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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December 10, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 49

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

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

  Editorials…
Are The Odds 40:1 Against Amtrak? …
   No, But The Federal Spending Is
  Commentary…
Amtrak’s Balance Sheet Not So Bad,
   Considering Its Parsimonious Funding
Would Amtrak Rather Cut Than Grow?
  News Items…
Bombardier Urges Upgrades Now As Tracks
   Impede Amtrak’s Acela
  Commuter Lines…
US DOT Approves $280 Million Infrastructure Loan
   For New Denver Commuter Rail Project
Fledging the Eagle
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Safety Lines…
Safety Questions Fly As Trucks Get Heavier
  News From Amtrak…
Amtrak Has A Future, But Must Act To Secure It
  Funding Lines…
Innovative Financing Points The Way Ahead For
   A Rail Project In Charlotte
  Advocacy Lines…
NCI Founder James RePass To Receive Dukakis
   Rail Blazer Award From APT
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …



EDITORIAL... Editorial...

It’s Time For A New Source Of $ For Rail Funding

 

Are The Odds 40:1 Against Amtrak?
…No, But The Federal Spending Is

By James P. RePass
Publisher
Destination: Freedom

In this edition we carry commentaries from Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and from our own David Peter Alan, a long-time transportation advocate. While their relative “takes” on the subject of Amtrak are somewhat different, both men look at Amtrak from the perspective of that great sports movie, Jerry Maguire, to wit: “Show Me the Money”.

While Amtrak has borne the brunt of decades of criticism for various shortcomings, the one causative factor that stands out, more than any other, is simply money. Unless and until that issue is addressed and solved permanently, we will continue to be exposed to the ying and yang of (on one side) “Amtrak provides sparse service” and (on the other) “You get what you pay for”.

Frank Lautenberg, a transit and rail icon if there ever was one, and a Senator whose career in business and politics spans the generations, from The Greatest to The Present, pointed out recently that this year we will spend more on highways, in a single year, than we have spent on Amtrak in its entire lifetime: 40 billion dollars.

That’s right; the ratio is 40:1.

Amtrak’s critics say, “…but no one takes the train, compared to [you name it], so why spend anything at all on Amtrak?”

I take the viewpoint of my late friend, Paul Weyrich, who pointed out: “You can’t take a train that isn’t there,” noting that the number of daily trains run by Amtrak is a tiny fraction of the national service that used to be provided when the freight railroads were required by law to provide at least a minimum of passenger service, as “common carriers” under the then-extant Interstate Commerce Act. And Paul, by the way, was not exactly a flaming liberal.

And it is not because “the marketplace” won’t support rail service. When we invest in rail, people take the train. Just look at the Northeast Corridor, where a $2.7 billion investment quintupled – that’s right, quintupled --- the ticketed market share of train travel between Boston and New York relative to air travel, and has led to the only Amtrak train that actually does show a profit “above the rails”, recovering from ticket sales alone more than 100% of the cost of train operations [Note: no mode of transportation, including airlines and highways, makes enough money on ticket sales/gas taxes alone to recover all of its costs, including capital].

The endless debate over Amtrak funding, sparked in large part by a long-running disinformation campaign by the Reason Foundation and the Cato Institute, so-called “think tanks” whose source of funding is – surprise --- the oil and highway lobbies --- has got to end. It is a waste of everyone’s time, yet we continue to go through it because of the very shortcomings Amtrak possesses because it is NOT funded adequately to provide a truly functional national passenger rail system.

The solution: it is time to start taking some of the benefits of train travel, and re-paying them to the source of those benefits. In the case of the Northeast Corridor, that would be Amtrak, which owns most of it. In the case of the long-distance trains, it should be both Amtrak, which operates those trains, and the freight railroads, whose capital investment and maintenance costs are raised substantially by the presence of passenger trains on their rights-of-way and within their operations systems.

We propose, going forward, that for at least 50 miles (pick a number) on either side of a rail right-of-way, a significant portion (pick another number) of the increment in tax revenues generated within that corridor, over time ---- sales and property taxes, and any others ---be returned to the operators of the rail systems within, and thereby benefitting, those corridors, for reinvestment in the rail infrastructure.

This is NOT a new tax. It is a share of future tax growth, which to a large extent would not occur at all, or be far smaller, than it would be without the presence of rail service, both freight and passenger, in the first place.

