The National Corridors Initiative Logo

June 26, 2017
Vol. 17 No. 25

Copyright © 2017
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Founded 1989
Our 17th 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.
Managing Editor / Webmaster
Dennis Kirkpatrick
Foreign Editor
David Beale
Contributing Editor
Molly N. McKay

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

  Guest Opinion…
“Decades Behind”: Amtrak Plans Urgently
   Needed Upgrades
  Political Lines…
Gov. Cuomo Aims To Give State Majority Control
   Of MTA Board
  Amtrak Lines…
Amtrak Plans New Seattle Locomotive Center
Amtrak CEO: Trump Budget Eliminates Money
   To Upgrade Northeast Corridor
  Builders Lines…
Brookville Catches $33m Tempe Streetcar Contract
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Across The Pond…
Arson Attacks Cause Chaos On Numerous German
   Rail Lines
Full Revenue Service on Long Anticipated
   Berlin - Munich High-Speed Rail Line Scheduled
   For December 2017 Start
  To The North…
Canada Provides Funds To Advance Planning Of
   Yonge Subway Extension
  We Get Letters…
  Off The Main Line…
“My Life With Trains: Memoir Of A Railroader”
  Publication Notes …

GUEST OPINION... Guest Opinion...  

“Decades Behind”: Amtrak Plans
Urgently Needed Upgrades

From CBS News, New York

President Trump’s pledge to invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure made no mention of our country’s outdated rail system.

Decades of lack of funding and infrastructure investment have caused Amtrak, the nation’s passenger rail network, to lag behind most of the developed world.

For over a century, railroads were the backbone of America. Trains moved people between cities and provided freight transport for industry. But by the mid-twentieth century, competition from interstate highways and airlines forced many railroads out of business.

In 1971, Amtrak was established as America’s passenger rail service. But it has struggled since Day One, plagued with problems it still hasn’t solved: most routes never made a profit, and in many cases, Amtrak doesn’t even own the tracks.

Stephen Gardner, who oversees planning for Amtrak, says there are about 150 trains on the whole Northeast Corridor. “In order to provide fast, frequent, reliable passenger trains, you really need to build a system for just that, a dedicated system,” he told CBS News’ Peter Greenberg.

But it’s not just dedicated systems; it’s funding new tracks across the entire Amtrak network. The Acela, which is supposedly Amtrak’s high-speed rail system, can only go 150 miles per hour on a small section of tracks.

To compare, the bullet train in Japan can reach speeds of 200 mph to make the 250-mile trip between Tokyo and Osaka.

And it may be hard to believe, but this year Japan’s bullet train celebrates 53 years of high-speed service.

“We’re decades behind our counterparts from around the world,” said Deborah Hersman, CEO of the National Safety Council. “Part of this is because we don’t have a dedicated funding stream that supports that initiative.”

The good news is that Amtrak has ordered 28 high-speed trains for the Northeast Corridor, with the first of these scheduled to be in service by 2021.

The problem is there are currently no plans -- or the necessary funds -- to build the tracks needed to support high-speed rail.

“I think what’s lagged is kind of a broader issue, which is investment in infrastructure in transportation generally,” Gardner said. “If you look across our network, we are under-investing in all of our assets.”

Those dedicated systems are now being built -- some with private money.

In California, a high-speed rail link between the Los Angeles area and San Francisco is now under construction. But we’ll need to be patient; it won’t be finished before 2029, at the earliest.

But in South Florida, the nation’s first privately-owned higher speed rail project, Brightline, is moving faster -- and set for launch later this year.

In Florida, when Brightline gets up and running, it will handle the 205-mile run between Miami and Orlando with speeds of up to 125 mph. That’s still technically not high-speed, but at least it’s faster.

While Brightline may be new, it’s not solving Amtrak’s problems and the continuing need to move people by rail.

