American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

We wish you a happy Labor Day

-The AR crew

September 1, 2006

It was a gloomy day in Washington, D.C. in 2000 when these Amtrak trains were at rest in Union Station. A similar scene will be reenacted over the next few days in the Northeast as Florida service trains remain tied up in the yards, never mind at the bumping posts. The hurricane update is below.

Some Florida railroads


go back to work

After inspections of its lines in its Miami and Homestead subdivisions in South Florida, CSXT said on Thursday it resumed freight service Wednesday afternoon. Freight service has also resumed south of Auburndale and continues as normal in central and northeast Florida, the carrier stated in a service bulletin to customers.

Meanwhile, Tri-Rail commuter service started up again on Thursday.

Amtrak noted that at 11:00 a.m. EDT yesterday, the National Hurricane Center issued an updated advisory announcing a Hurricane Watch for the Carolinas. Tropical Storm Ernesto was over the Atlantic, approaching the Carolinas and gaining strength.

Norfolk Southern noted it would conduct normal operations, subject to local customer demand and crew availability, throughout the 2006 Labor Day Holiday weekend, but no word about possible hurricane plans.

Amtrak canceled three trains originally scheduled to operate on Thursday.

“The decision was made in order to avoid placing our passengers in harm’s way as a result of this renewed Hurricane Watch and the potential for hurricane conditions along the route of Amtrak Florida service trains,” a press release posted to its web site stated.

Both Auto Trains, Nos. 52 and 53 were canceled Thursday.

The southbound Silver Meteor, train No. 97, was canceled, and no alternate transportation was provided.

Amtrak stated timing for resuming service “will depend on conditions following passage of the storm.”

No word yet from MARC, but Virginia Railway Express let its riders know on Thursday afternoon they could be in for a rough few days with Ernesto.

“Just when we thought that we were getting a break from Mother Nature, it appears as if she is poised to strike again. Predictions currently show significant rainfall beginning late tonight and continuing throughout the day tomorrow. As we learned all too well in late June and early July, heavy amounts of rainfall can be damaging to a railroad. We hope that this storm will not have as significant an effect as the ones that we had earlier this summer. However, if the current flash flood watch is escalated into a flash flood warning, we will see some significant delays, particularly on the Manassas line.”

The writer April Maguidad explained on the VRE website, “Flood restrictions, similar to heat restrictions, are applied differently by each railroad. CSX's policy (Fredericksburg line) is to reduce passenger train speeds to 40 mph.”

She added, “Cumulative delays into Union Station or Fredericksburg (depending on the direction) could be about 20-30 minutes.

“Norfolk Southern's policy (Manassas line south of Alexandria) is to reduce passenger train speeds to 20 mph. Cumulative delays into Union Station or Broad Run (depending on the direction) could be more than an hour.”

So, in light of that, the commuter railroad started to make preparations to make any problems that may occur less stressful for riders,” wrote Maguidad.

They were monitoring weather conditions and “maintaining open dialogues with our host railroads. An update will be posted to our website and to 800-RIDE-VRE and a ‘Train Talk’ sent by 4:30 a.m. today (Friday).”

VRE stated, “Updates will be broadcast at the station. (We recently visited every station to ensure that the PA and signs were operational. However, a power outage at a station will prevent us from making live announcements.)”

“The media will be alerted. We have heard that WTOP (103.5 FM) and WFLS (93.3 FM) tend to be most likely to issue VRE updates. Keep in mind that if there are significant road issues, the media may not be able to provide VRE updates regularly.”

The writer added, “There are also things you can do to ensure that your commute goes according to plan.

“Be sure to check our website or your e-mail before heading out the door. If you are one of our passengers who leaves the house earlier than 4:30a, listen to the traffic reports while you are on your way to the station.

“Leave ahead of schedule to give you plenty of time to get to the station, in case you need to take an alternate route.”

Broad Run passengers might be the most at risk with the probability that Piper Lane may be flooded. VRE recommended checking the website at http://www.vre.org/service/stations/brualternate.pdf for an alternate way in.”

At the time AR was being posted on Thursday evening, Ernesto was building again off the Carolinas, and forecasters said it might yet become a hurricane again.

Southwest of Mexico, dangerous category 4 hurricane John (Juan) was making lifer miserable for people living in Baja California with 125 mph winds and rain.

No word yet if any railroads have been affected, nor how much.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was “just west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes” at 2:00 p.m. EDT, and added a hurricane warning remained in effect from Manzanillo to San Blas...including the Islas Marias.

The hurricane center was located near latitude 20.1 north, longitude 106.6 west, or about 60 miles west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico.

John is moving northwest near 14 mph, and a northwest to west-northwestward motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. On this track, John is expected to remain just offshore the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico...and approach Cabo San Lucas today.

Amtrak is online at http://amtrak.com.

A new deck for Amtrak?

Amtrak may be building a new bridge on the Northeast corridor where Connecticut and Rhode Island meet, joining Stonington and Westerly, the Westerly Sun reported yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons from Connecticut, Amtrak civil engineer Jim Richter and First Selectman William S. Brown outlined plans Tuesday to replace the two existing bridges, just beyond Don’s Dock, with two new bridges that will provide additional clearance. The East Harbor Bridge would gain 23 inches of clearance, while the West Harbor Bridge would increase in height slightly more than 18 inches.

“So many in this community love boats - and, yes, we love trains, too,” Simmons said.

The small increase will make a big difference, Simmons said.

Amtrak has worked with a steering committee in Stonington to listen to community desires about additional clearance in preparing to replace the more than 100-year-old bridges.

“This is a good example of Amtrak listening to local concerns,” Richter said.

Amtrak would like construction of the new bridge to begin in 2008, Richter said. The estimated cost of the project is between $8 to 10 million, and the project would be federally funded. Amtrak receives its cash annually, so though the deal is not set in stone, Richter and Simmons said they were hopeful.

The project is expected to take about 18 months to finish, though it would likely disrupt rail travel for one night, Richter said. The bridges would be built outside of those currently in place, and then slid in overnight, he said.

Don Hetherington, the owner of Don’s Dock before he passed the business on to his son Ian, first approached Simmons when the congressman was a state representative. He sees the additional clearance height as a way to keep many blue-collar boaters in the water.

“This helps everyone who lives nearby,” Hetherington said. “It’ll help the blue collar boater who can very easily be priced out of the business.”

Don’s Dock appeals to smaller boats, and with the additional clearance those with upright steering wheels will be able to make it under.

“This can be the first marina to charge by height not length,” Brown said.

