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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August 22, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 33

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

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

  News Items…
TransitAmerica Services wins Caltrain’s Peninsula
   Rail Service Operating Contract
New Hampshire’s Free Ride Should End
  Power Lines…
Federal Grant Will Allow MBTA To Spin-up
   Wind Turbines
  Maintenance Lines…
New LA Maintenance Facility Features Improvements
   To Increase Efficiency And Safety
  Select Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
BNSF’s Matt Rose Profiled In Lengthy
   Financial Times Piece
 
  Across The Pond…
Hartmut Mehdorn Is New CEO Of Air Berlin
Switzerland Commits To Conversion To ETCS
  Commentary…
A Bus Operator In The Heartland Steps Up To The Plate
   And Connects --- With Amtrak
Transportation And Tea Party Politics - I
  Editorial…
The $600M Busway vs. Rail Battle ---
   Connecticut Needs To Get This Right
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …


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

Amtrak Had Run Service For Two Decades

 

TransitAmerica Services wins Caltrain’s Peninsula Rail Service Operating Contract

By DF Staff, and from TAS, Amtrak and Caltrain

SACRAMENTO --- TransitAmerica Services Inc. of St. Joseph, Mo., has won a five year contract to operate California’s critical Peninsula commuter rail system, which serves booming Silicon Valley from San Jose North to San Francisco.

The five-year contract will start in 2012 with about $62.5 million; the following contract years are to be negotiated as they occur, but the eventual value of the contract should exceed well over $300 million. The system provides service between San Jose and San Francisco, with stops at many Silicon Valley/Peninsula communities. Caltrain also offers Baby Bullet express service between San Francisco and San Jose with stops in Millbrae, Hillsdale, Palo Alto and Mountain View. Reverse-peak trains also stop at the 22nd street station in San Francisco. Hourly weekend service is offered between San Francisco and San Jose Diridon.

Amtrak Chairman Joseph Boardman notified Amtrak employees this week of their losing bid, noting that while disappointed not to be chosen, “Amtrak has provided train crews, and engineering and mechanical employees for this service since 1992. Since then, our employees have contributed to major projects that have brought about transformational changes, including significantly expanding track and signal capacity, and service expansions. I thank all of the employees dedicated to Caltrain service for helping the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) achieve its goals and for serving the people of that region so well for so many years.”

In his announcement Caltrain’s Executive Director Michael Chief Mike Scanlon said:

“Caltrain management today announced it has negotiated a proposed contract to operate the Peninsula commuter rail system The recommendation [to sign with TransitAmerica Services Inc. of St. Joseph, Mo.] is based on a competitive process that extended over more than 15 months and included detailed and expert evaluation of five proposals from top rail management firms.”

“The proposal presented by TransitAmerica received a consensus top ranking. Proposals were scored in three major areas of criteria – the management, operations and maintenance plan; the cost proposal; and the qualifications and experience of the firm and key personnel proposed by the firm as the management team for the Caltrain service.”

With a transition to a new rail contractor, federal regulations provide job protections for current employees, Caltrain stated.

“We made a business decision to go to the marketplace and the result is an opportunity for a partnership between TransitAmerica and Caltrain that can meet the high expectations we have for a safe, reliable, viable Peninsula commuter rail service now and in the future,” said Scanlon.

“This is a contractor with the experience, the know-how and the vision to assist Caltrain in operating a system that provides opportunities for improvements, expansion, cost and operational efficiencies and to continue and enhance the long-established Caltrain culture of safety first.”

TransitAmerica is a part of Herzog, founded in 1969 as an asphalt paving and airport construction company. Herzog’s website is: http://www.herzogcompanies.com/corporate.php

Herzog already operates transit systems in San Diego (“Coaster”), Dallas (“Trinity Railway Express”) and New Mexico (“Rail Runner Express“).

Should the Joint Powers Board approve the final recommendation, it would bring to an end the 20-year relationship between Caltrain and Amtrak, which has operated the rail system since 1992, when the Joint Powers Board assumed responsibility for the Peninsula commuter line.

“The contribution of Amtrak to the Caltrain service can never be fully measured,” said Scanlon. “The successes enjoyed by Caltrain are due in significant part to the partnership between Amtrak and the agency, and we are grateful for all Amtrak has done.”

Amtrak was teamed with Bombardier in its losing bid.


