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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Maine governor wants more trains

As ridership on Amtrak’s Downeaster increases and Maine’s highways grow more congested, Gov. John Baldacci is ordering a plan for expanded passenger rail service to interior and coastal communities.

Baldacci’s executive order, which he signed Friday and announced Monday, also calls for clearer economic development plans near train stations along the existing route of the Downeaster, which connects Boston’s North Station and Portland, Maine, The AP reported yesterday.

The passenger trains stop in Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Wells in Maine; Dover, Durham and Exeter, N.H., and Haverhill and Woburn, Mass.

Baldacci’s executive order could set the stage for passenger service north of Portland to Brunswick and Lewiston-Auburn, with seasonal and excursion links to Rockland, Bethel, and other destinations in Maine.

“Every month the Downeaster is breaking new ridership records,” Baldacci said.

“We’ve made the trains faster and better. The Downeaster is bringing new energy to downtown economic development in Old Orchard, Saco, and other communities. It’s time to head north.”

The Downeaster finished the fiscal year that ended in June with the biggest increase in ridership since the start of the service in 2001. The train’s 329,265 passengers was an increase of 31 percent over the previous year, accounting for the biggest on a percentage basis anywhere in the Amtrak system during the period, a spokeswoman said.

Baldacci’s order directs the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and its executive director, Patricia Douglass, to work with the state Transportation Department and review all of the existing expansion studies and present by Dec. 1 “a clear set of next steps for investment north of Portland.”

“I’ve asked for an action plan to get year-round scheduled service to Auburn and Brunswick. We may use Amtrak, or we may build a commuter service, but there should be no doubt that we will get there,” Baldacci said.

The governor also directed Martha Freeman of the State Planning Office to help guide the economic development that will be happening near the Downeaster’s existing stations.

“We need a regional approach to smart development strategies that will help communities direct growth into old mills and other assets near current and future train stations,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci’s order cites several reasons to anticipate growing demand for passenger rail services, including increasing gasoline prices, a federal mandate for state action to mitigate increased air emissions from highway projects, and further congestion on Maine highways, especially portions of Interstate 95.

Transit security costs

hit New Jersey hard

Money is the biggest weapon needed to keep transportation systems secure from terrorism, and New Jersey and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have spent billions of dollars since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Experts said that while progress has been made in five years, more needs to be done, and that depends on more funding – specifically, from the federal government, Gannett New Jersey reported via the Daily Record of Morris County, N.J.

The Port Authority has spent a whopping $2.3 billion on security since the attacks. A total of $28 million has been spent on transportation security in New Jersey by New Jersey Transit and the state DOT, working in conjunction with the State Police, said transportation commissioner Kris Kolluri.

“The goal is to continue to be vigilant to protect the motorist and the commuter,” Kolluri said. “We’ve done a good job so far, but it will take more resources, and that responsibility falls in with the federal government.”

Port Authority facilities have hosted federal Homeland Security test programs of equipment, such as black boxes for shipping containers and screening systems for rail passengers, but the majority of security funding is paid for by the people who drive through the agency’s tunnels and bridges, use the airports or ride PATH trains, said Marc LaVorgna, a Port Authority spokesman. About 90 percent of Port Authority security costs are paid by the agency’s revenues and the remainder by the federal government, he said.

Mass transit systems started addressing security issues after the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, said Chris Kozub, associate director of the National Transit Institute at Rutgers Univ.

“The transit industry began considering what those ramifications of an event like that in this country would mean to the system,” Kozub said.

The job is difficult because like roads and bridges, transit systems are open to the public. Transit agencies have to respond to specific threats and implement preventive measures, such as cameras, motion detectors, police patrols and training of employees and riders, Kozub said.

“There is no one answer. It’s not technology and procedures alone,” Kozub said.

“Transit systems need to protect themselves, be aware and alert every day. If someone is looking to do something, they’ll look for that one weak spot to maximize vulnerability.”

UP to increase some train speeds

Union Pacific said on Friday it would gradually increase the maximum train speeds through the Texas towns of Keatchie, Logansport and its line south of Loop 3132 that parallels Highway 171 (Mansfield Road) through the southern portion of Shreveport. The changes began yesterday.

Following Federal Railroad Administration regulations, the railroad will gradually increase the maximum speed limit through the southern segment of Shreveport from 40 mph to 70 mph, through Keatchie from 40 mph to 70 mph, and through Logansport from 25 mph to 50 mph. The gradual increase will be 5 mph per week until trains reach the new maximum in each area.

UP stated changes are expected to “improve public traffic flow and grade crossing safety by increasing train traffic fluidity through the area.” Statistics show that “more highway-rail grade crossing collisions occur at slower train speeds.”

At the same time, slower train speeds can cause traffic delays as trains occupy crossings longer.

UP also says it’s looking for some good people.

The railroad said it has job openings at many locations throughout its 23-state operating system.

“Opportunities are available in train service, skilled disciplines

(e.g., diesel mechanics and electricians) and management.”

Applicants may visit http://www.up.com and click on “Jobs at UP.”

Two new CSX directors

CSX Corp. (NYSE: CSX) last week said that Donna M. Alvarado and Steven T. Halverson were elected to the company’s board of directors effective September 1.

Alvarado was appointed to serve on the company’s audit and finance committees and Halverson on the finance and governance committees.

Alvarado is founder and president of Aguila International, a Columbus, Ohio-based business consulting firm specializing in human resources and leadership development. Previously, she held senior positions in federal government, including deputy assistant secretary of defense, counsel for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy, and staff member of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as director of ACTION, the domestic volunteer agency.

Halverson is CEO of The Haskell Co., a design-build company based in Jacksonville, Fla. Previously, he served as senior vice-president of M.A. Mortenson Co., one of the largest builders in the U.S. He is a director for ACIG Insurance Co., the Florida Council of 100, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and the Construction Industry Round Table. He is also a trustee of the Univ. of North Florida and a St. John’s University regent.

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