WASHINGTON ASSOCIATION OF RAIL PASSENGERS
Board of Directors Meeting Minutes
August 11, 2001
Meeting Place: Jim Hamre’s House, Puyallup
OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS PRESENT: Stuart Adams, Jim Hamre, Robert Lawrence, Hans Mueller, Paul Scott, Rocky Shay, Dr. Ron Sheck, Eleanor Stewart, Tony Trifiletti, Warren Yee
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Lloyd Flem
OTHERS: Anne Davis, Susan Sauer, Carolyn Hamre, Jo Donaldson, Kurt Layman, Erik Griswold, Lois Adams, Mary Mueller, Joe Gates, Marilyn Sheck, Mark Lawrence, Zack Willhoite, Dennie Chelemedos, Ray Allred, Jim Jackson, John Stewart, Darlene Flem.
SPECIAL GUEST: Washington Transportation Secretary Doug McDonald
The meeting was preceded by the annual WashARP picnic lunch, featuring famous Hamreburgers and more!
President Trifiletti called the meeting to order at 1:32pm.
Secretary Rocky Shay called the roll of the board, with ten members present.
Mr. Mueller moved to approve the minutes of the July 15th meeting. Seconded by Mr. Lawrence. Mr. Trifiletti called for the question. The minutes were unanimously approved.
Mr. Trifiletti expressed a desire to thank Erik Griswold for his nearly three years in charge of the Commuter Rail Section. Mr. Shay crafted a brief resolution thanking Mr. Griswold and wishing him well in California. Mr. Trifiletti praised and seconded it. The board approved the resolution unanimously.
TREASURER’S REPORT: Mr. Mueller reported current financial status. He characterized dues and expenses as steady.
TRANSIT COMMITTEE REPORT: Mr. Griswold praised Jim Cusick for a recent letter he wrote to powers that be on the 405 Corridor. He also thanked the board for its resolution and going-away poster. He said Paul Allen’s "Opus" is buying land West of the Tukwila station, apparently seeing a future there. He said David Beal is the heir apparent to Paul Price at Sounder. Also, there will be extra Sounder trains to the Puyallup fair. He said there are now severe environmental and other hoops on ALL transportation projects now, but that should help trains, especially on existing tracks. Mr. Mueller wondered who’s checking overruns on the third runway. He reminded that there’s an anti-runway citizens group we should be in touch with. He said there are at least 50 commuter flights a day to Portland now and 15 just to Bellingham. Mr. Griswold said he’d be in touch with them. Mr. Griswold got a round of applause for his service. Mr. Hamre noted cost escalations on 405. Mr. Griswold said they can’t build anything but toll roads in Los Angeles now.
PUBLICITY COMMITTEE: Chairman Dr. Ron Sheck reported things moving well on the rail summit conference. WashARP’ers are welcome. Mr. Slakey from WashDOT is going, Mr. Krebs in Oregon might. There will be assorted Californians as well. Coordinate with Dr. Sheck if you want to go. Some rail experts will be at the Colorado meeting at the same time. Paul Price will not attend. Sound Transit & Coaster might, along with TRAC. We’re trying to get BC people and AORTA there, too. Dr. Sheck said hotel and transportation information is available for San Carlos. Caltrain serves it every half hour. Mr. Trifiletti asked for address information.
Dr. Sheck will ask members of Congress to support HSIA.
Dr. Sheck also said the Portland Streetcar opening drew tens of thousands and buses had to be called to help. The five Czech-built cars are classy. He said President Bush’s new Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer Dern was there. Czech food and beer were available on part of the route.
Mr. Trifiletti asked former Oregon Governor and Senator Mark Hatfield’s age. Dr. Sheck said early 70’s.
Dr. Sheck concluded with a reminder to get in touch with him if you want to go to RailVolution.
MEMBERSHIP AND MARKETING COMMITTEE: Chairman Robert Lawrence said we got 15 new members from the NARP letter. We’re at 509 now. Mr. Hamre said he hopes for more response.
The next meeting is at Bob’s Burgers and Brew at Fairhaven. WashARP members John Carlin, Dennie Chelemedos, and Roger Mumm went to the first Talgo Bike Event.
Mr. Trifiletti asked about the Fairhaven meeting time. It will be noon.
Mr. Lawrence noted the death of member John Zubella.
