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 26, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 38

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

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

  News Items…
APTA’s Big ‘Expo’ And Conference Set
   For New Orleans October 2-5
Advisory Group Report Says MBTA Needs At $15 billion+
   For Basic Repairs
  Political Lines…
Senate Saves A Sliver For High-Speed Rail
SAFETEA-LU Extended Through March 31, 2012
  Funding Lnes…
U.S. Transportation Chief Announces $25 Million Grant
   For Streetcar Project In North Carolina
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Commentary…
Atlantic City Casinos Held The ACES,
   But Folded Anyway
  Editorial…
The High-Speed Rail Program That Isn’t
  Publication Notes …


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

APTA’s Big ‘Expo’ And Conference
Set For New Orleans October 2-5

From The American Public Transportation Association

NEW ORLEANS --- APTA’s annual national conference, and its once-every-three-years EXPO, kicks off October 2 at New Orleans’ huge Morial Convention Center, lasting through October 5, with additional technical sessions for transit operators.

Host for the Conference is the New Orleans RTA, whose famed St. Charles Avenue streetcars have been joined by the re-birth and extension of the Canal Street line to the Museum of Fine Arts, and the new Riverfront Line serving the French Quarter; more expansions are underway, and the day is coming when, once again, New Orleans residents and visitors alike will be able to board a Streetcar Named Desire.

This will be the final conference for APTA President & CEO William Millar, who is retiring. Millar is credited with growing and transforming the association into one of the most visible and effective associations in Washington. Among other things, he oversaw the renaming of the group from “American Public Transit” to “American Public Transportation,” a symbolic but critical change which foresaw the growth in the scope of APTA as a transportation policy locus and research center.

NCI Chairman Jim RePass commented: “I have known Bill Millar, and worked with him, for more than a decade, and there is no doubt in my mind that the American public’s awareness of and appreciation for public transportation is far higher now than it was even a few years ago, due to Bill’s unfaltering leadership as well as his accessible style and sense of duty.

Note: conference pre-registration is open through September 26 but on-site registration is also permitted. Go to: http://www.apta.com/mc/annual/registration/Pages/default.aspx

Note: The final program and schedule are now available for download at the website”

Annual Meeting Program (pdf) - 49 pages at: http://www.apta.com/mc/annual/schedule/Documents/APTA-2011-Annual-Meeting-Program.pdf

Annual Meeting Schedule At-a-Glance (PDF) - legal size, 2 pages at: http://www.apta.com/mc/annual/schedule/Documents/APTA-2011-Annual-Meeting-Schedule-At-A-Glance.pdf

Visit the General Information for Attendees page (http://www.apta.com/mc/annual/registration/Pages/GeneralInformation.aspx ) to find out tons of useful information about the Annual Meeting, EXPO, and visiting New Orleans; Airport Shuttle New Orleans is offering a $3 per person discount to conference attendees. You must make your reservation online to receive the discount. Visit the Local Transportation  (http://www.apta.com/mc/annual/logistics/Pages/LocalTransportation.aspx) page for more information.


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Advisory Group Report Says MBTA Needs
At $15 billion+ For Basic Repairs

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

BOSTON — Massachusetts’ storied MBTA, one of the oldest and largest public transportation systems in the country, is in a $15 billion hole when it comes to basic infrastructure repairs, an advisory group to the T is reporting.

The report released last week by the Transportation Advisory Committee, and independent body set up to provide non-partisan input to MBTA affairs, was released this past week by new MassDOT chief and former MBTA head Richard Davey.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Davey indicated that a fare hike is likely in the near future for public transportation users:

“The state transportation secretary says an MBTA fare increase could be in the works following a report that says Massachusetts’ aging highway, bridge, and transit network needs more than $15 billion in repairs. Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey tells The Boston Globe (http://bo.st/qoBgGH) that with the MBTA facing a projected $161 million deficit for the coming year an “at least modest” fare increase should be discussed.”

“The (TAC) committee is a roundtable of academics, activists, business leaders, engineers, and strategists who advise the transportation secretary,” reported the Globe.

