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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September 19, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 37

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

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

  News Items…
New Federal Railroad Administration Proposed Regs
   Permit Amtrak Privatization
Iconic South Boston ‘Postal Annex’
   Could Be Closed, Not Just Moved
Kerry-Hutchison Infrastructure Bank Would
   Spur Us Economic Recovery
  Select Rail Stocks…
 
  Political Lines…
Congress Passes Six Month Transportation Extension
APTA Moderates Discussion On American Jobs Act
  Commentary…
Rider Advocates Rate Amtrak, Rail Transit Providers
   Re Post-Hurricane Irene Performance
  Publication Notes …


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

As Required By PRIAA ACT

 

New Federal Railroad Administration Proposed Regs
Permit Amtrak Privatization

By DF Staff

WASHINGTON --- The Federal Railroad Administration, responding to language in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) signed by President Bush in 2008, which along with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed by President Obama lay the groundwork for new High Speed Rail initiatives in America, has issued proposed regulations that would allow for the privatization of Amtrak routes now operated over railroad track owned by railroads other than Amtrak --- in effect, almost the entire Amtrak system outside the portions of the Northeast Corridor now owned by Amtrak.

The Northeast Corridor is owned from Washington, DC to New York City by Amtrak, from the state line of New York/CT to New Haven by the State of Connecticut, from New Have to the Rhode Island/MA state line by Amtrak, and then from the Massachusetts state line to Boston by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The proposed rules have been published in Federal Register Volume 76, Number 173 (Wednesday, September 7, 2011), Pages 55335-55343] [FR Doc No: 2011-22699], as the “Alternate Passenger Rail Service Pilot Program”, under the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Department of Transportation (DOT).

The statutory background requiring the FRA to issue the proposed rules is described as follows by the FRA:

“The proposed rule is in response to a statutory mandate --- specifically, Sec. 214 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), Public Law No. 110-432, Division B (Oct. 16, 2008) --- that FRA complete a rulemaking proceeding to develop a pilot program that permits a rail carrier or rail carriers that own infrastructure over which Amtrak operates certain passenger rail service routes to petition FRA to be considered as a passenger rail service provider over such a route in lieu of Amtrak for a period not to exceed five years after the date of enactment of PRIIA. Section 214 further provides that those routes described in 49 U.S.C. 24102(5) (B), (C), and (D) and in 49 U.S.C. 24702 are eligible for the pilot program, and that the program not be made available to more than two routes.”

The FRA continues:

“Section 214 also provides for, among other things, the following: The establishment of a petition, notification, and bid process through which FRA would evaluate bids to provide passenger rail service over particular routes by interested rail carriers and Amtrak; FRA’s selection of a winning bidder by, among other things, evaluating the bids against the financial and performance metrics developed under section 207 of PRIIA; FRA’s execution of a contract with the winning bidder awarding the right and obligation to provide passenger rail service over the route, along with an operating subsidy, as well as requiring compliance with the minimum standards established under section 207 of PRIIA, among other things; that Amtrak must provide access to its reservation system, stations, and facilities to a winning bidder; that employees used in the operation of a route under the pilot program would be considered an employee of that rail carrier and would be subject to the applicable Federal laws and regulations governing similar crafts or classes of employees of Amtrak; that the winning bidder must provide hiring preference to displaced qualified Amtrak employees; that the winning bidder would be subject to the grant conditions under 49 U.S.C. 24405; and that, if a winning bidder ceases to operate the service or to otherwise fulfill their obligations, the FRA Administrator, in collaboration with the Surface Transportation Board, would take any necessary action to enforce the contract and to ensure the continued provision of service.

The FRA further explained its proposed rules as follows:

“This [proposed rule] is in response to a statutory mandate that FRA complete a rulemaking proceeding to develop a pilot program that permits a rail carrier or rail carriers that own infrastructure over which Amtrak operates certain passenger rail service routes to petition FRA to be considered as a passenger rail service provider over such a route in lieu of Amtrak for a period not to exceed five years after the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. The proposed rule would develop this pilot program in conformance with the statutory directive.”

“Written comments on the proposed rule must be received by November 7, 2011. Comments received after that date will be considered to the extent possible without incurring additional expense or delay. FRA anticipates being able to determine these matters without a public hearing. However, if prior to October 7, 2011, FRA receives a specific request for a public hearing accompanied by a showing that the party is unable to adequately present his or her position by written statement, a hearing will be scheduled and FRA will publish a supplemental notice in the Federal Register to inform interested parties of the date, time, and location of any such hearing,” the FRA continued.

