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.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Friday, September 29, 2006

USDOT IG to examine Amtrak’s directors;

questions whether board operates properly

USDOT’s Inspector General will be taking a close look at some of the passenger carrier’s board of directors practices over the next few weeks.

David Tornquist, Assistant Inspector General for Competition and Economic Analysis, told Amtrak Chairman David Laney and the board in a letter dated September 26, that in March 2006, the majority members and the Democratic members of the Amtrak Working Group issued separate reports summarizing their findings.

The Democratic members included among the recommendations in its report, “Our investigation indicates that some of the deficiencies cited in the GAO report represent a failure of Amtrak’s Board of Directors. Accordingly, we intend to request that the DOT IG conduct an investigation of whether the Board of Directors is adequately carrying out its legal and fiduciary responsibilities.”

Tornquist said the work will be carried out in Washington. The program director is Mitchell Behm, and Debra Mayer is the project manager.

On October 25, 2005, House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young asked Rep. Richard Baker to “lead a working group to evaluate information from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Amtrak Inspector General, and the USDOT Inspector General regarding Amtrak’s management and performance,” the letter stated.

The request was prompted, in part, “by issues raised in the October 2005 GAO report, Amtrak Management: Systemic Problems Require Actions to Improve Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Accountability.

In March 2006, the working group members issued separate reports summarizing their findings.

So, the USDOT IG “plans to conduct a review” of how Amtrak’s directors carry out their responsibilities.

“In addition, we plan to review the board’s expenses from Fiscal Year 2002 to the present as requested. “

The objectives are to determine “The rules, procedures and authorities under which the board operates, whether the board has followed established processes and procedures, whether the board has set long-term goals and performance objectives for Amtrak, whether the processes and procedures that the board follows are sufficient for ensuring oversight of, and requiring accountability from, Amtrak management, and whether the board members’ expenses comply with corporate guidelines and whether those guidelines are sufficient to ensure prudent use of corporate resources.”

The results of the review “will aid in identifying whether potential reforms to improve the board’s performance are needed.”

Ink’s editor says ‘adios’

Longtime Amtrak Ink editor Leslie Beers is retiring from the railroad today.
She joined the staff – indeed, she was the staff – for more than 10 years. She recently married and changed her name to Reed. Ink is the railroad’s monthly internal organ for employees. Her replacement has not yet been named.

Sunset’s future is today’s topic for Kummant

New Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant is expected to meet with Gulf Coast officials today which will eventually lead to restarting Sunset Limited service between New Orleans and Orlando. The service ended following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on CSX tracks from New Orleans, across Mississippi and into Alabama.
Responding at a House Subcommittee on Railroads hearing yesterday to a question from Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., Kummant said, “We are meeting with the Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission” on Friday.
“We have to come up with relevant, reliable service – even the service on the eastern portion of the Sunset was three times a week, and at night. I know that a number of the stations have yet to be rebuilt, so there are some challenges there.”
He added, “We are reaching out to the states, and we need to work through that.”
The Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission (SRRTC), is a tri-state group of business leaders and professionals in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
At a recent meeting, Amtrak government affairs officials were there, as were consultants. The SRRTC was vocal in denouncing the plan to remove CSX from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, according to a source.
The SRRTC has been described as supporting two round trips a day between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. That short distance is about 145 miles. The distance to Jacksonville is 622 miles, and to Orlando is769 miles.

Labor tells House mandatory training is needed

The lack of any comprehensive, mandatory security training for rail and transit workers five years after September 11, 2001 is “difficult to believe,” a transportation labor leader told the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security yesterday.

Ed Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Dept., AFL-CIO, said “Despite multiple attacks on transit and rail systems around the world, the federal government still has not stepped in to provide the necessary funding, oversight, and guidance to ensure that railroad and transit systems address their immediate security needs.”

He complained, “Hundreds of thousands of employees work on our nation’s transit and rail systems, and the fact that they have not been prepared to respond in the event of a terrorist threat or attack is unconscionable,” said.

Wytkind added, “It is common sense that training workers is a highly effective way to secure and safeguard our transit and rail networks.”

The labor leader focused his testimony on the need for mandatory training.

“The problem is that if rail and transit systems are not required to provide security training, it will not be universally implemented by systems across the country.”

Rail and transit workers remain poorly trained.

“A recent survey of transit workers conducted by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) found that even five years after 9-11, approximately 60 percent of ATU members working for U.S. transit systems remain untrained,” Wytkind pointed out.

He said rail workers have not been given access to the resources they need to be in a better position to recognize irregularities or discover suspicious activities. “The training materials are not tailored to any specific job responsibilities and are not designed to impart any specific skills – they simply tell works to be vigilant.”

Wytkind noted that proposals to require security training for rail and transit workers are being considered in negotiations on the pending port security bill. He urged these provisions be included in the final bill sent to the President. “Training is too important to ignore or delay another day and Congress has the opportunity to address this problem. Congress must act now.”

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Leo King

No sparks were flying today in the House Railroads Subcommittee hearing with Amtrak's new CEO, Alex Kummant. He told the panelists he supports passenger rail, and Amtrak in particular.

Kummant makes first

appearance before Congress

By Leo King

Amtrak’s new boss faced a House subcommittee for the first time today. On balance, he got a pass without fireworks. Alexander Kummant started his new job September 12. He prefers to go by “Alex.”

The Ohio native is a former Union Pacific Central Division vice-president. He oversaw “six-thousand transportation, engineering, construction, mechanical and other employees supporting an 8,000-mile rail network,” he told the House Subcommittee on Railroads and Infrastructure Thursday morning.

“The opportunity to join Amtrak is more than just another job for me. It’s a chance to get back into an industry that has kept its hold on me and to advance something I believe in – namely, passenger railroading.”

He said he viewed the Congress as Amtrak’s primary shareholders.

I believe we are at a pivotal point in the history of rail passenger service. I’m committed to operating a national system of trains. I believe long-distance trains are an important part of the nation’s transportation network, and I believe it’s our challenge to run them in the most efficient and effective way.”

He remarked that the fastest growing service Amtrak has are “in rail corridors. Those states that have the vision to develop their state rail systems are beginning to see the benefits of that service.”

He asked the House panel members questioned but veiled it in a statement.

“To me, having been on the outside I’ve always wondered why the Amtrak debate is so emotional and, at times, acrimonious. It really needn’t be, especially now. At a time of high oil prices, growing highway and airport congestion and record freight volumes, problems which beset and constrain our transportation system, we should be embracing rail, developing it as quickly and responsibly as we can.”