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Downeaster Supporters:

 

New Hampshire’s
Free Ride Should End

From Foster’s Daily Democrat And By DF Staff

DOVER --- For more than a decade New Hampshire and Massachusetts citizens have been getting a free ride from Amtrak’s Downeaster, which has become Amtrak’s top-rated train nationwide and which was created by the hard work of Maine voters, especially TrainRiders NorthEast’s Wayne Davis and former Maine Senator George Mitchell. It connects Portland, Maine to Boston via New Hampshire and the North Shore of Massachusetts

No, they pay the same price for tickets to Portland that residents of Portland pay for tickets to Boston and other cities served.

What they don’t pay is any share of the rail service’s operating costs, which are almost never covered by ticket sales alone anywhere in the world, unless a railroad has been given, and successfully develops, real estate along its rail corridor (see “Hong Kong Rail” or “Value Capture”). Maine does pay that, and has from the beginning. All of it.

Foster’s Daily Democrat is reporting that even some New Hampshire residents are saying it’s time for denizens of the Granite State to pay up.

Jennifer Keefe, of Foster’s Daily Democrat, in Dover, N.H., reports: 

“Supporters of maintaining and expanding the much-used Amtrak Downeaster rail service through New Hampshire say the state should pony up.  New Hampshire doesn’t contribute financially to the railroad’s operation despite passenger service that’s provided in Durham, Dover and Exeter that makes up a large portion of the Downeaster’s ridership as it travels from Maine to Massachusetts,” she wrote this past week. 

“But Peter Burling, chairman of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, warns there could be consequences if New Hampshire doesn’t kick in some funds in support of the service; while Burling noted the decision is a legislative one, he said he recognizes the benefits of rail transit and the high volume of use in New Hampshire.”

She quotes Burling, “The Downeaster is the most successful passenger train that runs through New Hampshire,” Burling said (Amtrak’s Vermonter serves Claremont, NH, but with once daily service only in each direction), adding its three stations add 5 percent per year to Downeaster ridership. “My job isn’t to tell the Legislature what to spend money on. It is to say, ‘Here are some consequences,’ and I do believe there’s huge economic growth potential.”

“While Massachusetts also doesn’t contribute financially to the Downeaster’s operations, Burling said there is concern about an end in rail service, implementation of express trains that don’t stop at New Hampshire stations, or a continued lack of funding that results in operational or infrastructure issues,” writes FDD.

“New Hampshire should be contributing something,” said David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission. “Given the fact that the people of New Hampshire make up a very large portion of the ridership of the Downeaster and we benefit from it, we should be stepping up and being responsible and paying our share.” 

For the complete story go to: http://www.planning.org/news/daily/story.htm?story_id=162598730


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POWER LINES... Power Lines...  

Federal Grant Will Allow MBTA
To Spin-up Wind Turbines

Private Sector Partnerships Look At Solar Panels For Power

By DF Staff And From A Story
By Richard Weir, Boston Herald

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), a division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is looking to “go green” and save some much needed money at the same time by putting up the first of two power generating wind turbines on MBTA property.

“We are trying to find opportunities to leverage potential power. In the past the T just didn’t have the money to erect wind turbines or solar panels,” the MBTA’s General Manager Richard Davey said in announcing a federal grant that will pay for a 120-foot-tall turbine to be built at a layover facility near the Kingston, Massachusetts commuter rail station on the Massachusetts “south shore.”

SPS New England, a company which offered the lowest bid at $334,334 to erect the 100 kilowatt turbine, will begin work next month, according to Davey, who was recently appointed to take over as state transportation secretary from outgoing secretary Jeffrey Mullan. The appointment will take effect September 1.

When the turbine’s 35-foot-long blades go online in the late fall, the units are expected to generate enough power to cover as much as 65 percent of the Kingston station’s electricity needs, including the illumination of the parking lot and train platforms.

The MBTA also plans to eventually install a larger, 300 kilowatt wind turbine at the Bridgewater, Massachusetts commuter rail station sometime next spring. That unit is expected to produce enough energy, not only to power that facility, but also to make some money for the transit agency by selling surplus electricity.

“It’s estimated that these turbines will save the MBTA about $100,000 annually in electricity costs,” said Davey, adding that the T is also working with private investors to install solar panels at three of its rail yards.