Amtrak gets cleanup bill

Amtrak is being required to pay about $1 million to help in a Superfund cleanup site in Hamilton, N.J., but the railroad is also taking W.R. Grace, Inc. to court to recoup its financial loss.

From 1948 until 1991 the plant processed vermiculite shipped from a mine in Libby, Mont. Testing of the ore revealed that it was tainted with Tremolite, a particularly deadly form of asbestos.

More than 15 years after W.R. Grace quit processing asbestos-tainted ore at its factory in this New Jersey community, federal environmental officials will supervise the final removal of the contaminated soil from the former plant’s grounds, the New Jersey Times reported on Thursday.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered Amtrak and American Premier Underwriters, the successor to the Penn Central Railroad – the owners of the property – to pay for the cleanup under Superfund law.

Amtrak officials have estimated the cost of the second phase of cleanup at about $1 million. The first round of cleanup cost the two companies about $1.4 million.

Railroad officials have said they will file a claim against Grace to recover the cost of the cleanup during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. The federal Justice department is supporting Amtrak’s claim, an Amtrak official said last year.

The EPA reported earlier this week that contractors for the owners of the land would begin moving equipment to the former factory site preparing to remove some 6,500 tons of tainted soil.

In 2004, the agency began the cleanup of the site, which for more than 40 years processed asbestos-laden vermiculite ore for use in fireproofing, insulation and garden products. About 9,000 tons of soil was removed at that time after testing by the EPA revealed asbestos in concentrations as high as 40 percent in some samples.

The Libby asbestos has been linked to illnesses in some 1,200 residents of the Montana mining town and as many as 200 deaths.

Federal officials have said the ore, which was used in thousands of New Jersey homes and businesses, likely endangered former plant workers and their families.

Due to a slew of asbestos-related lawsuits, W.R. Grace declared bankruptcy in 2001. Since then, officials have sought to hold the company accountable for its actions regarding the Libby asbestos. In 2005 the company, along with seven current and former executives, was indicted for allegedly concealing the dangers of the vermiculite.

Last year, former state Attorney General Peter Harvey filed a $1.6-billion lawsuit against the company for allegedly providing false information to state regulators when the Hamilton plant was closed in 1994.



'Duos' gets Amtrak contract

Amtrak has awarded a contract to Duos Technologies, Inc. to design, manufacture, and install a cutting-edge security system to secure a segment of the rail system in Washington, D.C. The total contract is valued at $4.7 million.

The Jacksonville, Fla. firm stated in a press release the pilot project will include a virtual security fence that will detect moving objects, perimeter breaches, left objects, removed objects, and loitering activity. Data from the fence and the gates will be encrypted and transmitted simultaneously to multiple locations, such as U.S. Capitol Police, Secret Service, CSX Railroad and other federal and local agencies.

Duos said the contract is separate but closely associated with the larger National Capital Region Rail Pilot Project (NCRRPP), intended to meet the needs of local law enforcement, first responders, and the federal government while supplementing the existing security measures of freight rail operations in the Washington, D.C. area.

Epsilon Systems Solutions, Inc. is the prime contractor and program manager for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The new Amtrak security pilot project is the result of vulnerability studies conducted over several months by the DHS, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Capitol Police, and the Amtrak and CSX public safety teams, whose track connects to Amtrak.

The Sprinter photo is of a trainset almost in service, but it was at the Wildenrath, Germany test center around May. The American Sprinter will operate over 22 miles on a freight line that connects Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido, Cal. It travels at 55 mph, tops.

Two photos - Siemens

The Motor Vessel Medea sailed from Bremerhaven, Germany on July 15 to Port Hueneme, Cal. through the Panama Canal, and recently landed the new Sprinter shell. Siemens Transportation Systems, Inc. (STS) on Tuesday delivered its first diesel multiple unit (DMU) in the U.S. to the North County Transit District (NCTD).

Commuter rail to be restudied

A commuter rail project from San Diego to Riverside County rejected 15 years ago is getting another look from Riverside. The proposed plan would bring the rail line from Corona, down the I-15 corridor to Temecula and all the way to downtown San Diego.

That plan was rejected by former San Diego Metropolitan Transit District Board Chairman James Mills about 15 years ago, recalled the San Diego Daily Transcript yesterday.

Mills had successfully argued that it simply wasn’t cost effective to bring commuter rail down the I-15 to San Diego. Instead, he favored an express bus rapid transit system much like the one that expected to ply the I-15 corridor not long after the turn of the decade.

“Senator Mills (he was also a state senator) may well have been right at the time, but I don’t know if anyone could have envisioned the explosive growth in population we have seen in places like Temecula and Murrieta and the unincorporated areas around them,” said John Standiford, Riverside County Transportation Commission spokesman.

He added, “I don’t think anyone envisioned $3 gasoline either.”

Standiford said while there are plenty of concerns, there was sufficient interest that it unanimously voted late June to commission a $100,000 study independently of the San Diego Assn. of Governments (SANDAG).

The commuter rail would serve as an extension of the Southern California Metrolink system.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Metrolink in Orange County and L.A. County, and the I-15 corridor is one of the fastest-growing areas in Southern California,” he added.

The study is to be conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates, a global consulting, planning and engineering firm, which also completed studies for the Riverside County Transportation Commission on other Metrolink projects within Riverside County.

Wilbur Smith also has been involved in feasibility studies for the high-speed rail system that could bring trains from Sacramento to San Diego at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour.

Joe Kellejian, chairman of the SANDAG Transportation Committee and president of the San Diego division of the League of California Cities, said about 30,000 people come into San Diego County each day from Riverside County, and he likes the rail concept – he just doesn’t know if it is feasible.

Kellejian knows something about using the rails here. Each day he takes the Coaster down from Solana Beach to Old Town, where he picks up his car to drive to his auto parts business in Chula Vista. He may even have been able to take the trolley to the South Bay if he didn’t need his car during the day.

A major problem with the I-15 corridor is the competition for operating space.

High-speed rail in California has been on the front and back burners for some time. It is important because the preferred alignment takes the train down the I-15 corridor. Kellejian said this project could make the commuter rail redundant. The high-speed rail system also could effectively use up what little space there is left in the I-15 right-of-way.

“We’ve already used up the space on either side for the Managed Lane System,” Kellejian said.

Kellejian said the system would probably have to be elevated.

Standiford suggested that a commuter rail system could be built more quickly.

“I don’t know. Something like The Sprinter (which will start service between Escondido and Oceanside next year) might be easier to do than high-speed rail,” Standiford said.

In June, the California legislature delayed a bond measure to begin a proposed high-speed rail system. The $9.95 billion state bond measure for the project was scheduled to go before California voters in November 2006; however, a bill was passed that will delay that vote until 2008.