This is not really a new idea; it is a variation on the land grants of the 19th century, which were used to establish both a national rail system and a system of state universities theoretically affordable by all (that needs attention too!)

One thing is certain: the present system of funding rail service --- the Class I freight railroads’ current relative prosperity, cash-on-cash, notwithstanding --- is broken. Let’s get it fixed.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Amtrak’s Balance Sheet Not So Bad,
Considering Its Parsimonious Funding

Originally Published On NOLA.Com,
The Web Site Of The Pulitzer-Prize Winning New Orleans Times-Picayune,
In A Longer Article By Reporter Bruce Alpert, October 24, 2011

“Last year we spent more than $40 billion on highways. And Lord knows we need that. But that’s more than we spent on Amtrak in its entire 40-year history.”

Lautenberg says federal highway spending last year exceeded total given Amtrak over 40 years

Amtrak has always needed a money train.

The nation’s rail system has been criticized by numerous lawmakers for always operating at a deficit and seeking financial boosts from Congress. But when compared with federal highway spending, Amtrak’s balance sheet doesn’t look so bad, according to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), a major proponent of rail transportation.

“Last year we spent more than $40 billion on highways. And Lord knows we need that. But that’s more than we spent on Amtrak in its entire 40-year history,” Lautenberg said in an article on nola.com, the online home of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Can it be that after 40 years of operation the money spent on Amtrak didn’t even equal one year of federal highway spending? PolitiFact New Jersey found the claim is right on track.

Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration in Washington, DC confirmed that highway spending for Fiscal Year 2010 (Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010) exceeded $40 billion. Highway spending generally increases a small amount each year for inflation, he said.

By comparison, Caley Gray, Lautenberg’s communications director, said Congress has spent $37.9 billion on Amtrak from Fiscal Year 1971 to Fiscal Year 2011, according to Amtrak.

That’s a bit more than Amtrak’s total, but it supports Lautenberg’s statement.

“In the forty years of Amtrak’s existence, the Federal government has invested a total of $36 billion in the Amtrak system – a figure that represents both operating and capital funding,” Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman said in Amtrak’s General and Legislative Annual Report to Senate President Joseph Biden Jr. and House Speaker John Boehner. Amtrak’s Comprehensive Business Plan for Fiscal Year 2012 was included with the report dated Feb. 7. “Between 1971 and 2008, by contrast, the Federal government has invested more than $421 billion in aviation and over a trillion dollars in the nation’s highways.”

Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, Calif., suggested that Lautenberg wasn’t dismissing the need for highway funding, but pointing to other transportation needs for the nation.

“His statement is accurate and I think his intent is to indicate that – certainly not to denigrate the highway system, but to note the world is in transition now, to move away to petroleum-based transportation to electrically based transportation.”

Diridon didn’t suggest people give up their vehicles, but said having an upgraded electric rail system can have many benefits: efficiency in moving people, less reliance on foreign oil and reduced environmental impact.

Lautenberg touched on those points as well as increased ridership in a July 5 letter sent to Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) supporting Amtrak’s $2.2 billion funding request for Fiscal Year 2012. Murray is chairman and Collins is a ranking member on the Appropriations Committee for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. Lautenberg and 19 other U.S. senators signed the letter.

Amtrak got $1.41 billion in assistance for its nearly $3.9 billion budget, said Clifford Cole, media relations manager for Amtrak Media Relations/Government Affairs in New York.

Our ruling:

In an article about expanding rail routes and access in Louisiana, Lautenberg said Congress spent more than $40 billion on highways last year, more than has been spent on Amtrak in the national rail system’s 40-year history. The Federal Highway Administration confirmed the highway spending figure, as did Amtrak in a letter requesting $2.2 billion in federal assistance for its Fiscal Year 2012 budget. There’s nothing off the rails here. We rate this statement True


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Amtrak At 40: A Rider’s Perspective

 

Would Amtrak Rather Cut Than Grow?

Seventh In A Series
By David Peter Alan

Amtrak funding is the talk of the rail community. In this edition, commentators from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to our Publisher, James P. RePass are talking about highways receiving more funding this year than Amtrak has received in its 40-year history. This disparity is well-known in the rail advocacy community, but the general public, as well as many more of our elected leaders, should also be outraged. Sen. Lautenberg has supported Amtrak consistently throughout his tenure in office. Unfortunately, other elected leaders have been just as consistent in disparaging Amtrak. Amtrak remains the impoverished stepchild of American transportaiton, as it has been throughout its history. Nonetheless, it is time for innovative thinking and action by Amtrak management to demonstrate to the public and the leaders it elects that Amtrak deserves to enjoy a significantly larger slice of the transportaiton pie than it will be served this year. That outcome will require a change in attitude.