“We have to rebuild the infrastructure to make sure that it stands the test of time and can operate decades into the future,” said Hersman. “Our economy is riding on the back of this infrastructure and we’ve got to take care of it.”

In the end it all gets down to money. Amtrak goes to more than 500 destinations in the U.S. But if the current budget plan from President Trump is approved, many Amtrak officials are worried that may have to close more than 200 stations across America.

Now, Amtrak is planning a summer of urgently needed upgrades. Those improvements will lead to more delays and cancellations at the nation’s busiest train hub, New York’s Penn Station.

Three weekday trains between New York and Washington, D.C., will be cancelled as it upgrades its facilities at Penn Station beginning in July. Amtrak says its regular schedule will resume in September, but for passengers it can only mean a summer of more crowded trains and possibly more delays.

This item appeared at:

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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Gov. Cuomo Aims To Give State
Majority Control Of MTA Board

By Mischa Wanek-Libman
Rail, Track, And Structures

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo advanced legislation that would give the state majority control of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), citing the transit agency’s “state of crisis.”

New York state has six seats on the MTA Board, New York City has four and Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland and Putnam compromise the balance of the board’s 14 total voting seats with no voting majority.

The legislation would add two additional state seats to the MTA Board appointed by the governor and an additional vote for the board chairman. Of the new board’s total voting members, it would now give the state eight appointees and nine votes.

“The MTA Board structure assumed regional participation in the metropolitan area’s transportation systems, but left no one in charge. While New York State has six of the 14 voting seats – that is not control. There is no transformative plan that will require major change and possibly more investment that will be agreed upon by the various separate political bodies with competing needs. Complex projects don’t get effectively managed by unanimous agreement of large political bureaucracies. We don’t have 10 years to do this. The state will dedicate itself to the task and assume responsibility, but the state needs the authority,” said Gov. Cuomo.

The MTA’s organizational structure was originally created in 1965. While the board included all governments in the MTA region, it also divided responsibility among the authority’s various political leaders. The governor says this created a board without accountability, which requires constant coalition building on the board to effect action.

“The MTA is in a state of crisis. Historic underfunding leaves it with obsolete equipment going back to the 1940s. The bureaucracy is dysfunctional. The recent Penn [Station] emergency track closures on July 8 will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. The July 8 [Long Island Rail Road] and New Jersey Transit cancellations will drive more people into the subway system, in the middle of the summer. There is no quick or small fix for the MTA. We are advancing $32 billion for the MTA capital plan – an historic amount – but it must be implemented: new cars purchased, new signals installed, new equipment acquired and new personnel hired,” said Gov. Cuomo.

He pointed to the example of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for which the state has taken a similar approach. He also offered the recently opened Second Avenue Subway as an example of when state leadership propelled a project to completion.

“In sum, let’s fix the fundamental and initial mistake – ‘put someone in charge.’ The state is the obvious entity to manage a regional network, and the state contributes a multiple of any other jurisdiction’s funding. The simple fact is if no one has the responsibility and the authority, fundamental, rapid change of any culture or system is impossible,” said Gov. Cuomo.

From an item found at:

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AMTRAK LINES... Amtrak Lines...  

Amtrak Plans New Seattle Locomotive Center

By Stuart Chirls
Railway Age

Amtrak will build a $28-million locomotive service facility in Seattle.

The U.S. passenger rail corporation said the project is its third major investment in the Seattle facility that provides services for the long-distance Empire Builder and Coast Starlight; Amtrak Cascades state-supported corridor service, and maintenance for Sound Transit Sounder commuter trains.


Image via Amtrak

Artist rendering of the planned locomotive facility

The project, to be managed by PCL Construction Services, will include demolition of the site’s existing buildings, utilities, tracks, and other structures, as well as construction of a new 31,000-square-foot locomotive shop. Existing yard tracks will be reconfigured to provide access to the new facility, which will be equipped with a 55-ton crane and a new 125-ton drop table, the latter funded by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The project kicks off this month and is scheduled for completion in June 2019.

