Friday, April 4, 2008

Higher Gas Prices Mean More T Riders and CSX Update

The Boston Globe published an article this morning about the correlation between an increase in users of the MBTA's services and the rise of gas prices in Massachusetts.

The T reported that overall ridership increased from 27 million in February 2007 to nearly 30 million in March 2008. This increase is in line with a national trend - "More Americans rode public transportation last year than at any time in history, according to the American Public Transportation Association, which also cited gas prices as a major factor."

The price of gas in Massachusetts has increased about 50 cents per gallon over the past year.

Ridership is up for all of the T's services except the commuter boats. The commuter boat ridership's decrease is being attributed to the introduction of the Greenbush MBTA/MBCR commuter rail line.

In other news, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported on negotiations between the state and CSX to purchase the railroad tracks between Worcester and Framingam. Since the T&G's articles archive after 14 days, here is the article in its entirity:

CSX told no-fault is a no-go
Rail liability issue

By Priyanka Dayal

While state transportation officials continue negotiations with CSX Corp. to buy the railroad tracks between Worcester and Framingham, the state’s congressional delegation is threatening legislative action if CSX doesn’t accept a liability policy based on fault.

CSX, the company that owns and controls 21,000 miles of railroad across the country, including 22.8 miles that connect Worcester and Framingham, is demanding a liability policy based on property, not fault. State lawmakers and transportation officials say that is unreasonable because it would force the state to pay for accidents caused by CSX negligence.

Every member of Congress representing Massachusetts signed a letter sent Wednesday to CSX President and CEO Michael Ward in Jacksonville, Fla., that says CSX’s conditions “would put taxpayers and fare-payers at undue risk and prevent the MBTA from adequately ensuring safety.”

No-fault liability would unfairly hold taxpayers responsible for CSX’s negligence, according to the letter. The letter adds that if the issue is not resolved soon, lawmakers will consider filing legislation that would regulate freight and commuter rail contracts. CSX wants a no-fault policy, in which the company and the state would be responsible for its own property, regardless of who is at fault in an accident. The state says setting that kind of gross negligence standard is unreasonable and irresponsible.

“Our hope is we can get the CSX folks to work with the state to avoid congressional action,” Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., said in an interview yesterday. “The economic well-being of our community is really dependent on this kind of public rail system.”

CSX is asking to keep liability on the Worcester-Framingham tracks as it is now, with each party responsible for its own property and passengers. To buy the tracks, the state would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars.

“If the state purchases the tracks, of course we have a right to demand the situation changes,” Mr. Kerry said. He said he will wait for CSX’s response before deciding if and when to file legislation that would mandate standards for freight and commuter rail contracts.

In a written statement released yesterday, CSX said the company understands the concerns expressed in the letter from congressmen, and will respond in “a timely manner.”

“A no-fault insurance system… puts the public first by ensuring that payments are made quickly and efficiently when the need arises, rather than having them tied up in litigation as often occurs in at-fault insurance mechanisms,” the statement reads.

“This is an industry standard used with other commuter and passenger rail systems and between and among the freight railroads when they operate on each other’s systems.”

Last night, Mr. Kerry’s office had not received a statement from CSX. CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the statement was released to the media, not to the
congressmen who sent the letter. CSX will send a response to the congressmen later, he said.

In an interview yesterday, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, knocked CSX’s argument that it is simply asking to maintain an industry standard.

“It is bad public policy for the Commonwealth to give no-fault liability to CSX or any other railroad,” Mr. McGovern said.

He pointed to the company’s contracts with Amtrak, which, he said, have forced taxpayers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for liability claims that were caused by CSX negligence.

“CSX is being unreasonable here,” he said. “It’s nuts, it’s crazy to enter into this kind of agreement.”

The letter prodding CSX to rescind its liability clause was the first written message all 12 Massachusetts congressmen have sent to the railroad company. It was signed by Mr. Kerry, Mr. McGovern, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and U.S. Reps. John W. Olver of Amherst, William D. Delahunt of Quincy, Edward J. Markey of Malden, Barney Frank of Newton, John F. Tierney of Salem, Michael E. Capuano ofSomerville, Stephen F. Lynch of Boston, Richard E. Neal of Springfield and Niki Tsongas of Lowell — all Democrats.

The track from Worcester to Framingham is one of the only pieces of railroad used for commuter service that is not under state control. Lawmakers say buying that rail is the only way to increase commuter service between Worcester and Boston, in the long-term, to 20 trains in each direction. CSX’s priority is freight, and freight trains traveling between Worcester and Boston frequently cause delays to existing commuter service.

State lawmakers from Worcester met with CSX officials last month; after the meeting, they all said the dispute over liability has led to stalemate.

The 20.9-mile railroad between Framingham and Boston is owned by the state, and liability on those tracks is based on fault, according to a 1985 agreement between CSX and the state Executive Office of Transportation. In 1994, the year before commuter service to Worcester was launched, state officials agreed to give CSX complete indemnity on the Framingham-Worcester tracks as a trade-off for providing commuter service.

In Florida, transportation officials recently struck a deal to buy tracks from CSX to provide commuter service. Several Florida lawmakers have complained about CSX’s liability conditions, which stipulate that in the case of an accident, each side will be liable for damage to its own property and passengers, regardless of fault.

I'll end with this diddy from BostonNOW about a not-so-great MBTA Green Line trolley ride.

We still haven't seen anything about the March 2008 on-time performance results for the commuter rail lines.


Rick Burnes said...

Wow. That bit from BostonNow is quite a gem.

AJ said...

Figured I would add to your on-going fight against a lack of ticket checking. I was on the P508 train this morning, boarded in Grafton. No one came around to check tickets until half way between Natick and Boston. They didn't check tickets until AFTER the last non-Boston stop! What about the crowd that jumped off in Framingham, or the other smaller groups that exit at West Natick or the other stops? It really does amaze me that a company so far in debt would just let money walk away!

Anonymous said...

On the topic of fare collecting on the commuter rail, what exactly does happen if you don't pay? I've seen numerous times where the person said he left his pass at home or she just had it and had to scramble under the seat looking for it or some other such thing. I've never seen a conductor enforce this on the Worcester line. Perhaps because they don't want to escalate something...?