If the high-speed rail plan dies at the polls, Kellejian said there are other problems that could kill the commuter rail – not the least of which is the steep grade between Temecula and Fallbrook.

“I understand that a 3 percent grade is about the maximum these trains can handle, and while I don’t know what the grade there is, I know it’s a whole lot more than that,” Kellejian said.

Music City Star readies

Middle Tennessee’s first commuter rail service is just a little over two weeks away from starting. Monthly passes for the Music City Star went on sale in Mount Juliet this week, reports WTVF-TV Nashville.

Trains will be stopping in Nashville at Riverfront Park, but this week crews are still making practice runs.

Officials are “cautiously optimistic” about usage on what is the eastern point of the Music City Star which runs between here and Lebanon.

It’s really too early to tell what ticket sales will be like, but an official said they can make it work if they can get 1,350 riders per day.

Most boarding passes go on sale next week, but Mount Juliet started early.

One way passes costing $5 each will be available in machines, and monthly passes will be sold for $75

Regular service on the Music City Star is scheduled to start September 18, but not everybody is happy about it.

Lorraine Jacquemin rents a home on East Division Street in Mount Juliet.

Her only access to the road is over the tracks, and she worried that the tracks may be blocked by a gate.

“It’s right here. I mean obviously you’re not going to cross the railroad tracks. You can hear that train,” Jacquemin said.

The train reaches speeds of 60 mph, so safety is also a concern.

Music City Star officials said they’re installing stop signs, but private land owners may take other measures to make sure the crossing is safe.

Music City Star representatives have scheduled a meeting next week with private land owners in Mount Juliet to talk more about safety and railroad crossings on private land.

New Rail Lines for Genesee & Wyoming

Genesee & Wyoming, Inc., which owns short line and regional freight railroads scattered across the U.S., said Wednesday it bought rail lines in Virginia, Georgia and Alabama in two separate deals.

The railroad operator said it exercised an option to buy 12.5 miles of previously leased rail lines through Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk, Va., from Norfolk Southern Corp., The AP reported.

GWI subsidiary Commonwealth Ry. will own and operate the line, and will serve a new Portsmouth container terminal under construction by a subsidiary of global shipping company Moller-Maersk Group.

GWI said it started $14 million in capital improvements to meet demands of its new customer.

The company also said its newly formed subsidiary, Chattahoochee Bay Railroad, Inc., acquired about 29 miles of rail lines from the Chattahoochee & Gulf Railroad Co., Inc. and the H&S Railroad Co. Inc., running between Hilton, Ga., and Dothan, Ala., for $6 million in cash. GWI expects the new railroad to move more than 5,500 carloads per year.

NAFTA surface trade jumps

Surface trade between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico rose 12.6 percent in June compared to the same month in 2005, the USDOT reported this week. Surface trade, which makes up about 90 percent of shipments between the three countries, mainly includes freight movement by rail, truck, or pipeline.

Rails continued to improve in North America. Rail imports rose 22.4 percent, while exports gained 12.9 percent to $2.8 billion, Today’s Trucking reported on Thursday.

U.S. imports by truck rose 10 percent from last year $24.4 billion, while truck exports to the U.S.’s NAFTA partners rose 14.2 percent to $23.3 billion.

Total trade between Canada and the U.S. jumped 9.7 percent, while there was an 18.1 percent gain in U.S.-Mexico trade.

Voters to decide freight yard future

Gardner, Kans. voters will decide whether the city should annex BNSF Ry.’s proposed freight yard, after the Gardner City Council voted Monday to put the issue on the November 7 ballot.

BNSF wants to build a $200 million intermodal shipment center on up to 1,000 acres southwest of Gardner, close to the Gardner Municipal Airport, reports The AP.

Under the plan, trains coming from Pacific ports would be unloaded at the site, with the goods trucked to other destinations or stored there. The intermodal facility itself would occupy about 300 acres, with the other property used for distribution sites, BNSF has said.

BNSF officials said they plan to proceed with the project regardless of the outcome of the vote. The railroad already has spent millions of dollars to buy several hundred acres.

Supporters say annexing the site would give Gardner millions of dollars in tax revenue and control over development in the area. Opponents have said the proposal would bring heavy truck traffic, pollution and crime to the area.


Intermodal sets weekly record

Intermodal volume on U.S. railroads set a weekly record during the week ended August 26, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday.

Intermodal volume of 253,981 trailers or containers was up 7.1 percent from the comparable week last year, and broke the previous weekly record of 250,966 set during the week ended July 31. Container volume was up 10.6 percent while trailer volume was off 3.5 percent.

Carload freight totaled 341,285 cars, up 0.7 percent from last year, with loadings up 3.9 percent in the West but off 3.0 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 34.3 billion ton-miles, up 1.8 percent from 2005.

Among individual carload commodities, coal loadings were up 6.0 percent from last year while metals were up 14.4 percent and metallic ores gained 11.5 percent. On the downside, coke was down 18.3 percent; primary forest products were off 17.8 percent; and motor vehicles and equipment declined 12.6 percent. Overall, 11 of 19 commodity groups were down from a year ago.

Cumulative volume for the first 34 weeks of 2006 totaled 11,437,619 carloads, up 1.5 percent from 2005; 7,962,404 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.13 trillion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 26 carload traffic totaled 75,163 cars, down 3.2 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 47,785 trailers or containers was up 5.2 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 34 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,526,611 carloads, down 1.4 percent from last year, and 1,526,034 trailers and containers, up 6.0 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 34 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,964,230 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year and 9,488,438 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also said that during the week ended August 26 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 11,516 cars, up 3.1 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,244 trailers or containers, down 1.6 percent from the 34th week of 2005.

For the first 34 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 383,216 cars, down 4.8 percent from last year, and 132,828 trailers or containers, down 5.6 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 87 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 91 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org.


Opinion

Are there debts to pay?

By Evan Stair

Will Alexander Kummant run ruckshot over Amtrak at the direction of the all-Bush-administration-appointed Amtrak Board of Directors?

Does Kummant have debts to pay?

It is guilt by association at this point. His railroad background comes from that of an anti-Amtrak freight railroad, the Union Pacific (UP). This of course also ties him with the Anti-Amtrak Bush administration through Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was also a UP board member. His former corporate associates are responsible for the continued starvation and abuse of the nation’s last intercity passenger rail carrier.

The UP is responsible for massive delays of Amtrak trains making them as unreliable as the weather. The reason for these delays are numerous.

The mega-merger of Class I freight carriers through the 1970s-1990s, and resulting abandonment of thousands of miles of parallel rail routes left no capacity for upswings presently being experienced in the freight rail industry due to global trade.