PCL has also built other Seattle Amtrak structures, including a Maintenance of Equipment Facility, warehouse, administrative, and Health and Welfare building.

Found at:

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Amtrak CEO: Trump Budget Eliminates
Money To Upgrade Northeast Corridor

By Herb Jackson , Washington Correspondent

Federal railroad officials said Thursday they opposed President Donald Trump’s budget proposal because it would eliminate Amtrak’s ability to upgrade the Northeast Corridor and block funding from going to the Gateway project.

“From a practical standpoint, the president’s budget would effectively eliminate capital funding for Northeast Corridor and that’s a bad thing,” Charles W. “Wick” Moorman, Amtrak’s president and chief executive officer, told the House railroad subcommittee.

John Pocari, the interim executive director of the Gateway project, said the budget would only allow construction grants for projects that already have agreements in place for full financing. That would exclude Gateway, which includes replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River and a tunnel under the Hudson River, both of which were built in 1910.

While the impact on Gateway has been discussed previously by budget critics, Moorman’s testimony and details released by congressional committees in recent weeks show Trump’s budget would cut more deeply into the Northeast Corridor than it appeared when the 2018 spending plan was first released.

The proposed cuts -- which face an uncertain fate in Congress and have been criticized by some Northeast Republicans -- come as service on the Northeast Corridor is due to be disrupted next month when Amtrak begins emergency repairs to tracks west of Penn Station.

The corridor runs from Washington, D.C. to Boston and is a vital New Jersey commuter route as it bisects the state, Along with the cancellation of six Amtrak Northeast Regional trains, the repairs will require some trains on NJ Transit’s Morris and Essex line to be rerouted to Hoboken, while some Long Island Railroad trains will go only as far as Jamaica.

Moorman told the subcommittee that Amtrak’s Empire Line, which currently runs from Albany to Penn Station, would operate out of Grand Central Station instead when repairs begin. But an Amtrak spokeswoman later said details about that service were still being developed.

For the full story view it at:

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BUILDERS LINES... Builders Lines...  

Brookville Catches $33M Tempe
Streetcar Contract

By Stuart Chirls
Railway Age

Brookville Equipment Corp. has signed a $33-million contract with Valley Metro Rail of Phoenix to design, build and deliver six off-wire capable Liberty Streetcars for the Tempe Streetcar.

The Brookville, Pa.-based manufacturer said the cars will operate along a new corridor connecting downtown Tempe with Arizona State University students, Rio Salado Parkway, and other destinations.

The vehicle, 70 feet long and eight feet-eight inches wide, will include on-board battery energy storage, enabling the vehicles to travel segments without overhead power for portions of the route. The streetcar batteries will recharge while connected to areas where there is catenary wire.

“Brookville is excited to work with Valley Metro by providing an American-manufactured streetcar vehicle for a new transit service,” said Brookville Vice President of Business Development Joel McNeil.

The vehicles will be designed and manufactured at Brookville’s Western Pennsylvania facility, and will exceed Buy America requirements of more than 70% American content.

The cars offer station-level boarding provided by an automatic leveling system, which adjusts the vehicle’s platform height as passenger loading fluctuates. The vehicles also include more than 70% low floor area and feature priority seating for people with disabilities and mobility devices. Capacity is approximately 120 passengers with seating for 32.

Tempe will be the fifth city to operate Brookville’s off-wire capable Liberty Streetcars, which are currently in service for DART in Dallas, Texas (four vehicles) and the QLINE Detroit (six vehicles). Brookville said it is also nearing delivery of Liberty Streetcars for the Oklahoma City (seven vehicles) and Milwaukee (five vehicles).

The Tempe cars are scheduled for delivery by 2020, ahead of the streetcar line’s start-up of service.

This item first appeared 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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ACROSSTHEPOND... Across The Pond...  