The solar panel story was covered by Destination Freedom in the July 25 edition here (http://www.nationalcorridors.org/df3/df07252011.shtml#MBTA)

The panels would be installed on the rooftops of maintenance facilities at the Boston Engine Terminal (Somerville), the Readville shops (Hyde Park-Boston), and at Iron Horse Park (Billerica).

As part of the deal, the MBTA would be able to use some of the solar power or possibly share profits from its sale, Davey said.


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MAINTENANCE LINES... Maintenance Lines...  

New LA Maintenance Facility Features Improvements
To Increase Efficiency And Safety

By DF Staff And From
AMTRAK This Week, August 15, 2011

On Thursday August 18, Amtrak hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially celebrate the opening of the new Los Angeles maintenance facility. The facility will provide an upgraded, more efficient and environmentally friendly location for mechanical employees to perform safety inspections and other maintenance work. The facility will service and maintain passenger equipment used on long-distance routes including the Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and on California-supported corridor services.

The building incorporates many features from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for environmentally sustainable construction, including redevelopment of an existing site, high bay florescent lighting with photocell sensors, large ceiling fans, sky lights and point-of-use instant hot water in lieu of water heaters. The new building also covers work that was previously performed outdoors. The covered facility will allow for the addition of a second shift at night, increasing the output and decreasing the out-of service time for equipment.

Considerable planning went into the layout of the building. The new facility is designed using a “progressive spot” approach, which allows cars to move through a standard production line maximizing efficiency. The facility features 35-ton traversing jacks stored within the shop floor, making it safer and more efficient to remove and replace the trucks or running gears of passenger cars.

The new LA facility was a $24.5 million project that was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus program.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Canadian National (CNI)67.7771.57
Canadian Pacific (CP) 54.2959.63
CSX (CSX)20.4022.60
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)45.1949.87
Kansas City Southern (KSU)46.0054.47
Norfolk Southern (NSC)63.0668.17
Providence & Worcester(PWX)13.8613.91
Union Pacific (UNP)85.6992.72


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FREIGHTLINES... Freight Lines...  

BNSF’s Matt Rose Profiled
In Lengthy Financial Times Piece

From The Financial Times

LONDON --- America and Europe may be in financial turmoil, but the situation at one of the world’s key railroads is well under control, according to a lengthy and detailed article by Transport Correspondent Robert Wright of the Financial Times, which has increasingly been challenging the Wall Street Journal as the go-to business newspaper and website of the world.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe, or BNSF, headed by Matthew K. Rose, is one of the top railroads in North America, the others being Union Pacific, CSX, NS, Canadian Pacific, CN, and Kansas City Southern (freight railroads) and Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada (passenger), but since the fall of 2009 it is the only one owned outright by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc..

Observes the FT’s Robert Wright:

“If Matt Rose, chief executive of the second-biggest railroad network in the US, felt a little intimidated by the responsibility he carries, it would be entirely understandable. In November 2009 Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe, the railroad Mr. Rose has run since 2000, became the single biggest acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment vehicle of Warren Buffett. Since Mr. Buffett bases his investment decisions largely on his view of a company’s management, it could be said that Warren Buffett has bet the deal’s $44bn value that Mr. Rose and his team will continue to do a good job.”

“However, sitting in a smart shirt and tie in his office in Fort Worth, Texas, he laughs when asked if he feels under pressure to vindicate Mr. Buffett’s confidence. “When you put it like that, yes,” says Mr. Rose – who is so well regarded that he has even been mentioned as a possible successor to Mr. Buffett as Berkshire Hathaway’s chief executive. “But I tend not to think of it that way. Warren buys businesses that he likes. He buys businesses run by leadership teams that he likes. We just think of it as a good fit.”

“It is often assumed the country’s railroads are locked in terminal decline because they carry little passenger traffic,” notes Wright, “yet BNSF has been producing some of the strongest returns in US railroad history in recent years. Surging markets overseas for US agricultural products and fast-growing demands to transport containers from the country’s west-coast ports have driven up earnings. The company produced $2.46 billion net earnings on $16.8 billion revenue for 2010, according to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report.

In his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders this year, Mr. Buffett said both he and Charlie Munger, his partner, were enthusiastic about BNSF’s future. “I am proud of what has been accomplished for our society by Matt Rose at BNSF,” he wrote.