The increased frequency of these mergers was made possible through the Staggers Act passed in the early 1980s. This act deregulated the freight rail industry and opened the door for what might be considered anti-trust violating mega-mergers, as blindly approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and the tepid Surface Transportation Board (STB) that replaced some ICC responsibilities.

The most damaging rail merger of recent memory was that of the UP and the Southern Pacific (SP) and resulting capacity meltdown as the two freight giants attempted to combine operations into a western duopoly with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

This meltdown made national news for weeks. Dispatching also seems suspect through recent delays as evidenced by delays to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.

BNSF, considered Amtrak friendly, has recently shown some capacity strain (or dispatching abuse of Amtrak operations) on the rails supporting Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer (operating between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City), but that is another story.

Prior to the merger, UP had assimilated the Chicago & North Western, the Missouri Pacific, and the Missouri Kansas & Texas railroads.

The SP had assimilated the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

The all powerful UP fought Amtrak’s mail and express enterprise that arguably might have kept the railroad solvent, claiming that it was not covered under Amtrak’s initial charter and constituted freight.

Former Amtrak CEO David Gunn, a former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad executive who watched as the mail and express contracts expired without renewal in 1967, abandoned that business, possibly due to pressure from outside forces.

Strangely, it is also time sensitive “freight” that many railroads refuse today. Mail and express kept pre-Amtrak routes solvent before the 1967 expiration of U.S. Postal Service contracts.

Are there debts to pay?

It is time to get out your pens and paper. Write Mr. Kummant and request that he address the massive Amtrak delays for Amtrak trains on Class I freight railroads using his internal contacts. A massive congratulatory response will serve as a reminder that he does have customers who are watching his actions.

Amtrak CEO Alexander Kummant

National Railroad Passenger Corp.

60 Massachusetts Ave., NE

Washington, DC 20002

Evan Stair is the editor of The Flyer, the Passenger Rail Newsletter of Oklahoma (http://passengerrailok.org.) PassengerRailOk.org is a grass roots organization dedicated to the preservation and expansion of Amtrak in Oklahoma and the surrounding region.



BOMAG via World Highways magazine

New Amtrak president and CEO Alexander Kummant takes the throttle on September 12. This 2004 photo is from when he was CEO at BOMAG of Boppard, Germany. The firm manufactures heavy roadbuilding equipment. Its U.S. headquarters is in Kewanee, Ill.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ernesto fades, John gains

By Leo King
Editor

By 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, tropical depression Ernesto was producing heavy rains over central Florida.
The tropical storm warning had been extended to Cape Lookout, N.C., and a tropical storm warning was in effect from Sebastian Inlet, Fla., to Cape Lookout.
The depression was moving toward the north near 14 mph and a gradual turn to the north-northeast is expected today. Maximum sustained winds are near 35 mph with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported from Miami.
The NHC warned Ernesto has the potential to regain tropical storm strength on Thursday over the Atlantic.
Florida railroads should soon return to normal operations. It isn’t clear yet how railroads will be affected in the Carolinas and northward.
South and west of Mexico, Category 4 hurricane John was rearing its ugly head and potentially approaching Southern California.
No southwestern railroads have published service cut plans yet, but all are keeping a wary eye out. No word from Kansas City Southern if operations have been affected in Mexico.
At 5:00 p.m. EDT John continued to move parallel but close to the southwest coast of Mexico. The government of Mexico issued a hurricane watch for the southern Baja Peninsula from La Paz southward on the east coast and from Santa Fe southward on the west coast, including Cabo San Lucas. A hurricane warning remains in effect from Lazaro Cardenas westward to Cabo Corrientes.
A hurricane watch remains in effect from Tecpan de Galeana to Lazaro Cardenas...and for the Islas Marias.
A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area, generally within 36 hours.
At 5:00 p.m. the hurricane center was located near latitude 17.4 north and longitude 103.3 west.
It is moving toward the northwest near 14 mph and this motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. On this track the center would remain just offshore of the coast, but only a slight deviation of the track could bring the center onshore in the hurricane warning area.
Maximum sustained winds are near 135 mph with higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 140 miles.


Kummant brings some
rail experience to the table

Alexander Kummant, 46, Amtrak’s new president and CEO, brings some railroad executive experience to his new job. He starts September 12.
The job was open for almost 10 months after the directors fired former president and CEO David Gunn.
Kummant previously worked at Union Pacific Corp., the largest U.S. railroad operator, and most recently was chief marketing officer for Komatsu America Corp., a unit of construction equipment supplier Komatsu Ltd. He has never operated a passenger railroad before, and worked for a carrier that is the nation’s major delayer of passenger trains.
According to documents on file with the Federal Elections Commission, Alexander Karl Kummant donated $6,523 to the Union Pacific Corp. Fund for Effective Government over three years, between 2000 and 2002.
A dozen Republican Congressmen received $10,000 election contributions, but Democrats were numbered among the lesser amounts. Candidate contributions for the 2005-2006 campaigns totaled $791798.
The AP noted Kummant is married to a former BNSF Railway executive, Kathleen Regan, who was vice-president, automotive, and vice-president business development for BNSF until her 2004 departure from BNSF. Both contributed to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, as did Amtrak Chairman David Laney.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Amtrak Chairman David Laney said that the railroad’s board of directors interviewed “a fairly long and deep list of highly qualified candidates,” including people with experience in the airline industry and commuter rail.
In a briefing, Laney acknowledged that Kummant has no experience with passenger railroads or with Congress, but he touted Kummant’s experience with customer service.
Laney said Kummant has experience in two other areas that will be key to Amtrak’s future: its relations with freight railroads and costly labor rules that, he said, hinder operations.
“We think we got the best of all candidates we saw, and that’s factoring in the lack of hands-on passenger rail experience,” Laney said.
Amtrak, created by Congress 35 years ago as a for-profit corporation after private railroads gave up service, depends on an annual federal subsidy to survive.
Tuesday’s press release from Amtrak made no mention of his job as president of BOMAG, German manufacturer of heavy equipment. He left BOMAG on January 31, 2005 citing personal reasons after serving as its president for less than two years.
Its operating losses have grown to more than $1 billion over the past three years, prompting pressure from budget and transportation planners for Amtrak to eliminate unprofitable routes and change core business practices, but Congress has long been reluctant to cut Amtrak spending because many members have constituents who benefit from train service and jobs.
Kummant, who currently resides in Chicago, went to work for UP before February 2001. The railroad stated in a press release at the time that it had created a “Premium Operations” group which would be the “new focal point for Union Pacific to deliver high-quality and reliable automotive and intermodal service.”
Premium Operations was headed by Alex Kummant as vice-president. He formerly was vice president and general manager of industrial products in UP’s Marketing and Sales Department.
In November of that same year, UP created its fourth operating region, and Kummant was its boss. The new regional headquarters was in Kansas City, Mo.
UP stated its four-region system would “continue the effort to decentralize decision-making into the field, while fostering improved customer responsiveness, operational excellence and personal accountability,” said Dennis Duffy, Executive Vice President-Operations.
The Central Region included the Kansas City, North Little Rock, St. Louis and Wichita service units. In a related move, the El Paso Service Unit was absorbed into the Wichita and Tucson service units.
Kummant headed the new region as a regional vice-president.
UP’s other regions are headquartered in Omaha; Roseville, Cal.; and Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Whither the Sunset?


The Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers (FCRP) says Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, train Nos. 1 and 2, are finished east of New Orleans.

The organization stated in an e-mail letter, “FCRP has received two letters from Amtrak, one from David Laney and the other from David Hughes, making it pretty clear that they have no intention of re-starting the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.”

The letter added, “Their rationale is that a tri-weekly train that runs on its own schedule over a route that can be driven in less time is irrelevant. Requalifying the crews is a technicality to maintain crew currency until a final determination is made about the long-term future of the Sunset Limited route.”

The FCRP said communities between New Orleans and Tampa, where the eastbound train terminated, want the service restored.

“The success that FCRP has had with its grass roots campaign clearly shows that cities along the line want rail service in the panhandle. The only town that didn’t really care was Lake City.”

Charlie Dunn, a National Assn. of Railroad Passengers Region V representatives, said “Nothing short of direct Congressional intervention is going to change Amtrak’s mind on this. With the Sunset Limited being the whipping boy for what is wrong with Amtrak, I’d be surprised if the train survives in its current form west of New Orleans either.”

In law, the railroad’s action has been blatantly illegal.

The law states clearly what must be done in the event Amtrak wants a train-off.

TITLE 49 of the U.S. Code for Transportation states, in Subtitle V dealing with rail programs and Part C, Passenger Transportation (Chapter 247, Amtrak route system, Sec. 24706. Discontinuance

“(a) Notice of Discontinuance. - (1) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, at least 180 days before a discontinuance under section 24704 (1) or or (2) discontinuing service over a route, Amtrak shall give notice of the discontinuance in the way Amtrak decides will give a State, a regional or local authority, or another person the opportunity to agree to share or assume the cost of any part of the train, route, or service to be discontinued.”

The law continues, “(2) Notice of the discontinuance under section 24704 (1) or paragraph (1) shall be posted in all stations served by the train to be discontinued at least 14 days before the discontinuance.

(b) Discontinuance for Lack of Appropriations. - (1) Amtrak may discontinue service under section 24704 (!1) or subsection (a)(1) during - (A) the first month of a fiscal year if the authorization of appropriations and the appropriations for Amtrak are not enacted at least 90 days before the beginning of the fiscal year; and (B) the 30 days following enactment of an appropriation for Amtrak or a rescission of an appropriation.

“(2) Amtrak shall notify each affected State or regional or local transportation authority of a discontinuance under this subsection as soon as possible after Amtrak decides to discontinue the service.”

To our knowledge, Amtrak’s directors have done none of these things.


‘Sprinter’ arrives in West

Siemens Transportation Systems, Inc. (STS) on Tuesday delivered its first diesel multiple unit (DMU) in the U.S. to the North County Transit District (NCTD).

“Sprinter” regional transportation provides 22 miles of passenger service over a freight line that runs parallel with Highway 78, connecting Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido, Cal.

The Sprinter, traveling at a top operating speed of 55 mph, will make triple the number of stops in less time than the existing express bus connection and can still save riders 16 minutes making the trip between Oceanside and Escondido in just under an hour, Siemens claimed.

Manufactured in Germany at Siemens’ Krefeld-Uerdingen plant, the Desiro family of trains allows transit agencies to operate regional rail as well as buses.

Coal demand challenges BNSF

Coal supplies at the nation’s electric utilities increased in June for the sixth consecutive month, according to a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). In addition, it was the first time in more than 20 years that coal supplies have increased from May to June, according to the report.

Writing in BNSF Today, the carrier stated “Electric power sector coal inventories in June were 15.3 percent ahead of June 2005, and registered an unusual 0.2 percent growth from May 2006,” according to an EIA estimate of electric power data released August 21. “This growth in coal inventories was the first increase between May and June since 1985.” EIA estimated the coal inventory at electric utilities at 133.5 million tons in June, up 15.3 percent from a year earlier.

According to a news release from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the increase was made even more impressive by the fact that electric utility coal consumption increased 7.9 percent in June from May as electricity generation jumped 10.3 percent from May due to hot weather and the increased use of air conditioning.

“Railroads are moving more coal than ever before in history in order to keep pace with the demand from electric utilities for cost-effective coal,” noted Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the AAR.

“New, more powerful and more fuel-efficient locomotives have been put into service to handle the increase. Rail lines are being double, triple and even quadruple tracked to keep up with the demand and ensure that U.S. coal producers and consumers have access to the most comprehensive and efficient coal transportation system in the world.”

The nation’s freight railroads this year are investing a record $8.3 billion to expand capacity to meet the future needs of a wide range of shippers, including coal. Freight railroads typically pump some 45 cents of every dollar of operating revenue into improving and maintaining their infrastructure and equipment, and their capital spending as a percentage of revenue is five times higher than the average U.S. manufacturer.

Railroads this year are on a pace to set records not just for coal but also for total freight volume and intermodal volume, all of which set records last year. Coal is up 4.3 percent from last year, while total volume is up 2.7 percent and intermodal is up 6.4 percent from last year’s record.

Opinion

A Washington dirty little secret

By Wes Vernon

You won’t believe this. Or maybe you will if you run and hide when you hear, “Hi, we’re from your government, and we’re here to help you.”

In this case, the chilling greeting comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), those wonderful folks who since 9/11/2001 (under strict orders from the recently-resigned Secretary Norman Mineta) have been wanding little old ladies from Keokuk, Iowa, at America’s airports – all in the name of political correctness. USDOT now has decided that it will apply the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in such a manner as to make it theoretically easier for the wheelchair-bound to board passenger trains.

There is just one problem, and in a metaphorical sense, it comes under the heading of the old gag, “The operation was a great success, but the patient died.”

DOT has proposed a rule requiring that every single passenger train platform in the United States stretches the full length of the longest train that serves the route, and provides level (no steps) boarding for all doors.