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

Arson Attacks Cause Chaos On
Numerous German Rail Lines

Radical Left Extremists Claim Credit For Coordinated Attacks
On Railway Signal Equipment, Thus Endangering Hundreds
Of Train Passengers And Ruing Travel Arrangements
For Thousands More.

Via Tagesspiegel Newspaper And DPA

Police are investigating whether there is an extremist motive behind 13 arson attacks on railway infrastructure equipment, which led to train delays across Germany on Monday morning (19th of June).  Early on Monday morning, arsonists attacked rail lines in 12 different locations.  Cable ducts of rail signaling equipment were set on fire in the German states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony as well as within the city-state of Berlin, which is the German capitol, police said.


Photo: Tag24 Magazine

Passengers wait... Passengers stand in Leipzig on the 19th of June waiting for a heavily delayed train to Frankfurt and Wiesbaden.

Services in several locations including the eastern cities of Leipzig and Dresden as well as long-distance lines linking Berlin and Prague were disrupted, rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.  Berlin police are investigating a claim of responsibility which was posted on a left-wing website on Monday morning.  Sources inside the police department say the letter “fits the pattern,” but caution that it is too early to tell if it is authentic.


Photo: Tag24 Magazine

While police investigate...  German federal police gather evidence from the site of an arson attack on railway signal cables near Erfuhrt, Germany.

The group which called itself “Shutdown G20: take Hamburg offline!” said it had struck rail tracks which it described as “the central nervous system of capitalism”.  Similar sabotage action hit Germany in 2011, believed to be carried out by leftist extremists then protesting against the German military's deployment in Afghanistan.  The letter appeared on, which has published fake claims of responsibility in the past.

A fire near Treptower Park station in eastern Berlin resulted in damage to electric cables, leading officials to deploy replacement bus services, including for the main S-Bahn route into the city from Schönefeld Airport, Tagesspiegel reported.  Focus magazine reported massive delays in the area of Leipzig, where several arson attacks hit commuter services around the city.  “In some cases, arson devices could be disarmed before they caused damage,” a spokesperson for the federal police told Focus magazine.  State security services, which are responsible for investigating politically motivated crimes, have taken over the investigations.  

The arson reports come weeks before the G20 summit is to be held in Hamburg on the 7th and 8th of July.  The summit of political leaders from the world’s major economies is often accompanied by violence from far left-wing fringe groups.  A number of the G20 members, particularly France, Germany, Russia, Great Britain and the USA have been hit by terrorism in the past couple of years.  Although not a member of the G20, Belgium was hit again by a terrorist attack early this past week, when a 22 year-old Moroccan immigrant residing in Brussels attempted to bomb the central train station in downtown Brussels with a homemade suitcase bomb.  The bomb erupted in fire but did not explode as intended.  The terrorist was shot dead by police as he attempted to tackle police responding the incident in the busy train station.  There were no other reported casualties aside from the bomber.  

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Full Revenue Service on Long Anticipated
Berlin – Munich High-Speed Rail Line
Scheduled For December 2017 Start

Construction Now Completed And Start Of Operational Testing
On The “World’s Longest Subway” High-Speed Rail Line
Between Germany’s Capitol And Its Largest City Begins.

Via Tagessspiegel Newspaper, DPA And Berliner Zeitung Newspaper

The first ICE high-speed train between the German capital and Munich made its first journey a week ago last Friday (16th of June), with only select guests and VIPs invited for the trip.  The newly renamed ICE-3 “Sprinter” trains will take a brisk 3 hours and 55 minutes to join the Bavarian capital with Germany’s national capitol, thus slashing over two hours off current journey times.  In the process, it is set to put pressure on airlines and intercity bus companies, which currently dominate the market on the route.


Photo: Computer Bild magazine

Test drive in the Thuringian countryside.  An ICE-3 high-speed train makes a test run on the new Erfuhrt – Leipzig (Munich – Berlin) high-speed rail line in June 2017.