“Comments related to Docket Number FRA-2009-0108, may be submitted by any of the following methods:

[FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Alexander Roth, Office of Railroad Policy and Development, FRA, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE., Washington, DC 20590 (Telephone 202-493-6109), or Zeb Schorr, Attorney-Advisor, Office of Chief Counsel, FRA, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE., Mail Stop 10, Washington, DC 20590 (Telephone 202-493-6072)]


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Part Of South Station Zone

 

Iconic South Boston ‘Postal Annex’
Could Be Closed, Not Just Moved

By DF Staff And From The Boston Globe

BOSTON --- It has seen the decline and renaissance of Boston’s famed South Station, indeed of Boston itself, a huge postal “annex” larger than most buildings in the region, located on the Boston side of the Fort Point Channel not far from where the real Boston Tea Party took place in December 1773, and is the employer to more than 1000 local residents.

But the South Boston Postal Annex, once criticized by rail supporters for taking precious track space at the adjacent South Station, an icon of 20th century building construction from the form-follows-function era and slated for relocation across Fort Point Channel, now faces the wrecking ball with no replacement planned whatsoever.

As The Boston Globe reported:

“The financially strained US Postal Service said yesterday that it may permanently close its Boston processing facility and abandon plans to replace it with a new plant nearby, potentially resulting in the loss of more than 1,300 jobs in the city. The announcement, part of a nationwide plan to save $3 billion a year by closing more than half the Postal Service’s processing plants, carries broad implications for a large section of the city from South Station to the Seaport District.”

“While the Postal Service had long planned to demolish its current facility along Fort Point Channel to allow for the expansion of train service at South Station, yesterday’s news means it may not replace it with a new building on a 25-acre government-owned parcel further down Summer Street in South Boston. Instead, the Postal Service said it is considering consolidating the Boston operations with existing facilities in Waltham and North Reading. Abandoning the new facility in an area of the city that is fast being remade from its old industrial past would leave the property in need of a new redevelopment plan and lead to heavy job losses in a difficult economy. Mayor Thomas M. Menino called on the Postal Service last night to put in place training programs to help find new work for any displaced employees,” the Globe continued.

“The mayor’s biggest concern is for those employees, especially the longtime employees who have spent their lives working for the Postal Service,” said Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce.

“A spokesman for the Postal Service said the agency will spend the next three months reviewing whether it should move forward with the facility in Boston or opt for consolidating it with others outside the city.

‘We’re processing fewer pieces of mail, so we may want to maximize the capacity we have in other locations.’ said the spokesman, Dennis Tarmey. He added that the Postal Service will host public meetings this winter to discuss any consolidations recommended during its review.

Globe reporter Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

For the full story see: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2011/09/15/postal-service-rethinks-plans/M8uM9V8uQSyJPP4jnQA2CI/story.xml


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Kerry-Hutchison Infrastructure Bank
Would Spur Us Economic Recovery

From The Boston Globe

By Scot Lehigh
Scot Lehigh Can Be Reached At:
Lehigh@Globe.Com

WHAT IF someone told you that there was a way to put tens of thousands of people back to work on the cheap?

And that the result would be a much-needed upgrade in American infrastructure - without taxpayers having to foot a big bill.

You’d be intrigued, right?

If you’re a left-leaner and learned such a plan was the brainchild of a Massachusetts Democrat, that might well lend it credibility with you. If you’re a right-leaner and heard that it was an important priority of a top Texas Republican, you’d likely be reassured that it wasn’t just a slice of progressive pie-in-the-sky.

And if you heard it was an idea backed by both the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, you might say: Impossible.

But all that is true of the plan Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have put forward for an American Infrastructure Financing Authority, or, colloquially, a national infrastructure bank.

The federal government would fund the bank with $10 billion in seed capital and grant it the right to issue $160 billion in federal loans over a decade. The institution would then use loans and loan guarantees to help leverage private investments for projects that passed its strict vetting process.

By backing part of a project’s cost, the bank would make it attractive for other investors to finance the rest.

Only highway, water, and energy projects would qualify - and to be eligible, the project would have to have a dedicated revenue stream like road or bridge tolls or water bills to finance the debt.

“You’d have the kind of revenue streams that people dream of for stability,” says Kerry.

At a time when safe investment is much in demand, the bank would represent a real opportunity for global pension, sovereign wealth, private equity and mutual funds.

“If it is done right, it could expand exponentially the amount of infrastructure spending that we have,” says Senator Hutchison.

And this bank is designed right, she says. Professionally staffed, it would have conservative lending standards. Its board would be bipartisan, its process independent of political pressure.

In no case would it loan more than 50 percent of a project’s cost, meaning the undertaking would have to attract significant other investment dollars before going forward.

If you consider that every 1 billion in infrastructure spending puts between 18,000 and 30,000 people to work, over time, such a bank could give employment a shot in the arm.

“For $100 billion, you get 1.8 million jobs,” says Kerry. Based on the results from similar banks elsewhere, he thinks the bank could leverage up to $600 billion in total infrastructure spending during its first decade. Michael Lind, economic growth policy director for the New America Foundation, says Kerry’s estimate is realistic.

