The National Corridors Initiative Logo

May 2, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 17

Copyright © 2016
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 16th Newsletter Year


A Weekly North American Transportation Update For Transportation
Advocates, Professionals, Journalists, And Elected Or Appointed Officials,
At All Levels Of Government.

James P. RePass, Sr.
Molly N. McKay
Foreign Editor
David Beale
Contributing Editor
David Peter Alan
Managing Editor / Webmaster
Dennis Kirkpatrick

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

Amtrak At 45
  Legal Lines…
Getting There On Time: Who Goes First,
   Amtrak Or A Freight Train?
  Commuter Lines…
Denver International Airport Rail Link Inaugurated
  Station Lines…
Tri-Rail Finalizes Plans For Downtown
   Miami Station
Officials Break Ground On First Of 4 New
   SunRail Stations In Florida
Amtrak To Inspect Tallahassee Train Station
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Maintenance Lines…
Michigan DOT To Upgrade Amtrak
   Wolverine Route
  Across The Pond…
Risk Of Border Crossing Chaos Increasing In
Southern Austria
InnoTrans 2016: North American Attendee
   Discount, Strong Canadian Presence
  To The North…
Canadian Passengers Face Delays As Profitable
   Freight Traffic Increases On CN-Owned Tracks
  Publication Notes …

OPINION... Amtrak Lines...  

Amtrak At 45

By David Peter Alan

Happy Birthday, Amtrak!

Amtrak was born on May 1, 1971; an unhealthy baby, who was not expected to survive for more than five or ten years. Yet, Amtrak has made it to the age of 45 and is still going. Even though “America’s Railroad” still faces threats and battles, nobody seriously doubts that it will survive for the foreseeable future; at least in some form. With the right changes in political circumstances, Amtrak could someday take its rightful place as a significant component of the nation’s passenger transportation system.

At the moment, such an event does not seem very likely. Five years ago, D:F ran an extended series by this writer entitled “Amtrak at 40” which examined a number of aspects of Amtrak’s past, present and future. Now, five years later, we present only a single article. Over the next five years and beyond, it appears that Amtrak’s future will be determined less by its own efforts than by forces beyond its control.

The day of Amtrak’s birth was not a happy one. A majority of the trains that were dispatched from their points of origin on April 30th had either become history, or were in the process of making their last runs. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says that Amtrak itself should not be blamed for the massive service reductions; that the U.S. Department of Transportation selected the routes that would survive. His point is well-taken. Still, 45 years later, the extent of Amtrak’s network of long-distance trains is similar to that of the original network of 1971. Other parts of Amtrak have experienced significant growth. At the same time, Amtrak-owned infrastructure is aging.

In examining Amtrak’s future, it is necessary to look at Amtrak’s component units, rather than only at the railroad as a whole. Amtrak divides its services into three components: the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and its branches, state-supported trains and corridors, and the still-skeletal long-distance network. In an effort to predict Amtrak’s future, it is necessary to look at each of these units separately, since different circumstances apply to each of them.

First, a few general observations apply. From its inception, Amtrak was underfunded, so it has always been effectively precluded from expanding its network which, in turn, would have stimulated more demand for passenger trains. Unfortunately, that situation has not changed. For the present, the Supreme Court has placed Amtrak’s status somewhere between the pure private sector and the pure public sector. It would be difficult for any organization to live with such an identity crisis, but the bottom line is that Amtrak cannot influence transportation policy to the extent the airlines and the highway/auto/oil interests can, because it does not have the money they have. So Amtrak continues to limp along, despite a long history of public-opinion polls which consistently conclude that the public wants more passenger trains.

Most of Amtrak’s most vocal cheerleaders are citizen-advocates who belong to such organizations as the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) or the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). It is true that advocates sometimes criticize Amtrak management for cutting services or for lackluster (or worse) managerial performance, but that does not mean that they want to get rid of Amtrak. To the contrary, they want Amtrak to provide better service, and they understand that enhanced funding would provide the key to Amtrak’s ability to do that. In this writer’s opinion, these advocates (and this writer is one of them) have been instrumental in keeping Amtrak alive, despite the formidable forces that would prefer to see an America without passenger trains; whether operated by Amtrak or anybody else.