Wright’s FT article continues: “Mr. Rose, who is also a director of the parent company of American Airlines, accepts that the railroads had been “given up for dead” in the 1980s. “The airlines really replaced railroads as the darlings of the transport sector,” he says. But, Rose adds, the railroads were laying the foundations for a recovery.

“The railroads just quietly through the 1980s and into the 1990s went along their own way and spent a lot of time taking a lot of cost out, productivity savings, merging the companies together,” Matt Rose says. “They really transformed themselves into a force that could make money and be able to sustain the levels of investment.”

Wright continues: “Mr. Buffett acknowledged that transformation when he bought stakes in three railroads – BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern – in August 2007. When he later took over BNSF, he sold off his stakes in the two other companies.

“I think that the whole industry was very, very pleased to see a very, very large long-term institutional investor like Warren take a long-term position,” Mr. Rose says.

For the complete interview go to:  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a12cdaac-c526-11e0-ba51-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1V6KcJDm7


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ACROSSTHEPOND... Across The Pond...  

Installments by David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

Hartmut Mehdorn Is New CEO Of Air Berlin

Former Deutsche Bahn Chief Assumes Control
After Current Air Berlin CEO Resigns

Hartmut Mehdorn in 2009

File photo via Deutsche Bahn.

Hartmut Mehdorn in 2009.
Berlin – Joachim Hunold, the chairman of Germany’s second biggest airline Air Berlin resigned on Thursday (18th August 2011), just a few hours after announcing increased losses and a drastic savings plan. He will be initially replaced by former Deutsche Bahn chairman Hartmut Mehdorn. Mr. Hunold announced a loss of EUR 32 million (US $45 million) for the second quarter of the year, up from the EUR 28 million loss in the first quarter, blaming it on high oil prices, the new airline ticket ecology tax and recent events in North Africa.

The dramatic savings program will include the reduction of capacity by more than a million seats in the second half of this year, and, according to the financial newspaper Handelsblatt on Thursday, more than a million more seats to be cut next year. Some of the less profitable routes will be canceled and flights will no longer go to a number of regional airports, he said. The focus will be on the airline’s hub airports in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Palma de Mallorca and Vienna, Hunold stated. This statement implied that Air Berlin may reduce operations at its Nuremberg hub.

“In order to become profitable, we have to make cuts in our route network and our fleet,” he said, while warning that the firm would still be in the red for the rest of the year. He then said he was stepping down from control of the company, adding he was convinced a new leader could accelerate the recently-announced savings program.

Hartmut Mehdorn, age 69, will take over from the start of September. Hunold will remain non-executive director, while Mehdorn is already a member of the board of directors. Mehdorn will serve as interim chairman of Air Berlin’s board until a successor is found and the savings plan is fully executed.

Mehdorn was CEO and chairman of Deutsche Bahn AG – German Railways from late 1999 through early 2009. He was forced to resign from DBAG in 2009 after a massive privacy violation scandal at DBAG became public knowledge. In the scandal DBAG managers allegedly spied on employees’ private affairs, personal finances and personal e-mail and phone calls. The spy scandal hit shortly before another publicity debacle related to commuter trains in DBAG’s subsidiary S-Bahn Berlin becoming idled by the hundreds due to lack of required wheel and brake inspections as well as hundreds of intercity trains canceled by cracked axle problems with the entire ICE-3 and ICE-T high speed train fleet.

Hunold was seen as the father of Air Berlin, having taken it over in 1991 and led it to a successful stock market launch in 2006. Air Berlin was originally founded in the late 1970s by several Americans and former PanAm airline pilots who flew PanAm B737 and B727 airliners on intra-European routes from West Berlin, in an era when Lufthansa, the then state airline of West Germany, was prohibited by post World War 2 treaties from serving West Berlin. After German reunification Hunold reshaped Air Berlin from an American-owned holiday / charter airline with just slightly over a dozen airplanes into a large German-owned stock market listed corporation operating as a scheduled low-cost airline with destinations on four continents and over 150 aircraft.

Air Berlin’s intra-Germany and intra-European flight network has placed considerable competitive pressure on Deutsche Bahn and other European passenger railroads in recent years. The rapid growth of the low cost airline sector in Europe has lead to the reduction and termination of numerous long distance / international passenger trains all across Europe in the past decade.

