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November 2001 General Meeting Minutes

November 2001 General Meeting Minutes


Meeting Minutes

November 10th, 2001

Meeting Place: The Crossing Restaurant, Vancouver, WA

OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS PRESENT: Stuart Adams, John Carlin, Jim Hamre, Noel Hancock, Robert Lawrence, Hans Mueller, Paul Scott, Rocky Shay, Dr. Ron Sheck, J. Craig Thorpe, Tony Trifiletti, Warren Yee.


OTHERS: Susan Sauer, Darlene Flem, Donald Peterson, Stephanie Weber, George Pollock, Simon Jaworsky, Roger Mumm, Dale Menchhofer, Phil Parker, Mark Lawrence, Ronald Schauer, Patricia Schauer, Steve Spear, Joe Gates, Todd Boulanger, Nancy Fritz, Bob Boltz, Donald Peterson, Glen Eades, Bertha Eades, Zack Willhoite, Jack Fritz, Ray Allred, Ken McFarling, Dan McFarling, Timothy Wilson, Gail Pollock, Art Schmidt, Carolyn Hamre, Gary Deeter, Sharyl Mooney, Samuel Fry, Christopher Mooney

SPECIAL GUESTS: Washington Congressman Brian Baird (D-3rd District), Washington State Representative Val Ogden (D-49th District), Washington Transportation Commissioner Ed Barnes, Mac Sebree, Transit Columnist, Trains Magazine, Mike Ackley of the Montana-Wyoming Association of Railroad Passengers, Louis Musso III, representing the Cle Elum project

The meeting was called to order by President Tony Trifiletti at 2pm.

President Trifiletti welcomed all, noting special guests. He mentioned the Amtrak Reform Council liquidation plan.

SPECIAL GUEST: Mr. Trifiletti introduced Mac Sebree, a WashARP member since his 1993 arrival from Los Angeles. He told of his background with Interurban Press, Passenger Train Journal and Pacific Rail News, and most recently with Trains Magazine. Mr. Sebree said light rail has been successful everywhere it’s been tried, starting with Edmonton in 1977. It does better than subways because it’s cheaper to build. It’s been strong on the West Coast, overcoming cost overruns and mismanagement. LA has more riders than the New York Subway, on a 14-mile system. Mr. Sebree can’t understand why Seattle is having so much trouble…calls it an ungainly mix of politics and bad karma. But Sounder is up and running. LA Metrolink is successful and reviving Los Angeles Union Station, from about six trains a day at Amtrak startup to close to 200 now with more planned.

Mr. Trifiletti asked if Mr. Sebree wrote a book on the LA red cars. Answer…yes.

Mr. Sebree said he started with two books on trolley coaches, then the late Ira Swett left him Interurban Press. He build it into a two million dollar company, took it into the magazine business to ease cash flow problems on books. Mr. Sebree is now retired and living in Vancouver, WA.

Answering a question about low-budget rail options, Mr. Sebree mentioned the Portland and Washington County project. Jim Hamre mentioned Burlington, Vermont. Mr. Sebree called that the best one. Ken McFarling mentioned Vancouver, BC.

Mr. Sebree said Vancouver had to drag CP Rail into the project. He said BNSF is very congested there, and the route is roundabout.

Mr. Sebree said an airport line-highway combination would be very expensive. He concluded his remarks by saying he doesn’t understand why Clark County is so bitterly against light rail. Ken McFarling said Clackamas County, Oregon is the same way (applause).

Mr. Trifiletti reminded everyone to register with Hans Mueller and get a nametag.

SPECIAL GUEST: Executive Director Lloyd Flem introduced 49th District State Representative Val Ogden as both strongly pro-rail and highly respected. In the coming legislative session, she will be Speaker Pro Tem, number two in the House. She is also on the Transportation Committee.

Representative Ogden started by promising movement on transportation with Democratic control of the legislature, but she said the waters are treacherous. She said that last year, the earthquake denied lawmakers their regular facilities. When they did move back in, they had to deal with drought, the spike in energy costs and September 11th, then the Boeing layoffs and delays in airplane orders.