Mr. Trifiletti asked about a guest speaker for the Fairhaven meeting. Mr. Flem said Doug Erickson and Mary Margaret Haugen are possible. He is trying to get someone like Gordon Price from BC or the Mayor of White Rock. Mr. Trifiletti praised Mr. Price as a great speaker.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S REPORT: Lloyd Flem said there were no good micros left in the cooler, which also served as today’s rostrum. He noted his recent column…said the Amtrak situation may not be as bleak as we thought. There are too many rising expectations.
Locally, a lot of state and federal investment didn’t happen, but the state budget keeps the status quo and adds some capital. We’re better off than 42 other states.
Mr. Flem met with Senator Don Carlson. He’ll be at the November meeting along with fellow lawmaker Val Ogden. Congressman Brian Baird is possible. In the recent transportation improvement plan vote, 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans in political trouble in the Senate were allowed to be "no" votes. Senators McDonald, Finkbiner and Horn are not pro-rail and do not question costs of single-car transportation. There was no word about cost overruns on the third runway and on 405. But the three Senators still put together a good package that was good on rail. The Mobility Caucus and Choices people wanted more transportation options. They put in a substitute bill which took rail capital and transit money for transit operations. Mr. Flem told Senators that money should not come from the rail program. Everything died two days later, but rail is favored by rural Democrats and Republicans more than is transit. They’re not enthusiastic about operating funds. Some Puget Sounders don’t realize the need for rural support.
Mr. Griswold asked about funding distribution between urban and rural needs. Mr. Flem said Doug Erickson wants money to build. Rural democrats weren’t in the caucus.
Mr. Flem said that if HSIA passes, if gives us another shot in Olympia. He said some legislators wondered if it had already passed. It would give us a big wedge for capital (see Mr.Flem’s newsletter column for details).
Mr. Flem said there may be GOP casualties from the House opposition to the Transportation Improvement package. There could have been an opposing initiative, but it would have been tough to overthrow the package. As traffic gets worse, our chances get better. Mr. Flem criticized Senator Zarelli of Longview for strong opposition to rail, even King Street Station money. He said none of what’s happened is the end of the world. Also, Washington Fruit Express is in the transportation budget.
Mr. Flem met recently with WashDOT’s Ken Uznanski, who had just met with US Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who knew little about intercity rail and confused it with urban rail. Mineta is also not confident about long-distance trains. He is strong on corridors and wanted to know what ours has done…and whether it could help with air congestion. Mineta was pleased that Talgos are starting to attract business people. Mr. Flem said even conservative columnist George Will admitted recently that high-speed rail may be a good idea. Mr. Flem said HSIA is still being negotiated, but the House version is better on state support. The Senate bill’s caps prevent anyone from hogging the money. Prospects look good.
Mr. Flem said there was a hearing on high-speed rail the day of the Mineta meeting. There was strong support, especially in the South, with lots of Republicans on board.
Mr. Flem said Washington Fruit Express is ready to go with pears, but hung up within Amtrak. Express Trak, BNSF and all other parties are ready to go. Senator Murray is ready to see that Amtrak goes along.
Mr. Flem said the Jeffords defection is wonderful for rail, but rail is not Senator Murray’s favorite issue.
Mr. Flem said State Senator Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee wrote to Senator John McCain, as promised. She and her husband have helped with McCain’s campaigns. Mr. Flem read an excerpt from Senator Parlette’s letter saying rail must be included with air and highways. She noted that they are neighbors of a former POW and appreciate McCain and his extraordinary service to the nation. She also said that Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn is a co-sponsor of HSIA and that all industrialized countries do passenger and freight rail. She said Wenatchee doesn’t benefit from the boom in Seattle, but wants trains. She told McCain that long-distance trains need more revenue, and produce will help. She admitted it probably won’t change McCain, but it’s worth a try. She mailed the letter on the day of the legislative meltdown.
Mr. Flem said there is a rail renaissance everywhere in the world. Some is privatized, but rail is not being abandoned to the whims of the stock market. There are franchises for management. There’s still government investment. The government monopoly is the concessionaire for over 90 per cent of trains in Germany. In the US, the Feds would make capital investments…anybody could run trains. He urges that we tell people.
Mr. Hamre added that Amtrak trains operate on private railroads. For Amtrak, there’s an increase of support for some kind of rail, mostly corridors to help air congestion.