He said he would roam around the system being on trains, in the shops, on the platforms and at the stations.

“I find the best ideas are oftentimes are the ones given to you by those who are out there doing their jobs every day.”

He reiterated, “I believe in rail passenger service, and believe in Amtrak.”

Although the subcommittee meeting was not televised on C-SPAN, it was carried live on the internet.

Subcommittee Chairman Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, noted “I do think we’ve reached the point where if we’re going to have viable passenger rail service and Amtrak as a part of it we need to think outside the box, and not just have this annual appropriations fight.”

Freight rail capacity was also on LaTourette’s mind. He said he recently spoke to a railroader who retired after 46 years on the Union Pacific. The man told him, “I never thought I’d say this as a railroader, but we’re sold out, and we do have a severe capacity crunch in this country… which you share for some of your service.”

He asked Kummant, “What do you think of how we can get around in improving the on-time performance of Amtrak trains?”

Kummant responded, “ I think we have to have this debate or dialogue clearly with the context of record volumes on the freights. In the end, the answer has to be capital of some sort, from some direction. We need work with the freights on the particularly troubled lanes, and ask them to come up with a plan. At the end of the day, we do have contracts with the freights, and we do need to hold them to those contracts, but we have to look for ways of funding and perhaps there’s a way Amtrak can be involved in justifying capital in key lanes.”

LaTourette asked what Kummant would do about labor agreements. Some unions have been without contract for up to seven years.

Kummant replied, “All of our people need to get fair pay and need to be competitive in the marketplace. It has to be fair to them, and it’s also a critical, strategic issue for the operation to retain the critical skills we have in this market.”

He added there are work rule issues labor and management will have to work through. He said he does not like back-room deals.

Ranking Democrat James Oberstar, D-Minn., said, “We need to have a capital infusion in Amtrak, get its infrastructure right, get its passenger service right, relaunch this system and make it work.”

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who is perennially described as anti-Amtrak, said today he is just the opposite.

“Sometimes I read these blogs and these commentaries that ‘Mica’s an opponent of Amtrak.’ I just want to et the record straight as you begin your important work, that you couldn’t find a stronger advocate of both long-distance and high-speed service.”

By “long-distance, he said he means “A national system and not a half-baked system.”

He added he wants the railroad to separate the Northeast Corridor.

“Once we do that, and give the private sector an opportunity to help build and expand service there. In Congress, we’ve never been able to really been able to look at all your finances and determine what things cost, and how things are operating.”

He noted, “Congress is never going to give Amtrak the $18 to $35 billion it needs to develop that corridor and make it truly high-speed.”

He suggested the congress would simply continue to give Amtrak a “starvation diet.”

The 90-minute interview was rich in ideas, one railroader suggested, and held out hope the Bush White House would not prevail in its dealings with Amtrak. Funding legislation is still pending in the Senate, but now is not expected to be taken up until after the November elections.

Another good week for freight rail

Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads was at its second total ever during the week ended September 23, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported today.

Intermodal volume of 256,193 trailer or containers during the week ended September 23 was up 6.3 percent from the comparable week last year. Container volume rose 10.3 percent for the week while trailer volume declined by 5.7 percent.

Carload freight totaled 338,141 cars, up 1.0 percent from last year, with loadings up 4.1 percent in the West but off 2.7 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 34.0 billion ton-miles, up 2.4 percent from 2005.

Among individual carload commodities, grain loadings rose 8.6 percent from last year, while coke was up 27.7 percent and petroleum products gained 20.7 percent. On the downside, primary forest products were down 19.5 percent, lumber was off 18.5 percent and motor vehicles and equipment fell 15.3 percent. In all 13 of 19 commodity groups were up from last year.

Cumulative volume for the first 38 weeks of 2006 totaled 12,790,904 carloads, up 1.3 percent from 2005; 8,944,964 trailers or containers, up 6.3 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.27 trillion ton-miles, up 2.6 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended September 23 carload traffic totaled 76,329 cars, down 2.6 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 48,663 trailers or containers was up 5.8 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 38 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,831,035 carloads, down 1.1 percent from last year, and 1,713,129 trailers and containers, up 5.8 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 38 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 15,621,939 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year and 10,658,093 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also said that during the week ended September 23 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 11,024 cars, down 9.2 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,770 trailers or containers, up 14.9 percent from the 38th week of 2005.

For the first 38 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 429,737 cars, down 4.3 percent from last year, and 150,845 trailers or containers, down 3.7 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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Leo King

Nighttime is the time when most Acela Express trainsets are inspected and serviced, such as this trainset in Boston’s Southampton Street Yard. Amtrak officially too over its own maintenance on the fast trains today.

Amtrak now fixes its own Acelas

Amtrak is now making all repairs on its Acela Express trainsets.

The railroad took full responsibility for maintenance today, formally ending its day-to-day relationship with a Canadian carbuilder that built the railroad’s fastest trains.

The transfer of management and oversight from Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. and French engineering group within the past couple of months is seven years earlier than originally planned, Amtrak said.

Reuters writer John Crawley reported from Washington Amtrak and Bombardier would not comment on the cost of the contract, which had included strict reliability terms for the high-speed trains. The manufacturers will still provide advice and parts, if needed, Amtrak and Bombardier said.

Transfer of maintenance stemmed from an agreement between Amtrak and the consortium in 2004 that settled a legal fight involving Acela’s production and delivery snags and early service setbacks. Acela began service in 2000.

Problems ranged from integrating high-speed rail technology with an aging U.S. rail infrastructure at the start of the decade to bathroom doors that would not close properly.

The worst problem occurred in April 2005 when Amtrak idled its 20 Acelas over parts of five months because of potentially disastrous brake rotor cracks.

Amtrak said it has settled a dispute with the Bombardier-Alstom group and other supplier and maintenance companies over the brake problem.

Financial terms of that resolution, reached in August, are confidential, but Amtrak said the agreement clarifies brake system maintenance and inspection.

Most recently, Amtrak cut power to outlets for laptops, cell phone chargers and other electronic equipment used by passengers because of short circuits. The problem has been fixed, Amtrak said.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said last year a smooth maintenance transition was crucial for avoiding further financial turmoil at Amtrak.

Acela, despite its tumultuous history, is popular with passengers, especially business travelers. It accounted for about half of Amtrak ticket revenues on its flagship Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York and a quarter of all ticket sales or $298 million between last October 1 and August 31, the railroad said. Acela carried 2.4 million passengers during the period, which is Amtrak’s fiscal year.