Several years ago, this writer had a conversation with a senior Amtrak executive while traveling on a long-distance train. The conversation turned to Amtrak’s costs and revenue. The executive reported that Amtrak had just increased its sleeping car fares by 25% on some lines and had also found a supplier that would provide a portion of pot roast for 25¢ less than Amtrak had previously been paying. It appeared strange that Amtrak would jack up sleeping car fares so much, while also exhibiting such parsimony as to celebrate saving a quarter on each portion of pot roast served to the customers whose fare increase could have amounted to hundreds of dollars.

Yet, that was Amtrak, at that time. As that same executive stated: “Amtrak would rather save one dollar on costs than make an extra two dollars in revenue.” Of course, the thrust of that attitude is that Amtrak management wants to cut costs more than it wants to earn money. In accordance with that attitude, the ultimate goal would be a zero-cost operation which, naturally, would also not earn any revenue, either. There would be no trains for us to ride, and everyone who had worked for Amtrak would join the ranks of the unemployed.

Despite the perversity of the attitude expressed by the Amtrak manager several years ago, the current management at Amtrak seems to think that way, too [although their President says otherwise; see separate story, this edition of D:F]. At this writing, Amtrak is eliminating jobs and has recently offered a buyout plan to encourage managers to retire early. Many managers, including some known to the rider advocacy community, are doing just that. The loss of so many experienced managers will, undoubtedly, make it more difficult for Amtrak to operate efficiently in the future.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman has told his employees that Amtrak will minimize costs of operating trains outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC; see Boardman letter republished in this edition). That probably means that, even if the system does not lose trains, it could see downgrades in service on the trains that still run. To be fair, there is justification for Amtrak’s concern about costs. America’s railroad is in political trouble again, despite record-high ridership. Congress has cut its operating funding, so somebody has to go. Unfortunately, Amtrak cannot fully make up any decreases in government funding by increasing revenue. Because Amtrak has a limited amount of equipment available for running trains, there is also a limit to the number of seats and sleeping-car rooms that can be sold on any given day. So, at least for the foreseeable future, the airline practice of raising fares as the departure date approaches will remain in effect.

In the long run, it seems unlikely that Amtrak can survive as a limited-capacity railroad. Ridership keeps growing, despite all of Amtrak’s problems. It exceeded 30 million passengers this year, and the overall ridership trend is rising. Despite increasing ridership, Amtrak has not ordered more coaches, which would have increased the capacity of its trains. There is serious talk of ordering more equipment for the extra-fare Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor, but not of ordering more equipment for the rest of the railroad. That includes conventional trains in the Northeast, equipment for some of the other corridors, and cars for long-distance trains. Some states, notably California and Illinois, plan to order equipment for the corridors within their borders. This equipment will probably be limited to operating in or near the state that ordered it, so it will not help to add capacity to the rest of the system to a material extent.

With increased demand for space on Amtrak and limited supply, only one thing can happen. Fares will increase. Under Amtrak’s variable fare practice, which essentially auctions off seats and sleeping car rooms, riders will have no choice but to pay more, while price-conscious travelers will be forced to wait outside, in an urban parking lot, for the next MegaBus. The trains will be sold out and revenue will be maximized for the available capacity, but potential riders will be turned away and Amtrak will still fall short of its potential as a civilized, comfortable and cost-effective mode of transportation. Most alarmingly, a generation of young people who are beginning to discover rail travel could be priced out of Amtrak’s market and sent out to the parking lot to wait for the bus.

Is Amtrak management hoping that keeping capacity limited and increasing fares to “what the market will bear” will ensure the continued survival of the railroad, while also ensuring that the skeletal system operating today will never grow? It appears so. Ironically, it also appears that Amtrak’s increasing popularity is only due in part to the inherent advantages of rail travel. It is not so much that Amtrak is getting better. In effect, Amtrak is getting worse more slowly than other modes of travel. Airline passengers complain that the quality of their travel experience is deteriorating rapidly (see last week’s edition). Recent increases in gasoline prices, as well as continued highway congestion, have taken the bloom off the highway rose for some motorists, as well.