Construction on the route, previously known as VDE-8 (the German acronym for 8th transportation project of German Unification), started in 1996 and finished last year.  Twenty-two tunnels and 29 bridges have been built on a new 107 km (66.5 mile) stretch of rail line through the Thuringian Forest in former East Germany. Trains will travel at speeds of up to 300 km/h over hills and through tree-studded valleys in the state of Thuringia.  DB’s existing ICE-3 trains, which include four different sub-models / configurations, will be the primary rolling stock on the route, although existing ICE-1 train sets retrofitted with ETCS Level 2 cab signaling and positive train control system can also run on the route, as can other train set models equipped with ETCS Level 2 system equipment.  DB has re-branded the ICE trains on this route as “ICE Sprinter”, this making the brand name “Sprinter” perhaps the most over-used brand name in the rail industry.  

The completion of the VDE-8 high-speed rail corridor between Berlin and Munich marks the most significant achievement in re-connecting former East and West Germany after reunification in 1990.  Plans were first agreed upon in 1991.  It also marks perhaps the last and final large-scale long distance high-speed rail corridor to be built in Germany for the foreseeable future.  There are a handful of smaller high-speed rail corridors in planning or construction, such as Stuttgart – Ulm (planned completion late 2021), still active, but none are as large or long as the new Berlin – Munich corridor.  Although the entire Berlin – Munich high-speed rail corridor officially opens for business in December 2017, several sections of the corridor, such as Munich – Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and Halle / Leipzig – Berlin have been in regular operation for a number of years already.  The new Erfurt – Leipzig section began operations back in December 2015.  

At the opening ceremony two weeks ago, Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) boss Richard Lutz described the € 10 billion (US $12 billion) project as “a historic achievement.   This is the biggest improvement that has ever been made to the service provided by Deutsche Bahn,” he said.  The newest section of the corridor, the 107 km (66.5 mile) long stretch between Bamberg and Erfuhrt runs in 22 tunnels and over 29 bridges above numerous valleys.  This particular section of the corridor cost approximately € 3 billion to build, due to the expense of all the tunnels and bridges.  Along the entire corridor there are 177 road bridges, 335 railway bridges, 40 bridges / viaducts over river valleys, 27 tunnels and 0 grade crossings.  The high number of tunnels, several of which are multiple kilometers / miles long, has led some people to call the new rail line the “world’s longest subway”.  

But the general public will have to wait a bit longer until they can enjoy the benefits of the route. Tickets will go on sale in October, while the first public and revenue service journey will take place on the 10th of December 2017, the date of the annual European train and bus schedule update.  In a sign that no risks are being taken, trains will start following the scheduled timetable in August, but without passengers.

According to Lutz though, it will be worth the wait. Three Sprinters will race from Munich to Berlin every day and vice-versa, stopping only in Erfurt and Nuremberg on their blistering journey.  Other high-speed ICE trains will travel the route at more regular intervals, but will stop more often, making their journey times 4.25 hours long.

But it won’t just be people on the Munich-Berlin line who will benefit - the entire journey plan of Deutsche Bahn is being rearranged to fit in with the new route.  “What use is a super-speed train to me if I have to wait 30 minutes in Erfurt for a connection?” asked Lutz, before claiming that the capital of the German state of Thuringia would become “the speed central of Germany.”

Residents of east German towns such as Halle, Leipzig and Dresden are all set to benefit from quicker journey times. But even those travelling to Frankfurt will see a difference, Lutz said. From December onwards, Frankfurt will be connected to Berlin with high-speed trains that depart every half hour.  Deutsche Bahn have not yet released information on pricing for the new route.

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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Canada Provides Funds To Advance
Planning Of Yonge Subway Extension

By Mischa Wanek-Libman
Rail, Track, And Structures.