The MBTA has been chronically underfunded for decades, as has much of America’s basic infrastructure, largely because direct user fees, especially for the automobile user, have been kept artificially low. The problem has been compounded over the last 30 years by Reagan and Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which have reduced income taxes on upper-income families to levels not seen since the 1930’s, while payroll taxes on those working people who still have jobs have continued to increase, with few exceptions.

An in-depth report by Radio Station WAMC in Western Massachusetts highlighted that this is not just a “Boston” or “city” problem:

It reported, “Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and member of the state TAC’s finance sub-committee, described the current funding picture as, ‘grim. The commonwealth’s transportation funding gap in terms of our transport systems, highway, and transit has worsened substantially. We also have an extraordinarily high debt load.’”

“I think the ‘a-ha’ moment for us was that 74 percent of the commonwealth’s trust fund revenue which goes to transportation is now going to debt service, in other words we’re paying back debt we already have,” Brennan told WAMC.

“Brennan said that repayment of that debt, accrued over the years as the state borrowed to fund basic operating expenses, means that the funding available for transportation improvements is highly constrained. About $145 million of the state DOT’s annual operating budget is currently paid for with borrowed money, a practice Brennan said may have been necessary during tough fiscal times, but which has at this point out lived it’s shelf life.”

“Our fear and I think it’s a substantial fear, is that a point will come that the only funds that you have will be spent for debt rather than for investing in the system. You could face a point of no return where all you have is debt.” Brennan told WAMC.


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Senate Saves A Sliver For High-Speed Rail

From DC Streetsblog And Other Internet Sources

SEPTEMBER 22 -- President Obama had sought $8 billion for high-speed rail in 2012. Last week the House budget passed with exactly zero. The Senate Transportation subcommittee also zeroed-out all HSR funding on Tuesday. But on Wednesday, the full Appropriations Committee got it restored at the “sliver” amount of $100 million in next year’s budget for the president’s signature transportation initiative.

“That’s still starvation wages for the program,” writes Tanya Snyder in the Streetsblog, “but it’s at least a placeholder that keeps it limping along. The move was spearheaded by four Democratic senators – Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — who introduced the successful amendment to reallocate some funds earmarked for highway and transit projects to high-speed rail.”

“I offered this amendment because we can’t turn our backs on a project that will invest in the future and put Californians back to work,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“Every dollar we spend on rail produces $3 in economic output,” added Senator Durbin, a founding member of the Bi-Cameral High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. “Congress has maintained a commitment to high-speed and intercity rail for over a decade. This amendment will continue that commitment.”

Highway funding in the Senate bill stays at FY2011 levels, but the chamber added another $358 million for the New Starts program for transit capital investments, previously funded at $8.3 billion. The House budget would reduce New Starts to $5.3 billion.

TIGER got a little bump too, with the Senate raising the allocation from $527 million to $550 million. Of that, $120 million is reserved for rural communities. The third round of TIGER grant applications is currently underway.

The Senate-passed budget keeps $90 million for the tri-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities (down from $100 million in 2011), a victory for livability advocates and anyone who prefers federal collaboration and efficiency over stovepipes and silos.

The bill also includes $25 million for energy efficiency improvements for transit systems to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. And the Washington metro system, always threatened with federal cuts, comes away with $150 million for capital investments, with a focus on safety.

These numbers are by no means final. They vary widely from the FY2012 budget the House passed two weeks ago. At some point, the two chambers will have to find a compromise between two significantly different funding proposals, but for now, they’re just trying to figure out an extension (or “continuing resolution”) of the current year’s budget in order to keep government programs funded past September 30. Wednesday night’s vote in the House failed dramatically, with both Democrats and Tea Party Republicans dissenting.


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SAFETEA-LU Extended
Through March 31, 2012

From The American Public Transportation Association (APTA)

Last week, Congress approved a six-month extension to SAFETEA-LU,** the federal surface transportation authorizing law, which was set to expire on September 30. The bill extends federal transit and highway spending authority and federal motor fuels taxes for the same length of time. The extension provides spending authority at FY 2011 spending levels and does not make any program or policy changes.

