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April 2007

Rail News: MOW

CREATE: Lobbying in the Land of Lincoln


By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

On Feb. 28, a CREATE Express Train carrying dozens of eager lobbyists pulled out of Chicago’s Union Station and began an expected three hour-plus trip to Springfield, Ill. Nearly five hours later, the train arrived.

Signal clearances, primarily in and around Chicago, caused the delay. But the slow ride out of the Windy City had trip organizers buzzing about what the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program can do: relieve Chicago’s rail congestion. And the best way to do that is to obtain state funding to help jump-start the program.

Proposed more than three years ago, CREATE calls for building five rail corridors, grade separating 25 crossings, and building six flyovers and underpasses to eliminate bottlenecks. The first phase, projected to start later this year, involves about 40 percent of 78 proposed projects, including six grade separations, four freight/passenger rail separations, and 21 signal and track upgrades.

But several projects won’t start unless state lawmakers provide the $100 million Illinois pledged for phase one. So, 96 railroad, labor, local government and business officials, and rail industry constituents and engineering consultants descended on Springfield to lobby legislators for a firm funding allocation. CREATE’s public/private partners, including six Class Is, Metra and city of Chicago, organized the two-day event.

Awaiting Illinois’ next capital bill
Under a $330 million, three-year pact reached in fall 2006, the federal government authorized $100 million, the state pledged $100 million, the Class Is agreed to provide a combined $100 million and the city of Chicago committed $30 million for the first phase. But Illinois lawmakers haven’t yet authorized legislation or approved a budget line item.

“The state hasn’t passed a capital bill for a couple of years, and is behind on transit, highway and education spending,” says trip attendee Earl Wacker, director of the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office and superintendent of Chicago coordination for CSX Corp.

At the Capitol, members of 18 lobbying teams met with 74 elected officials (out of 108 scheduled meetings) and left program information for 31 others. Wacker’s team visited three legislators, all of whom were supportive of CREATE, he says.

“But they didn’t know how to find the revenue stream for it,” says Wacker, adding that, without Illinois’ share, the partners will have to slow construction schedules for grade separations and public-benefit projects, such as viaduct improvements.

For suburban cities, any slow down to CREATE will continue a downward economic spiral caused by regional rail congestion, says Crete, Ill., Mayor Mike Einhorn.

“Some Class Is have put restrictions on economic development on certain lines, which is forcing some companies to go outside this area,” says Einhorn, who attended the trip.

The 10 legislators his team visited knew something about CREATE and said it makes sense, says Einhorn.

“We told them the railroads have come with a solution and not a problem they want the state to solve,” he says. “But they didn’t know if the $100 million will be in the next capital bill.”

A few red flags
The five legislators Marcia Jimenez’s team visited also were knowledgeable about and expressed support for CREATE. But several of them mentioned a few concerns, as well, such as whether the public is aware of land acquisitions needed for the program, says Jimenez, the city of Chicago’s CREATE project director.

“They wanted to make sure [we] follow-up on it,” she says.

A newly formed Illinois House Rail Committee might provide funding follow up from the state’s end. The committee held a CREATE hearing March 1 that included testimony from eight program supporters,

including Wacker, Einhorn and Chicago Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Cheri Heramb.

“CREATE will do far more than increase the efficiency of freight- and passenger-rail service throughout the region,” said Heramb at the hearing. “It will improve public safety and air quality.”

Organizers labeled the trip a success and discussed the possibility of a second one. But next time, teams will be made up differently to ensure trip No. 2 is even more successful.

“In talking about the trip during a conference call, we determined there should be at least one person on each team that’s familiar with the elected officials,” says Jimenez.

Eight million reasons to preserve, protect and grow
Boosting rail security, expanding system capacity top Sander’s priority list at New York MTA


By Chuck Bennett

Elliot “Lee” Sander took the helm at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority at a momentous time. The agency is moving ahead with several massive expansion efforts, known in MTA-speak as “mega projects,” that range from adding a new subway line along Second Avenue in New York City to bringing MTA Long Island Rail Road service to Grand Central Terminal to building a new transit hub on Fulton Street a block away from where the World Trade Center stood. Meanwhile, Sander must deal with a billion-dollar budget deficit looming in 2009 and the ever-present terrorism threat.

In January, Sander was appointed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer as MTA’s executive director and chief executive officer, and likely will be named board chairman later this year.

The founding director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, Sander was senior vice president with engineering firm DMJM Harris; he also was former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s transportation commissioner from 1994 to 1996. During the mid-1980s, he was general manager of MTA New York City Transit’s Manhattan bus division.
putting a face on the mta

An intense man with an uncanny memory for figures, Sander aims to put a face on the sprawling bureaucracy that is the MTA. Already, he’s conducted a “listening tour” of MTA properties to hear workers’ gripes and lunched with Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, who called the 2005 TWU strike against MTA.

Sander also recently did what previously was unthinkable: He cancelled weekend trackwork on a subway line after the public complained it would ruin St. Patrick’s Day.

Meanwhile — and to the ire of New York City officials — Sander’s remained steadfast that the $2 billion expansion of the Flushing Line west past Times Square won’t happen until he gets assurances that MTA won’t be held accountable for the inevitable cost overruns. The project, which the city has agreed to finance, is a key plank in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s economic development plan.

Aside from Bloomberg, New York elected officials and transit advocates have praised Sander for being responsive to the public (e.g., the St. Patrick’s Day trackwork decision) and putting MTA’s needs before politics. Of course, his true test will be keeping all the trains running on time for his 8 million daily customers.