There is no question that the NEC will survive in some form. It is impossible to build enough highway capacity to replace it, and the economy of the Northeast Region depends on its continued operation. There may be changes during the next several years, however. There is the AIRNet-21 proposal, which would form a privately-funded Infrastructure Management Organization (IMO) that would take over the NEC infrastructure from Amtrak. There have also been proposals to turn the NEC over to an organization formed under an interstate compact, with representatives of the states through which it passes making the decisions. Section 212 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) allocated costs that the states or the transit agencies within them would be required to pay for track usage fees to Amtrak, to continue operating their local trains. While the states and transit authorities are not pleased with the situation, one state has gone beyond mere complaining. Massachusetts owns the portion of the NEC from the Rhode Island state line to Boston, and has initiated a court challenge to the allocation provision, which could invalidate the allocation scheme.

So there are possibilities for change on the NEC and its nearby branches. It is even possible that the situation could return to something like the one in effect before 1976, when Conrail owned the line and Amtrak operated over it. Whatever happens, Amtrak will continue to operate trains on the NEC and its nearby branches, because there is no other way to accommodate all of the riders who use it.

When Amtrak began operations in 1971, there was a statutory provision that allowed states to support passenger trains by paying a portion of the cost of those trains. Today, a number of corridors are operating in California, and they are highly successful. Illinois has added service on the corridors that radiate from Chicago. New York has enhanced Empire Service beyond Amtrak’s original schedule, and Pennsylvania’s Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg has expanded, as well. North Carolina, Oregon and Washington State have established corridors within their borders. A few other states like Missouri, Oklahoma and Vermont have also established state-supported trains.

These trains serve a valuable purpose of enhancing mobility, sometimes in states that would have little or no passenger train service without them. The corridors that have been established in California serve as a model for corridor development, while the Chicago-hub corridors have proven a valuable component of the mobility network in the Mid-west.

Despite this success, several state-supported trains are currently under threat. Under Section 209 of PRIIA, Amtrak has increased the costs which the states must pay for state-supported trains. This directive came from Congress, and not from Amtrak itself, but the result is added pressure on the budgets of cash-strapped states. To make matters worse, “non-transit” states think of the few trains running within their borders as a luxury that would be affordable when times are good, but not when there is barely enough money available in the transportation budget to support highway projects. These are often blocked by the powerful interests of the automobile, oil and highway-construction industries.

The results will probably vary from state to state. California’s corridor network seems safe; at least for the present. Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened to slash funding for Amtrak trains in Illinois, but he has not eliminated any trains; at least, not yet. The Piedmont trains are still running in North Carolina, and the Missouri River Runner trains still operate twice a day in each direction between St. Louis and Kansas City. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker killed the proposed service to Madison, but the short corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee is still going strong. The train now under the most imminent threat is the Heartland Flyer, running between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Oklahoma is balking at continuing to pay the bill for keeping the train going, and local advocates see a dire situation. Ironically, a new bus connection now allows passengers to get from that train to Wichita and Newton, Kansas. At Newton, they can catch the Southwest Chief to Chicago, Los Angeles, or intermediate points in both directions. Will the new connection bring enough extra riders to convince the State of Oklahoma that the train is a worthwhile expense? Time will tell.

As states continue to wrestle with financial difficulties, some state-supported trains will continue to operate from one reprieve to another. Others may run in states that are strong enough financially to assure their continued operation for the long-term. Still, the situation is volatile, and progress must be assessed on a state-by-state basis. On the whole, corridors are growing, but how quickly they grow, and whether or not such growth will even continue, remains to be seen.

The long-distance network is another matter. Amtrak’s long-distance network was always small. It shrank considerably in 1979, when six trains were discontinued. Since that time, its size has remained disappointingly stable, as passenger-rail advocates see it. A number of trains appeared and disappeared over the years, and the latter outnumbered the former during the infamous Mercer cuts, which were implemented during the mid-1990s. The only long-distance train running today that did not run in 1979 is the Capitol Limited. The advocates at NARP, RUN and elsewhere hope for expansion of the system someday, but that is often expressed as a hope for the long-term future.

Amtrak does have some modest expansion plans. There is hope for a second frequency between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota (a corridor-length route that would supplement the Empire Builder by running on a different schedule). Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari confirmed that there is a proposal to extend the City of New Orleans train, which originates in Chicago, beyond the Crescent City and along the Gulf Coast to Florida (reported as an unconfirmed rumor last week). In this writer’s opinion, that would be a good idea, as long as the schedule provided for good connections in Florida. Still, Amtrak’s long-distance network is severely constrained by the lack of available equipment, as well as by the chronic lack of funding. It does not appear that the situation will change materially for the better any time soon.

The current trends to not indicate Amtrak’s imminent demise, but they are not positive, either. Amtrak President Joseph Boardman will retire soon, and many advocates have criticized him for lackluster management, and for making cuts in areas of customer service and comfort on board. Conversely, some advocates give him higher marks for not eliminating any routes during his tenure. It that is grounds for praise, then it is clear that Amtrak is in trouble.

