Amtrak backs off from Vermont service suspension threat, apologizes

first_imgThe Amtrak “Vermonter” train leaves the Waterbury station on its way south. VBM file photo.by CB Hall Vermont Business Magazine Reacting to an abundance of angst among interested parties in Vermont, Amtrak is backing away from a threat to suspend all service to the state. “Right now we have no plans to cease any service on any route,” Amtrak’s Bill Hollister told VBM on February 28. Vermont’s congressional delegation has indicated its displeasure with the threat, voiced by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson at a US House subcommittee hearing February 15.“Bernie and Pat and I are all on the same page,” Representative Peter Welch (D) told VBM in a March 6 phone interview, referring to Senators Bernie Sanders (I) and Patrick Leahy (D).Welch described the delegation as “committed to doing whatever it takes” to maintain the service, consisting of the St Albans-Washington, DC, Vermonter and Rutland-New York City Ethan Allen Express trains.The brouhaha began when Anderson, in his testimony before the subcommittee, depicted a suspension of Vermont service at year’s end as likely in view of safety concerns. December 31 is the deadline for railroads nationwide to begin operating a federally mandated high-tech safety system known as positive train control (PTC).The law in question actually exempts Vermont’s Amtrak routes from the requirement, since they see so little traffic, but Anderson said nonetheless that, on such routes, “We have a question about whether we’re going to operate at all, and I doubt we will” after the December 31 reference point.Bill Hollister, Amtrak senior manager of government affairs for state-supported services in the Northeast (left), and passenger rail advocate Carl Fowler, of Williston, at the February 28 meeting of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council in Montpelier. Photo: C.B. Hall, VBMThe Amtrak CEO was speaking in the wake of several deadly accidents involving Amtrak trains in the last three months, and with PTC implementation lagging well behind schedule on many railroads nationwide. The situation has given rise to urgency among parties concerned with rail travel’s safety.The fulfillment of Anderson’s position, as expressed before the subcommittee, could shut down a large portion of Amtrak’s national system. Since February 15, however, the company appears to have softened its position on the safety mechanisms, or lack thereof, on its 21,000 route-miles, most of which are owned by private railroads.PTC relies on any of several sophisticated wayside signaling systems to prevent train-to-train collisions, incursions into zones where work is being done on the tracks, travel through improperly aligned switches, and over-speed accidents such as claimed three lives on an Amtrak train in Washington state in December – the deadliest of the recent crashes.The technology is required under 2008 legislation, which however grants exemptions to little-used trackage, as in Vermont.Indeed, most of the Amtrak routes in the Green Mountain State are so-called dark territory, lacking any sort of wayside signal system; dispatchers authorize train movements by radio instead.Some observers question why Amtrak should give the Vermont routes such disconcerting attention when they enjoy an exemption from the PTC mandate.The threat of a suspension of Amtrak service “kind of shocked a lot of people,” Dan Delabruere, director of the Agency of Transportation’s Rail and Aviation Bureau, told a meeting of the statutory Vermont Rail Advisory Council (VRAC) in Montpelier on February 28.“We did not know this announcement was coming.”The issue loomed large on the meeting’s agenda. The attendees included Hollister, Amtrak’s senior manager of government affairs for state-supported services in the Northeast.“I want to apologize to Vermont for all the angst [the Anderson statement] caused,” he addressed those on hand. In objecting to the prospect of a service suspension, he said, “You did the right thing.”He added that Amtrak “did not expect [a reaction] that strong.”Looking ahead, he said that the company was now looking at mitigation of safety risks in more general terms, in cooperation with state partners. Eighteen states underwrite Amtrak services on their territory, including Vermont.Delabruere noted that Vermont officials had had several conversations with Amtrak about the looming threat since Anderson’s announcement. The company has now commenced an analysis of safety risks on its entire route network, and is exploring remedies less onerous than the installation of PTC in Vermont and elsewhere, to address perceived safety risks.Absent PTC installation in Vermont, the alternative is, “We’ve got to figure something out,” as Delabruere put it. “We don’t know what that’s going to mean for us. I can’t even speculate.”Aside from not being legally required, installation of PTC on Amtrak’s Vermont