This extension, through March 31, 2012, provides the House and Senate authorizing committees time to reach an agreement on a longer term authorization bill.

** Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users

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


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

U.S. Transportation Chief Announces $25 Million Grant
For Streetcar Project In North Carolina

Secretary Calls It An “Economic Engine” For Charlotte

From The Charlotte Observer, N.C.
And Other Internet Sources

CHARLOTTE SEPTEMBER 20 -- A street car project that has had strong support from the business community for several years, but no money to pay for it, is about to get a boost from the feds. The Charlotte Observer reported that last Monday U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood formally awarded Charlotte $25 million for its starter streetcar line, and said in a campaign-style speech that congressional passage of President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act would lead to similar projects and jobs.

The Charlotte Streetcar Project is a key recommendation of Charlotte’s long range transportation vision and plan: the 2030 Corridor System Plan.  The streetcar is also a key component to implementing the Center City 2010 Vision Plan, helping to create “a livable and memorable Center City.” Further, the streetcar will be critical in creating a transit focused and pedestrian oriented center city through developing an integrated transportation system of pedestrians, bikes, motor vehicles, transit, parking, and land development.

The alignment of this street car project will serve the central business district (CBD) and provide connectivity to surrounding communities and institutions. 

The money announced by LaHood will pay for the starter line of 1.5 miles from the Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital, but the city’s goal is make it a 10-mile line from Beatties Ford Road to the site of the old Eastland Mall.

Secretary LaHood held a press conference at Central Piedmont Community College, located on the streetcar line, where he emphasized that this grant is tied to President Obama’s jobs proposal.

“This rail line will become an economic engine,” LaHood said.

Construction will begin in December 2012, after the Democratic National Convention. The city hopes to begin service in 2015.

The line is expected to cost $37 million, with the city paying $12 million. The $25 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration wasn’t a surprise; it was announced in spring 2010.

Streetcar supporters say it will produce economic development, as businesses will want to locate along the rail line.

The city said it estimates the streetcar will produce 385 jobs, using an FTA formula.

The streetcar line has been controversial.

Naysayers complain that it won’t go any faster than a bus, touting the 4-year-old Lynx Blue Line light-rail project as better transit because it is faster.

Republicans complain it will be a waste of money and won’t succeed.

But political will has been abundant for the streetcars, perhaps because they were so important to the city 100 years ago and in the nineteenth century. When challenged about how to fund it, operating costs are estimated to be $1.5 million, city leaders have suggested using additional property taxes created by development around the streetcar line, implementing taxes on the neighborhoods where the streetcars will run, a method which has been dubbed “value capture” among planners. When transportation spurs economic development then using a percentage of the proceeds from business profits can fund operating and maintenance costs of the infrastructure.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Berkshire Hathaway B (BNSF)(BRK.B)66.3771.55
Canadian National (CNI)65.2771.12
Canadian Pacific (CP) 47.2454.01
CSX (CSX)19.2521.43
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)46.7151.57
Kansas City Southern (KSU)49.4154.71
Norfolk Southern (NSC)61.5370.42
Providence & Worcester(PWX)10.5013.80
RailAmerica (RA)12.6513.63
Union Pacific (UNP)83.1191.64

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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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

End Of The Line...

 

Atlantic City Casinos Held The ACES,
But Folded Anyway

By David Peter Alan

Three Atlantic City casinos thought they held all the aces when they began a new rail service in the winter of 2009, to the traditional summer resort that the casino industry believed would turn “AC” into a fully year-round tourist mecca. Harrah’s, Caeser’s and Borgata formed a business, ACES, L.L.C., to run week-end trains from Penn Station, New York, to bring customers to their properties; thus facilitating the parting of those customers and their money. ACES were an acronym for “Atlantic City Express Service”; the trains made only one stop between endpoints, at Penn Station in Newark. Instead, like the unfortunate player who held fourteen and drew an eight, the casinos gave up their experiment with rail. The last train ran on Sunday, September 18th.