The transportation budget they finally put together had 55 million dollars for rail capital and operating expenses and maintenance of existing service. She noted that gasoline tax cannnot be used for anything but highways and car ferries. The Blue Ribbon Commission suggested new laws to get more revenues for other modes. Most lawmakers were ready to raise gasoline taxes, RV weight fees, and the sales tax on new and used vehicles, the latter not based on Blue Book, as the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was. She admitted lawmakers were wrong to ignore complaints about the Blue Book standard. That, plus an increase in the diesel tax, minus interest, gave 8.5 Billion dollars over ten years. Since freight mobility is a must to keep us from losing more businesses to LA, there was 256 million dollars for freight rail assistance, a short-haul intermodal study and Washington Fruit Express, 142 million for passenger rail capital, 34 million dollars for operations and money for Seattle-Everett track improvements. Representative Ogden said Democrats were ready to take a chance on the package, but House Republicans played political games and killed it. She said the Democrats would pass a transportation bill this time (applause), but it will have less than a nine-cent gasoline tax increase because of the election year. She said we cannot resolve our problems without more money. She said some of this will be referred to the people.

As for the full state budget, it will be redone with Initiative 747 and the recession in mind. She says you’ll hear that the Democrats offered an unrealistic budget last year, but don’t believe it.

Representative Ogden said Initiative 695 is still a problem because the State rescued cities and counties last year. There is no money to do it again. She said 15 per cent cuts are coming in things like health services, but Democrats will try to keep safety nets somehow. Cuts are still possible in state agencies.

She concluded by saying lawmakers need our help on rail, but transportation will be a top priority because of jobs.

SPECIAL GUEST: Mr. Flem introduced Washington Third District Congressman Brian Baird.

Congressman Baird called Mr. Flem outstanding at keeping him informed on rail. But he said rail is slower now than it was 60 years ago, with fewer passenger trains, due to sharing tracks with freight, grade crossings and curves. Also, diesel is slower than straight electric. But eleven high-speed corridors are being studied, including ours, including Vancouver (not Canada!). Studies show most corridors of 100-500 miles can be air-competitive. One issue…small airlines are worried about the impact of new security measures.

Amtrak, meanwhile, says it needs 973 million dollars a year to maintain existing services, plus 584 million to upgrade. Federal appropriations are around 520 million dollars. Amtrak is supposed to raise the rest through revenue. But 1999 highway spending was 117 billion dollars, plus state money.

Congressman Baird said there are four models for getting money for high-speed rail…. (1) Direct appropriations from the general fund, but money is tight, there is direct competition with other projects, and not all states want to pay for corridors…also, the US tends no to look ahead on spending

(2) Trust fund. There’s now 18.4 cents on gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel. One more penny would raise 1.6 billion dollars for rail, but the effort to sell it failed.

(3) Use of existing transit funds for rail, but there are problems there, too.

(4) Issuance of Tax-favored bonds, with tax credits instead of interest. But bonds would mature as more people flock to rail. For this there are HSIA, 12 billion dollars over ten years, but arguments over how to distribute, and also a requirement of guaranteed profitability and 20 per cent state match. There’s also the Don Young bill, now called the Ride Act, which would send money to the states, not Amtrak. Congressman Baird wants our views.

Another possibility is 50 billion dollars in infrastructure money in the Democratic Economic Stimulus Package to create jobs. Some would have gone for passenger rail in the House, but the House chose more tax breaks for the rich instead. We have also been in deficit spending since September 11th, and it’s getting worse. Also, the economy is getting worse, and more terrorist attacks will make it even WORSE.

Congressman Baird said we must educate people costs and benefits of rail versus cars, for example, trains unclog both highways and airways. Also, urge people to try the train and avoid the hidden costs of driving and flying. Show geopolitical costs, also.

Congressman Baird said it’s hard to make big infrastructure investments now, but there are good pro-rail people in the Washington and Oregon delegations, including Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray.

Asked if Ride 21 might pass this year, Congressman Baird said just as likely as his becoming Speaker of the House! He said there’s a slim chance this year, maybe next, but authorizations are easy and actual appropriations much tougher.

Asked about ridership now, Congressman Baird said it’s excellent on corridors, and people now see the need for transportation redundancy. Congressman Young says that, too. Also, airline security is still not very good.

Dr. Ron Sheck reminded Congressman Baird of the HSIA provision to allow state infrastructure money to be considered part of the state match. Congressman Baird noted there are also requirements for intermodal connections.

Mr. McFarling wondered about fuel surcharges. Congressman Baird said rail fuel money goes back to the general fund, but road taxes don’t.

