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On That Very Topic Just days before the FCF report was issued, the general freight industry was urging “a renewed commitment” from government to upgrade “ailing” or eroding surface trans- portation networks. Included among the signers of the statements were railroad CEOs Matthew Rose of BNSF and Charles “Wick” Moorman of Norfolk Southern. Along with other industries such as United

Parcel Service, Dow Chemical, Caterpillar, Arch Coal, and Corning, the rail executives believe an upgrade of surface transportation infrastructure is essential to “maintain our competitiveness and leadership in the global economy.” NS, CSX, and UP sounded a simi- lar theme at a Sun Valley convention of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association.

“Hanging In There” This three-year recession actually finds America’s freight railroads in fairly decent shape, although not without warning signs for the future, especially as it concerns coal, about 35 to 40 per cent of their shipments. Class I rail carriers are reporting freight ship- ments at their highest in nearly three years — since October 2008, the first full month the initial impact of the market crash was felt. Transportation analyst Art Hatfield told Bloomberg “We’re not seeing declines in rail volumes that are synonymous with a re- cession,” and then the required note of caution: “We remain in a slow growth environment.” Couple that with a report that intermodal

traffic on North America’s railroads jumped to its highest weekly volume as of Septem- ber 17. Include the high in intermodal vol- ume as of September 24 and you conclude that no bad news in times such as these amounts to (comparatively) good news. Accompanying that “keep-your-fingers- crossed” information is that, while the freight rail industry saw strong momentum in the first half of 2011 that led to positive market analyses, an apparent decline in coal shipments in the second half of the year could create what industry analysts call a negative “ripple effect.” There were steep de- clines in share prices, notably with CSX, NS, UP and KCS. This was an unpleasant sur- prise to an industry which had counted on its coal business as a major factor in main- taining a healthy pace with domestic as well as international markets.

Then Add This The Panama Canal will be widened in three years, but railroaders are not certain whether the canal will then attract a big shift in Asian cargo to and from East coast ports instead of continued use of West coast ports as a connection for a cross-country trip by rail. Norfolk Southern’s Moorman says he’s agnostic on that question. The NS chairman told the Virginian Pilot his sources don’t foresee a big shift (in canal traffic) to the East Coast. Moorman cites his railroad’s one-year-old Heartland Corridor (about which we have reported) with its faster dou- ble-stack service to the Midwest, as moving NS to an enhanced competitive position vis- a-vis the enlarged canal.

Amtrak —A Familiar Funding Story The House Transportation Appropriations subcommittee has slashed 60 per cent of the Amtrak budget for the coming fiscal year. Though few expect that cut to stand, it cre- ates yet another chapter in the 40-year soap

opera that goes to the core question as to whether passenger train operations should be federally subsidized at all. The anti-Amtrak movement this time is

taking a turn that is specifically aimed at cutting off grassroots support for the trains. The lawmakers would eliminate the use of federal dollars to support any routes that re- ceive funding from the states. The bill would cut Amtrak’s budget from

$562 million this year to $227 million next year. The cuts would cut the $188 million that Amtrak spends for its share of federal- state partnerships in 15 states. Those corridor services constitute a huge

portion of Amtrak’s political support. For ex- ample, as I write, the latest count shows that Amtrak’s San Joaquin Corridor has accom- modated one million riders in Fiscal Year 2011 just completed (Sept.30). This line serves Sacramento-Stockton-Bakersfield. “The success of this corridor is a result of Amtrak’s strong partnership with the state of California, [which would be destroyed by the House bill — W.V.]” commented Emmett Fremaux, Amtrak vice president of marketing and product development, “Working with Caltrans,” he added, “Amtrak has implemented the improvements to the service that have helped boost ridership throughout the region.” Indeed, much the same can be said of all

three California routes where the state part- ners with Amtrak. The other two are: The Capitol Corridor — a San Jose-Oak-

land (San Francisco)-Sacramento schedule (with dedicated connecting bus service to Reno, Nev.) has grown phenomenally since its inception under the “go-get-’em” style of Gene Skoropowski, who knew how to guide a meeting of the minds between Amtrak, the state of California, municipal governments, and Union Pacific in what has got to be a shining example of how passenger, freight, and state/local interests can be brought to- gether through good will, business smarts and people skills. The Pacific Surfliner — the Southern Cal-

ifornia schedule that serves the ultra-busy traffic between San Diego and Los Angeles (second only to the NEC) and as far north as Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Between them, the three corridors have

carried 5.6 million passenger in FY 2011, an increase of 6.1 per cent. Losing this service is almost unimaginable. The first 49 days of the 2012 Fiscal year would temporarily fund Amtrak at well below the outlays below FY2011 and 2010.

The “Big Picture” Here is what we are facing — how we got to this point in America’s passenger train his- tory, and possible avenues available to force the issue (assuming we can agree that 40 years of cat-and-mouse games are enough). Influential figures in Congress and on the

general political stage want to put an end to federally supported passenger trains in the U .S. Some have a cozy relationship with to the rubber tire culture. Most of them came from the “missing generation,” where rail- roads were crumbling, and Interstates were rising. If you’re strictly post World War II, it may never have occurred to you that rail- roads had much of anything to do with trans- portation in modern America. We’ve gone through that background in

this column: Cheap politicians, damning the “traction interests,” taxed the local street car companies to death in the ’20s and ’30s


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