, and specifically in this case, the United States Congress, which reconvenes July 5 to take up the debt ceiling question. Does approving it mean we start spending again? No, it does not, although the Cable News pundits would have you think so.

No, this July 4th we celebrate that We Are Still Here. That might not be much, but in the great warp and woof of world history, it is better than what might yet be. So, Happy 4th of July. Now, get off your fanny, and get involved.

Jim RePass
Publisher
Destination:Freedom


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