Here’s the obvious question: Why can’t those projects simply tap the existing market for their financing? And here’s the answer: The bank is designed for projects that, for various reasons - the size and duration of the loan required, for example, or the structure of the investment - don’t fit well with traditional financing.

Although the idea may sound exotic, it’s not.

“Infrastructure banks or development banks have been used worldwide for years,” notes Janet Kavinoky, executive director for transportation and infrastructure at the US Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, the EU’s European Investment Bank has been in existence since the late 1950s, and has played a major role in modernizing European infrastructure. Brazil has one as well, as do a number of Asian countries, says Lind.

Mind you, this is not an immediate anti-recessionary plan. It would take time to get the bank established and operating. Still, President Obama has now adopted the idea as part of his jobs plan.

But can it win approval from a Republican Party skeptical about expanding the role of government?

Hutchison thinks her fellow Republicans will grow comfortable with the proposal once they become familiar with both the potential of, and protections in, the plan.

“I can’t tell you for sure that we are going to pass it,” she says, “but I think we have to do a few innovative things - with well-thought-out protections - to leverage private money so that government isn’t responsible for everything.”

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

[For the full story go to: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2011/09/13/infrastructure-bank-will-spur-economy/MyRcPzIo9DJYrZHTC7VV9O/story.xml]


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Berkshire Hathaway B (BNSF)(BRK.B)71.5567.77
Canadian National (CNI)71.1268.52
Canadian Pacific (CP) 54.0151.69
CSX (CSX)21.4319.58
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)51.5746.92
Kansas City Southern (KSU)54.7149.62
Norfolk Southern (NSC)70.4264.83
Providence & Worcester(PWX)13.8011.96
RailAmerica (RA)13.6312.29
Union Pacific (UNP)91.6485.09

Beginning August 29, 2011, we will be adding Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B)
as an indicator for BNSF Railroad, as well as RailAmerica (RA).
 


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Congress Passes Six Month
Transportation Extension

From Passenger Transport, Weekly Newsletter Of
The American Public Transportation Association

Reprinted With Permission

WASHINGTON, DC -- Both houses of Congress passed a six month extension of the surface transportation authorization bill this week through March 31, 2012. This action sends it to President Obama for his signature. This is the 8th extension of the transportation bill and moves consideration of authorization into early next year.

Also, this week, the House Appropriations Committee introduced a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the federal government through Nov. 18. This CR will ensure that the departments of the federal government continue paying bills, funding grants and loans, and operate on a daily basis while averting a shutdown similar to the one that occurred at the FAA in August. This resolution still faces House and Senate approval and presidential signature. The threat of a 30 percent reduction in public transportation funding still remains. Congress still needs to address investment levels for FY 2012 before this CR expires.


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APTA Moderates Discussion
On American Jobs Act

From Internet Sources

On Sept. 14, APTA moderated a discussion between transit systems, business members, and administration officials to discuss the impacts of the American Jobs Act on APTA members. Greg Nelson, associate director, White House office of Public Engagement, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo, and Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Polly Trottenberg discussed how the bill followed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill of last year. It will “use the same successful blueprint for putting people back to work and getting more money in the pockets of working Americans” Rogoff said.  Szabo said that “the goal is to jumpstart the economy and set it on a stable path.” If passed, FTA will be looking at almost $9 billion in funding for operations, maintenance, as well as additional funds for TIGER and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Rider Advocates Rate Amtrak, Rail Transit Providers
Re Post-Hurricane Irene Performance

By David Peter Alan

Two weeks ago, we presented a summary of when Amtrak trains and rail transit throughout the Northeastern Region shut down in light of the impending story, and when service resumed. In some cases, service was out for an entire week. In the worst case, the line between Suffern and Port Jervis, New York, owned by New York MTA’s Metro-North Railroad and operated by New Jersey Transit (NJT), service is still suspended, due to severe track damage. At this writing, peak-hour service is slated to resume today (Monday, September 19th) between Harriman and Port Jervis. Buses will still take riders between Harriman and connections with NJT trains, and also run all service at off-peak hours and on week-ends, until the line is fully repaired.

Now that the figurative dust has cleared and the literal water has receded, advocates for passenger rail in the region are evaluating Amtrak’s performance, as well as that of the local transit providers, during the emergency. For the most part, commentators had different opinions about Amtrak or their local transit provider, depending on where they were.

One of the areas which lost the most service was New York State. Amtrak’s Empire Service was suspended on Saturday, August 27th and did not return fully for an entire week. The Lake Shore Limited departure from Chicago on Friday evening terminated at Albany/Rensselaer with no connection to New York City. Bruce B. Becker, President of the Empire State Passengers’ Association (ESPA), did not complain, in light of the pounding that his state had taken from Hurricanes Irene and Lee, a tornado that ravaged Amsterdam between the hurricanes, and serious electrical problems during the emergency.

