Amtrak will receive $137.2 million in federal funding for two of its West Coast services, the long-distance Coast Starlight and its Pacific Northwest Cascades service. The Coast Starlight, running between Los Angeles and Seattle, will receive $81.1 million; the Cascades, supported in part by the states of Oregon and Washington, will get $56.1 million.
For fiscal year 2008, ended Sept. 30, Cascades service carried 760,323 riders, up 12.8% from the previous fiscal year. Four Cascades trains each way link Seattle with Portland, Ore.; two of those reach further south to originate and terminate in Eugene, Ore. One additional frequency runs between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia; the state of Washington, province of British Columbia, and Amtrak are in discussions to add a second cross-border train.
The venerable Coast Starlight, often one of Amtrak’s better long-distance performers, notched a 2.9% ridership gain to 353,657 riders in FY08.
In a victory for the American Trucking Associations, the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit has ruled that several provisions of California’s clean-truck program, aimed to reduce pollution at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, cannot supersede federal law. The Court of Appeals said the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles had erred by not granting ATA’s request last summer for a preliminary injunction; the Appeals Court remanded the issue back to the District Court “for an appropriate preliminary injunction.”
California has sought to enforce numerous environmental restrictions that are more strict than federal mandates. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the top two busiest ports in the U.S., have worked to reduce air pollution generated by all modes, including rail. The clean-truck portion of the ports program seeks to reduce truck-generated pollution by 80% in a five-year period.
The trucking industry says it supports the ports’ overall goal, but objects to requirements placed by the Port of Los Angeles that harbor trucking companies must replace one-fifth of their owner-operator drivers with employee drivers by year’s end. "That requirement is dead," Curtis Whalen, executive director of the ATA's intermodal conference, said. "We are very pleased with this decision."
The clean-truck program also requires that motor carriers sign concession agreements with the ports that govern many aspects of their operations, but the Court of Appeals said some of the requirements amount to state or local regulation of interstate trucking, regulated by federal law.
Members of Vermont’s Presidents of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, Rutland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Addison County Chamber of Commerce on Monday were set to announce their organizations’ support for extending Amtrak service from Rutland to Burlington. The move comes following Vermont's abandoning plans to discontinue funding support for Amtrak’s Ethan Allen service, linking Rutland, Vt., with Albany, N.Y., and New York City.
The state had weighed discontinuing the state-supported service due to budget constraints. But Robert Ide, the state’s rail director, said ridership on both the Ethan Allen and the Vermonter has increased while fuel expenses have declined, reducing any potential savings resulting from discontinuing the service.
Amtrak data show that Ethan Allen ridership for fiscal year 2008 (ended Sept. 30) was 46,881, up 6.7% from FY07. Ridership on the Vermonter, 72,655 in FY08, was up 14.8% from the previous fiscal year.
Public opposition to the proposed service reduction, including recent public rallies, also appears to have swayed the state's decision. In late February the Vermont Rail Action Network, a citizens group, delivered a petition with 1,335 signatures urging Gov. Jim Douglas to reconsider the proposed service cuts, and in fact extend Amtrak service to Burlington.
The Metropolitan Railway Club of New York has announcedapplications are available for the Richard J. Collins Memorial TuitionScholarship. “Dependents of club members are eligible to apply for this tuitionscholarship if the club member has been in good standing for the last two yearsas of April 1, 2009,” the club said in a statement.
Applications must be submitted with a postmark no later thanMay 1, 2009, addressed to Metropolitan Railway Club of New York, c/o Mr. JohnHyland, 400 West 31st Street, New York, N.Y. 10001. Applicantsselected by the club in June will receive a minimum $500 award, to be availableprior to the fall semester. The club notes that applicants are not eligible to receivethe scholarship in consecutive years.
For more information, contact the club at www.metrailclubny.com/index.html.
Robert A. Nelson, 89, a teacher and transportation authority who pushed for high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and was known as "the father of the Metroliner," has died following complicationsresulting from Alzheimer's disease.