That would mean – for all intents and purposes – the end of most passenger trains in the U.S., commuter and inter-city. It would mean forcing the industry or publicly backed (read taxpayer-funded) commuter train agencies to see to it that all station platforms are “high-level” (so as to avoid having to use steps to board the train).

To give you an idea of the enormity of the problem, consider this: When you add up the intercity, commuter, light rail, and rapid rail (subway style) operations, the multi-millions of Americans riding trains on a daily basis are many times the millions who fly from America’s airports.

This by no means is a thin slice of the populace.

Two points about this allegedly well-intended rule.

First, an overwhelming number of train stations – especially in rural and suburban areas, but also many in big cities, as well – have ground-level platforms requiring steps to board and leave the trains. Many have built “lifts” to enable the disabled to enter and exit so as to bypass the steps. Not good enough, says USDOT.

I should know about the lifts. A few years ago, the drawn-out process of enabling a passenger to exit a light rail car in San Diego caused me to miss my connection with an Amtrak train just three blocks away. I had to wait another two hours for the next train. Even then, I was lucky. In other circumstances, an unplanned overnight stay would have been necessary. Nothing against San Diego, but that would have been ridiculous. Yet in some places where Amtrak runs just one train a day, that probably has happened to others.

In reality, the stations currently with high platforms are confined mostly to some (but not all) of those in a few large metropolitan areas.

Just to complicate things a little more, many stations host trains whose cars have doors of differing heights above the rail. So, how do you build a platform that can grant “level” access to different model cars on the same train?

Are you following me on this? If so, you are apparently way ahead of some rule-making bureaucrat at USDOT. It is as if he awoke one morning and decided to call attention to his importance by playing the bull in a china shop with an industry of which he possesses a profound ignorance.

David Johnson of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) told this writer, “Our opinion is that if the [rule] is adopted as is, there will be no more passenger rail expansion in the United States – when we need it more than ever – and that most existing services would be in danger.”

Back in 1990, when the ADA bill was being debated in Congress, I interviewed one of its strongest advocates – left-wing gadfly Ralph Nees. He argued that any inconvenience it might cause should take a back seat to “civil rights.” (Little “inconveniences” like shutting down an entire industry and/or service to the public. Sorry, their “civil rights” don’t count.)

Later, an original architect of the law, former Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), told me “common sense” would surely prevail in the law’s implementation. This came in answer to a question about a lawsuit demanding handicap facilities for crippled dancers. (I’m not making this up.)

Industry and rail advocacy groups have protested to USDOT urging that the rule not be adopted, and suggesting a blue-ribbon study in search of better and more practical real-world ways to facilitate wheelchair-bound passengers’ use of the trains.

One hopes they find a solution that squares with common sense for the truly “disabled,” but when you have obese people demanding larger seats in theatres… and then there was that lawsuit in the name of crippled dancers, you have to wonder about what goes on in the heads of bureaucrats whose anonymity is fiercely protected. Just try to get the name of anyone in government who writes a weird proposal. He can write a decree that the cow must jump over the moon and leave you to cope with the details – but you will never learn his name.

NARP in its statement to USDOT said that, “regulations regarding wheelchairs will best serve the needs of both disabled persons and the general public if they promote the improvement and expansion of passenger rail transportation.” The proposal “does not meet those guidelines.” In fact it would cause “a reduction in convenience [and] quality of safety, [for] the general public, including passengers and railroad workers.”

The American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) told USDOT the idea “would require significant practical, operational issues, as well as greatly expanded costs,” and would “lead ultimately to a reduction in transportation alternatives for both the disabled and the general population.”

The dramatic increase in costs would be compounded by the fact that “full length boarding” with bridge plates for persons in wheelchairs would have to square somehow with the fact that many stations lack platforms at any height and also that many stations have infrequent service or very low traffic volumes; but that would not matter.

USDOT’s ivory tower theorists make no distinction between Penn Station, New York, and Essex, Montana.

This is what happens when politicians on Capitol Hill write laws with deliberately vague wording.

“Why would they do that?” you ask.

Answer: They simply let the faceless bureaucrats do the heavy lifting behind their anonymity. You see, unelected regulators won’t have to face the angry voters in the next election. That is one of Washington’s dirty little secrets as to how so many in this town avoid accountability. The buck stops nowhere and everywhere.

Ex-Senator Weicker was actually a strong supporter of passenger trains when he was on Capitol Hill. One cannot help wondering what he thinks of this result of his legislative crusade.

BTW: Weicker is now backing Ned Lamont (D), the far-left peacenik running against Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) in Connecticut. It figures. Lieberman ousted Weicker 18 years ago. Now it’s payback time, and not just against Lieberman. Perhaps one could say – only half facetiously – that the USDOT rule may be Weicker’s revenge against the voters who booted him out of office. There are lots of train riders in Connecticut.

Washington-based writer Wes Vernon is the former Washington DC Bureau Chief of the National Corridors Initiative, which publishes the passenger rail website “Destination: Freedom”; and veteran broadcast journalist retired from a 25-year career at CBS. This piece originally appeared in http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/vernon/060827 and is republished here with the author’s permission.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tropical storm Ernesto is slapping Florida, but in the meantime category 3 hurricane John is battering western Mexico – and heading toward Southern California.

AR – Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ernesto hits Florida;

John heads westerly

By Leo King

Editor

Fragmented but still a tropical storm, Ernesto departed Cuba and churned toward Florida. By yesterday afternoon, it was attacking South Florida.

Meanwhile, a category 3 hurricane, located in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the Mexico coast, is heading northwest toward Southern California.

Forecaster located Hurricane John near latitude 14.4 north, longitude 99.7 west, or about 175 miles south of Acapulco.

John is moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph, and this motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds are near 115 mph with higher gusts.

“Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours and John could become a category four hurricane,” forecasters warned.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 125 miles.

Tropical Storm Ernesto got most of the media attention in the Eastern U.S.

The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Jacksonville issued tropical storm warnings for portions of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia at 11:01 a.m.

Its forecast track takes the storm across Portions of northeast Florida on Wednesday night and offshore along southeast Georgia by Thursday morning. The NWS warned, “While there is always uncertainty in the exact track, you should not focus on the track of the center.”

Seven more Florida counties were added to the storm-warning list, all in the northeast part of the state, both along the coast and about 50 miles inland.

Two Georgia counties were also included.

At 5:00 p.m. EDT, the storm center was near latitude 24.3 north by longitude 80.2 west. Its movement is toward the northwest near 13 mph. Its maximum sustained winds are 45 mph. Storm watch notices were posted throughout the South Florida region from New Smyrna Beach on the east coast around the tip of the peninsula to the west coast community of Bonita Beach, and all the Florida Keys.