routes would carry a huge price tag: Estimates run as high as a million dollars a mile.Further, knowledgeable sources agreed, the implementation could not be completed by year’s end. Addressing the Montpelier meeting, Williston-based passenger rail advocate Carl Fowler, a VRAC member, noted that Vermont is “in a very difficult position to respond” to any demand for PTC implementation.The budget currently before the Legislature, he said, contains no money for that purpose.He added that PTC would not have prevented Amtrak’s few accidents in Vermont, such as the 2015 derailment of the Vermonter in Northfield. Putting wayside signals of whatever sort in Vermont’s dark territory, he said, “is not necessary – and ought not to be forced on us. We’re safe with the level of operational material we have now.”If Amtrak accuses Vermonters of asking for something it considers unsafe, “We should be prepared to have that argument,” he said in an interview after the meeting.The moderation evident in Hollister’s words corresponded fairly closely to further, March 1 testimony from Anderson, this time at a US Senate committee hearing.On that occasion, the Amtrak CEO toned down his position somewhat, but still left room for interpretation as to what might lie ahead. He said the company was “reevaluating” future service in light of safety concerns.Speaking of Amtrak’s network generally, he said, “We have to determine whether we continue to operate in non-PTC territory, and apply the principles of our safety management system to mitigate” risks on those rail routes. “We should establish PTC as the standard for passenger rail in America, including dark territory, and including covering the areas that are today excluded by the law.”Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked him if a way existed to address safety concerns without shutting down lines exempt from the statute’s requirements – such as the Vermonter, which serves one New Hampshire stop as well as the Vermont points. “We have an R&D project under way at Amtrak to determine whether we can use technologies from Europe that don’t require as much trackside investment, but that would give us speed restriction and signal location,” he responded.Anderson, who came on board at Amtrak only last year, spent many years in executive positions at Northwest and Delta airlines – in a private industry, that is, with an effective and well-regulated safety management system.Now, however, he heads a very public enterprise, essentially a government agency subject to a welter of factors not applicable to airlines. Members of Congress from areas served by Amtrak trains consider the national passenger rail service their responsibility, and naturally respond to its management issues on political grounds – striving, as in Vermont’s case, to preserve services that constituents demand.Given that, and the other issues bearing on implementation of the hypercomplex PTC program, the Amtrak chief, in the view of some observers, has failed to understand the decision-making environment.“I’m not sure if Anderson even knew the implications of what he was saying,” Ira Silverman, a retired veteran of 20 years in Amtrak management, reacted to Anderson’s gambit before the House subcommittee. “The reality is, when he announces that he’s shutting these trains down, do you believe there isn’t going to be a political reaction?”The response from Vermont’s congressional delegation has contained no surprises.In an email statement, Sanders spokesman Daniel McLean said, “Bernie does not want to see service suspended.”Speaking with VBM as the Montpelier meeting broke up, Leahy field representative Chris Saunders, referring to the softening in Amtrak’s position, anticipated that “the change of tone will continue.”He underscored his boss’s support for “making resources available” for continued passenger service in the state.In his phone interview, Welch said, “We’re going to advocate – the entire delegation – to maintain [the services] without necessarily having to install an extremely expensive technology.”He described Anderson’s March 1 testimony as “reassuring – but we’re not going to take the reassurance for granted. We’ve made a substantial investment [in Amtrak service] and we don’t want to squander that.”Some sort of compromise between the status quo and PTC implementation on all of Vermont’s Amtrak routes seems likely.Interviewed after the Montpelier meeting, Hollister shook his head when asked what the chances were that Vermont would lose its passenger rail service at year’s end.“The game plan is to work towards mitigation of risks,” he said. He foresaw an ongoing process, already in motion, in which Amtrak and its state partners would draft and implement plans to improve safety on the company’s routes.“I’m optimistic that the trains are going to keep running,” Welch said.THIS STORY WAS CORRECTED WEDNESDAY MORNING TO NOTE THAT SERVICE MIGHT BE “SUSPENDED” NOT “TERMINATED.”last_img read more