Under the new arrangement, Amtrak must order parts, run the maintenance schedule and supervise the work, which has always been performed by Amtrak employees. Acela maintenance facilities are based in Boston, New York and Washington.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, in Washington, said the railroad hopes to conduct Acela maintenance more efficiently and that the change did not increase costs.

David Slack, a spokesman for Bombardier, said the consortium will have an advisory role.

“The main point is that Amtrak, at some point, decided for strategic or business reasons to bring this in house. You do what your customer wants and we’re working along those lines.”

“The main point is that Amtrak, at some point, decided for strategic or business reasons to bring this in house. You do what your customer wants and we’re working along those lines.”

Acelas are inspected and serviced daily and undergo periodic overhauls of critical systems.

Chris Preovolos/Stamford Advocate staff photo

A Secret Service official believes an abandoned train car in a tunnel two stories below the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City may have been used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Old ‘bag’ abandoned in tunnel;

FDR may have used it in 1940s

Richard Staropoli is trying to crack a case that’s been stuck in a tunnel for more than 60 years.

About two stories under the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on 50th Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan is an abandoned car, that appears to have been a baggage car or possibly a mail car, on unused tracks leading out of Grand Central Terminal.

Metro-North Railroad officials said the car has been there since at least 1946 and possibly before, the Stamford Advocate reported today.

Although some historians have dismissed the abandoned vehicle as an old postal or freight car, Staropoli, assistant to the special-agent-in-charge of the New York bureau of the U.S. Secret Service, has noticed some unusual features: light armor plating on the outside; detailed wheel suspensions under the car that would provide maximum comfort for the train’s cargo; and markings indicating the car was once used by the U.S. military.

Because it is just a few feet from a secret platform and elevator connecting the tunnel to the Waldorf, which was most notably used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, Staropoli believes the vehicle is more than just a freight car.

“This may be a car that was kept here whenever (Roosevelt) was in New York,” Staropoli said during a recent visit to the site. “This is not just a train car built to carry tools.”

About 100 feet to either side of the abandoned car are tracks still used by Metro-North trains in the Park Avenue tunnel, but the section with the abandoned car remains unused and unkempt. The ground is littered with broken concrete, pieces of metal piping and plastic soda bottles. Railroad officials are not even sure whether the third rail in the area has power. And some wonder whether the car could be carted out if a rightful owner is determined. It may be fragile and unable to run on the existing tracks.

Those are all questions Staropoli plans to address after he finishes his investigation, which started about three months ago after he watched a television show on what exists in the tunnels under New York City.

It included an interview with Dan Brucker, a Metro-North spokesman, who speculated that the car might have been used by FDR, but Brucker, and the show, provided no empirical proof. That’s what Staropoli wants to collect.

Staropoli hasn’t seen the car’s interior because its doors are padlocked. Inside, he believes there may be serial numbers detailing who owns the car. But while he waits to see the inside, he has collected evidence from what is on the outside.

With a small flashlight, Staropoli shined a beam on some lettering on the train’s side – MNM CX.

During the 1930s and ’40s, a train marked with “MNM” likely would have belonged to the Minneapolis Bulk Corn Processing Co., Staropoli said.

But it was the “X” that really caught his attention.

“An ‘X’ marking usually indicated that it was something not owned by a legit railroad,” Staropoli said. “Anything that was classified by the military, was marked with an ‘X.’”

MN are also the letters for Metro-North.

There’s more evidence suggesting the car has a military connection. It is covered with a thick coat of reflective blue paint, dubbed “MTA blue” by Staropoli because it matches the colors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But on the rear of the car, some of the blue has peeled off, revealing a military green surface.

The exposed surface also shows no signs of rust, despite the dark, dank conditions in the tunnel. That’s because the car was made of industrial-strength steel, Staropoli said.

The train most closely recognized with FDR’s visits to Grand Central is the Ferdinand Magellan, which served as “Presidential Rail Car U.S. No. 1” from 1943 to 1958.

That observation car was acquired by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami-Dade County, Fla., in 1959.

Skeptics have asked Staropoli why a second rail car would have been used exclusively by Roosevelt, when he had the Ferdinand Magellan.

But Staropoli says Roosevelt had the second car so he could get away without drawing attention during an emergency.

NS amends governance guidelines

Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC) reported today that its board of directors has amended the company’s corporate governance guidelines to include majority voting for election of directors in an uncontested election.

The amended guidelines provide that any nominee for director who receives a greater number of “withhold” votes than “for” votes for his or her election will resign. The board’s governance and nominating committee then will consider the resignation and recommend to the board of directors whether to accept or reject it. The board of directors will act on the committee’s recommendation within 90 days after the annual meeting of shareholders.

Norfolk Southern will disclose the board’s decision on a Form 8-K furnished to the Securities and Exchange Commission within four business days after the decision, including an explanation of the process by which the decision was reached.

The complete text of the corporate governance guidelines can be found on the company’s website at www.nscorp.com under the “Investors” tab.

Norfolk Southern Corporation is one of the nation’s premier transportation companies. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates approximately 21,200 route miles in 22 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada, serving every major container port in the eastern United States and providing superior connections to western rail carriers. NS operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is North America’s largest rail carrier of automotive parts and finished vehicles.

Labor demands Amtrak stop outsourcing

Transportation labor leaders today called on Congress to stop Amtrak’s Board from trading away the safety, reliability and efficiency of the national passenger rail system through “destructive and misguided efforts to break-up Amtrak and outsource as many jobs as possible.”

At the biannual meeting of the Executive Committee of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), the organization’s 31 member unions endorsed a policy statement that stresses the need for Amtrak management to recognize the critical role that Amtrak employees play in the success of the passenger railroad.

Edward Wytkind, president of TTD, said, “Congress must stop the Amtrak Board’s outsourcing agenda. Amtrak workers are specialized and highly trained men and women with a vested interest in the survival and success of the carrier. Lawmakers must send a message to Amtrak’s Board and the company’s new CEO that they reject outsourcing that gambles away the future survival of our national passenger railroad and threatens the livelihood of 20,000 Amtrak workers.”

“Amtrak workers are already the lowest paid in the industry and many have gone seven years without updated contracts or wage increases,” Wytkind declared.

“Using outsourcing schemes to lower wages and slash benefits at a carrier supported by taxpayers is simply outrageous and should not be tolerated by Congress,” he document continued.

Amtrak targeted outsourcing of jobs ranging from reservationists to food service to maintenance repair.

In the statement, transportation unions call on Amtrak’s management to “include its workers and unions in determining how to provide services to passengers in a manner that is cost-effective, efficient, and reliable.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

FRA meets public over grade crossings

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is holding a series of public meetings across the country, and the next will be in Raleigh, N.C. on September 27.