New leadership might make a difference, though. In 2002, the Bush Administration attempted to eliminate all funding for Amtrak, which would have essentially killed it. At the time, Amtrak President David Gunn and Board Chair John Robert Smith advocated strongly for Amtrak before Congress and the “Court of Public Opinion;” actions which secured the funding that kept Amtrak going. In his column in Trains Magazine, Don Phillips mentioned two candidates who might succeed Boardman. One is Richard Phelps, a longtime operations manager. The other is Al Engel, who was head of SYSTRA and, more recently, spearheaded Amtrak’s high-speed-rail initiative in the Northeast Region.

This writer does not know either of these men well, but has met both. Both have the know-how and the experience to be taken seriously in the industry; a de facto requirement for the job. Engel is thoroughly familiar with capital projects, and with the technical issues connected to such projects. Phelps is thoroughly familiar with his field, rail operations. In this writer’s opinion, Amtrak needs to concentrate on its operational situation. There is still friction with the freight-carrying railroads, whose lines Amtrak uses for long-distance and state-supported trains. On-time-performance is the key to keeping the host railroads sufficiently satisfied that they do not initiate more legal battles against Amtrak. Phelps appears to have the operational acumen to accomplish that. He also seems to has the personally needed to “sell” Amtrak to elected leaders, and to the general public, who are all potential riders.

Smith and Gunn enjoyed the respect of advocates and of Amtrak employees for standing firm against the political forces that attempted to kill Amtrak during the early years of this century. Other leaders who came after Graham Claytor, who led Amtrak during the 1980s, have not enjoyed that level of respect and confidence. Boardman’s successor will assume the leadership of Amtrak at a critical time; a time when the railroad faces financial, operational and political challenges. The job will not be easy, but a leader who can garner the respect of the industry and elected leaders, as well as that of the riding public, may be able to turn Amtrak around and start it on a journey to its rightful place as a major component of the nation’s mobility network.

Certainly, there will be plenty of challenges, aside from the traditional political and funding difficulties. Amtrak may need to become more like a public-private partnership. Aside from the issue of private ownership of the infrastructure in the Northeast, private operation may be the key to restoring service on lines that have not hosted a scheduled passenger train for many years. That would include some lines where Amtrak trains once ran, but do not run anymore. Ed Ellis, head of Iowa Pacific Holdings and a former Amtrak manager, is operating the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis when Amtrak does not run its tri-weekly Cardinal between those two cities. How successful Ellis is in overcoming whatever challenges Amtrak and the State of Indiana might raise, and attracting riders despite those challenges, may say a great deal about the future of private operators running a train that is also considered part of the Amtrak system.

Anything can happen in the next five years. By the time Amtrak turns 50, it could be revitalized, well-funded, and looking toward expanding its system with more routes and more frequencies on existing routes. It could also be vastly smaller in size; with the long-distance “national network” gone, along with some of the current state-supported trains. A more likely scenario than either of those two is that Amtrak will continue to limp along, with the current network (or something that resembles it) and insufficient funding to bring the American people and the nation’s visitors the sort of robust intercity passenger train network many Americans have said that they want.

The author is Contributing Editor of D:F. He has ridden every existing Amtrak route in its entirety, as well as several that no longer exist. He has ridden about 700,000 miles on Amtrak during the past 20 years. The opinions expressed are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of any other individual or organization.

Publisher’s Note: Recently, one of David Peter Alan’s columns in Destination:Freedom stated, “Amtrak killed two-thirds of the nation’s intercity passenger trains on April 30, 1971.” While those trains were indeed eliminated on that date, Amtrak was acting under orders from the US DOT, which sets a big chunk of its budget, and not out of some wilful desire to kill trains. To state it as we did goes too far, and is unfair to the people of Amtrak, who do their utmost, often under difficult conditions, to make Amtrak work. – James P. RePass, Publisher, Destination:Freedom.

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LEGAL LINES... Legal Lines...  

Court Rules:

Getting There On Time: Who Goes First,
Amtrak Or A Freight Train?

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post

It’s a question that has brought dread to high school math students for generations: “Two trains leave Chicago” on different routes at different speeds, which one will reach St. Louis first? A court ruling may throw a new variable into the mix: Is the train carrying freight or passengers?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday struck down a 2008 law intended to make sure that Amtrak passenger trains arrived on time, even if that meant freight trains had to cool their heels while Amtrak rushed through.