The planned extension of Toronto Transit Commission’s Yonge Subway north to the York Region received a CA$36-million (US$27.18 million) infusion from the government of Canada to advance planning preliminary engineering.

The proposed 7.4-km (4.6-mile) extension would provide a “missing link” in Toronto’s rapid transit network by connecting Finch Station to Highway 7. The extension would include five stations and will take approximately 10 years to complete.

Infrastructure Canada says that once complete, the extension would provide subway service beyond regional boundaries, connecting more people to transit, connect GO Transit, York VIVA and York Region Transit services and improve travel around the region.

The federal funding commitment is part of an agreement between Canada and Ontario for the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. Ontario committed approximately CA$55 million (US$41.5 million) through the Moving Ontario Forward plan to the planning and design work on the Yonge North Subway Extension.

“With the funding being announced today, we can advance the preliminary engineering and design work required to move the Yonge North Subway Extension forward. This project is the number one rapid transit priority of York Regional Council for good reason. It will allow us to keep up with the tremendous growth we are experiencing, it will virtually eliminate the 2,500 daily bus trips now required to service this section of Yonge Street, and it will be the catalyst for job creation and the development of more affordable housing options,” said Wayne Emmerson, York Region chairman and chief executive officer.

Found at:

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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  


[ Rail provocateur M.E. Singer offers a response to an article appearing at “The Hill” entitled “Trump’s transportation budget runs into resistance from both parties,” found at:]

How The Proposed Infrastructure Program Is Viewed
Through Rose-Tinted Glasses, In Lieu Of 20/20 Vision

As denial of economic reality persists in the formulation of the infrastructure program, and with our hopes riding on a confused, diverted Congress, has triggered my responsive commentary to a 15 June 2017 story inThe Hill,”Trump’s Transportation Budget Runs Into Resistance From Both Parties.”Why does it continue to so blatantly appear that our transportation policy is being formulated by non-transparent think tanks and their acolytes now in powerful positions to dutifully carry out these dictated, one dimensional policies? As we should have learned by now, not every program benefiting the general public can be better run in the private sector, as exemplified by the demise of the pay toilet.

How is it that this current federal government can propose to simply turning over the extensive investment by the taxpayer into the air traffic control system since 1956, gratis, to the private firm to assume that role? At least when Amtrak was formed, the private railroads were required to transfer to the new federal corporation their rolling stock, locomotives, depots, maintenance/repair shops, commissaries, etc. Amtrak was also required to honor all union agreements.

Also, I take umbrage at the statement by Secretary of Transportation Chao, “The administration has taken a closer look at programs that may not be meeting their intended purposes, have outgrown their usefulness or could be replaced with a new initiative that will better address future transportation needs.” How can anybody in this administration rest their laurels on such an assumption, when the reality is they do not rely on intercity or commuter trains, or even airlines serving rural areas via the Essential Air Service program, to conduct their business, or, maintain personal contacts?

How does dismembering Amtrak serve within the context of re-building our infrastructure? Any competent business school faculty would point out that when a national transportation service like Amtrak is deliberately starved from a consistent level of appropriations to be able to act like a business to properly plan, budget, acquire and rehabilitate equipment, as well as to expand or reduce routes, only on the surface would it deliberately appear not to be “useful,” or, certainly “replaceable.” Persistently denied any opportunity to invest in equipment, beyond the political cartel powers of the Northeast Corridor, has only crippled Amtrak’s capacity to offer more frequent schedules, and seasonal services, which are the essence of becoming a viable option for travelers.

Properly scheduled and expanded long distance rail services would serve to link multiple regions, and to augment the state-supported services paid by all non- Northeast Corridor states. Eliminating the excessive regional political clout that dominates Amtrak’s board of directors, and throughout its relationship with Congress, would enable Amtrak to think and act like a business re routes, instead of being overly concerned with which of so many political tributaries needs to be appeased.

