Summer 2002, p.9


Amtrak is Broke and Dysfunctional-Except Here

After decades of mammoth losses, Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, is really, finally, totally broke. To most of the country this does not matter. But to the Northeast, Amtrak is a key part of the regional transportation system; its tracks carry 300,000 commuters in the New York region daily. Many of these passengers travel on New Jersey Transit, which uses Amtrak tracks, electricity, switching and dispatching. Additionally, because of 9/11 airport security delays, NYC to Washington travelers have come to favor rail over air.

That the railroad is broken is indisputable. It is the causes about which groups disagree. Amtrak supporters point to Federal under-investment and inadequate operating support. Amtrak critics, though, highlight bad management and restrictive work rules. The one thing that everyone does agree on is that national politics and contradictory directives from congress have crippled Amtrak's attempts to offer more modern and rational service. In 1997, Congress imposed an operating budget "self-sufficiency" rule on the railroad-a goal no other railroad in the world is expected to achieve. Simultaneously, congressional representatives made Amtrak continue offering money-losing routes.

The Bush administration says it wants to end federal operating support for intercity passenger trains. The result would be, that in most of the country, Amtrak would evaporate. But in the Northeast, where intercity rail is critical, operating subsidies would have to come from state governments. This would be a huge burden given that these states are having a hard enough time adequately supporting their existing public transit.

One expert predicts that Congress will "punt" on Amtrak and keep it scraping along from year to year. If so, New York City will suffer as passengers flee the train and further clog area highways and airports.

New Jersey
Port Authority Looks to Improve Bike Safety at GW Bridge Approach

One of New Jersey's most popular cycling venues is Hudson Terrace (aka "River Road"), which stretches for seven miles along the Palisades, mainly north of the George Washington Bridge. River Road offers beautiful views of the Hudson and rolling hills. Unfortunately, getting to the road from the bridge is an incredibly frightening challenge. After hearing complaints from T.A. and NJ cycling groups, the Port Authority has taken a look at improving bicycling safety at the
NJ end of GW Bridge bike/ped path. Officials from the agency have been extremely helpful and sensitive to the conditions faced by cyclists and have agreed to review T.A.'s proposal to build a three-quarter mile long off-street path between the bridge and River Road.

Read the latest news on this subject.

New York City
Crackdown on Idling Trucks

State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer announced in June a legal settlement with six trucking and bus companies whose diesel vehicles routinely violated state and city idling laws. The companies-Frito-Lay, Greyhound, Community Coach, Grayline City Tours, Leisure Lines and Suburban Trails, operate 1,500 diesel vehicles in NYC. In addition to paying $103,000 for tree planting, the companies agreed to new training procedures and internal rules, and to pay penalties of $1,000 to $5,000 for future idling violations. New York City law prohibits letting a diesel engine idle for longer than three minutes. State law allows up to five minutes. T.A. wonders why it has taken the State Attorney General to do something about this ubiquitous NYC problem? Hello NYC Department of Environmental Protection? Do you exist?

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Many lower Hudson municipal governments are questioning the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement study.Mid-Hudson
Mid-Hudson Towns Say Tappan Zee Bridge Planning is Sham

Municipal leaders and other concerned Hudson Valley citizens are attempting to pool resources so that they can question and independently verify findings and conclusions from the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement study being conducted by the NY State Thruway and Metro-North Railroad. Many lower Hudson municipal governments have banded together in a coalition called GUARD: Governments United in Action for Responsible Development. They are concerned that the agencies have already identified a "preferred alternative"-a new, bigger bridge with a commuter rail line on it-and are conducting a self-fulfilling study.