The center was about 105 miles south-southeast of Miami.

Ernesto is moving toward the northwest near 13 mph and is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Railroads in the state had already taken precautions.

Florida Tri-rail service was “suspended for Tuesday, August 29 and until further notice,” the South Florida commuter rail service stated on its web site, “due to the severe weather conditions anticipated from tropical storm Ernesto.”

Amtrak reported today its Silver Star, train No. 92, and Silver Meteor, train No. 98 will originate in Orlando.

Amtrak planned no alternate transportation connecting from points south of Orlando for these two trains.

Most likely because buses would not be able to get over the roads, just as trains would not be likely to move over the tracks, with trees downed and grade crossing signals out of service.

CSXT discontinued freight service northbound out of the Miami area, including the Miami and Homestead subdivisions, on Tuesday.

Service north of Auburndale – in Lakeland, Tampa and Orlando – “will continue as normal until further notice.”

FEC annulled all southbound and all northbound trains after Tuesday’s No. 208, according to sources, except for Nos. 119 and 220. Employees will be further advised as storm progresses as to when normal schedule resumes.

The storm cent4r will be near the Florida Keys or southeast Florida tonight. Its maximum sustained winds remain near 45 mph with higher gusts.

Some strengthening is forecast before the center reaches Florida.

The weather service added, “Boats and vulnerable property along the coast should be secured. Dangerous rip currents will also develop as the storm approaches.”

Tides may reach one to two feet above normal especially along the Georgia coast Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Winds are expected to begin to increase in the warning area of the northeast Florida coastal areas to 40 to 50 mph with higher gusts by Wednesday evening and 30 to 40 mph with higher gusts away from the coast.

Winds of 40 to 50 mph will spread into the Georgia coastal areas Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The threat of tornadoes with this system will not be significant, according to the NWS, but “There will be the possibility of isolated tornadoes in stronger bands mainly along the coast.”

Kummant is new Amtrak boss

Amtrak’s directors yesterday appointed Alexander Kummant as president and CEO. The veteran railroad and industrial executive will assume duties September 12.

Kummant previously served as a regional vice-president of the Union Pacific Railroad, overseeing 6,000 transportation, engineering, construction, mechanical, and other employees supporting an 8,000-mile rail network. He also served as the UPs vice-president and general manager of Industrial Products, a $2 billion revenue business. In leading both units, Kummant was responsible for substantially improved customer service, on-time delivery of client products, and significant gains in financial and operational performance.

Additionally at UP, Kummant held the role of vice-president of Premium Operations, overseeing intermodal and automotive network performance.

Most recently, Kummant served as the executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of Komatsu America Corp., a division of the second largest supplier of construction equipment worldwide.

Kummants first job on the railroad came at age 18 in Lorain, Ohio, working on a track crew for the Lake Terminal Railroad at the U.S. Steel Lorain Works.

“Alex Kummant has the outstanding credentials and experience to lead a changing Amtrak that is more customer-focused and fiscally responsible,” said Amtrak chairman David M. Laney.

“His appointment fulfills the board’s commitment to select an extraordinarily strong and capable leader for Amtrak’s future, building on the growing national desire for more and improved passenger rail service.”

Kummant fills a position that has been held by David J. Hughes in the interim since November 2005, after the board fired CEO David Gunn.

Formerly Chief Engineer of Amtrak, Hughes will continue to serve with the railroad in a yet to be specified capacity.

“For the past nine months, David Hughes has stepped in and performed exceptionally in leading our strategic reforms and operational improvements,” said Laney.

He added, “On behalf of the Amtrak Board of Directors, he has our deepest admiration and respect, and we are delighted that he will continue to play an important role in Amtrak’s future.”

A native of Ohio, Kummant holds a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve Univ., a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering from Carnegie Mellon Univ. and an M.B.A. from Stanford Univ. He is married to Kathleen Regan Kummant, a former senior executive with the Santa Fe and BNSF railroads.

Study indicates commuting stress

may worsen health concerns

For years, the prevailing New Jersey commuter philosophy has been when the driving gets tough, the tough get a railpass.

Commuting by train is also stressful, according to a new study that found the longer the rail commute, the higher the strain. With every passing mile, there is an impact not only on physical and psychological well-being, but also on the ability to complete simple tasks, the study concluded.

“We’ve known for a long time that there is a correlation between stress of driving in congested commuter traffic and heart attacks,” said Richard Wener, a professor of environmental psychology at Polytechnic Univ. and one of the study’s authors. The story appeared in Tuesday’s Newark Star-Ledger.

“With this study, we are suggesting that the stress of long train commutes may pose a similar health problem,” added Wener, who commutes by train every day from his Maplewood home to his classes in Brooklyn.

“Trains are not as stressful as cars at rush hour, but even a relatively minor stressor, several hours a day, every day of the year, can build to a health risk.”

New Jersey commuters were studied because rail commuting here is “worse than in most places,” Wener said. The expansion of suburbia here also means the average rail commute is getting longer and longer.

Sitting on the train last night, returning from a hard day in Manhattan, few commuters were surprised at the study results.

“Of course the ride is stressful; everybody is pretty much in a daze after they get off the train,” said accounting firm manager Mike D’Angelo, whose commute between Denville and Manhattan takes about 70 minutes. “If I could afford to move closer, like to Summit, of course I would.”

Food buyer Joseph Cammarta, who commutes to New York from Dover, complained that the seats are too tight and passengers are jammed between bags, but added that the real bother “is cell phones. That’s where the stress comes in.”

The researchers studied 208 commuters taking trains from New Jersey to Manhattan on the Midtown Direct line. The subjects, who ranged in age from 25 to 60, commuted at least three days a week and had been on the same route for at least 12 months.

The complete story is online at http://www.nj.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-8/1156827580271420.xml?starledger?ntop&coll=1

SEPTA gets bomb detectors

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and HiEnergy Technologies, Inc. (OTC:HIET) demonstrated the successful deployment of the SIEGMA(TM) 3E3, HiEnergy Technologies’ novel Atometer(TM) explosive detection system today in Philadelphia.

HiEnergy is a homeland security industry leader in neutron-based diagnostic technology and creator of the world’s first “stoichiometric” devices. They can effectively decipher chemical formulas of unknown substances through metal or other barriers, almost instantly and without human intervention.

Dr. Bogdan Maglich, HiEnergy’s Chairman and Chief Scientist, said, “Initial results of the first commercial deployment of our Atometer model have exceeded our expectations.”