Apparently, the Essential Air Service program (EAS) suffers from the same political interference to cause its cost to increase annually since it was temporarily established in 1978. How far do we have to search for common sense on the Potomac to realize the extent of sheer waste subsidizing airlines for Decatur, IL when it is but 37 miles from Springfield; or to Hagerstown, WVA when the hub at Washington Dulles is 50 miles away?

Before we turn any more railway depots or rural airports into spaghetti restaurants, those seeing privatization or elimination as the ultimate, purest panacea should learn the realities of how business should be conducted beyond their view of the Potomac:

1) Given the excessive deferred maintenance just for the Northeast Corridor, estimated at $52 Billion; years of disinvestment in equipment; corridor/long distance services operating at the margins, the feds have failed to align Amtrak with the interests of any potential private acquisition, other than perhaps a Russian oligarch seeking to launder funds here. There is a reason the private rail operators in Europe have stayed clear of America.

2) The continuous deprivation of Amtrak by the feds has not been conducive to working with the Class 1 private freight railroads or other investors seeking a real P3 opportunity. Yet, just the opposite happens when a government is fully involved and supportive, as evidenced by California and its Joint Powers Authorities managing its regional intra-state passenger rail programs; working well with the Class 1 railroads owning the infrastructure.

3) A successful infrastructure program should initially have an appreciation of history, and learn from past federal government mistakes. Federal policy has decimated our industrial base and depleted a well trained American workforce by promoting “lowest bid” mentality in railcar construction. This has only encouraged foreign firms to become Beta sites at our expense, unsuccessfully re-engineering our former firms patents. The most recent failure is Nippon Sharyo to complete a federal contract that expires September, 2017, to build bi-level intercity passenger cars for the Midwest and California corridors.

4) A real infrastructure program to re-build America would be for the feds to invest directly and secure private investments to overcome the government’s past betrayal of our former rail car builders, e.g., Budd, Pullman, American Car Foundry, and St. Louis Car. The guts of a national, and just not simply a bi-coastal, infrastructure program would be to build and rehabilitate the rail passenger car fleets and locomotives necessary for Amtrak and our commuter lines to resurrect our once vast, vibrant private passenger rail network inter-connecting to all of our regions. Such inter-regional connectivity is still required to provide the mobility necessary as the catalyst for economic development and growth.

5) EAS must be updated to reasonably raise the bar by only serving airports in the continental US that must be more than 100 miles from another airport; to lower the per passenger subsidy to $100, as people will either use it, or lose it. In lieu of EAS subsidy, to what extent can the airport utilize its fees and tax revenues to pay for such service, instead of spending to market for the benefit of the airline?

6) The ‘free ride’ for those wedded to the road must end in fairness to paying their share (‘user fees’) for a true infrastructure program. This includes for auto, bus, and truck:

a) Vehicle Mileage Tax (VMT).
b) Tolling interstates; bridges; tunnels.
c) Increasing fuel taxes, inked to the CPI.

7) Although Amtrak and commuter lines currently pay user fees to the freight railroads who own the infrastructure to provide time slots for track access and dispatching, the feds need to apply this concept as well within its infrastructure program to the barge companies using the inland waterways maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. As well, it is high time for the airlines to pay market-based user fees for the FAA’s air traffic control system, and for take-off and landing slots; to break their hub dominance that only strangulates competition.

Without embracing these business concepts to serve all regions and establish a balanced approach to user fees and subsidies, the only response to the currently maligned approach to infrastructure will be:”fehgetabouti!”

M.E. Singer

[ The views and opinions expressed in our letters column are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the position of NCI or its editorial staff - Ed. ]

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OFF THE MAIN LINE... Off The Main Line...  

Book Review:

“My Life With Trains: Memoir
Of A Railroader”

By Jim Blaze
Railway Age

In his just-published “My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader,” the late Jim McClellan (June 10, 1939 – Oct. 14, 2016) left us with a detailed description of how difficult leadership can be.

