The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

James P. RePass - Chairman
Phone:  617-269-5478

MA Office: 59 Gates Street, Boston, MA. 02127
CT Office, 8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT, 06355
RI Office, 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence, RI. 02905

Fax (CT): 860-536-5482

About Our Newsletter

A Statement from the President
An opening to the future

A few years ago, I asked Leo King to consider putting together a new kind of newsletter on rail’s astonishing but largely unheralded progress as a transportation mode over the past few years. This newsletter is for all Americans, not just the rail community: It is for all of us who care about the economic and environmental future of our country. It is also for those of us who are tired of gridlock on the highways and winglock at the airports, and want our country to invest in rail as an alternative.

Because the National Corridors Initiative was fortunate enough to receive a small grant from the Surdna Foundation aimed at broadening its outreach beyond the traditional rail advocacy community, I felt the time had arrived to create a newsletter, which we have named Destination: Freedom, that, while of interest to rail advocates, could also be targeted to those many individuals, groups, organizations, and affiliations who a priori ought to support investment in a renewed rail system for America, but who might not know that rail has become viable once again.

Let’s face it, the general news media, with very few exceptions, wrote off rail decades ago. As I am fond of saying, unless we kill a busload of nuns at a grade crossing, rail never makes the evening news.

Yet all over the country, starting in the Northeast, where an ultramodern high speed rail system has been built, and spreading now to the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast and Midwest, the Southeast, and the Deep South, governors and state legislatures have invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars in regional and intercity passenger rail all without benefit of national news coverage. This renaissance is absolutely the most important transportation development in 50 years, and yet to read the newspapers or watch the news, you would think that highways and airports were the only option.

It will be the job of this newsletter to make sure everyone knows that the world has changed, and for the better. It will also be our job to let people in one part of the country, working on rail, know what others are doing elsewhere, and vice versa. Indeed, through our past conferences, and we will do it again in Washington, DC, when our next conference will take place. Be sure to attend.

Welcome to NCI’s newsletter, and feel free to e-mail us with your comments and suggestions. The world is changing and it is moving in our direction. Let’s roll up our sleeves and finish the job.

Jim RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

Some things we need to do
By Leo King
Past Newsletter Editor

When NCI President Jim RePass asked me a few years ago if I would be interested in writing and editing a newsletter for the National Corridors Initiative, I was both surprised and elated that he did. I have been a writer for more than thirty years, and most of that was dealing with railroad topics. I’m also a retired railroad employee, but not management. More about that later.

By way of some background for you, I wrote feature articles for the former RailNews and Passenger Train Journal magazines, was a contributor to a book, Smooth the Road (Pentrex: 1998). I also wrote a monthly column for three years on Amtrak doings for RailNews, but I remained a freelance writer writing about trains. I met Jim in Newport, R.I. in August 1996 during NCI’s Reinventing the Land Grant conference, the first national gathering of America’s nascent “corridors movement.”

Reaching w-a-y back, I was a cub reporter at the Newport News, Va., Daily Press, a copy editor at the Anchorage, Alaska Daily Times, and a newspaper editor for Elmendorf Air Force Base’s Sourdough Sentinel while I wore a blue suit. I also spent 13 months in Pleiku, Viet Nam, when I wore a green suit.

I earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from Rhode Island college some decades ago after military service, and I have always enjoyed writing.

Writing about trains, railroads, locomotives and the people who make the trains go has always been a passion. I hope to convey that enthusiasm as our NCI Newsletter, which we have named Destination: Freedom, develops and grows, but I also recognize that if we are to have a viable national passenger rail system, we, in the rail community must reach beyond out usual range and enlist the help of a broad spectrum of the American people.

While NCI is a private, non-profit outfit, it has been and will continue to be operated like a business. It has been successful so far. We must continue to be practical because we deal with business people, environmentalists, academics and governmental people. We must become a broad-based national advocacy group.