Just who will ultimately decide the fate of passengers versus freight — the Supreme Court or Congress — wasn’t immediately clear after the latest round in a five-year court battle that the freight railroads have waged against Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

To understand the case and the ruling requires a trip back to the creation of Amtrak in 1970. With the nation’s private passenger rail service in crisis, Congress stepped in to establish a unique corporation to take over from the faltering rail lines. It created a private, for-profit company that was endowed with extraordinary powers, all in the interest of revitalizing passenger rail service in an era that saw airlines stealing travelers away.

Among those powers: Amtrak got priority over the freight rail trains when it came to scheduling. This despite the fact that the freight railroads own and maintain much of the entire U.S. rail system outside the Northeast corridor. Congress decided it needed to clarify just what that meant in 2008, so it passed another law that said Amtrak and the FRA should come up with a way of defining “priority.” And, Congress said, if the freight railroads did anything to violate those defining metrics, Amtrak could appeal to the federal Surface Transportation Board for relief.

Amtrak and the FRA decided that if 80 percent of Amtrak’s trains got to the station on schedule everything would be copacetic.

The freight railroad trade group, the Association of American Railroads (AAR), filed suit in 2011. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back to the D.C. appeals court.

The appeals court ruled on Friday that the law was unfair because it allowed Amtrak a hand in setting the rules for the industry of which it was a part. In essence, Amtrak was playing the role of a regulator rather than a competitor for the right to use the rail lines.

After the ruling came down, none of the parties — the AAR, Amtrak or the FRA — said they were sure what step came next.

Amtrak issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the ruling.

“The members of Congress from both parties who approved that law intended to ensure that Amtrak trains receive priority over freight trains. We hope that this legal morass will be resolved soon,” the Amtrak statement said.

The AAR applauded the court’s determination that “there was a fundamental constitutional flaw in allowing Amtrak to regulate freight railroads.”

From an item at:

[Editor’s Note: This is not just a problem in the USA. Read how VIA Rail in Canada is having a similar problem to the north, below]

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Denver International Airport Rail Link Inaugurated

By Keith Barrow
Associate Editor, International Railway Journal
Via Railway Age Magazine

The first phase of Denver’s Eagle PPP commuter rail project was completed on April 22, 2016, when Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock inaugurated the 23.5-mile University of Colorado A Line from Union Station to Denver International Airport.

The double-track line, which is electrified at 25kV 60Hz AC, includes seven new stations serving western districts of the city.

To celebrate the opening, Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) offered free travel on April 22 and 23 across its entire rail network.

In addition to the A Line, the Eagle PPP includes the construction of the 11-mile G Line from Union Station to Ward Road in Wheat Ridge, the six-mile B Line from Union Station to Westminster, and a new depot at Fox Street north of Union Station. The two remaining lines are due to open later this year.

The project is being implemented by PPP contractor Denver Transit Partners, a consortium of John Laing, Fluor, and Aberdeen Asset Management, under a $2.2 billion 34-year design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) concession awarded by RTD.

The project is being financed with the aid of a $1.03 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration and $450 million from the private sector.

Services are operated by 79-mph Silverliner V EMU cars supplied by Hyundai-Rotem. Each car accommodates up to 232 passengers, 91 of them seated, with two wheelchair spaces. The vehicles are being assembled at the Hyundai Rotem USA plant in Philadelphia, using body shells fabricated in Korea. They are virtually identical to the Silverliner V cars Hyundai-Rotem supplied to SEPTA.

Found at:

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STATION LINES... Station Lines...  

Tri-Rail Finalizes Plans For Downtown Miami Station

By Brian Bandello
South Florida Business Journal

The operators of Tri-Rail overcame some obstacles at the state level and finalized their plans for a downtown Miami passenger rail station.

The passenger line, which currently runs from near West Palm Beach to Miami International Airport, would share the downtown Miami station of the All Aboard Florida/Brightline passenger rail starting in 2017. Right now, Tri-Rail passengers must transfer to the Metrorail line in Hialeah to reach downtown.

“I would like to thank the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) Board for their unanimous approval of a plan to allow for the completion of the commuter rail platforms at the All Aboard Miami Central station, which is a major component of this Tri-Rail project,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Jimenez said. “This collaborative partnership with the SFRTA, the City of Miami, the Downtown Development Authority and others, will also serve as a model for increasing mobility and transportation options for Miami-Dade’s 2.7 million residents and millions of visitors.”