Mr. Trifiletti asked about Congress’s attitude toward the Amtrak Reform Council and Liquidation Plan. Congressman Baird replied that September 11th helped and the smaller government idea is losing some favor. He says groups like WashARP can influence this. But he said liquidation and privatization won’t work. People must understand the cost of NOT having rail.

Mr. Flem said WashARP will put together for him a package of thoughts on the Young Bill. Congressman Baird said Amtrak has not done a good job of managing its affairs, like its ad plan for Acela. He said we need to get people on the trains (applause).

Michael Ackley asked about how to get more people to ride Talgos during the week. Congressman Baird said if people learn the costs of the alternatives, they’ll ride.

Asked about the Vancouver, WA station, Baird said it’s a problem, but Vancouver needs a broad community plan. Congressman Baird concluded his remarks by thanking WashARP.

President Trifiletti praised Congressman Baird’s aide, then announced a brief break at 3:21PM. The meeting was reconvened at 3:37PM.

President Trifiletti asked for money from late registration and late dues. He mentioned that the bar was now open. Mr. Trifiletti said he took the Coast Starlight sleeper down to ride the Pacific Parlour. He spoke of Chairman Chuck Mott’s Diet Pepsis and his own Bloody Marys consumed aboard the Parlour on the way to the California rail summit. He said the Bistro on the Talgo is not the same. He mentioned AORTA’s annual membership meeting next weekend with its annual dinner and good speakers.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S REPORT: Lloyd Flem said that State Representative Don Carlson was not able to attend. He praised Representative Val Ogden’s candid appraisal of the legislature and noted neither she nor Congressman Brian Baird painted a rosy picture. But he said September 11th spurred recognition of the need for passenger rail. He agreed we must push for cost-benefit analyses of modes. He said Switzerland is a good example.

Mr. Flem said Initiative 747 was moderate compared to other Tim Eyman initiatives. He said it doesn’t hurt us directly, but sends an anti-tax message to the Legislature. He said we must show the need for transportation funding because Governor Locke is only talking gas taxes and roads. We will meet with the Governors staff to urge flexible funding.

Mr. Flem said Democratic control of the House did come at the expense of rail-friendly Representative Joe Marine, who voted for transportation tax increases, but his replacement, Representative Sullivan, agrees with Marine. And Clyde Ballard, who killed the Transportation Package, is no longer a speaker. Unfortunately, Representative

Gary Chandler is leaving the legislature, but will be lobbying for the Association of Washington Business. Louis Musso III, who’s from Chandler’s district, has been working on this informally. Mr. Flem has now assigned him the task.

Mr. Flem attended the Whatcom County Conference with State Representatives Georgia Gardner and Doug Erickson. Mr. Flem and Representative Erickson watched the Huskies lose after the meeting. Mr. Flem said he hammered on the fact that transit funding must be flexible funding. Erickson says transit funding must be local, though, and he’s Number Two in the minority on the House Transportation Committee.

Mr. Flem said he did not respond to the recent "Trains Unsafe" story over little security on trains. He said ANYTHING is safe than driving, and more than five thousand have died driving since five thousand were killed in the September terrorist attacks. Mr. Flem said the article faded fast, anyway.

As for Canada, Mr. Flem said Harry Gow, the President of Transport 2000, knows Canadian Transport Minister Collenette personally and has brought the second Vancouver BC train issue to his attention. Word is that Vancouver, BC wants the 2010 Olympics and the Olympic Committee says there must be more public transportation available. Amtrak West and BC met to discuss this recently.

Mr. Flem just hosted a group from Virginia DOT regarding the Talgos. We’re doing a video and outreach. He thanked Ron Schauer for his help in Longview. Virginia DOT heard the story of Centennial Station. He said great weather helped, and the visit shows we’re doing it right.

Dr. Sheck said the recent Seattle meeting with Talgo’s Jean Pierre Ruiz was a great success. Ruiz is telling Congress that user fees don’t cover costs of other modes. Mr. Ruiz is becoming a US Citizen Monday. Mr. Flem hopes they get part of the Midwest Rail contract.