The FRA is billing it as “A new national effort to improve safety and save lives at private highway-rail grade crossings.”

The purpose is to gather information to help FRA better understand the safety issues at locations where non-public roadways cross over railroad tracks used by freight and passenger trains, the federal agency stated in a press release.

“Approximately 400 vehicle-train collisions and 30 to 40 fatalities occur at the nation’s 94,000 private crossings each year.”

Since private crossings are not subject to the same federal rail safety regulations that public crossings are, FRA is seeking comments on several topics, including how to define when a private crossing has a public purpose; how improvement and maintenance costs should be allocated; whether current warning devices for motorists are adequate; and if there should be a more uniform State or Federal approach to improving safety at private crossings.

Establishing responsibility for safety at private crossings is one of the primary goals of the USDOT’s Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Trespass Prevention Action Plan issued in 2004. Increased focus on private crossings will complement FRA’s ongoing comprehensive program to improve safety at public crossings.

The public meeting will be held Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the McKimmon Center, North Carolina State Univ., 1101 Gorman St., Raleigh. The first meeting took place in Minnesota. Other meetings are scheduled in California and Louisiana later this year.

The FRA has also opened a public docket so that interested parties may submit written comments for public review and consideration. The public docket is available at http://dms.dot.gov (FRA-2005 – 23281).

The FRA topic can be found online at http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1712.

Nationals’ Amtrak train derails in Delaware


An Amtrak charter train carrying the Washington Nationals derailed early this morning near Wilmington, Del., but no one was injured.

Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said it was a “minor derailment” with just the rear wheels on the locomotive leaving the track. It happened about 1:30 a.m. during the trip from New York to Washington. The engine and all three cars remained upright, The AP reported.

The major league baseball team was traveling home from New York after their 7-3 win over the Mets on Monday.

Nationals radio engineer Jack Hicks, who was on the train with the team, said the lights went off and the train came to a slow stop. Others said they didn’t know there was a problem.

“I didn't feel a thing,” Nationals broadcaster Charlie Slowes told WTOP Washington radio. “Some people say they felt a minor jolt.”

About 50 passengers on board were transferred to another train shortly after 3:00 a.m. and have arrived back in Washington.

Calls to the team were not immediately returned.

It was not clear what caused the derailment, Connell said.

Amtrak says the derailment will cause minor delays of about ten minutes this morning in the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak’s Saluki starts in October

Beginning October 30, Amtrak will more than double Illinois state-sponsored passenger rail service. The roundtrips will increase from three daily roundtrips to seven between Chicago and downstate destinations - including the Saluki, the new Chicago-Carbondale train.

A saluki is an ancient breed of tall, slender dog developed in Arabia and Egypt with a smooth, silky, variously colored coat.

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said yesterday that the expanded service comes after news that all state-sponsored Amtrak routes posted record ridership levels for Illinois’ fiscal year 2006; the expansion includes an additional round-trip on the Chicago-Carbondale line.

Tickets for the new routes go on sale today.

Blagojevich said, “Amtrak is an affordable travel option, and in many communities it’s the only form of public transportation.”

Last spring, the Illinois General Assembly increased state funding for passenger rail service by Amtrak from $12.1 million to $24 million.

The Illinois DOT (IDOT), which is the partnering agency with Amtrak, has chosen the Saluki as the name of the new Chicago-Carbondale train. Another train, the Illini, will continue to operate on its current schedule on the route. So will the City of New Orleans, the third train.

The state-supported trains will operate as reserved service, stated Amtrak in a press release, with the lowest fares ordinarily available with the most advanced purchase, and offer food and beverages in the café car. Ten-ride tickets will also be available, as will business class

Still ahead are the schedules for increased service on the two other state-sponsored corridors, Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Quincy.

Daily train service between Chicago and St. Louis will increase from three roundtrips to five, three of them state-sponsored. Daily train service between Chicago and Quincy will increase from one round-trip to two round-trips, also state-sponsored.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Amtrak President

to testify At House hearing

Amtrak’s new president and CEO will appear before a Congressional panel on Thursday to outline his plans and management strategy for the passenger rail system.

Alexander Kummant, who assumed his new duties with Amtrak on September 12, is the only scheduled witness for the hearing.

The hearing by the House Railroads Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in 2167 Rayburn House Office Building. A live webcast of the hearing will be available at the Committee's website, http://www.house.gov/transportation.

Amtrak's previous CEO, David Gunn, was fired by the Amtrak board in the fall of 2005. The Subcommittee held a hearing shortly afterward on Amtrak governance issues.

While a search for a successor was conducted, David Hughes, then head of the Amtrak engineering department, was appointed acting CEO. Kummant was selected by the Amtrak board in early September 2006 and began work on September 12.

Amtrak is a District of Columbia business corporation, is governed by a Presidentially appointed board of directors. The president of Amtrak is a nonvoting ex officio member of the board of directors. The Amtrak president, like other corporate officers, “serves at the pleasure of the Board” and must be a U.S. citizen.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Monday, Monday 25, 2006

Jim Haag

A double-stack intermodal container train moves along Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh line, severed on Tuesday until Saturday by a landslide. The photo is from June 23, 2002 at Lees Cross Roads, Pa.

NS back in business in Pennsylvania

Work crews opened all three Norfolk Southern Ry. tracks adjacent to Ohio River Boulevard in Kilbuck, Penn., where Tuesday’s massive landslide at a shopping plaza construction site shut down the railroad line and busy traffic arteries.

Between 70 and 90 trains a day typically travel on the line, including Amtrak’s Nos. 29 and 30 between Washington and Chicago. Both trains were rerouted.

A parallel highway, four-lane Route 65, remained blocked, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported yesterday.

Rain made the task especially messy and difficult, a PennDOT official said, but it should not impede progress. The disturbed soil is loose and can act like a sponge, so heavy rain will add to the weight of the earth and could be a stabilizing factor, he said.

Heavy equipment operators are hoping to have dirt and other material cleared from two the lanes this morning, which were buried under more than 30 feet of debris.

The landslide began Tuesday night on land ASC Development, Inc. started excavating at a former hospital site. The land is being developed into a shopping complex.

The landslide moved up to 600,000 cubic yards of earth being used to create a plateau for the shopping center and an expansive parking lot, but PennDOT officials estimate that 250,000 to 300,000 cubic yards of material actually slid, with 50,000 cubic yards coming to rest on Route 65.

On Friday, NS told its customers it had “issued an embargo of all shipments normally moving via this route.”