The Handelsblatt newspaper wrote: "The collapse of the former hope for the industry is a warning signal for the entire airline sector and its customers. The time has come to say farewell to cheap flights. The era in which the discount airlines made air travel a people’s sport with their ridiculously low prices, is finally over.”

Air Berlin shares gained more than four percent on the news but then dropped off again slightly, according to the website of news magazine Der Spiegel.


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Switzerland Commits To Conversion To ETCS

Swiss Rail Regulatory Authority Announces Plan To Convert Entire Standard Gage Network
To ETCS Level 2 Signaling And Positive Train Control

Zurich – The Swiss government’s rail regulatory announced plans back at the start of the week (15th August) to slowly phase-out the existing way-side light signal and related positive train control system in the country, known as SIGNUM and ZUB respectively, on all standard-gauge rail lines and convert completely to European Train Control System (ETCS). ETCS is a set of technical specifications, operating rules, protocols, and design standards and equipment specifications for a universal rail track signaling, rail switch control, rail traffic management and anti-collision train controls. ETCS will eventually replace country / rail company specific track signals and positive train control systems, thus allowing trains and train drivers to pass across numerous country borders and rail system territories with a universal / single standard for rail signals, train protection and control. Despite the word “European” in ETCS, a number of countries well beyond Europe have already started implementing ETCS or plan to implement it. In the Level 2 and Level 3 configurations of ETCS, traditional colored light or semaphore track-side signals do not exist, all signal and speed limit information is displayed directly inside the control cab of the train or locomotive.

The country is already on-track to have all standard-gauge lines equipped with ETCS Level 1 by 2015 (with some newer lines already built with Level 2 such as Mattstetten – Rothrist and Lötschberg Base Tunnel, and other lines already converted to ETCS level 2). Starting in 2018 the country will begin the switch-over to Level 1 Limited Supervision (L1 LS) on all standard-gauge lines, thus phasing-out the operation of Switzerland’s SIGNUM and ZUB signal and train control systems. ETCS Level 1 will interface with and operate the existing track-side light signals.

Level 2 and Level 3 configurations of ETCS

Image: Ansaldo STS

Signal masts are a thing of the past – the Level 2 and Level 3 configurations of ETCS use exclusively in-cab displays to indicate to the train driver allowed train speed and the signal states of the track ahead.

Starting in 2025 the country will begin the successive conversion of all standard-gauge rail lines from ETCS Level 1 LS to ETCS Level 2, where ever they are not already Level 2. This change will mean the end of the track-side light signals and will allow for operations at speeds over 160 km/h and/ or very close train spacing (i.e. 2 – 3 minute spacing between trains) on the Swiss rail network. The Swiss government is providing funding to train operators to help in the purchase and installation of the on-board equipment required for operation with ETCS.

Other countries in Europe are slowly converting to ETCS, usually at one rail corridor at a time. Most recently Germany announced that it would convert the Rostock – Berlin corridor to ECTS Level 2. Other countries which have already installed or will install ETCS in parts of their rail networks include Algeria, Austria, South Africa, India, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Great Britain and Denmark, among others.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

A Bus Operator In The Heartland Steps Up
To The Plate And Connects --- With Amtrak

By David Peter Alan
NCI Roving Correspondent

This report comes to you from Wichita, Kansas, a city that was inaccessible to Amtrak riders -- until last Monday! That day, Prestige Transportation Systems, Inc., a charter bus operator based in Wichita, began service between its home city and the train station in Newton, Kansas.

The schedule calls for a bus to leave Newton at 6:15 a.m., heading toward Wichita, and arriving there at 6:45. Returning, the bus leaves at 12:00 midnight and is scheduled to arrive at Newton at 12:35 a.m. While each transfer must be made at a normally-inconvenient hour, the schedule works for Wichitans going somewhere else by rail from Newton, as well as Amtrak passengers who wish to spend a day in the Sunflower State’s largest city. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief leaves Newton in the middle of the night in both directions, going either to Albuquerque and Los Angeles, or to Kansas City and Chicago.