Amtrak has its problems, but rail travel has certain inherent advantages over other modes. Trains travel on the ground, out of traffic congestion, and usually go from one downtown location to another. The seats are relatively comfortable, and riders can use their computers or other electronic gadgets while the miles go by. Rail travel can also be an enjoyable social experience. No other mode of transportation can make that statement.

Can Amtrak management capitalize on the railroad’s growing popularity and eventually become the sort of railroad that the advocacy community would like to have? To this writer, this seems feasible, but it will require a tremendous amount of courage and effort. It will also require significant attitude change on the part of Amtrak’s management. One of those attitudes would be to consider growing a revenue stream, which would serve as a basis for future growth planning. Amtrak management has always been oriented toward retrenchment, and never toward growth. Maybe Amtrak managers are so “old school” that they consider growth to be impossible. With ridership setting new records almost every year, it is difficult to conceive of a reasonable justification for such an attitude. Every business school teaches that retrenchment can only succeed as a temporary measure, so an enterprise can make it through a difficult time. While today is a difficult time for the entire nation, strong and effective leaders plan for and promote growth, even if it will not be realized in the short run.

For Amtrak, that means putting customers first, even if it means incurring some extra costs. As the old adage says: it takes money to make money. It is true that Amtrak must spend its money carefully, because it has never had much. Still, a larger fleet of coaches would be a good investment. More seats on more trains provide room for more riders. More riders mean more revenue, and also more constituents who will demand that their elected leaders support Amtrak. After all, passenger railroads and local transit do not make a profit, especially when other modes of transportation are as heavily subsidized as they are in this country. There is, and will always be, some level of need for public financing of both the capital and operating sides of Amtrak, as well as local transit providers. Of course, the more trains that run and carry good ridership loads, the more credibly and effectively Amtrak can claim that an increase in capital assistance would be a sound investment for the nation.

Good customer-relations practices have costs associated with them, but those costs are often low. It does not cost much to give a customer a comfortable pillow for an overnight trip, or to refill a cup of coffee after charging $2.00 for the first one. It may not cost more for Amtrak to hire a second person to work in the kitchen of the dining car, washing dishes and helping to prepare fresh food, rather than paying high prices to an airline caterer for pre-prepared food and serving it on plastic plates. Even if the cost is slightly higher, there is credibility value in serving meals in a civilized and “green” manner, rather than on petroleum-rich plastic plates that are thrown out as trash after a single use.

From a customer standpoint, speed is not the primary requirement of rail travelers, but they do want to reach their destinations on or close to schedule. They also want a pleasant experience, and they do not want to feel that Amtrak is spending as little as possible on providing that experience. Satisfied customers ride again, and keep spending money for Amtrak fares, Amtrak food and, maybe, even Amtrak merchandise. The more customers Amtrak attracts with a pleasant travel experience, the more constituents there are to tell their political leaders that they want more and better trains.

A determined, innovative and customer-focused management team at Amtrak could begin a serious turn-around for the railroad. At this time, it does not appear that such a team can emerge. Can one be found in the foreseeable future? Time will tell. In the meantime, Amtrak seems to plod along, from day to day and crisis to crisis, without a strong vision for the future, or without even knowing where some of its market is. We will examine Amtrak’s market, and why management is unaware of some of it, in the next article in this series.


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NEWSITEMS... News Items...  

Bombardier Urges Upgrades Now
As Tracks Impede Amtrak’s Acela

From Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON--- “U.S. rail travelers would benefit more from upgraded tracks allowing trains to go faster than from immediate spending on high-speed equipment, according to Bombardier Inc., the maker of Amtrak’s Acela,” report Frederic Tomesco and Lisa Caruso of Bloomberg News Service.

“New high-speed trains are ‘not really what the U.S. needs right now,’ Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin said yesterday in an interview. ‘I know that sounds odd from a manufacturer. Before you go and buy all this new equipment, let’s work on the infrastructure.’