Progressive Railroading recently caught up with Sander as he started his third month on the job:

PR: The MTA has 63,000 employees, a $9 billion operating budget and nearly 8 million daily riders — how do you prioritize your day?

What I have tried to do in my first two months is to set a tone — a tone that reflects management involvement on key issues involving our transit properties, a tone that reflects a close relationship with our front-line employees, and a tone that reflects greater customer awareness and sensitivity.

The other priority has been to establish a strong management team. [Sander promoted Bridges & Tunnels President Susan Kupferman to chief operating officer. He also hired former deputy executive director Hilary Ring to serve as director of government affairs, and veteran newsman Ernest Tollerson as director for policy and media relations.]

PR: What, if anything, has surprised you since you’ve taken the reins at MTA?

I guess the one thing that has struck me is how the organization has made progress and that we have made a significant investment in our capital infrastructure. I think in many ways there has been a development and maturation of the management cadre that we put in place in the mid-80s that I was very much involved with on the bus side.

PR: How do you envision your position or role evolving in the years ahead?

The job is multifaceted. There is clearly a public element to the job in terms of interacting with the elected officials, with the senior leaders in labor and the media. … At the same time, there is a bottom-line operation part to the job where it is important for me to ensure that all seven agencies, six of them operational and one of them engineering, are on the right path and providing the best customer service and operational performance they are capable of providing.

PR: You’ve said security is your top priority. How nerve-wracking are your daily intelligence briefings?

I wouldn’t describe [them] as nerve-wracking, but one has to be as focused and thoughtful on areas of security as one can. We need to make progress to get a reasonable amount of federal funding for transit [security], where there has been a huge disparity between funding that has been allocated to the airlines as compared to transit, where I would argue we have as much of an exposure as aviation.

PR: Are there any other transit systems — nationwide or worldwide — you look to for security ideas?

We’ve had extensive conversations with London and Madrid and elsewhere, and benchmarking is going on. And that’s one of the things we are focusing on — to ensure we are engaging in the best practices in taking advantage of the expertise of others. … I have not yet been able to visit any other cities but look forward to [it] — probably not this year, but next year.

PR: With so many expansion projects going on, there may not be enough contractors, leading to higher-than-expected bids. What are you doing to mitigate that?

We created a blue ribbon panel to focus specifically on this issue. … We are looking at a menu of responses, whether it is the contract provisions and whether we can encourage more joint ventures or can increase the number of contracts by perhaps reaching outside New York.

PR: It’s MTA policy to have multiple suppliers of rail cars. Can you explain why that’s important?

Our vendors produce good equipment, but you obviously don’t want to be in a negotiating position where you are only dealing with one vendor. You have to have an element of competition. We are also appreciative that Kawasaki, Alstom and Bombardier each have plants in the state of New York, and that’s very important to us.

PR: In the wake of the 2005 strike that shut down the city’s transit system, what are you doing to heal labor relations?

I think it is important for senior management to demonstrate that we are genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of all our employees, to convey personally a message that we have a strong focus on our people and we want our people to thrive in our organization.

PR: There is an estimated $800 million deficit predicted next year that will rise to $1.8 billion by 2010. What changes will the MTA go through to fill these gaps?

We are now beginning to look at the whole menu of options from the financial perspective. ... And we expect by the middle of July to present how we will deal with our projected deficits in ’08.

PR: Almost each quarter, the MTA announces a new record in ridership levels not seen since the 1950s. How do you maintain this positive growth?

What is critical is that we continue to modernize and expand our system, and that is obviously something I’ve been focused on and will continued to focus on. And I’ll be building on a lot of work that was done before me.

Chuck Bennett covers mass transit for amNewYork in New York City.

New York state of mind
FRA to review state’s rail-line safety after CSXT derailment

A CSX Transportation train derailment that occurred March 12 in Oneida, N.Y., certainly caught residents’ attention after four liquefied petroleum gas-carrying tank cars burst into flames. But the accident involving a 79-car train also drew a response from the state’s U.S. senators and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) officials, who cited the derailment as another reason to examine rail safety in New York.

Following the accident, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed forming a special task force to look into recent derailments.
And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton

(D-N.Y.) sent a letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman that expressed concern about four train accidents that had occurred since December and called for a statewide rail safety investigation.

“We cannot continue to treat these derailments as isolated incidents,” she said.

Under close inspection
On March 19, Boardman heeded that call by announcing the FRA would inspect about 1,300 miles of track statewide to identify rail flaws. A T-16 vehicle will inspect heavily used CSXT tracks between Albany and Buffalo. In addition, the FRA will deploy a T-18 inspection vehicle on other CSXT lines.

The FRA also will inspect western New York rail bridges and assess CSXT’s rail inspection program — beginning in New York state — to create a baseline for evaluating the Class I’s safety procedures, FRA officials said in a prepared statement.

FRA inspectors will analyze the criteria CSXT uses to determine how frequently to inspect track, and how track problems are identified and resolved. Assessment results will help guide evaluations of other roads.

Last month, Boardman announced a CSXT-wide investigation conducted in January found “problems in every area of the company’s safety performance, including track, hazardous materials and on-track equipment.”

“Despite general improvement by CSX, the railroad is still not doing enough to make safety a top priority,” said Boardman.

CSXT will move “promptly and aggressively” to address safety concerns, CSX Corp. Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Ward told Boardman. In New York last month, the Class I began using three ultrasonic track testing cars on all mainlines and visually inspecting track on weekends in addition to twice-weekly inspections.

An article in the February issue (“Vegetation management: Refining the Art”) did not accurately describe CSX Transportation’s vegetation-management strategy. The railroad has employed the approach of following mechanical brush cutting with annual herbicide spraying for many years.


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