Mr. Flem called I-5 a linear root canal job. But he said Amtrak is in trouble and it’s too early to tell the outcome. Still, there’s more support for passenger rail than ever before.
President Trifiletti tried to break the meeting for desert at 2:22pm, but coffee was not ready. So Mr. Hamre mentioned that all the members of Congress at a recent meeting supported rail. The General Accounting Office said too much money is needed, though. The North Carolina DOT said incremental building, the way the Interstate Highway System was done, will solve that.
Mr. Allred then said the state is still waiting for Amtrak to give the OK on Washington Fruit Express…and that everything is together. Mr. Hamre asked what WashARP might do. Mr. Flem said we must work with Senator Murray.
Dr. Sheck asked about King Street Station restoration money. Mr. Allred said the state is still negotiating with BNSF and here are hang-ups…but money is still there and it looks good. Mr. Lawrence said BNSF negotiated slowly in California. There followed similar jokes about SP.
President Trifiletti broke the meeting for dessert at 2:26pm, and reconvened it at 2:41pm.
Mr. Trifiletti said Amtrak is burning through its cash, like the Dot Gones. The Penn Station mortgage is worrisome and a PR disaster. The National Review calls for pulling the plug. Some members of Congress agree. Al Swift reportedly feels Amtrak is dead, but not its functions. HSIA is key. Swift said the language allowing other recipients besides Amtrak is best because Amtrak probably won’t use the money wisely.
RUMORS…Builder is going tri-weekly, dining cars going first-class only, no parlor cars n Coast Starlight. Mr. Griswold credited with rumor about Davis being pulled as a Coast Starlight stop. All unconfirmed except the Davis rumor.
Mr. Trifiletti said he and WashARP Chairman Chuck Mott have believed for two years now that Amtrak would be going away. He said both have taken heat from other advocates, especially at the last two rail summits. As for our corridor, the state DOT has contingency plans "several layers deep".
Mr. Trifiletti said he’s heard some interesting ideas, such as former FRA Chief Gil Carmichael’s plan for a combo Superliner for package cargo on the lower level and passengers on the top. Fed-Ex could even run the train. Mr. Thorpe is working on a poster, but air freight company revenue is down drastically.
President Trifiletti opened the floor, or in this case lawn, for discussion.
Dr. Sheck says it will be agonizing, but Amtrak will survive. The idea for a national system has bi-partisan support and don’t forget the reauthorization of TEA 21 in 2003. He said there IS time to get rail and transit into it. The US Conference of Mayors and county governments are involved. They want to get transit above 36 billion dollars, well above six billion now. There is some talk about 10-12 billion. Congress may be more receptive. Expect HSIA, plus a much higher transit authorization. Dr. Sheck said Europe and China are starting to embarrass us on transportation infrastructure and rail.
Dr. Sheck said that locally, there is unhappiness with Sound Transit and, as Mr. Hamre said, people are trying to steal its money. But we need to support concepts and distance ourselves from managements.
As for Amtrak, Dr. Sheck said it is still operations, not service oriented, as in the Davis decision. He thinks the long-distance network will continue, with parts developed as corridors. There are now 35-40 million people on the Empire Corridor West of Buffalo. Amtrak talks of things like overnight service between Chicago and Kansas City. We must tell Congress we support this. Dr. Sheck says he worries about Amtrak short-term because of its management, but is optimistic about the long-term.
Mr. Hamre said Amtrak should have seen this year’s problem coming and is a media embarrassment. He said it’s hard to separate rumors from brainstorming. Leaks are a problem
Mr. Trifiletti said Amtrak may make more mistakes. Mr. Hamre said the Pioneer tri-weekly rumors were true, but Amtrak lied to NARP about them. But revenues from Washington Fruit Express should make the Empire Builder profitable. He asked Mr. Allred how to get Amtrak off the dime on WFE. Answer…let the state work on it now. Mr. Hamre noted that Amtrak says it wants high-value cargo. And switching is not a problem.
Mr. Trifiletti said Amtrak doesn’t understand that all money is green.
Mr. Lawrence discussed the tri-weekly Empire Builder rumor with Mr. Allred, who said WFE could be done tri-weekly. He mentioned that for now they’re starting with two cars per train, and that should build confidence.
Mr. Willhoite aside for clarification of the tri-weekly EB plan. Mr. Flem said tri-weekly schemes have never worked.