“An antiquated rail network keeps the Acela from reaching its top speed, Beaudoin said at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. Upgrades such as more underpasses and new signaling equipment to reduce spacing between trains are among the elements that would allow Amtrak to offer faster service, he said. The Acela’s maximum speed is 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour, according to Amtrak. Congress refused to fund President Barack Obama’s high- speed and intercity rail program in this fiscal year. John Mica, the Florida Republican who leads the House transportation committee, has said the U.S. should focus on financing 220-mph trains between Washington and Boston, not projects nationwide,” reported Bloomberg News.

[For the complete story go to: http://www.pbn.com/Bombardier-urges-upgrades-as-tracks-slow-Amtrak-Acela-,63086]


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

30-Mile Rail Project Will Create Roughly 4,700 Construction-Related Jobs And Reduce Travel Times

 

US DOT Approves $280 Million Infrastructure Loan
For New Denver Commuter Rail Project

From U.S. DOT And DF Staff

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced a federal loan of up to $280 million to advance construction on the 30-mile Eagle P3 commuter rail project, which will significantly expand transportation choices in the greater Denver area. 

This loan, which will go to Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), is a product of U.S. DOT’s TIFIA program -Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. TIFIA loans provide credit assistance for infrastructure projects that meet the criteria of the Act. This funding boost is in addition to a $1 billion federal funding agreement for the project signed in August by Secretary LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator (FTA) Peter Rogoff.

Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) is the first transit agency in the nation to successfully pursue a comprehensive public-private partnership, or P3, that draws on a mix of federal loans and grants and private investment to move major capital transit projects in the region forward. The partnership encompasses all phases of design, construction, financing, operation, and maintenance.

“Denver and its partners are working together to build a modern rail transit system that promises to cut almost in half the time it now takes to get from downtown Denver to the airport,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “Today’s investment helps to ensure that the construction work already under way remains on track, and that thousands of workers can count on a steady paycheck.”

RTD will use the TIFIA loan to fund a portion of its contribution to the project and will begin drawing on the funds in 2013.  In addition to FTA’s contribution to the project, a consortium of private companies, known as the Denver Transit Partners, is responsible for financing around 24 percent of the project through tax-exempt private-activity bonds issued by RTD, equity contributions and other means.

The entire project should be completed in 2016. The new railcars slated for use on the commuter line will be assembled in the United States and will consist of at least 60 percent US-made components, consistent with the FTA’s Buy America requirements.

Together, the Eagle P3 project and Denver Union Station’s ongoing renovation are part of RTD’s far-reaching FasTracks program—a voter-approved, multiyear, multibillion-dollar transit expansion program covering 140 miles of rail and bus corridors that will help Denver to successfully manage growth and compete for business for years to come.


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Fledging the Eagle

From Railway Age Magazine

The Eagle P3 Commuter Rail Project is a FasTracks transit program being undertaken in the Denver Metropolitan area. It consists of three projects - the 36.7km long East Corridor, 11.7km Gold Line Project and the 8.4km section of the Northwest Electrified Rail Segment (NWES). It also includes construction of a new commuter rail maintenance facility (CRMF). The project is owned by Denver transit authority Regional Transportation District (RTD). It is estimated to require an investment of approximately $2.1 billion. The ground breaking ceremony took place in August 2010. It is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

The project is being carried out under a public-private partnership (PPP), which is rare in the United States. The six year design-build-operate-maintain and finance contract was awarded to Denver Transit Partners (DTP) in June 2010.

For more information:

http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/eaglepcommuterrailpr/


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Berkshire Hathaway B (BNSF)(BRK.B)77.3177.44
Canadian National (CNI)77.5777.55
Canadian Pacific (CP) 63.5761.10
CSX (CSX)21.3221.89
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)61.2560.02
Kansas City Southern (KSU)66.3867.86
Norfolk Southern (NSC)73.7975.01
Providence & Worcester(PWX)11.9511.98
RailAmerica (RA)14.0914.25
Union Pacific (UNP)101.75102.69
 


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SAFETYLINES... Safety Lines...  

Safety Questions Fly
As Trucks Get Heavier

From the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — “Officially, the national weight limit for freight trucks on interstate highways is 40 tons. In reality, trucks are getting heavier in more states — legally — and advocates for highway safety and the trucking industry are sharply at odds about it,” reports Clarke Canfield of the Associated Press.

“Trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds are allowed to operate on federal highways in at least 20 states. Congress added Maine and Vermont to the list last week, granting exceptions to allow trucks up to 100,000 pounds on interstates there for the next 20 years. The change went into effect Friday when President Barack Obama signed it. Critics say that heavier trucks make highways less safe because they’re harder to control and stop, and that they leave taxpayers on the hook for damage to roads and bridges. Furthermore, they claim, the latest increases will spur the trucking industry to seek higher limits in other states.”

