An Industry Mourns, And Reflects On Its Future
Railway Age Staff Report
Railroad reaction to the terrorist acts of Sept. 11in New York City and Washington, D.C., came swiftly, in the form of heightened security and an outpouring of compassion and offers to help those affected by the disaster.
In New York at "Ground Zero," where the World Trade Center's 110-story twin towers once stood, there was a direct and devastating effect on one of the country's busiest rail
commuter/rapid transit hubs. Beneath and around the WTC lay a complex of Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) and MTA New York City Transit rail tunnels.
The PATH tubes that looped around the WTC complex collapsed when the twin towers fell. A week later, water from broken pipes and from fire hoses was still seeping through the tubes, and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced that it
would plug them with concrete at Exchange Place in Jersey City, N.J. The tubes to 33rd Street in New York were not affected, and service was operating normally within a few days. No PATH employees or customers were lost or injured, and it was the quick thinking of train crew members that got them safely out of PATH's vast underground WTC concourse.
The Port Authority said it would take several years, and an estimated $850 million, to rebuild its WTC station, which was used by around 80,000 riders daily. To help accommodate displaced riders, the agency plans to spend around $100 million to restore ferry service to lower Manhattan.
NYC Transit also took a hit. Parts of the No. 1 and No. 9 lines were choked with debris and awash in water, and 1,000 feet of subway tunnel collapsed. The Cortlandt Street station was destroyed and the Rector Street station was damaged, shutting down service to Manhattan's southern tip. No NYC Transit employees or customers were lost or injured on trains and buses operating in the area at the time of the attack.
Experts said it could take years to restore service on the 1 and 9 lines. Stations on other lines near the WTC sustained damage but should be returned to service within a few months. Long-term, it was suggested, the need to rebuild could shift the New York MTA's priorities away from billion-dollar-plus capital projects like the Second Avenue Subway and Long Island Rail Road East Side Access.
The extent of the human loss to the transportation community was not
immediately clear. The Port Authority reported 74 of its workers lost. Its executive director, 46-year-old Neil D. Levin, was among the confirmed dead. The New York State DOT reported two of its staff missing. Washington Infrastructures Services, whose rail projects include design of New Jersey's
Hudson-Bergen light rail line, had around 200 people on the 91st floor of one of the towers. Thirteen were lost.
This is a part of lower Manhattan rich in railroad history. Up until the 1960s, it was home to a cluster of railroads and railroad suppliers. Atop 50 Church Street–part of the old Hudson & Manhattan Railroad terminal complex–the Railroad Machinery Club for many years hosted rail industry stalwarts who came to eat and drink and deal.
On the 12th floor of H&M's companion building at 30 Church St., Railway Age and other Simmons-Boardman publications had their offices. The magazine's editors of that day watched the first World Trade tower rise outside their windows (illustration, left). On Sept. 11, 2001, a new generation of editors watched the towers collapse from the windows of their offices on lower Hudson Street, about 20 blocks from the scene of the disaster (p. 4).
The railroads responded quickly. Norfolk Southern immediately offered to move up to 1,000 heavy duty railcars into northern New Jersey to haul away debris. Union Pacific dispatched medical supplies to New York and Washington and pledged to match, dollar for dollar, all employee contributions to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Amtrak embarked on a joint effort with the Red Cross to operate the Clara Barton Express (named after the Civil War nurse who founded the Red Cross), a special train carrying supplies to the rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero. Amtrak offered to run additional relief trains as needed.
Security was an urgent priority. Within hours of the attacks, Union Pacific employees had inspected every major bridge and structure on the 33,000-mile system, as well as rolling stock. In a service advisory, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe said its police were on heightened alert and it had increased security at critical locations. The railroad told customers it was taking "appropriate operating and inspection measures" to ensure safety. CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern took similar measures.
The railroads all used the same term to describe their post-attack operating mindset: "heightened awareness." FRA Associate
Administrator for Safety George Gavalla said the agency has embarked on a comprehensive, industry-wide assessment
program involving management and labor on the state of security and safety, evaluating what, if anything, needs to be done.
"In light of what happened, we're not going to rest on our laurels," Gavalla said. Special emphasis is being placed on intercity
passenger and commuter rail operations.
The freight railroad part of this effort is being coordinated by the AAR. Executive Vice President-Safety and Operations Chuck
Dettmann said the railroads are focusing on five areas: Department of Defense support, hazardous materials transport,
information and telecommunications systems, fixed facilities (bridges, tunnels), and operating security for trains en-route.
AAR's efforts are similar to assessments that have been done for natural disasters, he said. There is no precedent for terrorist
Rail transit security was also under review. "The traveling public is going to have to accept surveillance in a way that we've
generally not seen in this country," American Public Transit Association President William Miller told a reporter. But the task
won't be easy: 15 times more people a day travel by commuter trains and buses than by airliners. "It's one thing to inspect a
couple hundred people getting on a plane. It's quite another during rush hour to check 1,000 people getting onto a subway,"
In any military mobilization, freight railroads, working closely with the Department of Defense, will be called upon to move the machines of war. There is in the U.S. a 40,000-mile "strategic rail network" that every three years must be certified as meeting minimum operational requirements for military use.