At our next meeting, Representatives Ed Murray of Seattle and Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island will tell us how to approach the Legislature regarding HSIA matching money. Nationally, the Economic Recovery Act in the Senate includes seven billion dollars for Amtrak and High Speed Rail, and two billion for a new tunnel from New Jersey to New York, the project of New Jersey Senator Robert Toricelli. Mr. Trifiletti agreed that the current tunnel is a death trap, and said even Senator McCain likes that safety project.

Mr. Flem said HSIA is looking good for next year, but tweaking may be needed. The Young Bill has no federal money, but has brought new Senators and Representatives to rail. He noted that Congress does NOT have to follow any Amtrak liquidation plan, and September 11th has some members wanting to throw the Reform Council out. He said Amtrak has not handled things well and Acela Express has not produced. Besides, Amtrak and Bombardier are now suing each other. Mr. Flem said WashARP is officially supporting Amtrak on this issue, as Bombardier tried to destroy our corridor.

In response to a question, Mr. Flem mentioned accusations like late delivery of specs for Acela Express. He noted that Alstom, part of the Acela Cosortium, is not participating in the suit.

On Talgo safety, Mr. Flem said a Superliner vs Talgo simulation of each hitting a wall at 40 miles per hour produced 26 theoretical deaths on the Superliner train but NONE on the Talgo. He said Talgo’s Jean Pierre Ruiz suggested doing it for real, with Mr. Ruiz aboard the Talgo!

In Virginia, mentioned earlier, Mr. Flem said Norfolk Southern is playing hardball with dollars, but still wants to cooperate. He called Union Pacific the least cooperative railroad on passenger service.

Mr. Flem also said again it’s going to be tough in the Legislature next year, and everybody’s help is needed.

Mr. Jaworski asked about the Amtrak Liquidation plan. Answer…we don’t know. Mr. Hamre said we should do nothing.

Paul Scott asked about newer Talgos having 800 thousand pound end-to-end strength. Mr. Flem said they probably have it, but it isn’t needed and he hopes the FRA will revisit that. He called the FRA as hard to turn as the Queen Mary.

Mr. Ackley asked about restoring the pioneer for the salt Lake Olympics. Mr. Flem responded that Oregon Representative Ron Wyden wants it, but it’s not likely. The best bet is mail and express. Mr. Carlin said Amtrak should write a dire cutback plan so Congress will reject it. Mr. Flem called that a good point.

WASHINGTON FRUIT EXPRESS: WSDOT’s Ray Allred said the kickoff ceremony for Washington Fruit Express would be next week, with potatoes and onions starting shortly (applause). He said eleven 57-foot Express Track refrigerator cars are on hand. Late next year, the prototype of Washington’s big cars will be available and kinks will be worked out before ordering 49 more.

Hans Mueller asked how many cars were running? Answer…only the eleven, and also rates had to be cut to drum up business.

Noel Hancock wondered if the WFE letters might compete with an existing railroad name.

Steve Spear asked about the Chicago connection. Mr. Allred said that’s a "growing pain" and capital funds are needed to solve it.

Darlene Flem asked what the cars are bringing back. Mr. Allred said nothing now, but citrus loads are possible (applause).

SPECIAL GUEST: Washington Transportation Commissioner Ed Barnes said he’s now in the sixth year of his seven-year term. He said none of the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations has been adopted.

Mr. Barnes spoke of his past riding coal cars in West Virginia for basic transportation and participating in car-counting contests. Later, he came here and entered the construction business, watching Portland’s MAX system develop. He also helped with the Portland Airport MAX extension. He says opponents were wrong…it’s heavily used already. He says Spokane may have its light rail to Coeur d’Alene before Seattle has its system.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Barnes says planners are talking about a new Interstate bridge and rail bridge changes around Vancouver. He said a turf war between over labor killed Portland-Vancouver light rail. He says Commission Chairman Chris Marr sends greetings to WashARP.

Commissioner Barnes says he’s proud of Washington’s Talgos, grain trains, and the Washington Fruit Express. He’s not proud of lawmakers who supported Referendum 49, only to then support Initiative 695, which killed it.

Commissioner Barnes said the commission supports the State Rail Program, which helps stop rail abandonments. He says there’s a lesson from Little League…bench people who refuse to get the job done. He said more big companies will leave Washington unless we solve transportation problems. He said his own Vancouver has lost three already. Mr. Barnes said the Transportation Commission supports all modes, but some outlying lawmakers don’t, even to the point of wanting to get rid of ferries.