“The trucking industry is energized by what’s happened in Vermont and Maine,” said Jackie Gillan, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety organization. “The American public is going to pay with their lives and their wallets,” reported Canfield.

“But supporters of higher weight limits argue that allowing heavier trucks will actually make highways safer because fewer trucks will be able to move the same amount of goods. With fewer big rigs rumbling around, it’ll cut pollution and reduce the cost of doing business, they say. And concerns about road and bridge damage are overblown, they claim,” wrote Canfield.

[For the full story go to: Found at http://www.timesleader.com/business]


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NEWS FROM AMTRAK... News From Amtrak...  

Amtrak Has A Future,
But Must Act To Secure It

From Amtrak

The following letter was sent this past week by Amtrak president Joseph Boardman to Amtrak employees; we share it here with the readers of Destination:Freedom

 

“Dear Co-workers,

“I know that there is a feeling of uncertainty in the air for some of you, and that many of you have questions. I don’t have all the answers that many of you are seeking, but I want to tell you where the company is going — knowing what the plan is will at least help reduce some concerns that I have heard expressed.”

Mr. Boardman then speaks about the Strategic Plan (Adobe Acrobat File - 5MB)

which the board of directors approved in October, and which “sets a new course for our company” and is “the basis upon which we are bringing change to Amtrak.” He urges his workers for the second time to read and become familiar with the Plan.

“Amtrak can no longer hunker down in survival mode,” he said, “and we do not need to. We are a critical asset to this nation; we must serve our nation and our customers well.

“As we follow [the Plan], our company will become stronger, more customer-focused, and more bottom-line business focused,” he added.

He reassured his co-workers that there are “no planned or expected service reductions anywhere. Similarly, there are no planned layoffs for agreement-covered employees, other than the normal seasonal adjustments that we go through each year.”

There will be a “realignment of the organization [that] will result in a reduction in the number of non-agreement employees across all departments. But there will be no reduction of management forces during the coming holidays, other than those who have elected and have been approved for the recent Voluntary Separation Incentive Plan.”

As you know, I am seeking to realign how we do business with our Strategic Plan. “As I’ve communicated before, this realignment of the organization will result in a reduction in the number of non-agreement employees across all departments. We are not going to reduce any management forces during the coming holidays, other than those who have elected and have been approved for the recent Voluntary Separation Incentive Plan. A little more than 150 non-agreement-covered people have chosen to leave the company via the VSIP, several of them from the senior ranks of management.” Boardman expressed his appreciation for their contributions through the years and acknowledged that many of them struggled with that decision, “as so many have done in the past when it was time to enter into retirement.

He reminded his work force that the plan was “developed with significant employee input and that it is a living document — it’s not set in stone.” This will allow for creativeness and flexibility in continuing to develop how the company will be run.

Only one part of the Strategic Plan has been rolled out – the Business Line — “the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Investment Development Business Line managed by Stephen Gardner. Stephen Gardner and team he has assembled is hard at work to make our vision for very high-speed rail a reality and while doing so improving the infrastructure and its capacity in an incremental way. We must increase current Acela capacity, commuter access to NYC and advance the state of good repair of our entire NEC infrastructure with a collaborative cross-functional team of Mechanical, Engineering and Transportation effort that is goal-oriented and customer-focused. Stephen’s success will be our success, and he must not be alone in the effort.”

On the Operations outside of the Northeast Corridor he spoke about the need to minimize costs that are not directly connected with the actual operation of safe, customer-focused and reliable service. Operations outside of the NEC do not cover their basic operating costs, so it will be necessary to lower costs without hurting safety, customer service and reliability. He put forth the questions “Why are we still doing things in a way that does not take advantage of all the improvements available today? What should we stop doing?”

He then spoke about the need for dedicated accountability and establishing a structure “that includes a senior-level person who will be held accountable for both cost and revenue, while meeting the standards and the budgets that are set by the Chief Engineer, Chief Mechanical Officer and Chief Transportation Officer.”