Becker reported that Amtrak could not have chartered buses, either, because the New York State Thruway, the main highway that runs parallel to the rail line, was also shut down. Becker praised CSX for getting the line operating so quickly, but also expressed concern that CSX did not allow Amtrak to operate over it sooner. He also praised employees at the Albany/Rensselaer station for accommodating passengers who were stranded, because they did not know that their train would be terminated there.

The southern part of the New Jersey Shore, from Atlantic City south, was also hard-hit, with much of the population ordered to evacuate. One of the evacuees was Jeffrey B. Marinoff, an Atlantic City resident and Vice-Chair of NJT’s South Jersey Transportation Advisory Committee. Marinoff gave NJT and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) high marks. “Considering all in all, they did what they had to do, under the circumstances” he said. Marinoff said that Amtrak “erred on the side of caution” by shutting down when they did, and he particularly praised NJT for using many of its buses to help evacuate the Southern Shore area on Friday and Saturday, and bring people home on Sunday. By Monday, NJT trains between Atlantic City and Philadelphia were running again.

Advocates further north in New Jersey were not so complimentary toward NJT. Jesse Gribin, a Lackawanna Coalition member who lives in the northern part of the Shore region, said Amtrak and NJT acted rashly by shutting down too much service. “They treated Irene like a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, when she was a Category 2, at worst,” he said. Actually, Irene had only the strength of a tropical storm when she hit northern New Jersey and New York City. He also described the total lack of NJT rail service on Monday as “irresponsible.” Gribin criticized NJT for not running diesel trains into Hoboken Terminal. All lines that go to Hoboken, as well as the North Jersey Coast Line and Raritan Valley Line use diesels for all or part of their operations, and Gribin said these engines could have provided service, unaffected by problems with catenary wire or the flooding at Trenton. Although Gribin criticized the magnitude of the shutdown, he complimented Amtrak and New York City transit for restoring service as quickly as they did. “It takes a long time to relocate the subway trains and to turn on an electrical system that has been shut down completely” he said.

New Yorker Joseph M. Clift gave low marks to Amtrak, NJT and Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) service during the crisis. He criticized PATH for shutting down shortly after noon on Saturday, saying that NJT buses and light rail ran until 6:00 and PATH should have operated during that time, to help people leave the City and make bus or light rail connections to get home to New Jersey. He also criticized Amtrak and NJT for taking too long to restore service. “We want our public transportation system to come back as quickly as possible” he said, noting that the Long Island Rail Road run five major lines into Penn Station for the Monday work day. Clift was Director of Planning for the LIRR in the 1980s. Clift characterized NJT’s refusal to run trains on Monday as an attitude of “let’s disrupt the general economy to make sure we don’t have any problems ourselves” and called for a more proactive approach by NJT to make sure their trains run, even when Amtrak has operating difficulties that could originate far beyond the local area.

Maine resident Richard Rudolph, who serves as Chair of the Rail Users’ Network (RUN), placed part of the blame on weather forecasters, for issuing such a scary forecast for New England. He also criticized Amtrak for overreacting by suspending service before it was necessary to do so. “Canceling Amtrak trains when there might be a difficulty has become commonplace” he said. He also saw no reason why Amtrak could not have operated in New England through the end of the scheduled service day on Saturday, since local transit in Boston did. He also said that Amtrak could have cleaned up the tracks and started running sooner in his region. He remembered a trip on Vancouver Island on VIA Rail. “The crew had a chain saw on the train to cut down any trees that fell on the tracks” he remembered, saying that Amtrak could have sent a cleanup train over the affected lines, followed by regular service.

Richard J. Arena, a Boston-based rail advocate and President of the Association for Public Transportation, blamed our rail infrastructure for the severity of the problems in Irene’s wake. He noted that rail lines were built in low-lying places for ease of construction, and that nobody worried about 100-year or 500-year storms when they were building the railroads. “We’re running the railroads on band-aids and shoestrings” he said, adding that people will need to spend more money on rail infrastructure in terms of more taxes and higher fares before the nation has the sort of rail infrastructure that can withstand storms like Irene.

Could Amtrak and the local rail transit providers have done better? Most of the advocates we asked seemed to think so. It is useful to evaluate the performance of transit providers during an emergency, as an instructive experience to improve preparedness for any future emergency. Chicago advocate Fritz Plous, whose region was not affected by the storms, placed the need to evaluate the railroads into perspective. “The biggest problem is that many people, including the media, disrespect trains. We won’t have the service we need until that attitude is no longer prevalent.” He added: “If trains are not respected, the people who run them are not likely to do their best to keep them running well in an emergency, or any other time.”

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and a member of the RUN Board of Directors. RUN focuses on customer service issues in its concerns and dealings with Amtrak.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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

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