Impacted shipments included freight between NS points – or interchange – in the West or Midwest, “including Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky and points in Pennsylvania east of Pittsburgh, as well as all stations in New Jersey and Delaware.”

NS stated, “The embargo does not apply to unit train shipments, which will be held and moved as conditions permit or rerouted. However, trains likely to encounter significant delays.”

In a note to customers with “committed service agreements, the railroad stated it “invoked force majeure effective 1:00 p.m., September 21 on all traffic moving through this area.”

StadlerRail AG

Austin’s commuter rail trains from Stadler of Switzerland will be similar to this train.

Austin commuter rail

construction set to start

Austin’s Capital Metro’s commuter rail gamble passed a critical green light last week, and the $90 million project is about to get underway.

The 32-mile commuter rail line runs from Leander to downtown Austin, KVUE Austin reported last week. To operate the line, the public transit agency has committed to spending $34 million to buy six coaches and powercars. They are sleek with a sloping bullet nose at both ends. Stadler Rail AG of Switzerland is building the first train, and it will be in Austin in less than 12 months.

“We are on time, on budget, and looking for 2008,” said Andrea Lofye, Capital Metro spokesperson.

Test runs of the trains are expected in October 2007. If all goes well, according to Lofye, the final roll out schedule could be adjusted. Initial service, when it begins in 2008, will be during the morning and evening rush hours. Trains will run every 30 minutes. It’s estimated that a trip from Leander to downtown will take about an hour.

AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach

23 dead in German maglev crash

A high-speed magnetic levitation train traveling at nearly 125 mph crashed Friday in Lathen, in northwestern Germany, killing 23 people and injuring 10 in the first fatal wreck involving the high-tech system, officials said.

Karl-Heinz Brueggeman, a rescue services official, said the death toll rose to 23 after a search in and around the wrecked train, which derailed after smashing into a maintenance cart. It was the first fatal wreck involving the high-tech system.

Transrapid International, a joint company of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, makes the train. Munich-based IABG operates the guideway, which runs between the towns of Lathen and Doerpen near the border with Holland.

APTA: Public transportation ridership rises

The American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) reported on Friday that public transportation ridership has increased by 3.2 percent in the first six months of 2006, as Americans took nearly 5 billion trips on public transit.

“In the first six months of this year, more and more people rode public transportation and transit ridership grew by 3.2 percent, said APTA President William W. Millar.

In the first six months of 2006, light rail – modern light rail, streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys – had the highest percentage of ridership growth among all modes of transportation, with a 9.4 percent increase. Some of the areas reporting the highest increases in light rail ridership opened new services over the past year. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority of San Jose showed the largest increase at 33 percent. The light rail systems in the following areas showed double digit increases from January through June 2006: Minneapolis, (23.4 percent); the state of New Jersey (15.1 percent); Boston, (13.4 percent); Buffalo, (12.2 percent); Los Angeles (11.9 percent); Philadelphia, (11.9 percent); and San Diego (11.9 percent).

Commuter rail grew by 3.4 percent and three areas showed ridership increases in double digits during this six month period: Chesterton, Ind. (13 percent); Dallas (12 percent); and, Harrisburg (11.6 percent).

Heavy rail (subways) ridership grew nationally by 2.6 percent during the first six months of 2006. Two areas showed double digit increases in ridership: Los Angeles (15.9 percent) and New York’s PATH (10.3 percent).

Some free rides in Boston

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority started a free ride campaign on Friday to promote the five-minute commute from Back Bay Station to South Station. The stations are one mile apart.

Free rides are on tap for a month, between now and October Commuter trains are operating between both stations and travel one stop to the Financial District. At South Station, riders can connect with Silver Line connections to the South Boston Waterfront, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and Logan Airport. The ‘T’ is running 85 weekday and 60 weekend departures between the stations.


Canadian Pacific

Royal Canadian Pacific on a bridge at Ottertail Point in British Columbia

CPR’s luxury train wins World Travel Award

Canadian Pacific Railway’s luxury rail service, Royal Canadian Pacific, based in Calgary, Alberta, has been chosen the world’s best luxury train service by over 167,000 registered travel agents and travel professionals.

Royal Canadian Pacific (RCP) has won the “World’s Leading Luxury Train” award at the 2006 World Travel Awards ceremony at the Turks & Caicos this week. The RCP received the award in a challenging competition with five other luxury train services – the Blue Train of South Africa, the Eastern & Oriental Express in Asia, Pride of Africa-Rovos Rail in Africa, Palace on Wheels in India, and Europe’s Venice-Simplon Orient Express.

“This is world recognition of the exclusive train service provided by the Royal Canadian Pacific heritage fleet,” said RCP Director Mark Ramsay, who was in the Turks & Caicos to accept the award. “The award is the result of six years of effort by a dedicated team whose prime focus is on service excellence, professional staffing and guest satisfaction. Their attention to detail is evident in the sophisticated elegance of our restored vintage carriages. This recognition confirms us as world leaders in tourism and hospitality.”

Ramsay added, “this major award will certainly benefit Royal Canadian Pacific in making more people aware of our exclusive service, especially as we prepare to open our new world sales facility in Calgary.”

Since 1993, travel agents from more than 200 countries have been choosing the world’s best in more than 70 different travel-industry categories.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006

Union Pacific

The main line passes on the north side of the new UP intermodal terminal in Salt Lake City. The blue sections are for container parking with two tracks passing through the facility. Car storage tracks, in beige, lie between the main and the intermodal loading and unloading tracks. Highway West 700 South is at the top, West 100 South at the bottom, South 5600 at the left and South 4800 West at the right.

UP opens new Utah container terminal

Union Pacific Railroad yesterday opened its $83 million, 260-acre state-of-the-art intermodal terminal in Salt Lake City. The new container terminal increases the railroad’s international and domestic container capacity in the Salt Lake City area by three times, while improving traffic efficiencies. It will also serve dozens of Utah companies that rely on intermodal rail freight to ship and receive containers with various types of materials from around the world.

The terminal will handle up to 250,000 over-the-road trailers or ocean-going containers annually.

The Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal features also include:

· One track for receiving and departing trains.

· Four tracks with capacity to unload 75 intermodal double-stack cars.

· Five tracks to stage stack cars before loading or unloading.

· Two cranes that straddle the rail cars and one rubber-tired mobile “packer” that lifts trailers and containers on and off double-stack cars. The cranes are equipped with Global Positioning System technology.

· More than 1,300 locations for trailers and containers.

· Advanced technology that coordinates all movement of railroad cars, trucks, trailers and containers at the facility.