Mr. Trifiletti checked the drink supply in the cooler and summarized Dr. Sheck’s position.
After taking a phone call, Mr. Hamre announced that Washington Transportation Secretary Doug McDonald was on the way.
Mr. Griswold said he doubts that Amtrak and its functions can be separated. He said the world was different when Amtrak was created. Mr. Trifiletti joked about FREDS. Mr. Griswold says Talgos have brought progress with labor, but Germany shows much more is possible. He noted that Braniff and Eastern Airlines are gone because they didn’t adjust. He wondered how we can handle the fact that Amtrak is bloated, and said other transportation companies, like airlines, have made the necessary cuts.
Dr. Sheck pointed out VIA’s successful elimination of conductors. He repeated that Amtrak must stay and be national. He said Congress won’t come up with anything different. He thinks Amtrak will change management, as private companies do. Mr. Trifiletti said the Shelby Express story showed this. He said Mr. Flem, at the time, referred to "expensively dressed managers".
Dr. Sheck said freight rail has adjusted its labor over 30 years, while Amtrak has done little. Mr. Hamre pointed out longer operating districts and elimination of some assistant conductors at Amtrak. Mr. Griswold noted the rail retirement system and said a tri-weekly Empire Builder would safe nothing on staff, only on car-mile fees. Mr. Hamre said tri-weekly’s been tried over and over and doesn’t work. Amtrak President George Warrington says he knows this.
Mr. Hamre also noted that Mr. Warrington promises to fix Superliners and Viewliners soon.
Dr. Sheck then praised Warrington for cost controls like contracting food service. Mr. Hamre pointed out that trains in Europe have good food on two-person diners.
Mr Trifiletti pointed out that the whole operation could be farmed out except the engine crew. Mr. Hamre said we must convince workers they’ll get more jobs if they allow this. He praised Tom Downs for trying to fix the labor situation, only to be overruled by the Amtrak board. Mr. Griswold noted that airlines are retiring three-person planes first.
Mr. Flem asked for Secretary Shay’s comments. Mr. Shay said he doubts Amtrak’s shortcomings can be fixed. He said corridors are probably OK, but that long-distance trains are unfortunately pretty much out of people’s minds now.
Mr. Trifiletti said planes beat trains and flying is getting cheaper, except maybe not as safe. He agreed with Mr. Shay that long-distance trains are out of mind. He wonders what the market is. Some want it almost as charity. The proper argument is that long-distance trains serve areas not served by air.
Mr. Griswold said Essential Air Service costs as much as Amtrak . On corridors, Mr. Trifiletti mentioned frequency requirements. Mr. Griswold said consider that there’s only one highway up and down the West coast, but more in the East. So we should insist on either more highways or more trains to make up the difference.
Dr. Sheck said the cruise concept is good…cruise ship use is up five THOUSAND per cent in 15 years. The Canadian has a good long-distance leisure market, plus a captive general transportation market in some places.
Mr. Griswold asked Dr. Sheck about sleeping car availability, but was interrupted by the arrival at 3:25pm of Washington Transportation Secretary Doug McDonald. After Introductions all around, Secretary McDonald took a pop and apple crisp as shade was arranged for the cooler-rostrum. Then Secretary McDonald sat next to Secretary Shay, prompting jokes about "two secretaries", and the meeting entered an informal discussion phase for a few moments.
A short time later, Secretary McDonald began his remarks. He spoke of a relative who flew from Boston and took the train back recently. He said the relative loved King Street Station.
Secretary Mc Donald said the East-West passenger rail study suggested 315 million dollars for passenger service over Stampede Pass. He also said House Co-Speaker Clyde Ballard wants to keep the Empire builder in Wenatchee. He said the feeling is that BNSF wants it re-routed, but state money is not available to help. Mr. McDonald said he has suggested that the Empire Builder reroute not be rushed and that the legislature not be asked for money right now. He said this must not divert attention from the Cascades service.
Several asked Mr. Shay for his opinion. He said the reroute should be pursued because the 1981 reroute through Wenatchee was a mistake which was done against the numbers, apparently on the same operational obsession that we had just complained about regarding the Coast Starlight Davis decision.
On the Amtrak Cascades, Secretary McDonald said that there’s a problem…the more passengers, the more money we lose, as it stands now. He said more frequencies are needed, but legislative gridlock is a big problem. Also, ridership is flat. Also, some Talgos were out for retrofit in June and July. Mr. Flem mentioned weekend fill-ups.