Nelson pursued rail as a high speed option for the Northeast Corridor during the 1960s, despite a recommendation from an MIT study advocating Boston-to-Washington service using jet-propelled trains in vacuum tubes. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson created the Office of High Speed Ground Transportation, which Dr. Nelson headed for four years.
Nelson pushed the Pennsylvania Railroad, owner of the NEC at that time, to cooperate in a demonstration project using lightweight passenger cars manufactured by the Budd Co. Metroliner trains made their debut on the NEC in 1968, and the tube-shaped stainless steel coach outlines were replicated for successor Amtrak’s first railcar order, Amfleet I cars, most of which still are in service today. Amtrak’s current high-speed Acela service eventually supplanted Metroliner service.
After leaving government service in 1969, Nelson worked as a transportation consultant and volunteered his expertise on Northern Virginia transportation issues.
In a first for “The Old Dominion State,” Virginia will provide $25.2 million in state funding to run two round-trip Amtrak trains serving Washington, D.C., over a three-year period. One train would link the nation’s capital with Lynchburg, Va., adding a second frequency over Norfolk Southern right-of-way used by Amtrak's Crescent. A second round trip would add more Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington, over right-of-way owned by CSX Transportation.
Current plans call for Lynchburg service to begin Oct. 1, with the added Richmond trains beginning operations on Dec. 15.
Amtrak’s Board of Directors is expected to approve the move at its next meeting in April. At a meeting March 12 in Washington with members of the Railway Supply Institute, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman noted that Richmond was, in some ways, becoming “the true southern terminus” of the Northeast Corridor.
Virginia will pay Amtrak $17.2 million to operate the tworound-trip trains, while $8 million will be used to rehabilitate cars and locomotives for the new service. Each train will consist of up to eight passenger coaches, a business-class coach, and a café car.
State officials anticipate ridership of 42,000 for the added Richmond frequency, and 51,000 per year on the Lynchburg service. Both trains will depart from their respective Virginia cities bound for Washington during the morning, returning from Washington in the evening, as part of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service reaching as far north as Boston on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
Though Amtrak provides eight trains each way per day between Richmond and Washington, early-morning northbound service from Richmond to Washington is covered only by the Silver Meteor, a long-distance train originating in Florida, departing at 5:09 a.m. when on schedule. The next train northbound departs at 12:37 p.m. The proposed new morning train from Richmond, originating and departing from Staples Mill Station at 7:00 a.m., likely could provide a more punctual alternative for potential "short-distance" Amtrak customers, especially business and day-trip riders traveling to and from Washington.
Virginia is the 14th state to assist Amtrak intercity passenger in some fashion. Amtrak expects the new services to generatesignificance “induced demand”: Virginia will get revenue credit for any ticket purchased for the new services, even if the purchase occurs outside of Virginia from any portion of the NEC.
Amtrak employees will receive 100% of their back pay on May 1, according to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, who informed UTU International President Mike Futhey of the move Thursday. Boardman said the action has the full support of Amtrak’s Board of Directors; the funds come from Amtrak’s appropriations budget.
The current contract covering Amtrak agreement employees provides for a wage-increase and lump sum retroactive payment package totaling $573 million. Amtrak, citing budget constraints, is paying out the sum over a two-year period. Amtrak so far has funded some $428 million of the $573 million contract settlement, leaving the balance of $145 million to be paid May 1.
Amtrak has designated May 1 as "Employee Appreciation Day."
Claude S. Brinegar, an oil industry executive who served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and became a persuasive advocate of federal funding of mass transit, died in Palo Alto, Calif., on March 13.
President Nixon named Brinegar to succeed John A. Volpe as DOT Secretary in December 1972. Volpe, a construction company executive who was known as "the concrete builder" when he came to DOT, surprised his critics when he turned into an ardent backer of mass transit. Brinegar carried on his work and helped Nixon push through the landmark Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973, which allowed the Highway Trust Fund for the first time to be used for public transit.
Brinegar is also remembered for his role in forming Conrail out of several bankrupt Northeast railroads, and for pushing legislation creating a nationwide 55-mph speed limit.