The U.S. Army Reserves' two Transportation Railway Operating Battalions were, at press time, preparing for possible deployment. Maj. Martin Piech of the 1205th TROB, which when activated is charged with handling movements of
overseas-bound ammunition and supplies at rail-served bases like Military Ocean Terminal-Sunny Point (N.C.), said his unit is ready at a moment's notice. But a bigger concern, he said, is augmenting the ranks of the 1205th "with as many experienced railroaders as we can get," as well as obtaining training support and materials from railroads and suppliers. The 757th, an
overseas-deployable, combat-ready reserve unit, was involved in contingency planning, according to Lt. Col. Robert Vorisek.
But the present situation may not call for massive troop and heavy-weapons buildups. The Army War College acknowledged two years ago that more action will be in cities, and "communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance" will dominate. The National Defense University, in its 1998 Strategic Assessment (Chapter 11, "Asymmetric Threats") notes a
shift to just-in-time logistics: "From the perspective of the U.S. military's history, a shift away from the current logistics will radically lower the logistics footprint of the U.S. expeditionary forces; a smaller footprint will reduce timelines for deployments of combat forces while also reducing vulnerability to air and missile attacks. No longer would there be a need for the massive
dumping of supplies as in the Persian Gulf War buildup." How will the railroads play in this new game?
The road ahead
What will be the long-term effects on the railroad industry of what some have
called the building of "Fortress America"?
If the crisis pulls the economy deeper into recession, railroads could experience a further erosion of traffic and earnings already hurt by the business downturn. BNSF President and CEO Matt Rose said the industry will continue to focus on service improvements. "Despite what the economy may or may not do, we remain committed to meeting our customers' expectations,
regardless of how those expectations may change over time," he said.
"Nobody knows where the economy is going," said CSXT President Michael Ward. But stressing the need for "a return to normalcy," Ward said that the railroads' job "is to deliver for America–to keep products moving, to keep our people focused on what they're doing."
Passenger railroading is another story. Immediately after the terrorists hijacked and crashed four commercial airliners, Amtrak ticket sales soared by 50%, with a particular rush toward long distance trains. Amtrak increased the capacity of its Northeast Corridor service by 30%, adding 200 seats to every unreserved train, and honored tickets of stranded airline passengers. The
rush tapered off as the airlines resumed service, but Vice President-Corporate Communications Bill Schulz said ridership continues to build steadily throughout Amtrak's national system. "Clearly, this is a new travel
environment," he said. "We're looking at how we can adjust our service and schedules to meet the demand." Amtrak's plan to work with individual states to
fund new and expanded regional services, he said, "has taken on more urgency."
A shift of passenger traffic from air to land could impose intolerable burdens on Amtrak, which is already short of equipment, lacks a decent infrastructure in the busy Northeast Corridor, and labors elsewhere under operating conditions that do not always inspire confidence. Within days of the terrorist attacks, the airlines laid off more 100,000 workers and cut 20% of their flights.
The highways, probably, to a large degree will absorb the overflow, but intercity trains, whether operated by Amtrak or by the states, are almost certain to become the mode of choice–or necessity–for many Americans.
Several factors will come into play. For the long term, key members of
Congress were ready before the emergency to press for a $71 billion bill to fund a state-run intercity rail program (p. 6). Will that need now be seen as all the more urgent? The funding would certainly be needed for host freight railroads to beef up capacity to handle an influx of new passenger trains.
Amtrak's prospects for a more-immediate infusion of funds seemed promising in late September. A week after the attacks, 16 senators, led by New York Democrats Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked Amtrak to propose an accelerated investment package that would address systemwide capacity, safety, and security needs. Amtrak responded with a $3 billion,
18-month plan. By comparison, the airline industry got an immediate $15 billion bailout package from Congress, with more expected.
Will the events of Sept. 11 provide more reason for the nation to invest in passenger rail, with the goal of a more-balanced transportation system? Or will the need for unexpected billions for the military and for aid to stricken communities and businesses leave very little for anything else? The latter may well prove to be the case, though the long-term future of intercity passenger rail looks more secure today than it has in years. But passenger train partisans can take no pleasure in the fact that it may have taken a calamity of last month's proportions to reawaken the country to the need for an expanded and
securely-funded intercity rail system.
"We will rebuild New York City," President George W. Bush said to the nation in a Sept. 20 address. Manhattan's devastated downtown area will rise again, perhaps not with structures as tall and majestic as the Twin Towers, but nevertheless on a grand scale. When that happens, count on the railroads to help transport the construction materials–just like they did over 30 years
ago, when the World Trade Center rose to become the identifying edifice of the Manhattan skyline.