In our first issue, we presented an interview with David Carol, Amtrak’s vice-president for high-speed rail service, who is taking the corridor-based approach to passenger rail development that NCI has long advocated. In the interview, he explains what he sees as the future for faster and faster trains, trains on corridors, and the old story about “city pairs, city pairs, city pairs,” as Jim put it some time ago for me.

Other reporters, thinkers and writers will be contributing from time to time.

As President RePass wrote in NCI’s mission statement several years ago, “The National Corridors Initiative exists to further the rapid development of practical, attainable High-Speed Rail transportation.”

It is Destination: Freedom’s goal to not only let you know what NCI is doing, but regional high speed rail organizations as well. We will be conducting interviews in the months ahead with many NCI members and friends who are movers and shakers in the industry some of whom are friends, and others who are not so positively disposed. We will “scour the earth” looking for ideas ranging from financing to how the tracks are laid to the secrets of successful coalition building.

As Jim pointed out to me, “The newsletter’s main purpose is to inform all the corridor developers and their allies around the country of the latest activity triumph, success or failure in each.”

“We also want to write for readers who may be willing to help us out based on the economic development, social and environmental benefits of investment in passenger (and freight) rail capacity and systems.”

These are exciting times not only for Amtrak, but also for high-speed railroading and the notion that there is merit in planning rail transportation from one city to another via corridors. Acela service is expected to begin during the first half of this year and will whisk people from Boston to New York City and Washington in far less time than it takes now, at speeds up to 150 miles an hour. Not bad, but we have a great deal of catching up to do, when compared to our Japanese and European counterparts.

Consider where the developing corridors are emerging: Washington to Richmond, which is a natural extension of the Northeast Corridor. A problem there, however, is that the passenger trains will be operating on CSX freight train tracks south of the District of Columbia. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about laying down new, dedicated passenger train tracks and working with the freight railroads, and the Congress, from Day One, to achieve that objective.

Chicago and its myriad of corridors radiating out to Detroit; Indiana and Ohio cities; yet another developing corridor is to St. Louis and beyond; and northward beyond Milwaukee, just for starters.

North Carolina is building corridors between its cities. Another place ripe for city pairing is Atlanta to cities throughout the Southland, and Georgia’s governor and legislature have created a super-agency that will help advance that effort, and deeper in this first report we offer some details on that corridor.

You have heard a lot of this before. Consider, also, the great strides in the Pacific Northwest, and the California corridors.

The U.S. DOT’s high-speed locomotive is already in the fabrication stage at Bombardier’s upstate New York plant, and its carbody was recently painted. It looks remarkably like an Acela trainset, only it is not an electric engine. It is a 5,000 horsepower gas-turbine machine capable of traveling up to 150 mph, and is intended to be used where it would be impractical to string catenary. We offer an update in this report.

We also want feedback. If you think we’re missing the train somewhere, let us know. If you come across a news story that you think will benefit or enlighten the membership, let us know. NCI has for a decade fought this fight, and we are going to win, but we need your help.

You can contact our webmaster at where he will be reading your feedback in his home office.

Prior to retirement, I was running trains for Amtrak. I was the second shift train director at South Bay tower in Boston, keeping the trains moving to and fro along the Dorchester branch, and in and out of Southampton Street Yard.

So, there you have it. Railroading and writing are in my blood, and it has been ever since my parents took me trackside in Philadelphia to watch the Pennsy’s mighty steam engines and those incredible GG-1 electrics in the 1940s. My dad was a typographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. But that was then, and this is now.

Now it is time to run fast trains. We have a lot of catching up to do. Other lands have left us in their dust. They learned how to move remarkably fast trains. We must compete successfully with the highway lobby. Trains move people. Perhaps the day will come when new tracks with dedicated passenger-trains-only will rule the day, and when freight trains will have the kind of independent, high-quality right-of-way we have built for cars and trucks over the decades. But if there is a track ahead for passenger and freight rail, it will be because you and I and NCI will get it built.

15 December 1999

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