For more detail on Boardman’s plan of realignment and reorganization go to: http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?4,2630437,2630787


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

Innovative Financing Points The Way
Ahead For A Rail Project In Charlotte

From The Transport Politic By Yonah Freemark
Found At:
http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/

In the case of Charlotte, necessity may be the mother of invention.

Lacking sufficient revenues to construct the planned Red Line commuter railroad designed to connect Center City Charlotte with its northern suburbs, planners working for local transit agency CATS have developed a unique vision for its financing.

The $452 million upgrade of the existing Norfolk Southern O Line would allow a significant expansion of capacity not only for passenger trains, but also for freight trains running on the same tracks. In doing so, this agency’s planners are suggesting that the sometimes rivalry between the two types of transportation should really be approached hand-in-hand, especially for a project whose primary right-of-way extends far beyond dense urban neighborhoods that characterize the zones around most successful transit links. Perhaps for the first time so directly, transit-oriented development is proposed to be joined by “freight-oriented development.”

Charlotte’s ambitious transit plans — once scheduled to include five rapid transit lines radiating from downtown — have been significantly scaled back by the economic downturn, which hit this financial hub especially hard. Sales tax revenues have fallen far below initial expectations, delaying the completion of anything other than the initial Blue Line light rail corridor, which opened in 2007 between downtown and the southern suburbs. While the northeastern extension of the Blue Line and a short version of the downtown streetcar will move forward thanks to federal funding guarantees, the Red Line’s ridership forecasts of about 4,000 to 5,000 a day were not sufficient to meet relatively tough guidelines from Washington.

RED LINE MAP SMALL

Click image for large full-size map at The Transport Politic web site.

The Red Line’s 25 miles of new service, though, will be made possible thanks to a combination of state contributions (25% of the cost), local sales taxes already collected by CATS (25%), and value capture (50%), which would come in two forms. A tax-increment financing (TIF) district around stations would allow increases in property values in the area to be directed toward paying back the cost of the project. This would be done with no increase in the property tax rate but rather through a redirection of increases towards the project.

Similarly, a special assessment district is being considered to pay for the service. Unlike TIFs, these districts* would require property owners to agree to pay a marginal increase in their property taxes to be devoted directly to the Red Line.

The new “Unified Benefit District” that would be affected by these value capture mechanisms would take advantage of both the significant population growth expected north of Charlotte over the next few years and encourage freight-oriented development — which would together make the project financeable. The plan would include significant space to locate new development around stations — indeed, 10,000 housing units are either already under construction or planned. Certain developments would be built in collaboration with CATS.

More intriguingly, businesses that require rail freight access would be encouraged to locate between stations. They would be able to connect their own tracks directly to the main rail line. The argument made by the project’s planners is that the area along the line’s right-of-way includes plenty of space for infill industrial space. Why not take advantage of the increase in rail capacity?

As the map below demonstrates, it does seem logical to encourage walkable residential and office space around stops and freight-based industrial space between the stations.

Transit services, taking a total of 40 minutes, would be provided every half-hour at peak and every hour off-peak. The improvements planned for the corridor would therefore make it possible to run more freight trains at off-peak hours without disrupting the primary travel needs of riders. Operations will have to be coordinated, but with positive train control and other safety measures in place, it is hard to see what would prevent this project from adapting to the needs of both passengers and freight.

Ten stations, several of which will be within Charlotte city limits but others of which will serve suburban towns including Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, and Mooresville, will be connected by 2017 if construction begins as planned in 2014. In order to make that possible, however, each of these municipalities — in addition to Mecklenburg and Iredell Counties — will have to get on board with the tax plan. That will not necessarily be an easy task, at least considering debates in recent years over the relative importance of different transit projects in the Charlotte region. Commissioners of Iredell County, significantly, have been less than thrilled at the idea of sacrificing tax dollars to aid CATS.

In addition, the special tax districts that will be necessary to complete the line will require at least half of affected property owners, controlling two-third of land value, to agree to the deal. It is not altogether evident that there is universal agreement on the need to improve access for passenger and freight railroads in the metropolitan area. Will they agree that the benefits of the new rail line are worth the increased taxes they are being asked to contribute to construct the project?

Nonetheless, these plans point to a potentially groundbreaking financing deal that could reshape the way commuter rail lines are built throughout the United States. Running along a corridor that is not particularly dense, it would likely be too costly and inefficient to provide very frequent passenger trains between stops. Yet connecting Charlotte to its northern suburbs, allowing the central city to expand its core and promoting dense downtown districts in the outlying town, is in the region’s interest.