The Siegma model 3E3 is described as a mobile, suitcase-borne explosive detection and confirmation system, incorporating the firm’s “Atometry” technology. The device can detect and confirm whether an object or container carries a select group of dangerous or illicit substances, such as explosives, biological agents, or illicit drugs, with a probability of detection equal to approximately 97.75 percent, and “false negative” and “false positive” rates of nearly 2.25 percent.

MBTA wants some feedback

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is introducing new upgrades to select subway trains over the next few weeks and, if riders agree with the changes, let the MBTA know – or they won’t last long, the “T” said in Boston yesterday.

The MBTA reported it installed new, graffiti-proof seat cushions, system maps and overhead grab handles to an Orange Line train and put it in service on Friday for a test-drive.

“We’re doing a makeover,” MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said.

“We want to hear from commuters about if they like the changes.”

Currently, the MBTA subway trains have imitation leather seats – many of which have black graffiti defacing them, gum, and large tears. In a given year, the T replaces 2,000 to 2,500 seats due to damage, primarily graffiti, costing them $18 a seat cushion, Grabauskas said.

“We keep duct-taping them together and they don’t look good,” he added.

The new seats are made of a thick wool-like material that is woven with thin pieces of metal to resist cutting. Grabauskas calls them virtually damage-proof.

“I watched a demonstration where someone took a razor and hacked up the seat and it didn’t cut.”

The fabric is also multicolored, making it difficult for graffiti to be visible.

“It’s not a blank palette for a creative young vandal to put his name on it,” he said.

The grab handles were placed in four spots throughout each Orange Line car primarily for the use of shorter people who strain to reach the overhead bar, and older or disabled riders who need assistance standing up, Grabauskas said.

Right now, the T only has maps in each subway car that displays the line the rider is traveling on; the upgraded train was outfitted with several system maps.

This allows riders to conveniently plot out their entire travel plans if they are switching lines, he said.

Within the next few weeks each line will have one fully upgraded train, giving commuters in each system the chance to weigh in. Then, after hearing from commuters, the T will make the decision whether to go forward with the new changes, Grabauskas said.

CP may give up some tracks

Canadian Pacific Ry. has placed six branch lines on its Canadian Transportation Act (CTA) Three-Year Network Plan for potential discontinuance, due to low traffic volumes on them. The decision came Thursday after a detailed assessment that showed these lines were not viable for the railway over the long term.

By registering the lines on the CTA three-year plan, CPR took the first step in a federally legislated process that governs potential discontinuance of rail lines, which includes a framework for interested groups to consider these lines for continued operations.

The six branch lines added to the CTA Three-Year Plan are:

· Glenboro line (MB), between Rathwell and Page – 62.8 miles.

· Gravelbourg line (SK), between Mossbank Junction and Hodgeville – 53.8 miles.

· Hatton line (SK), between Hatton and Golden Prairie – 17.7 miles.

· Macklin line (SK), between Luseland and Macklin – 28.1 miles.

· Tyvan line (SK), between Stoughton and Whitmore – 82.5 miles.

· Former Macleod line (AB), between Aldersyde and High River – 3.7 miles.

Line discontinuance will take place in accordance with the process established in the Canada Transportation Act, CP stated. Under CTA provisions, lines slated for discontinuance must first be offered for sale to the shortline marketplace for continued rail operation, and then to governments before the railway can discontinue its operations. Unless new rail operators are found for these lines, CP may discontinue operations in accordance with Canada’s Transportation Act.

CPR’s existing 13,500-mile rail network in Canada and the U.S. continues to include more than 5,200 route miles of track through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Opinion

Gunn’s view

The former president of Amtrak, David L. Gunn, said that the U.S. is facing a transportation crisis soon that could have a negative effect on the entire American economy.

“There are people in the Department of Transportation, they are lower-level appointed people so they are not just bureaucrats, who firmly believe that one of the big crises that is going to arise over the next three or four years is going to be a transportation crisis.”

“If the U.S. loses mobility for freight and passengers, you will have seriously impacted the economy of the country. We have always had, both for Canada and the U.S., great mobility for freight and passengers. If that is gone and destroyed and you are unable to move goods surely and people with reliability and safety, I think it is going to become an enormous problem.

“And if you don’t approach it in a logical fashion, just dumping money on it, isn’t going to fix it,” added Gunn.

Gunn made his comments on the Right Hour, an Internet-based radio program hosted by Free Congress Foundation Chairman Paul M. Weyrich. The recorded program is available at the FCF News Website at http://www.fcfnewsondemand.org/righttalk.asp.

“Gunn was fired by Amtrak for doing the right thing,” said Weyrich.

Gunn stated that the department has not properly identified or analyzed, in general, the country’s upcoming transportation needs, or, specifically, the future role of passenger rail. “I think the problem is that this administration has viewed Amtrak as an expense. There was no sign of intelligent leadership at DOT.

And so, you have these problems that I mentioned: the congestion of the freight railroads, the congestion of the highway system, and the congestion in the air. It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse and the current way of approaching it is not working. This DOT has never even dealt with that problem. They haven’t scoped it out; that haven’t put alternatives out on the table.

“They haven’t viewed passenger rail, properly run, as a solution. Amtrak just became a ‘budget exercise,’ I think, so the goal was just to eliminate the cost, without any sense that there is a tradeoff here. If you destroy the Northeast Corridor, you save in Amtrak subsidy; capital and operating (expense) is a billion, four. The whole Northeast Corridor may consume a half billion a year, mostly capital. If you destroy the Northeast Corridor, the cost of replicating that capacity on highway and in air will far exceed that to the government – yet they haven’t even made these tradeoffs, they haven’t made this analysis. There hasn’t even been a logical discussion of it. It is sort of like whistling by the graveyard.

Gunn added, “I firmly believe that the government has a role in infrastructure. That has historically been one of the government’s roles from the time the republic was founded, whether it was the canals, roads, (or) whatever. Making sure that you have an adequate transportation infrastructure is a governmental function. And it’s not being viewed that way at the present time, in fact the whole transportation network is basically reaching crisis proportions whether you look at highways and urban areas or freight railroads, which are just becoming terribly congested, or passenger rail.”

“Amtrak should be the ‘springboard’ from which you see corridors built up in urban areas…” he stated. Gunn predicts that Amtrak will “muddle through” until the next (Presidential) election because it is still has the support of Congress. In the long run, Amtrak is “the keeper of the flame” for intercity passenger rail, he said.

Gunn served in the U.S. Naval Reserve and is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard School of Business Administration. He was employed by three major railroads and managed commuter transit systems in Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. He now lives in Nova Scotia.