Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rail Summit Feedback on National Train Day

Today is Amtrak's National Train Day. Al Roker is the official spokesperson, so the Today show was airing clips of Al reporting from a rail concourse somewhere.

Yesterday was the Rail Summit in Worcester. The Telegram & Gazette noted that Lt. Governor Tim Murray said that CSX is "indifferent" to public needs. Here's the article from today's T&G:

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said yesterday that railroad company CSX Corp. is blocking the expansion of commuter rail service to the city, and he reproached CSX for neglecting the public interest.

At a railroad summit at the DCU Center, Mr. Murray used harsh terms to
describe the current stalemate between CSX and the state. The policies CSX is
proposing, he said, are “absurd.”

“Despite CSX’s apparent indifference to the public interest, we are not
dissuaded in our effort to expand rail to Worcester and other parts of the
state,” he told a packed conference room, including CSX representatives sitting
in the front row.

The expansion of commuter rail service to Worcester has been discussed
for years, but has not moved beyond talks, largely because of a dispute over
liability. CSX, which owns the track from Framingham to Worcester, insists on
maintaining the existing no-fault liability policy if the state purchases the

The 22.8-mile section from Framingham to Worcester is one of the few
pieces of railroad used by passenger trains that is not owned and controlled by
the state. Mr. Murray and other politicians say acquiring the right-of-way on
that track is the best way to expand commuter service and spur economic growth,
but if the state buys the track, liability should be determined by who is at
fault in an accident. Otherwise, politicians say, taxpayers could end up footing
the bill for CSX’s negligence.

“No-fault is a deal breaker,” Mr. Murray, the former Worcester mayor,
said yesterday. He has voiced that point before, but not in such blunt terms
at a well-attended public event. CSX representatives yesterday agreed that
they are not willing to budge on the liability policy but said the relocation of
CSX’s 80-acre rail yard in Allston is the bigger obstacle to expanding commuter
rail service.

Lisa A. Mancini, CSX’s vice president of strategic infrastructure
initiatives, said CSX supports passenger service, but under certain conditions.

Asked about Mr. Murray’s comments, Ms. Mancini said, “I was a little
surprised at the tone.”

She said CSX is trying to avoid a situation such as the aftermath of a recent train accident in Canton that injured more than 100 people, where “everybody’s suing everybody else.” Audience members, including Mayor Konstantina B. Lukes and District 2 City Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, pelted Ms. Mancini with questions about the standoff in negotiations.

Ms. Mancini said CSX is always ready to sit down and negotiate, but a
solution could be a long way off.

“I wasn’t expecting to negotiate this in this public forum today,” she

Mr. Murray and state transportation officials said it’s possible to add
seven passenger trains — four outbound and three inbound — on the
Framingham-Worcester line right now.

“The schedule can accommodate more trains,” said Thomas S. Cahir, deputy secretary for transportation programs at the state’s Executive Office of Transportation, in an interview. “There’s no question in my mind they can do
that now.”

But Ms. Mancini said adding trains to the Worcester line now is not feasible without significant infrastructure improvements. Adding trains would cause problems to existing freight and passenger service, she said.

During her presentation, Ms. Mancini said CSX anticipates increased freight traffic over the next several years and is developing a long-term plan to accommodate that increase. One locomotive can carry the load of roughly 250 tractor-trailers, she said, and trains burn gas much more efficiently than trucks do.

John D. Ray, director of railroad operations for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said the MBTA is focused on expanding commuter service to Worcester.

“Passenger demand on this line is expected to increase more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2010”— and that projection came before gas prices skyrocketed to more than $3.50 a gallon, Mr. Ray said.

Representatives from CSX and the Executive Office of Transportation
began negotiating more than two years ago. Both sides agree some progress has
been made; for example, in February the MBTA rolled out a new schedule that
allows more travel time for commuter trains on the Worcester line.

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, and former Gov. Michael S.
Dukakis also spoke at yesterday’s forum.

“The debate we’re having is not freight rail versus commuter rail,” Mr.
McGovern said. “We want both. We need both to coexist.”

Wow - that's amazing that the passenger growth of the Worcester line was targeted at 50% - a target made before the increase in gas prices.

The Worcester Business Journal also published an article about yesterday's summit, as did The Metro West Daily News.

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