Freight rail transport is more ecologically friendly than its truck-based competitor, but there is not enough capital in industrial activities in the Charlotte area alone to invest hundreds of millions in new tracks.

By combining the Red Line project’s public transport mission with that of encouraging economic development in industrial activities, the project becomes more realistic. Half a billion dollars in track improvements will go not only to passengers but also to freight. Incentives for new development will go not only to residential but also to warehousing. Those represent an exciting pooling of resources towards mutually beneficial goals.

* Similar to those often used in downtowns as Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs.
Image above: Red Line corridor map, from CATS also at: http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/cats/planning/RedLineRegionalRail/Pages/Corridor Map.aspx


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ADVOCACYLINES... Advocacy Lines...  


NCI Founder James RePass To Receive
Dukakis Rail Blazer Award From APT

From The Association For Public Transportation

BOSTON --- Boston’s downtown Harvard Club at One Federal Street will be the scene at 6 p.m. this Thursday, December 15, when the Association for Public Transportation honors National Corridors Initiative founder James P. RePass with its Michael S. Dukakis Rail Blazer Award.

APT President Richard Arena writes: “There will be hot hors d’oeuvres, interesting speakers, great conversation and networking, plus an unobstructed view of the holiday lights and Boston Harbor from the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in town. APT will be awarding the Michael S. Dukakis Rail Blazer Award for 2011 to Mr. James P. RePass, Chairman of the National Corridors Initiative. Jim was instrumental in securing funding for the electrification of the Northeast Corridor from New Haven to Boston. This in turn led to the first high speed rail service in America, the Amtrak Acela.”

Admission is FREE for APT members. The registration fee for non-members is $35, but the registration fee will also activate APT membership for 2012, noted Mr. Arena. Speakers will provide updates on High Speed Rail, MassDOT project updates, transportation financing issues, and MBTA customer information applications.

Registration: “Due to building occupancy fire codes, registrations are limited. It is important that you RSVP no later than Monday, 12 December, 7:00 PM by leaving a message at the APT Hotline 617-482-0282 or replying via e-mail. The dress code at the Downtown Harvard Club is business / business casual. Please bring a picture ID (required by building security). Reduced rate parking ($7.00 for evening, after 5:00 PM) is available at the garage at end of Federal St (tell attendant-APT Harvard Club event) or take the T to Downtown Crossing,” APT stated in making the announcement.

The Association for Public Transportation, Inc. (APT) was founded in 1973 and the Massachusetts Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) in 2010. APT-MARP’s mission is to advocate for accessible public transportation and a competitive high speed intercity rail network -- both are critical for the region’s economic competitiveness and quality of life. APT authored the ultimate transportation survival guide Car Free in Boston™ which is now in its tenth edition, and is available at: www.apt-marp.org


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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

To The Editor:

As passenger rail advocates, we need not blindly support every high speed rail proposal that comes along. The current plan for an initial segment of the California High Speed Rail project, in particular, deserves close scrutiny. Building a $6 billion 130-mile segment in the middle of the state, without enough population nearby to support train service, is a prescription for disaster. It is certain to become a poster child for opponents of HSR--a “rail line to nowhere”--that will make it much harder to find the much larger sums of money needed to complete the San Francisco to Los Angles route in the 2030s.

Instead, initial segments of such a project should be built that connect to the two main cities, either north of LA and south of SF, where passengers will ride them and generate demand for extensions and eventual completion.

Arnold Reinhold
Cambridge, MA

 

[ Editor’s note: Arnold Reinhold is a computer consultant and author (most recent title “Switching to a Mac For Dummies.), and has been active in local transportation advocacy since the MBTA Red Line extension project in the 1980s. ]


To The Editor:

I thought your editorial on the Tea Party was right on, and the coward who complained about it but who would not sign his name — well, that speaks for itself. As editor of a local blog in my community, I have learned that it takes real courage to sign your name to your opinions.

John Maybury
Pacifica Riptide
www.pacificariptide.com

 

[ Others have commented upon the occasional unsigned letter; D:F does this to protect the identity of the author if requested, or if the letter seems likely to cause employment, personal, or other problems for the author, as it would have in the letter we carried recently responding to our Tea Party editorial. We are open to suggestion. ]


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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.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

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