Prestige began as a charter operator in 1985. On November 9, 2010, the company started its first scheduled operations as Bee Line Express, thanks to a Stimulus grant from Washington. It now runs two routes: two daily runs between Wichita and Salina, Kansas, through Newton, and a single daily run between Wichita and Pueblo, Colorado. The latter route connects with Greyhound service at both ends and runs along the route of the Southwest Chief between La Junta, Colorado and Hutchinson, Kansas, although on a schedule different from that of the train. Both lines were previously operated by Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma Bus Lines (TNM&O), a Greyhound subsidiary that has been fully absorbed into the Greyhound system.

R.W. Van Dyke, a retired Trailways driver started Prestige Transportation, and he and his colleagues spent the last three years going through the processes needed to begin a scheduled route and bring their bus into the parking lot at Amtrak’s Newton station. One of those colleagues was Robert J. Carter, former head of operations, who now drives the Pueblo route. He and Van Dyke saw no reason why a local bus operation could not compete with Greyhound by starting a new route. “If they can do it, so can we” was their philosophy, according to Carter.

Carter said that ridership is “not too bad” after nine months of operation and with no advertising. Riders, including this writer, learn about the service through word of mouth or by buying a through ticket from Greyhound, according to Carter. Until last week, the Bee Line Express bus had stopped at a convenience store some distance from the Newton train station. All that has changed now. Last Thursday, driver Gordon Roberts walked into the train station and checked with Amtrak agent John Arbuckle to determine who his riders were. A minute or two later, this writer and his other riders were on the bus, going to Wichita.

Wichita lost its train service in 1979, when a number of trains, including the Lone Star Limited, were discontinued. Part of that service returned in 1999 as the Heartland Flyer, but the portion between Newton and Oklahoma City, including Wichita, still has no train. Several groups, including the Oklahoma Passenger Rail Association (OPRA), Passenger Rail Oklahoma and the Northern Flyer Alliance, based in Wichita, have been advocating for a return of service to the line. Given the current political climate, getting rail service back will not be an easy task. In the meantime, the Bee Line Express is there to take riders between Wichita and Newton, so they can go further on Amtrak.

Information about the Beeline Express bus can be found on their web sitewww.beeline-express.com. The company’s phone numbers are  (316) 201-6700 and (855) 201-6700, a toll-free number.


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Virginia Rail Observations and Commentary

 

Transportation And Tea Party Politics - I

By Richard L. Beadles
Volume III, No. 15
August 15, 2011.

If economics is the dismal science, then transportation economics must be the black hole of economics. We would submit that not one out of one-thousand Virginians could explain, in reasonable detail, how our highway system is funded. It is even less likely they could do that with regard to any of the other modes. But Virginians may soon get a chance to learn more, thanks to the influence of what is now called the Tea Party. Resistance to new taxes is not necessarily bad. If responsibly pursued, such restraint can be constructive -- and very American -- but if we put at risk our transportation infrastructure just for the sake of political ideology alone, that’s quite another matter. Current news is full of idiocy, not all attributable to the Tea Party.

Sometimes we wonder if anybody gets it. One leg of Governor McDonnell’s recently-approved transportation construction (not maintenance) financing program depends upon receipt of future federal transportation disbursements to service the debt on $ 1 billion of Virginia construction bonds. What happens if the flow of federal monies to Virginia is constrained, as indeed Florida Congressman John Mica proposes? He is chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Mica wants the Federal Highway Trust Fund to live within its means, i.e. to pay out only what it takes in (gas taxes, etc.), which it has not in recent years. General revenue has recently been used to substantially supplement the Trust Fund, to the tune of about $30 billion. Meanwhile, Virginia has been held hostage to the “no gas tax increase” mantra since the days of former-governor, George Allen. Attend meetings of the Commonwealth Transportation Board to see first-hand unmet needs, especially in deferred highway maintenance. Now the Tea Party is said to be targeting the federal gas tax. A day of reckoning is coming.

Commercial aviation is battling strong headwinds, partly because of seemingly- permanently-high jet fuel costs. Delta and other carriers are gradually pulling out of smaller markets, e.g. Lynchburg. Current travel to and from Richmond and Norfolk airports is down. In the case of Richmond, Jet Blue’s discontinuance of service to New York is said to be part of the answer. Recently, AirTran (Southwest) announced that it is leaving Newport News. Aviation has awesome capabilities as well as costs. Now, congress may be on the verge of reining in air subsidies. Were the feds to limit aviation investment, and subsidies, to what is actually collected in direct taxes from aviation (the Mica model), the impact would likely be quite severe to infrastructure and service. Even more bizarre was the recent failure of the politicians to permanently resolve the FAA’s authorization, resulting in the loss of millions in uncollected taxes on air travel.