· Technology that decreases truck processing from four minutes to as little as 30 to 90 seconds.

· A state-of-the-art security system.

Intermodal shipping involves moving freight by more than one mode of transportation without re-packing the shipping container. For example, an ocean-going container, loaded with clothing, arrives by vessel at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., from the Pacific Rim. The container is unloaded from the ship and placed onto a double-stack car, which is then moved in a train to the Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal. There, the container is removed from the flat car and placed on an over-the-road truck chassis, and the trucker takes the container to the customer in the Salt Lake City area.

Construction began February 1, 2005, and was completed in July 2006. The new facility, located two miles south of I-80 just off 5600 West, has additional space for future expansion based on customer demand and capacity needs.

Durbin talks up Illinois with Amtrak president

Illinois officials’ ambitious plans to expand Amtrak’s intrastate rail service could be thrown overboard as Congress and the Bush administration struggle to determine Amtrak’s long-term future nationwide.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D), a longtime advocate for federally subsidized rail service, voiced concerns Wednesday in a meeting with Alexander Kummant, the new Amtrak president and CEO only a week into his new job.

It is uncertain how and when Amtrak will get a new budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1. Temporary resolutions could push it into next year.

President Bush recommended $900 million; the House passed $1.1 billion; the Senate approved $1.4 billion. Amtrak supporters in Illinois such as Democrats Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich favor a no-cuts figure of $1.6 billion.

In an upbeat joint interview with The Associated Press, both Durbin and Kummant saluted Illinois’ efforts to aid Amtrak.

Kummant, citing his newness to his post, deferred to the senator when asked to predict Amtrak’s budget.

“I know our (train) run rates are within the ranges being talked about,” Kummant added.

Durbin did not predict a final figure but said he hoped $1.4 billion would be sufficient to allow Amtrak to continue Illinois’ current rail service and expand in some areas.

“The good news is that Congress has shown its commitment to Amtrak on a bipartisan basis. The number we are going to produce is going to be significantly higher than the president’s budget, which I think is a vote of confidence for Amtrak and its future,” said Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat.

Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois DOT, said Amtrak cutbacks historically have led to fewer trains.

“Illinois cannot afford to shoulder this burden alone, and should the federal government reduce its commitment to Amtrak, rail passenger service in our state and all of the Midwest would be severely impacted or in some areas may cease,” Vanover said.

For the year that ended in June, a record 952,529 passengers rode Amtrak trains in Illinois under a $12.1 million contract with the state’s DOT, which was an 11 percent passenger increase over the previous year.

Durbin, a member of the Senate subcommittee on transportation funding, secured commitments last spring for three Amtrak trains to help provide an additional run on the Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis lines each day.

The state also would like to see Rockford-to-Chicago service restored. Amtrak is studying the proposal.

The Amtrak board has proposed passing on certain overhead operating costs to states, which has Illinois officials worried.

Kummant said whatever happens would not be done “cold turkey” or without budget planning on the states’ parts.

“Our strategy really is engagement and reaching out to the states, working with the DOTs and coming up with really a multiyear plan,” he said.

Kummant also suggested Illinois should not be as concerned as most states with possible financial consequences.

“There’s no doubt the leading states, like Illinois, put out big commitments and not all states have committed to that degree,” he said.

“We are looking for a degree of parity but the numbers vary a great deal.”

Safety concerns hold up plans for high-speed rail

With new safety gates and other improvements, 126 miles of track that stretches north from Springfield, Ill. is ready to whisk passenger trains about 30 mph faster than they now travel.

More than a decade after Illinois set its sights on high-speed rail, trains are still humming along at their usual 79 mph, throttled as officials reevaluate new safety technology to ensure faster trains can coexist with freight trains and cars that cross over rail lines.

Some lament that trains aren’t already rolling faster to capitalize on rail demand that is on pace to break last year’s records across the state and nation, due in part to high gasoline prices and added airport security in the aftermath of deadly terrorist attacks five years ago, The AP reported yesterday.

State officials say they’re anxious, too, but won’t ease off the brakes until they settle on one of the emerging systems designed to automatically slow down or stop trains to ease dangers that come with higher speeds.

“We’re more concerned with safety than the speed of delivery,” said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois DOT, in Normal, Ill.

Along with curbing rail-crossing accidents, the high-tech systems ensure that faster-moving trains don’t slow freight deliveries that have set volume records the past few years using the same tracks, said Tom Brown, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads.

“There are a lot of challenges that have to be met, including making sure it doesn’t negatively affect freight. Jobs of millions depend on freight,” said Brown.

Officials say they can’t even speculate on when trains might start running at 110 mph along the stretch of central Illinois track, where the state has sunk about $80 million into rail and crossing improvements since 1999 to pave the way for speedier travel.

“I think a timetable would be nothing more than a guess and I’m not much of a gambling man,” said Jason Tai, IDOT’s director of public and intermodal trains.

Illinois is targeting the busy Chicago-St. Louis corridor, with nine stops from Alton to Summit, for its first foray into high-speed rail, most used in the U.S. in the densely populated eastern seaboard, from Washington to New York City to Boston.

Other states also are making inroads, including Michigan, where ridership has increased up to 12 percent on routes now running at 95 mph, said Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak, which has set national ridership records for three straight years.

In Illinois, crossing signals have been upgraded all along the 280-mile route between Chicago and St. Louis, where faster trains are ultimately expected to cut the current 51/2-hour trip to less than four hours, but only a stretch from Springfield to south of Joliet is now ready for high-speed travel, with upgraded track for a smoother ride and nearly 70 crossing gates equipped with nets and four arms instead of two to prevent drivers from trying to sneak through ahead of trains.

No money has yet been earmarked for track and crossing upgrades between Springfield and St. Louis or from south of Joliet to Chicago, work that state officials estimate will push the total project cost to about $400 million.

Illinois could get help finishing off the improvements under a bill pending in Congress that would provide matching federal grants for rail projects, similar to federal road and aviation programs.

“That would be a major step... Right now, states are doing it all on their own,” Magliari said.

Landslide hits NS line

Norfolk Southern reported yesterday it had “experienced a landslide” at Emsworth, Penn., which is between Conway and Pittsburgh, blocking its main line. Traffic moving over the corridor, to and from locations east of Pittsburgh, will incur delays, NS stated. It blocked an ex-Pennsylvania Railroad line.

By 1:00 p.m., the railroad stated conditions had deteriorated forcing the carrier to raise it to a “force majeure” status.