The casinos had funded week-end trains between New York and Atlantic City under a three-year contract with New Jersey Transit (NJT), which leased the locomotives and operated the trains for the casinos, essentially as a charter operation. Even though NJT supplied the crews, NJT tickets and employee passes were not valid on the ACES trains. The agreement still has 4 1/2 months to run, but there will not be any more trains. While the casinos deny that the current shutdown is the end of the line, some rail managers and rider advocates are skeptical. Atlantic City rail advocate Jeffrey B. Marinoff said: “There is no reason for the casinos to bring it back next year and pay the expenses of running the train, when Atlantic City is no longer the only game in town.” The casinos shut down the service last January and restored it in May for the summer. The funding agreement for the trains was in effect then, so it made sense for the casinos to grab some revenue during their resort’s busy season.

Even at the beginning of this summer, there was speculation that it would be the last season for the casino trains. An article in the Press of Atlantic City made that speculation on June 22d, after the first two week’s of the train’s operation for the season, with the headline “ACES train service between Atlantic City and New York could end this year.” This year, there were only five trains in each direction through the week-end. When the service began in 2009, there were nine trains each way, from mid-day Friday until late Sunday night. ACES trains never ran Mondays through Thursdays.

The ACES service used two train sets, with customized cars that used the same bodies as the Bombardier multi-level cars (double-deck, with a narrow mid-level compartment at each end) that NJT uses in regular service. The ACES cars had Amtrak-style seats, food-service areas at the ends of some of the cars, and 2-1 seating in “first class” sections in the upper levels of two of the four cars. A diesel engine sat at one end of the train, with an ALP-44 electric unit at the other. The train traveled from New York on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Frankford Junction, northeast of Philadelphia. Then it changed ends and used the diesel engine the rest of the way to Atlantic City, over non-electrified track.

Last run of ACES train

Last run of ACES train

Two Photos: Bob Vogel, with permission.

Coming and going - The ACES train was powered by a P42 locomotive at one end and an ALP-44 electric locomotive at the other, allowing it to operate both under and away from catenary power.

Amtrak handled reservations and ticketing for the ACES trains, and some fares were considerably higher than on the NJT buses that travel the Garden State Parkway between New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and Atlantic City. Rail fares ranged from $29 to $69 each way, with an additional “first class” charge of $20, for the sections with 2-1 seating. When the service began, the fares were $49 and $75. The trip was scheduled to take 2 hours and 50 minutes; 15 minutes more than the NJT bus, whose fare is $35.75. “Reduced” bus fare for children, seniors and persons with disabilities is $16.00.

So, with a fare that was sometimes lower than the bus fare, why was the ACES train not more successful? Marinoff speculates: “The ACES train was, unfortunately, a good idea that came at the wrong time. When it was first proposed, things were relatively good for the casinos in Atlantic City, and for the economy in general, and I wholeheartedly supported the idea. But nobody at that time, including myself, foresaw two things happening. One was that the economy tanked, so nobody had money to spend at the casinos. Visiting the casinos was no longer a front-burner priority. The other was competition from other newly-opened casino venues elsewhere in the Northeast.”

The train schedule that the casinos operated was geared specifically for their patrons; they did not operate trains that would make convenient schedules for visiting New York from Atlantic City, even though the trains had to go in both directions. There was never any weekday service (considering the latter part of Friday as part of the week-end), so the trains were not necessarily there when somebody would want to go to New York City or the surrounding area.

Atlantic City has also never been the preferred shore destination for New Yorkers or New Jerseyans who live in the northern or central parts of the state. New Yorkers who prefer the Jersey Shore to eastern Long Island have traditionally gone to Asbury Park, Belmar, Point Pleasant and other points on NJT’s North Jersey Coast Line (NJCL), which has full-time service every day. The same holds true for residents of the northern part of the Garden State. Atlantic City and points south as far as Cape May have traditionally attracted Philadelphians. NJT runs a full-service rail line, along with a bus every half-hour, the #551, between Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

There was also no opportunity for the ACES train to win a race against the bus, barring heavy traffic on the Garden State Parkway. That highway is the only direct right-of-way between northern New Jersey and Atlantic City. There has never been a rail line that ran along the shore, south of the existing North Jersey Coast Line. Even in the former Golden Age of Railroading, the Pennsylvania Railroad went at least as far west as Trenton before making a left turn toward Atlantic City. Even the legendary Blue Comet on the Central Railroad of New Jersey, whose route was closer to the shore, had to go to Winslow Junction west of Hammonton to get onto the Atlantic City Rail Line. That famous train, which railroad historians consider the finest train that ever ran to Atlantic City, lasted for only thirteen summers and twelve “off seasons” in between, starting in 1929. By Labor Day 1941, it was gone.