This assessment is based on my personal interpretation of Jim’s memoir writing, combined with my personal observations of those timelines while I was also working for Jim (a two-year cumulative period over two separate periods at USRA and at Norfolk Southern as a consultant to Jim), plus a trusting personal relationship with him between 1974 and 2016.

This book, which follows 2011’s “My Life with Trains, Volume I” (which is mostly a book of Jim’s railroad photography), is instead a highly technical discussion of railroad industry events that occurred during Jim’s life. It is his interpretation as a strategic thinker about the options, the debates, the missed opportunities and the choices governments, regulators and railroad senior management and boards made—or might have made. It includes observations of events during his career, which encompassed Southern Railway, New York Central, Amtrak, FRA, USRA, AAR and finally, Norfolk Southern.

The memoir talks about missed mergers that might have happened, and why they didn’t happen for human reasons as well as strategic and financial reasons. It’s an economic perspective that’s not always covered so deeply by investigative reporters or other memoirs. It’s about the challenge of trying to spearhead new thinking about the commerce of railroading amidst mode shift changes and even financial bankruptcy. It’s also about his periodic fears of even his best ideas being doubted, picking his battles and often biding his time, and yes, even about now and then being embarrassed, or at a loss for words in front of his superiors.

Book Cover

Jim’s memories reveal a side most of us never saw: his intellectual self-doubt from time to time. Most of us that worked with Jim only remember him as being quite confident as a railway intellectual leader. He knew that sometimes being “corporate lucky” is better than being smarter than the competitor.

Jim recognized that the CSX network in the 1980-1996 period was superior in route coverage and distances in key markets to that of his Norfolk Southern, and that the relatively poorer NS network in markets like Florida, Chicago and New York/Northern New Jersey actually handicapped NS in defining an east-west merger option.

That structural network coverage weakness almost forced Norfolk Southern into a fixed-focus, decade-long pursuit of Conrail as the only way to create an enduring and strong commercial future for NS, because anything less than a better Conrail route and market access strategic plan would likely create a long-term, second-tier competitive network outcome for NS.

Corporately, NS leaders couldn’t deal with the thought of ending up being a long-term, 40% market share railroad against a strong network company like a Union Pacific-CSX-Conrail. By that admission of weakness, Jim reveals what continually drove NS to pursue a Conrail option.

That network weakness was often overlooked by those who, like me, worked inside Conrail. Most of us saw NS as the giant, simply because NS had such a superior financial profile. Inside Conrail, many of us failed to recognize as a corporation that NS had this “weakness.” NS didn’t have a better merger option. And its corporate culture couldn’t accept becoming a second-tier survivor during what might be the last merger wave.

Jim reminds the reader that one of the first principles of corporate wars is “to know your enemy” and “to know yourself,” and that it took the shock of a friendly CSX/Conrail deal for Norfolk Southern leadership to come to that conclusion in September of 1996.

In the end, Norfolk Southern had a very healthy balance sheet. The NS executive team, led by David Goode, conquered CSX and Conrail by waking up to the serious threat, and then outspending both to win over Conrail shareholders. NS suddenly and unexpectedly became extremely aggressive. Money was no object when long-term survival as a top dog was at stake.

The book covers a large section of Jim’s life. To me, the USRA period, the CSX early eighties period, and the three different merger runs at Conrail are the most compelling, because I was also engaged in those events.

Jim’s recollection of events and the people—the human as well as organizational tensions—is well balanced and accurate. If you are interested in railroad economics and leadership issues, this book should be in your library. Jim McClellan’s memoirs provide a series of valuable history lessons, not just for us older folks, but also for those who face the next 30 to 40 years of uncertainty and opportunity.

“My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader,” by James W. McClellan. Edited by George M. Smerk and J. Roger Grant. Indiana University Press, 2017. Hardcover, 303 pages. $45. ISBN: 978-0-253-02400-8.

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