Railroaders were clearing the right of way, NS stated, but offered no timetable for resuming train service.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said train Nos. 29 and 30 were affected. Eastward No. 30 was reported to be more than five hours late at about 2:45 p.m.

Bombardier Transportation to lay off

more than half of Plattsburgh workforce

Layoffs at Bombardier Transportation in Plattsburgh, N.Y. will affect more than half the plant’s workers by the end of the year, company officials said yesterday.

Plant general manager James Tooley said hundreds of the facility’s 554 employees will lose their jobs as the contract to build 1,172 M-7 railcars for New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is completed in December.

As the last car moves from each work station, the employees in that area will either lose their jobs or displace other employees based on seniority.

Helene Gagnon, a spokeswoman for the Montreal-based transportation giant, said 150 employees received 60-day layoff notices Tuesday. She said that number will grow to about 280 by the end of December, including 220 hourly workers and 60 salaried employees.

The plant does have more work on the horizon, including a contract with the Chicago Transit Authority to build 406 rapid-transit vehicles, with an option for 300 more, beginning in 2009.


Bombardier

Bombardier’s “Traxx” P 160 DE locomotive completes a design gambit that began last year. The first will be delivered to Lower Saxony.

Bombardier completes its ‘Traxx’ line;

launches maintenance line

Bombardier Transportation unveiled its first diesel-electric locomotive in its TRAXX family of products. Its called the P 160 DE version. The builder said at the Innotrans conference the locomotive design has 25 customers worldwide

In 2005 the Lower Saxony local passenger transport company, LVNG, ordered 11 P160 DE locomotives. They will be delivered in late 2007 and go into service to pull Bombardier double-deck coaches.

The leasing company CB Rail also has ordered ten Traxx DE Locomotives – the F 140 version. There are now orders placed both for passenger and freight train operation.

The engines feature identical crash-proof locomotive bodies and machine compartment dimensions, brakes, trucks, traction motors, three-phase AC traction, push-pull bars, engineer’s cabs and control desks as well as communication, diagnosis and train protection systems.

The Traxx DE, which weighs 82 tons and produces 2.2 MW power, shares up to 75 per cent of common parts with the electric locomotives of the same platform.

Bombardier designed the engines for freight and passenger service, and is equipped for the interoperable European train protection system, ETCS.

Elsewhere, Bombardier launched “ORBITA” yesterday. The company is heralding it as “The future of maintenance.” The aim is to help operators increase fleet utilization, improve reliability and availability, reduce in-service failures, and ultimately improve the passengers’ overall journey experience.

André Navarri, President of Bombardier Transportation, launched the product at the Innotrans conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

He said the plan is to redefine predictive maintenance in the rail sector.

“We brought in experts from the aerospace industry with specific relevant experience to help us to implement a leading edge approach to predicting maintenance requirements.”

Another rail intermodal record is set

For the third time this year, the weekly record for rail intermodal traffic has been broken on U.S. railroads, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday.

Intermodal volume of 257,526 trailer or containers during the week ended September 16 broke a record set just two weeks earlier when railroads moved 253,168 trailers and containers. This year’s volume was 5.2 percent higher than in the comparable week last year. Container volume rose 9.1 percent for the week while trailers volume declined by 6.5 percent.

Carload freight totaled 345,676 cars, down 1.2 percent from last year, with loadings up 2.1 percent in the West but off 5.2 percent in the East. The comparison week from last year was the busiest single week in all of 2005.

Total volume was estimated at 34.8 billion ton-miles, up 0.3 percent from 2005.

Among individual carload commodities, coal loadings were up 5.0 percent from last year while metallic ores gained 11.4 percent and metals rose 6.1 percent.

On the downside, primary forest produced were down 16.9 percent, lumber was off 16.7 percent and motor vehicles and equipment fell 15.3 percent. In all, 12 of 19 commodity groups were down from last year.

Cumulative volume for the first 37 weeks of 2006 totaled 12,452,763 carloads, up 1.3 percent from 2005; 8,688,771 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.24 trillion ton-miles, up 2.6 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended September 16 carload traffic totaled 77,382 cars, down 1.7 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 47,841 trailers or containers was up 2.6 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 37 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,754,706 carloads, down 1.1 percent from last year, and 1,664,466 trailers and containers, up 5.8 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 37 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 15,207,469 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year and 10,353,237 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also said that during the week ended September 16 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 12,037 cars, up 4.5 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,339 trailers or containers, up 21.9 percent from the 37th week of 2005.

For the first 37 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 418,713 cars, down 4.2 percent from last year, and 146,075 trailers or containers, down 4.2 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.

East Side Tunnel

The tunnel protrudes

from under Benefit Street,

its western portal

gaping like a mouth

without a tongue.

Where once two parallel, curved

and splendidly banked tracks lay,

now only a slim strand remains,

and rests in peace under snow.

Three red eyes

in a vertical row

once guarded the way

of westward manifests;

these stare eastward

toward trains

that never come.

In recent days,

the middle retina

has gone black,

like a dark stage Klieg

after a final performance.

Twin lights

protecting

eastward movements

blinked their last

ten years or more ago.

The rails are rusty streaks

beneath the snow;

Spikes rest in gaping holes

in half-rotted ties.

Rails are broken.

No one cares.

The switch,

leading to the small

post office yard,

and the motor that once

turned the points to and fro

at the signalman’s command,

is buried under tons

of nature’s beauty.

Brown and black weeds,

from last summer’s blooms,

stand hardened, frozen, cold, dead

between the ties

and beside the track,

tops timidly protruding

above frozen water.

Once, it was a ballasted, manicured,

well-maintained branch line

for people to ride atop.

It ran away from Track Four

at the city’s Union Station,

blushing scenic scenery:

thorned, greened bushes

held red, pink, white roses.

Once, a track walker,

who spoke with a broken dialect,

would daily eyeball these rails

and fishplates.

One mile down the stem,

the eastern portal

gawked at the Seekonk River

where yellow jacks, snake eyes,

redboards, home signals

and distant aspects

urged safe passage

for road hog

and yard goat alike.

The ops at S.S. K-315,

Warren or Bristol

would hand the C&E

the green flimsies,

and everyone took his turn

to take the hole

or go in the hole;

The varnish got the highball first.

Once, overhead wires

powered juice jacks;

later, steam was king.

Once, the pride of the fleet

would glide through here,

laden with summer visitors

going to Vanity Fair,

India Point, Bristol

or places in between.

A hurricane fixed all that.

In another era,

orange freight hogs

grunted here, engineers

swearing at them to pull

the tonnage over the hill.