The $68.9 million needed to build a Tri-Rail platform at the AAF station already under construction was pledged by Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, the Over town Park/West CRA and the SFRTA. Since it wasn’t able to secure state funds or legal immunity against rail accidents on the tracks this year, SFRTA agreed to borrow $20 million to make up the different and to set aside money in case of lawsuits.

Creating a link between the Tri-Rail’s CSX tracks and the Florida East Coast Railway line that Brightline will utilize opens up the possibly of extending Tri-Rail service up the FEC line - the Coastal Line plan long promoted by SFRTA. That would require additional funding and new stations to be constructed along the FEC line.

By 2017, the Brightline train will carry passengers between downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Eventually, Orlando will be added to that service.

From an item at:

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Officials Break Ground On First Of 4 New SunRail Stations In Florida

From WFTV, Florida

SunRail officials expect to open four new stations and 18 more miles of track in the next two years in the hopes of boosting ridership,

Ground was broken last Monday in Osceola County on the first of the four stations.

“I have to take three buses: 426, 26 and 18. It takes me three hours to get to work,” said bus rider Ernie Robles.

The first station will be just off Osceola Parkway and will be part of a new mixed-use development.

The other stations will be at Meadow Woods in Orange County, in downtown Kissimmee and in Poinciana.

With the new stations and additional miles of track, SunRail officials hope that more people will choose the train over other methods of transportation.

“Hurry up. I’m sick and tired of riding these buses,” said Robles.

Numbers have been down since the SunRail service started in 2014, but officials said ridership is still strong.

“I (looked) at it for year one. We were a ‘B,’ and a ‘B’ is not bad for a brand-new system where people aren’t used to taking a train to and from work,” Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Noranne Downs said. “A ‘B’ is still a ‘B.’”

SunRail officials said ridership numbers down from last year. So, they’re hoping four new station with 2,000 additional boardings will help.

Riders said they would use the service more if it ran at night and on the weekend. But funding will that be a problem, officials said.

Also, the next phase which connects the rail line to Orlando International Airport is still years away.

“This southern leg will dramatically improve the ridership and help us get into the airport, which gives us the 7 -day-a-week service,” said Rep. John Mica.

SunRail officials said they don’t know if the leg to the airport will be from Meadow Woods or from the Sand Lake station, but the hope is to get that service running by 2021.

Found at:

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Amtrak To Inspect Tallahassee Train Station

Stephen Jiwanmall

The recent promotion of Amtrak in North Florida has many excited about its possible return to the Capital City.

The Tallahassee station has been out of use for more than a decade, but there are real efforts to bring back service.

In February, an Amtrak inspection tour stopped by the station to a huge crowd voicing their support for restoring service.

Former Tallahassee mayor John Marks is a part of the Gulf Coast Rail Working Group -- a team of 30 members commissioned by Congress to look into the logistics of resuming service.

“The Amtrak service from New Orleans to Orlando has been authorized,” Marks said. “The problem now? We don’t have the money yet, and the reason for that is because they don’t really know how much it will cost. So, now we’re going through the process of looking to make a determination that’s exactly -- or as close as we can. How much will this passenger rail service cost?”

Amtrak officials will inspect the station Wednesday morning to start determining what needs to be done to bring back service.

The Gulf Coast Rail Working Group will meet Thursday in Alabama as part of its monthly meetings.

The group is scheduled to meet in Tallahassee in July.

From an item at:

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STOCKS...    Selected Rail Stocks...
BRKB – Burlington Northern Santa Fe

CNI – Canadian National

CP –  Canadian Pacific

CSX – CSX Corp

GWR – Genessee & Wyoming

KSU – Kansas City-Southern

NSC – Norfolk Southern

PWX – Providence & Worcester

UNP – Union Pacific

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MAINTENANCE LINES... Maintenance Lines...  

Michigan DOT To Upgrade Amtrak Wolverine Route

From Progressive Railroading

Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) yesterday announced a modified schedule for the Wolverine schedule through Sept. 23 as state-owned railroad infrastructure improvements are made as part of Michigan’s Accelerated Rail program.

The temporary changes went into effect yesterday so that crews can perform track and signal work along the route, Amtrak and MDOT officials said in a joint press release.

The projects are aimed at improving service reliability and creating a smoother ride for passengers, as well as preparing for an expansion of the Midwest’s first 110 mph service.

Although all Wolverine trains will operate on adjusted schedules, the biggest change affects Trains 352 and 353, which will operate across the full Pontiac-Chicago route on Sundays only. Normal service of three Wolverine round-trips between Battle Creek and Chicago are now operating on the modified schedule, officials said.