Secretary McDonald said his predecessor, Sid Morrison, is seeking a seat on the Amtrak board. This would be a big win for us.
On Sound Transit Light Rail, Secretary McDonald said Link in Tacoma is doing fine, Spokane is enthusiastic. Seattle is the only problem, and the Sound Transit board situation is not good. There are too many games going on, but the Secretary hopes to help them get on track. He says they must quit changing the plan and start SOMETHING. He supports going South. He says the argument is now over ending the system at Convention Place. He thinks the Royal Brougham proposal may be an effort to kill light rail altogether. He urged WashARP to watch that closely.
Mr. McDonald says Sound Transit has made many mistakes, but that new director Joni Earl is doing a good job.
Dr. Sheck noted ridership projections are higher on the South end anyway. Secretary McDonald said the Capitol Hill Tunnel is not a good idea, but he likes the Eastlake routing. Nothing is in place for anything else. The numbers on Eastlake are uncertain, but growth on that alignment has surpassed models. Eastlake could be viable if it matches Capitol Hill. There may be a need for a 5th Avenue tunnel, which needn’t be that costly.
Dr.Sheck asked if the Secretary has looked at a collaborative approach on a Talgo project with BSNF, UP, communities, Amtrak and Sound Transit? The Secretary said he’s not seen anything. He says the DOT is working on a lot of projects. He says he wants to concentrate on current things rather than far-out projections of ridership…things like poor on-time performance in Oregon. Mr. McDonald said he is trying to set up performance incentives with BNSF, which is trying to keep the trains on time. He thinks Senator Murray can help with UP and is growing into her new role.
Mr. Flem asked about HSIA and noted we have a state plan ready…and wondered if that might help. Mr. McDonald said matching funds are not in the picture and it looks bad on highway funds, too. He says the story is not told effectively. He said it is frustrating for Senator Murray and will be embarrassing for the legislature if HSIA money is lost. Mr. McDonald isn’t sure yet how capital funds will translate.
Mr. Griswold asked if we can do anything to get more Sounder service, rather than sending surplus Sounder cars to other cities. Secretary McDonald was unsure, but hears that former Senator Gorton and others want the Everett Sounder started. Unfortunately, there are safety concerns about the BNSF tunnel under Seattle. Also more coordination is needed between Sound Transit and the state. Meetings are planned.
Mr. Griswold said Tacoma Rail has been a problem…typical of rail promotes fighting among themselves. Mr. McDonald said Joni Earl wants to capitalize on Sounder success and we must help. Dr. Sheck agreed. Mr. Flem said BNSF and the state have a good partnership.
Secretary McDonald worries that Sound Transit is arrogant, but he doesn’t quite have the full picture yet. He said rail people have a big stake in its success. He said the Sound Transit board is weak, divided and not paying attention. He said the board has the Sound Transit agenda as number two or three. Mr. Trifiletti suggested the old tri-borough model in New York and the legendary Mayor Robert Moses. He also mentioned the book "Power Broker". Mr. McDonald said the book is useful, but the Moses model wouldn’t work today.
Mr. Hamre said he understands that the third Sound Transit train is being held up over a place to park the extra trainset. He noted concern about loss of buses in the tunnel, arguing that more trains would take busses off downtown Seattle streets.
Mr. Flem said Secretary McDonald is on the team on balanced transportation.
Mr. McDonald said a big technical question is coordination of bus and train services. He says public operation (as in Metro) is better than private. He says no one is thinking about this and we must get at it.
Mr. Hamre says BNSF tells Sound Transit it can’t park the third train. Secretary McDonald said there must be a siding someplace.
Responding to a question from Mr. Flem, Secretary McDonald said he is now on the scene but isn’t sure what to do about the funding deadlock. He said lawmakers get sidelined from transportation to small political things and that must change. He said he told one meeting that people don’t complain to WashDOT anymore…the focus is on the legislature. He said the DOT can use this to push positive plans and show it is not a public enemy. He said legislators are tired, discouraged and angry, but have brought it on themselves.
Mr. Hamre mentioned the gas tax. Mr. Allred spoke briefly of the old Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and all it did.
As Secretary McDonald left, President Trifiletti adjourned the meeting at 4:20pm.
Rocky Shay, Secretary
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