Each stack of rust

pushed or pulled a grimy red buggy,

hauling the tonnage

that turned the wheels

of Rhode Island industry.

The markers of fallen flags

once graced this bore:

NYNH&H, NYO&W, LV, VGN, PRR,

NYC, RDG, ERIE, DLW, GM&O,

NCSt.L, ACL, SAL, C&IM, NP,

and, in later years, PC.

Even CR, AMT and P&W have rolled away.

The concrete face

is expressionless, emotionless.

It feels nothing. Only those

who played inside her

when young cared,

and they, too, are gone.

Leo King


From time-to-time, AR publishes literary rail-related content. – Ed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

John Ireland

It is a warm summer day in Gallitzin, Penn., at Norfolk Southern’s controlled point UN on its Pittsburgh Line on July 26. Westward freight 04T is heading toward Gallitzin Tunnel. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s eastward No. 30, the Capitol Limited, heads toward Washington. If it arrives on time, it will be 8:30 a.m. the next day, after traveling 764 miles from Chicago. Can Pennsylvania overcome what is described as a “transportation crisis?” Perhaps, as the following story outlines.

No more highways?

Pennsylvania hearing outlines transportation crisis

At a hearing to gather public input regarding what state officials have termed Pennsylvania’s transportation crisis, building more highways was the least popular solution.

Directors of mass transit systems pleaded for more money, and some Pennsylvanians suggested building more roads would not solve the transportation crisis, The Reading Eagle reported Tuesday.

Dr. Paul Simpson, a State College physician, said the transportation funding crisis coincides with crises concerning obesity, traffic congestion, pollution and loss of forests and open land.

Paying to build and maintain new and bigger roads helped cause the transportation funding crisis, Simpson said.

Transportation officials should now focus on bicycling and pedestrian programs, he said.

“Stop planning and building new roads,” Simpson told more than 100 state residents and transportation officials at the hearing called by the state Transportation Funding and Reform Commission.

A handful of construction contractors attended the hearing in Centre County to counter that transportation construction supplies thousands of jobs and better highways and bridges that are vital to the economy.

The commission completed its statewide tour on Monday in Harrisburg after seeking public input to include in a report to be issued November 15.

Making the Pennsylvania DOT, construction contractors and public transit systems more efficient could save $170 million per year, but that’s not enough to stave off a financial crisis, said state Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler, commission chairman.

“We are convinced there is a problem,” Biehler said.

The commission is considering several recommendations that range from spending several hundred million to more than $2 billion more per year on transportation.

Annual state and federal funding for Pennsylvania transportation totals more than $6 billion.

Pennsylvanians unwilling to pay for better roads and public transit have their priorities wrong, testified Eric Wolf, manager of Altoona’s public transit system in Blair County.

People seem willing to pay more for gasoline, which helps foreign oil-producing nations, but seem unwilling to pay more to improve their own transportation system, Wolf said.

Improving transportation doesn’t have to mean constructing more highways, said John Shoemaker, a Mifflin County mechanical engineer and farmer.

“This system puts more land under concrete than any of the alternatives,” Shoemaker said.

“We must learn to do more with the roads we already have. “Instead of using my money to build highways that will be overloaded in 10 years, use it to promote public transportation. We own our transportation system. It does not own us. It should not lead an assault on our society, our land and our senses,” he said.

‘Rhody’ to get commuter rail grant

Rhode Island is going to receive $3.5 million in federal money to buy five new coaches as part of plans to expand commuter rail services in Rhode Island.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said he secured the money as part of the South County Commuter Rail project, which will extend Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s services to communities south of Providence.

Two new commuter rail stations are being planned, one near T.F. Green Airport in Warwick and one in North Kingstown at Wickford Jct.

Transportation officials say they expect the $225 million project to connect Boston and South County communities in 2008.

WPRI-TV Providence


Engineer sues railroads for mesothelioma

Jacob Borntreger filed a Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) suit against Norfolk Southern Ry. and Illinois Central Railroad in Madison County, Ill. Circuit Court Sept. 13, alleging he had extensive exposure to asbestos during his career in Madison County.

Borntreger, a fireman and engineer for Norfolk from 1957-1986, claims he was exposed to and inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed asbestos and other chemicals which caused him to develop mesothelioma, according to Illinois legal journal The Madison-St. Clair Record’s Tuesday edition.

According to the complaint, Borntreger was employed with Illinois Central Railroad from 1950-1955.

He was diagnosed with his fatal disease on Dec. 9, 2005, the suit claims.

Borntreger claims the railroad companies failed to provide safe working conditions, failed to provide safe and adequate tools, failed to warn of the dangers of the asbestos and other chemicals and failed to comply with OSHA regulations.

According to the complaint, Borntreger has become obligated for medical expenses, suffered pain and has been impaired in his normal pursuits of life.

Amtrak okays a new Pennsylvania station

Plans for a long-delayed train station a Pennsylvania airport have picked up.

Amtrak has approved agreements giving Harrisburg International Airport HIA) clearance to seek more money to build a station. That approval was a crucial hurdle for the project to move forward, the Harrisburg Patriot News reported yesterday.

Two years ago, the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority approved and sent to Amtrak seven agreements needed for the station.

On Monday, authority board chairman John Ward told a state transportation panel that he expected to receive approval this week, and Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell confirmed Tuesday that Amtrak is ready to move forward.

The cost has gone up by $4 million since 2004 because of higher prices for steel and other construction materials, Ward said. The airport couldn’t pursue money until Amtrak committed to the project, he said.

The airport has about half the $16.5 million cost now estimated, Ward said. The money includes $2 million from HIA and $4.5 million to be transferred to the station from Corridor One, the region’s proposed commuter rail system. Ward also is the president of the Modern Transit Partnership, the organization created to promote the commuter rail project. The airport hopes to tap government sources for the remaining money, Ward said.

“The commonwealth has developed some funding streams that weren’t available two years ago,” Ward said.

For example, Pennsylvania DOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the state has earmarked $8.7 million for the station, including $2.2 million from the federal government.

Amtrak is not providing money, Connell said.

The station would increase passenger use of the airport, especially by business travelers who would find it more convenient to take the train than a car to HIA, Ward said.

Business travelers are 70 percent of HIA passengers, Ward said. He added that he believes the station can lure more business travelers who now fly out of Philadelphia or Baltimore and Washington.

Ward said he hopes the station can be built by mid-2009, but that timetable is partly dependent on Amtrak.

“My biggest concern is how quick Amtrak will move on reviewing drawings and how we fit into their queue of getting things done,” he said.

Amtrak wants to close its station in Middletown when the new station opens, Connell said.