From an article at:

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

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor


D:F Travel Advisory

Risk Of Border Crossing Chaos Increasing
In Southern Austria

Will The Scenes Of Conflict And Border Crossing Closures Along The Greek-Macedonia Border
Be Replicated Along The Austrian Italian Border?

Via Various Internet News Services Including DPA And ARD Television

Vienna Austria – The stormy winter and early spring weather in the Mediterranean Sea is now becoming less choppy and calmer . . . and the seasonable flow of migrants and refugees from the shore line of North Africa to Europe is once again dramatically rising. The closest landing points for these migrants is southern Italy and several Italian islands not far from the Libyan and Tunisian coasts. Some migrant boats are, despite the far longer distance, attempting to reach Italy and Greece from Egypt. Various news reports have stated large numbers of rafts, boats and even small ships attempting this crossing. For a few the trip has ended in disaster, most recently last week reports began to emerge that approximately 500 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya as their overloaded fishing trawler took on water and sank, thus continuing a cycle of sinking, drowning, and death which has been going on in the waters between North Africa and southern Europe for several years now.

Despite the risks, a large majority of the migrants either make it to land in Italy or Greece or are picked up by various ships and brought to safety in Malta, Italy or Greece. Just as the migrants coming into Greece via the waters and islands between Greece and Turkey do not want to stay in Greece, the migrants coming across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy have no intentions to stay in Italy long term, they want to go onwards to Austria, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and the UK.

Already on the so-called “Balkan Route” from Greece to Austria and Germany via the countries (including Macedonia) which were part of the former Yugoslavia, the principal rail corridor in that region has been indefinitely shut-down to train traffic near its southern end due to massing of migrants from the Middle East near Idomeni, Greece on the Macedonian border where the rail corridor crosses the border between these two countries. Since approximately December 2015 Macedonia stopped allowing migrants to cross into the country from Greece unless they have valid passports with the appropriate visas to enter their territory. Macedonia has enforced this decision with a heavy police presence along the Greek border including many patrols and new barbed-wire fencing. The many thousands of migrants, who want to leave Greece to central and northern Europe via Macedonia, have responded by setting up a large make-shift camp directly on the tracks of this rail corridor on the Greek side of the border, thus making the rail line impassible for trains.


NCI file photo by David Beale.

Choke point? Graz, in southeastern Austria, is closer to Slovenia than to Italy but still relatively close to Austria’s southern border and thus could see large numbers of immigrants out of the Middle East and Africa attempting to cross here towards the north after transiting Italy. In this photo from the 30th June 2013 an Austrian State Railways (ÖBB) regional train (Bombardier Talent EMU) pauses in Graz on the way to Spielfeld.

Now authorities in Austria, worried that massive flows of migrants will move from Italy into Austria through several routes, one in the Brenner Pass area and two other rail routes in the northeastern corner Italy, are planning measures to stop undocumented and illegal migrants at the Austrian – Italian border, similar to the measures which Macedonia has implemented along the Greek – Macedonian border. The time scale for the start of these new, hard enhanced border controls in Austria is a few weeks or perhaps days away.

There are three different rail corridors which run through this region between northeastern Italy and Austria (including the Brenner route), all of them will certainly be subjected to the planned enhanced passport control measures and denial of entry into Austria to persons who do not have a valid passport from an EU member country or applicable entry visas in a non-EU passport. Thus the risk that new ad-hoc camps of migrants will suddenly form at these rail corridor border crossings between Italy and Austria is quite high, as the experience in Idomeni, Greece and Calais, France (adjacent to the tunnel portals of the France – U.K. Channel Tunnel) have shown. If migrant flows become large enough, as was the case in late summer 2015 between Hungary, Austria and Germany, there is the potential that many scheduled cross-border passenger train operations will simply be suspended indefinitely until police and security authorities can get the migrant flow situation under control.

D:F Readers who are planning a trip to Italy or Austria including land travel (rail or road) between these two countries in the coming days or weeks should be prepared for potentially long waiting lines and heavily delayed travel times if these enhanced border control measures are implemented. As always, have proper identification in the form of a valid passport or official ID card issued by a national government authority on your person at all times. Driver’s licenses issued by states in the USA or provinces in Canada are generally not recognized in Europe as valid personal identification, they only allow you to drive a car, motorcycle, or other motor vehicle in Europe, but are not valid at passport control police check points or national border crossings.