Drivers on Route 164 can see costly, but now idle, cranes at Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT). These were partially funded by State sales tax money allotted to VA’s Transportation Trust Fund. What’s going on? VA Port Authority (VPA-VIT) bailed out private owners of the new APM terminal in what, for now at least, is a money-losing lease deal. The APM terminal, now operated by VPA-VIT, is busy but PMT is quiet. So how does all this relate to rail? Read on, in No. 16 of VA Rail O&C’s, NEXT WEEK IN Destination:Freedom


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

The $600M Busway vs. Rail Battle ---
Connecticut Needs To Get This Right

From DF Staff

HARTFORD --- For most of the 20th century, America’s investment in transportation, has been spent on roads and highways, allowing much of our rail infrastructure to atrophy.

Now the highways are so congested, new solutions are needed. So in the 1990’s when the state capitol of Connecticut, Hartford, was besieged with highway gridlock on the very interstate built to ease traffic congestion, city leaders, state legislators, and some Hartford businessmen, came up with the idea of building a new road for busses only, touting it as the transit solution that will revitalize Hartford and help clean up the foul air that has raised asthma rates exponentially in the last twenty years or so.

The problem was and is: there was no room for a dedicated busway except along a rail corridor leading in to the downtown area. A section of that rail line had been abandoned and the tracks ripped up, so plans were drawn up in the late 1990’s for a 9.4 mile busway to be built along the abandoned rail corridor from New Britain to Hartford at a cost of approximately $80 million.

Fast forward to 2009 when our newly elected president, Barack Obama, took office and raised public awareness of what a world-class rail system could do for the United States and how our present grid-locked auto-dependent system is holding us back in the global economy. For the first time since the Transcontinental Railroad was built, billions of federal dollars are authorized around the nation to jump start the revitalization of America’s pitiful rail system.

Then fast-forward on the Busway: it is now estimated to cost close to $600 million. Business leaders in the towns that would be served by that abandoned rail line suddenly realize not only will they get little or no benefit from the busway: they will also be blocked from restoring rail service through their towns because the busway will take away a section of the rail right-of-way forever.

In the spring of 2010, the Chamber of Commerce in central Connecticut contacted the Sierra Club to ask for help in promoting the restoration of the rail line instead of building the costly busway. It was clear to Sierra Club Executive Committee that the rail would have far more environmental benefits since it would service thousands more riders and would obviate the need for building the costly asphalt busway infrastructure, a project which in itself would cause pollution to air and water. In April, 2010, at a press conference at the state Capitol, Connecticut Sierra Club’s Transportation Chair, Molly McKay, made the public announcement that the Club opposed the busway and supported restoring the rail line as a prudent and viable alternative.

One year later, on March 31, Connecticut’s newly elected governor, Dannel Malloy, announced that he would support the busway but was ordering $1 million in state bonding to study the restoration of the rail line.

The battle is far from over. Federal funds targeted for the busway have not yet surfaced, and the rail advocates are pursuing legal tactics to stop the project.

This was a project that was never honestly studied, or debated, because the Connecticut Department of Transportation, as it has often done when given the chance to pave something over, simply lied about the rail alternative studies done --- or rather, claimed to have been done, but not done --- as required by law.

For decades, ConnDOT --- and other DOTs across the nation --- has gotten away with this. The Sierra Club, and the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, have caught ConnDOT in its lie this time, and is taking the agency to court. Stay tuned. Maybe, for a change the people will win. We hope so, for Connecticut’s sake, and for the sake of all of us who want a viable rail alternative to pavement in our children’s future.


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WE GET LETTERS We Get Letters...  

To the editor:

I read your newsletter every week, and I like it. I would like to point out an error in the August 8 issue.

     “…in 1937 the GOP Congress forced Roosevelt to reverse his pro-infrastructure, pro-growth policies, sending unemployment soaring almost at once…”

The 1937 Congress was elected with FDR’s reelection in the landslide of 1936, and the balance was 334 Democrats in the House to 88 Republicans, in the Senate the balance was 76 Democrats to 16 Republicans. The GOP would not take over Congress until the 1946 elections.

Keep up the good work.

Mark Hartley


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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