Hotline #266 - October 25, 2002

Al Qaeda has threatened U.S. passenger trains, according to an October 24 Reuters story. It began, "The FBI sent out a national alert warning law enforcement officials that it believes al Qaeda may be planning another attack on the United States, possibly targeting the railway sector, the bureau said on [October 23]. The FBI distributed the warning across the country on [October 22], citing information from recent debriefings of detained al Qaeda members. It said the group has considered directly targeting U.S. passenger trains, possibly using operatives who have a Western appearance."

A New York Times story said the government has only issued six other warnings similar to this one (in degree of specificity). "Officials said the decision was made to issue this one ... because they hoped that railroad workers and travelers would look out for suspicious people or activities." The story quotes this from an FBI statement: "Additional information suggests operatives may try a variety of other attack strategies, such as destroying key rail bridges and sections of track to cause derailments, or targeting hazardous material containers. Recently captured Al Qaeda photographs of U.S. railroad engines, cars and crossings heightens the intelligence community's concern of this threat." Amtrak has a new message about security on its web site.

The Times also reported, "Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said the administration wanted to urge Americans to 'continue to ride our nation's rails.'"

Short-distance air travel is down 22%, according to an October 21 Associated Press story. "The number of people flying commercially between 200 miles and 400 miles dropped 22 percent in the year after the [2001 terror] attacks, according to a survey by D. K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd. in Falls Church, Va. 'It's just easier to get into your car and go,' said chief executive Doug Shifflet, whose agency surveys 45,000 households each month to assess their travel patterns." AAA reported the number of Trip-Tiks it prepared rose by almost one-quarter during the first half of the year. AP also interviewed some Amtrak passengers, including one who prefers to take the train all the way from Boston to Washington.

Congressional candidates are home, so be sure to take every opportunity to remind them of the importance of developing a modern national passenger rail system and specifically of providing $1.2 billion for Amtrak in fiscal 2003.

A high-speed test in Illinois on October 31 will have an Amtrak train run at 110 mph on the Chicago-St. Louis line between Normal and Ballard siding, just north of Lexington, Ill. This will test a completed section of the positive train control system. The train is expected to reach 110 mph for five or six miles of the 16-mile run.

Virtually all track and grade-crossing protection improvements necessary for 110-mph running on the Union Pacific-owned line between Springfield and Dwight (about 112 miles) have been completed, according to an Illinois DOT official. The PTC system, being built by Lockheed-Martin, now is expected to be ready next summer, when Illinois DOT can seek Federal Railroad Administration approval before beginning regular operation at 110 mph. Illinois DOT expects this would cut Chicago-St. Louis running times from 5:30 hours to 4:45 hours; Chicago-Springfield benefits would be proportionally greater and completion of a modern, intermodal terminal at St. Louis also would help boost ridership there.

Amtrak timetable changes take place Sunday, October 27 (end of Daylight Time) and Monday, October 28. The Northeast Corridor changes on Monday, everything else on Sunday. That includes a dramatically different westbound Lake Shore Limited schedule that will be about four hours earlier -- 12:45 pm from New York, with a 7:00 am Chicago arrival. The southbound Vermonter will run 1:30 hours earlier, leaving St. Albans at 6:55 am.

Amtrak has accepted delivery of its 19th Acela Express train and expects the 20th (and final) one soon. Amtrak and Bombardier have agreed on a schedule in which trains will be rotated out of duty for repairs and necessary equipment modifications, although agreement has not yet been reached on a "permanent fix." Amtrak will increase service in the timetable effective October 27 by reducing layover times. The new weekday schedule will include an 8:20 am from Boston, running non-stop between Providence and New York. The 7:30 am slot from Washington will be occupied by train 56 temporarily, running on an expedited schedule without mail. Similarly, the 8:10 pm train from Washington will be Acela Regional 138.

Part of the Southern Tier (ex-Erie) freight line in New York State will reopen, according to an announcement from Gov. George E. Pataki (R.). A 66-mile segment (Olean-Hornell) will reopen, and there will be $2 million for additional track work on the line. The rail funding, which will provide for additional track improvements such as improved rail ties to improve safety and speed, adds to the $4.1 million the state has already invested in initial track and grade crossing improvements (for a total of $6.1 million). The line was closed by Conrail in 1991. The Southern Tier West Railroad Authority, made up of representatives from Chautauqua, Allegany, Steuben, and Cattaraugus counties, negotiated an agreement with the current track owner, Norfolk Southern, and a new operator, the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad, to reopen the segment.