Author’s Commentary:
Crossing European Borders By Train – Back To The Future

Europe – and perhaps the world – is now witnessing the partial re-implementation of passport / ID checks in various areas and national border crossings after enjoying just over 20 years of traveling by road, rail and boat / ferry without any such controls between the member states of the Schengen agreement. The reason for this apparent step backwards: the sudden mass increase of illegal immigration and refugee flows into Europe during much of 2015 and now in 2016 plus the recent terror attacks in France and Belgium, where terrorists hid in refugee flows out of Syria and Turkey to coordinate with other terrorists in ISIS-controlled regions in Syria and Iraq.

I am old enough to remember well traveling in continental Europe pre-Schengen. Typically border control police from the countries on either side of a border would enter a train at the last scheduled station stop in country A, and walk through the length of the train inspecting the passports of all passengers, as the train rolled across the border into country B. At the next scheduled stop on the other side of the border in country B, the border control police from country A and country B would step out of the train, sometimes with illegal or undocumented passengers in-tow. I first experienced this procedure in 1989 on a trip from Cologne Germany to Paris France on board an EC (Euro City) train . . . twice: the first police check between Aachen Germany and a town in Belgium, then slightly over an hour and a couple of hundred kilometers later between Mons, Belgium and Valenciennes, France – sort of like having two passport checkpoints between Boston and New York City on the Amtrak NEC.

In the following years in the 1990s I experienced this procedure on a train going across the German / Austrian border near Innsbruck, and on various passenger trains between Germany and Poland, Austria and Hungary, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia and Croatia. I also had to go through a passport control and customs check between trains on the German – Swiss border in 2005, but this control took place in the train station in Konstanz, Germany, which nearly straddles the German-Swiss border. One room in the Konstanz train station is in Germany, the next room on the other side of the wall is legally in Switzerland (but physically still in Germany, the actual border is about 600 meters away).

In the past years or even decades more countries have signed the Schengen treaty, so the aforementioned passport and customs controls between Germany and places such as Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Poland, as well between Austria and Hungary, and Hungary and Croatia have one-by-one disappeared. My family and I took a trip from Hannover, Germany to Krakow, Poland in 2010, by then passport inspection / control on trains between the two countries were long gone – the only thing that happened at the German – Poland border was a change in locomotives. Likewise we took a river raft ride from a small town in southeastern Poland to another town – in Slovakia – also no passport required. Just a nice trip by traditional wooden raft through a spectacularly beautiful part of eastern Europe without government formalities – unthinkable only a decade or two earlier.

Things have changed again. Last week I travelled for a weekend trip to Budapest Hungary. On the way to Budapest, no one asked to see my ID, except when I checked into the hotel. On the way back to Germany two days later, as I changed trains in Salzburg Austria to continue my trip back home to southern Germany via Munich and Ulm Germany, I (and everyone else boarding the next train to Munich) was asked by border police in Salzburg to show my passport on the track platform separated into two parts by a temporary fence and chain . . . . in April 2016 . . . it’s like 1989 again.

Thanks to mass migration driven by poverty, people smuggling, human slave trafficking and escalating war and violence in relatively far away Africa and the Middle East, the short-lived era of national borders without passport controls in much of Europe seems to be coming to an end almost as quickly as it started, as EU countries all the way from Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Austria and Greece lock horns over who should take final responsibility for the millions of Africans and Middle Easterners attempting to move to Europe. Is a 21st century Iron Curtain next?

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InnoTrans 2016: North American Attendee Discount,
Strong Canadian Presence

By William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Railway Age Magazine

InnoTrans, the semi-annual global railway industry trade exhibition and the largest event of its type, is offering discounted tickets to North American attendees. As well, this year’s event will have a strong Canadian presence. InnoTrans take place every 2 years in Berlin and show dates are Sept. 20-23, 2016.

The discounted tickets are 60% off the regular price. North Americans who plan a trip to InnoTrans 2016 can use the following registration link:

For questions on attending or exhibiting at InnoTrans, contact North American Representative Mary Jo Balve, (732) 933-1118,

Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, President and CEO of the state-owned Canadian transport company VIA Rail Canada Inc., will be the featured speaker at the Opening Ceremony at the Palais am Funkturm. He will use this event “to address a number of issues, including an appeal to the rail sector to demonstrate its shared responsibility toward the subject of climate change,” InnoTrans organizers said. “In his opinion, the most difficult task confronting industrialized countries such as Canada is to overcome mankind’s dependence on automobiles. The CEO has formulated some clear objectives for VIA Rail: ‘Private cars are the main emitters of greenhouse gases. VIA Rail aims to meet this challenge and triple its passenger numbers over the next 30 years.’”