So was commuter service to Atlantic City by 1983. Six years later, the Atlantic City line came back as part of Amtrak, bringing too few gamblers from New England, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and even Philadelphia Airport to keep the service going for long. NJT restored full commuter service in 1990. The Amtrak trains were gone by 1995, but the NJT commuter trains still operate. The casinos have never promoted those trains, and they are more likely to carry casino employees than casino patrons.

Perhaps the most telling comment about the ACES train came form Julio Eduardo Diggs, a concierge at Harrah’s, one of the casinos that participated in the ACES train venture. He posted this comment on the Press web site, www.pressofatlanticcity.com, concerning the June story about the potential end of the rail service: “There would be more ridership if they would add a more realistic schedule. I am a hospitality professional who deals with guests that come to town and want to visit NYC during their visit to Atlantic City. The schedule that ACES provides does not work for the general public. We refer our guests to Greyhound who has more service to NYC and back.”

So is this the end of the line for direct rail service between New York and Atlantic City again? Marinoff thinks so, although he said that he was sad about the current turn of events. The casinos say no, but it will cost them money to run the service in the future, and there is no good reason to believe that they will continue to bet millions of dollars on their customers taking the train. After all, they lost some of the millions they have been betting since 2009.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

The High-Speed Rail Program That Isn’t

 

President Obama’s High-Speed Rail Program, announced with such fanfare soon after he took office in 2009, continues to crash and burn, despite, and even illustrated by, last week’s Senate committee vote to “restore” $100 million in funds for the program under the transportation section of the FY 2012 budget.

The amendment to the larger bill passed on a voice vote and will, when the whole bill is voted upon by the Senate this week, therefore be part of what goes to a House-Senate conference Committee, where its fate remains uncertain.

To put this in perspective: $100 million represents a 95% cut to the $2 billion annually that had been authorized by the Passenger Rail Investment Act of 2008 passed with bipartisan support under President George W. Bush.

It is less than 2% of the amount represented by the $8 Billion for High-Speed Rail authorized under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“The Stimulus Bill”) by Congress in 2009.

In short, it is a joke, and bad one.

The cause of these catastrophic decisions lies squarely with Congress, specifically with the Tea Party wing which now clearly dominates the Republican Party, as anyone who watched the recent, bizarre GOP Presidential debates, or watched House Speaker John Boehner (R-FEAR) explaining himself, can attest.

The continued decline of the United States as a world power is accelerating, and a tiny minority of know-nothing Americans, whose motto ought to be “Ignorant, and Proud Of It.” is happy to be the architect of that. There will always be Americans who want to roll up the gates and shut out the world --- some of them, like Michelle Bachman, literally want to build a wall on our Southern border --- but in most decades the freaks and the nut cases have been relegated to the fringe of the American debate. These days, they get hired by Fox Network as commentators, until they have enough money saved to run for office. It’s a nice gig.

The world economic crisis, which American and some foreign banks precipitated and for which the American people, and people like the Greeks who are soon to be stripped of whatever vestige of a social safety net they once had, are paying the price needed to keep bankers in bonuses. No wonder there is a Tea Party --- there are a lot of angry people out there, and should be. But they need to start getting angry at the right people, or they will create an America that no one will want to live in. Eviscerating infrastructure programs like High-Speed Rail or public transit as they are doing, is a certain way to bring about that eventuality.

Sitting on the sidelines doesn’t help. If you care about this, if you care about a future worth living in, contact your Congressional representatives –202-224-3121--- and let them know.


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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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