Mr. Barnes said he’s tide up with the commission on budgeting now, so he couldn’t attend the Washington Fruit Express inaugural. But he said trains are in danger and we need to really lobby.

Responding to a suggestion that the state improve rail lines near the Columbia River rather than dredge the river for boat traffic, Mr. Barnes said a four-lane highway would be needed for the superport in Astoria that would replace the dredging project. He said rail would have the same problem as the highway because of expansion needs.

Asked about things like congesting pricing, Commissioner Barnes said the Legislature has been told to put a budget together and let lawmakers worry about funding. Mr. Barnes thinks they’re missing the big picture. Some commissioners also worry that they might be seen as trying to take money from social programs.

Commissioner Barnes recently introduced a resolution to set up an infrastructure bank in states with money going to tax cuts. He also said Amtrak rescued a lot of people from 9-Eleven in New York, but could have helped many more if it were properly funded. Private providers were horribly expensive, with some actually gouging. He urged that we write our members of Congress.

On other matters, Commissioner Barnes said some want to get rid of the Transportation Commission. He said regional transportation and the prevailing wage issue are big problems. He said Governor Locke wants a strong statewide transportation plan, but regions will have to be involved. He said they need tax flexibility.

Mr. Flem sought introduction of visitors. President Trifiletti agreed.

SPECIAL GUEST: Michael Ackley, Montana-WyomingARP. Mr. Ackley said there are more sheep than people in Montana, but work is started on restoring the Southern route, and there’s good progress. He said BNSF and MRL are on board, as are Montana Senators Burns and Baucus. A feasibility study is starting. 15 thousand petition signatures have been gathered so far for the proposed route between Spokane, the Billings area and Denver.

SPECIAL GUEST: Louis Musso III, representing the Cle Elum project. Mr. Musso said Kittitas County has more COWS than people! But as of the Nov 1st, the non-profit group called Stampede People for Passenger Rail, primarily funded by Trendwest Resorts, is working toward a plan to connect Ellensburg and Puget Sound with commuter service, carrying some of the two to three thousand commuters who now use Snoqualmie Pass on weekdays. And Trendwest is working on the Mountainair Resort, the biggest of its kind in the country, with much residential development to go with it.

Mr. Musso said that last year, his group and local county commissioners arranged to amend an almost-forgotten 1980 law allowing rail freight districts to include

PASSENGER rail districts. A proposal may be on the next general election ballot to clear the way for a contract. Mr. Musso urges WashARP members to join SP for PR (an autographed poster offered to those joining today!).

Also, J. Craig Thorpe is doing an artists conception of a new depot in Cle Elum, modeled after the old station at Lester. Mr. Musso says the Cle Elum service could be up and running sooner than you think.

Asked about them trying to support Amtrak service, Mr. Musso said it’s just commuter for now. If something can be worked out for Amtrak, that’s fine.

Mr. Musso told another questioner that they don’t have a firm commute time yet, but three regular car commuters were killed recently on Snoqualmie Pass.

Robert Lawrence asked about Stampede Tunnel. Mr. Russo said work done recently would be a big help.

Mr. Trifiletti asked about the light rail connection to the resort that’s envisioned in the plan. Mr. Musso said the old coal dock space would be used for the start of the two-foot guage railroad from downtown Cle Elum to the resort with plush parlor cars and other equipment modeled after the mine project there 100 years ago. Also, a trolley would link Cle Elum businesses to the trains to the resort. The railroad would be the main mode of transport to the resort. Bicycle access is included in the plan. The project is also tied into the Coal Mines Trail plan.

Mr. Jaworski urged good bus connection. Mr. Musso said that’s possible, but right now the concentration is on driving to trains.

Asked if this could be expanded into a Seattle-Tri-Cities through route, Mr. Musso says the plan right now is for probably Auburn to Cle Elum or Ellensburg, but it could go to Yakima and Pasco if support could be found.

Asked about his group’s feelings on expansion of I-90, Mr. Musso said it opposes the plan to put the Eastbound lanes on the South side of Lake Keechelus, on the former Milwaukee Road right of way.

President Trifiletti sought volunteers to do a fundraising letter campaign.

Mr. Ackley mentioned the Talgo Livingston Rebuild Center.

President Trifiletti adjourned the meeting for dinner at 5:02PM.

Respectfully Submitted,

Rocky Shay, Secretary

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