Canadian exhibitors strongly represented

The Canadian exhibitors at InnoTrans 2016, whose numbers have tripled over the past eight years, are also preparing for an expansion of rail transport. As a result, these companies are presenting a wide range of products and services on the Berlin Exhibition Grounds, ranging from integrated software solutions (Giro Inc.) to flooring applications for the rail sector (Baultar Concept Inc.) and specialist components (Rail and Traction Canada Inc.).

In Hall 11.2, trade visitors can learn about the capabilities of the economic sector in Québec. Twenty regional firms will be represented on the joint stand, which is being organized by the Québec Ministry of Economic Development in cooperation with the representatives of the Government of Québec and the Québec Ground Transportation Cluster.

“Attendance at InnoTrans 2016 is essential, which is why the Province of Québec and its companies are exhibiting here, in order to present the innovative capabilities and the expertise available in Québec to potential partners in Germany, Europe and the world”, explains Claude Trudelle, Director of the Québec Government Office in Munich.

InnoTrans is the world’s largest trade fair for transport technology and takes place every two years in Berlin. At the 2014 event 2,761 exhibitors from 55 countries presented their rail industry innovations to 133,595 trade visitors who came from 146 countries. The five segments at InnoTrans include Railway Technology, Railway Infrastructure, Public Transport, Interiors and Tunnel Construction. InnoTrans is organized by Messe Berlin GmbH. More details are available online at

Found at:

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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Canadian Passengers Face Delays As Profitable Freight
Traffic Increases On CN-Owned Tracks

By Jonathan Sher
The London Free Press

Via Rail Canada slashed service in some parts of Southwestern Ontario and beyond because federal governments stood idle as CN Rail imposed exorbitant fees for using its tracks, a leading rail expert says.

“I don’t even blame CN. If you have a goose ripe for plucking, in the business world you pluck it,” said Greg Gormick, whose clients have included CN and CP, Via and General Motors’ former locomotive-making business in London.

Asked by about his concerns, CN dismissed them but refused to disclose how much it charges taxpayer-subsidized Via.

“CN rejects the unsubstantiated allegation that CN is charging Via Rail excessive track access fees,” company spokesperson Mark Hallman wrote.

Via’s operations have been thrust under a spotlight amid a push by the rail-passenger service for a track of its own for conventional trains, a move some critics have interpreted as a move to fend off a provincial proposal to link Southwestern Ontario to Toronto by high-speed rail.

CN wouldn’t disclose its deal with Via that established track fees, with Hallman writing its terms are confidential but that “CN confidently asserts that the agreement is very affordable (and) delivers significant value to VIA Rail and the passengers it serves.”

The rail giant’s secrecy might violate the Canadian Transportation Act, says Ottawa lawyer Ian MacKay, who specializes in federal transportation law. That legislation requires rail companies to make public, upon request, agreements that involve the railway, land, equipment, facilities or services and there are no exceptions for deals signed beginning in 2007, he said.

CN inked its latest deal with Via in 2008.

“If Via gets taken to the cleaners, the public has a right to know,” Gormick said. “As a taxpayer, as a (Via) passenger, I’m outraged.”

The Free Press asked federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau for his stance on the issue, to which his staff said Friday he will review the matter.

If Garneau wants to reverse declining service at Via, says Gormick, he should embrace changes modeled after U.S. regulations that formed the basis of a private member’s bill Gormick drafted for the NDP — a bill he says received Liberal support, but was defeated 13 months ago under the former Conservative government.

The bill would have given Via trains priority over lengthy and slower freight trains on tracks owned by CN and others — the same benefits the Amtrak passenger service enjoys in the U.S. and opposite of what exists now in Canada, where freight trains get to go first, causing lengthy delays for Via.

Via admits its passengers face more frequent delays as freight traffic grows, telling Stratford officials last year that since 2011, freight volume had increased by 17 per cent, while Via’s on-time rate dropped from 85 per cent to 72 per cent.

Via was doomed from the start when Ottawa created it and made it second fiddle to rail giants whose profits come from freight, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.

“That was the fatal flaw. . . . We needed the Amtrak model,” said Bradley, whose city’s service has been slashed: Sarnia gets two Via trains a day, one that leaves early in the morning, the other returning late at night.

The federal government must intervene, said Gormick, because otherwise CN can continue to hold Via hostage, since in some cases, CN tracks are the only game in town. To protect passengers and Via service, Garneau should follow the American model, Gormick said:

Via also needs to upgrade its dated fleet by seeing if it can piggyback on American orders and take advantage of lower costs from buying in bulk, Gormick said.

Those changes would bring quick benefits, he said.

From a news item at:

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