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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

USDOT's Peters

Peters parrots Bush Amtrak line

New U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Monday that Americans shouldn’t expect the federal government to pick up as much of the cost of making needed improvements in the nation’s highway and surface transportation systems as it has in previous decades.

Peters, in one of her first interviews since taking office, said state and local governments should consider innovative new financing methods that include sophisticated drive-through toll systems, The AP reported today.

She served as Arizona’s transportation director before serving as head of the Federal Highway Administration under President Bush, and was sworn in as transportation secretary on October 4.

Peters said her priorities are improving transportation safety, increasing reliability and productivity and taking a fresh look at programs and funding for ground transportation and then aviation.

Peters said she embraces the Bush administration’s push to reduce annual federal subsidies for Amtrak to help prod the national passenger rail system into replacing “a failed business model.”

Though Congress has resisted similar suggestions in the past, Peters said some long-distance routes might have to be pruned in whole or in part from the system, particularly in areas where alternatives such as subsidized air service are available.

“I would like to see us get on a model where we could agree to fund Amtrak over a period so we could make the necessary investments that you can’t make if you’re going on a year-to-year basis, but that has to be coupled with an effective business plan to operate the railroad,” she said.

If the end segments of a long-distance route produce enough passengers to make those segments economical but that isn’t the case for the middle, it may be prudent to have trains roll through some current stops, she said.

Peters said she has already ridden Amtrak trains between Washington and New York but plans to ride a long-distance train later this fall.

“I want to see what the services are like. I want to see what the routes are like, how many people are on the train,” she said. “I think I need to experience it firsthand.”

A decent station for St, Louis - finally

Almost 28 years after the last passenger train pulled out of St. Louis Union Station, a new train-bus terminal is finally taking form beneath a busy elevated highway exchange. It has been a long, long time in coming, but finally progress in concrete after so many shelved plans and stalled intentions.

The new, $26 million, steel-and-glass building will serve Greyhound buses and Amtrak passenger trains from a front door on 15th Street, just south of the Scottrade Center and next to a MetroLink station. Its grand opening is expected by fall 2007, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today.

The location gets within a few feet of “Amshack,” the humble combination of trailers that served as downtown’s rail gateway from 1978 until a second “temporary” station opened in February 2005.

To reach the tracks, builders of the new station have to contort their work around and beneath the piers and overpasses of I-64 and its ramps to and from 14th Street. The zigzag design raises jobsite jokes about Houdini and Rube Goldberg.

Digging began in the summer. Workers are pouring concrete foundation and supports now, and are to begin raising steel next month.

When the temporary station was dedicated on Nov. 2, 1978, speakers promised it would be temporary, just five or so years. Soon it was being derided as “Amshack.”

A city that once was the nation’s second-busiest passenger hub made do with the five trailers bolted together, painted beige. That, and good intentions that never happened.

Nearly half of the $26 million for the new station comes from city coffers, mainly from a special capital improvement sales tax and refinancing of bond issues. Most of the rest is from federal agencies.

Missouri is rebuilding Spruce and 15th Streets for the main entrance, a drop-off loop and access to parking lots.

When completed, the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center will have 10 bays for Greyhound buses, doubling the company’s current capacity in its converted bank building. The Amtrak section will have four tracks reached by an overhead, enclosed walkway and two sets of stairways, escalators and elevators to the platforms below.

Ticket windows, a common lobby and a restaurant will be in the middle. The station’s contemporary exterior is similar to the spacious glass of the Scottrade Center nearby.

The station’s foundation runs 700 feet north and south as its curls around the highway piers. The building will be narrow – no wider than 35 feet in its interior public areas.

That’s nothing like grand old Union Station, which opened in 1894 when train travel was rushing to its glory.

Rhode Island puts transit on ballot

On November 7, Rhode Island residents will vote on a ballot measure calling for rail, public transit, and road and bridge improvements.

If approved, Question 5 would authorize Rhode Island to issue $88.5 million in bonds for transportation improvements and enable the state to provide matching funds for $394 million in federal dollars available to Rhode Island during the next two fiscal years. The bonds would provide $7 million for commuter rail, $80 million for a highway and bridge program, and $1.5 million for buses.

-Progressive Railroading

STB to hold grain hearing

The Surface Transportation Board said last week that the agency will hold a November 2 public hearing to examine rail grain transportation.

On October 6, the GAO released a report on rates, competition, and capacity issues in the rail freight industry.

In a press release, the STB Stated, “Although GAO reported that changes that have occurred in the rail industry since the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 are widely viewed as positive – with a healthier industry generally charging lower rates – it stated that grain rates have diverged from industry trends.”

GTW trainmen renew labor contract

The Canadian National Ry. reported today some 300 UTU members who work on the former Grand Trunk Western Ry., now a CN property, ratified their hourly wage agreement.

The five-year pact, retroactive to August 2005, marks the first renewal of an hourly-rate agreement on the GTW. The new contract, among other provisions, includes wage increases for UTU members.

In contrast with traditional mileage and rule-based wage systems for train crews dating back to the steam locomotive era, GTW UTU members are paid hourly wages and have job security in exchange for greater work rule flexibility for the company. Most of CN’s train and engine employees in the U.S. are covered by hourly-rate labor agreements.

The GTW main line runs between Chicago and Port Huron, Mich.


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