Obituary: Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Machovec Aug. 14, 2020

first_imgGERALDINE “GERRY” MACHOVEC Aug. 14, 2020Geraldine “Gerry” Machovec, 96, passed away on August 14, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Gerry was born in 1924 in a mining town in Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. She was an avid photographer. Gerry’s interest in photography began in 1939 when her father gave her one of Eastman Kodak’s first 35mm cameras. Photography remained a lifetime love.  She was raised in Duluth, Minnesota. Gerry lived in many places, including Illinois, Venezuela, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado. She loved the Land of Enchantment; her home for almost 50 years.She earned a Bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in 1946 where she was an assistant photographer for the college yearbook, editor of her dormitory newspaper, and on the staff of The Carletonian newspaper. She completed a semester at the University of Mexico in 1945 and attended the Latin-American Institute in Chicago during 1947-48 while working in the Society for Visual Education’s Kodachrome Department. With her bilingual skills well developed, she moved to Caracas, Venezuela where she worked for Liquid Carbonic Venezolana. After that, her photography now had a Venezuelan twist, but quickly turned to “family” after she and Charles “Mac” Machovec married and had their three children before moving to Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1957.In Los Alamos, she turned her love of photography and writing into a job as a reporter and photographer for the Rio Grande Sun newspaper in Espan͂ola, New Mexico. Gerry said, “Taking photos for the Rio Grande Sun and spending hours in the darkroom developing black and whites from my twin-lens Rollei was fun, not work.” During her seven years as a reporter, Gerry received two E.H. Shaffer awards from the New Mexico Press Association statewide contests: first prize in the feature writing division and second prize for straight news writing.Her career as a reporter ended prematurely following an auto mishap and arm injury while en route to Guatemala in 1967 with the family in a Volkswagen Microbus camper. Fortunately, Bob Trapp, the editor and publisher of the Rio Grande Sun, opened the Hilltop Print Shop and Book Store in Los Alamos and invited Gerry to manage it. She went on to work at Ojo de Dios Books in Los Alamos before moving to Miami, Florida in 1975 to join Mac, who had taken a new job as an associate professor with the library at the University of Miami.Next came the Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs at the University of Miami, where Gerry was first editorial assistant, then assistant editor. She managed to find a way to fit her love of photography into the job by taking P.R. shots for the Center for Advanced International Studies. That and trips throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America with Mac were a photographic dream. She helped author Beverly Rush do research for The Complete Book of Seminole Patchwork, which was published in 1982. Gerry’s photographs appear in the book.Upon retirement from the University of Miami, Gerry and Mac returned to Los Alamos and then moved to Santa Fe following the 2000 Cerro Grande wildfire. Gerry enjoyed traveling with Mac and exhibiting her photographs.In 2018, Gerry moved to the Suites at Clermont Park in Denver, Colorado where she passed away peacefully.Gerry was preceded in death by her loving husband of 61 years, Mac. She is survived by three children, nine grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.last_img read more

Walker: Mental Health

first_imgBy AARON WALKERIndependent Candidate Los Alamos County CouncilThroughout my campaign I have stated the need for honesty and transparency in our government, and it’s time for me to honor that need by having a discussion regarding mental health. I have been running my campaign at full steam since late May when I was trying to get on the ballot. Since then, it has been a roller coaster of emotions with some highs, lows, and a ton of anticipation.At times, my mental health has suffered under the weight of the self-induced pressure. I’ve questioned some of my strategies and wondered if I’ve done enough. I have had tremendous support from my wife, friends, and family that have been very encouraging throughout this whole process. I’ve bounced back with renewed motivation and vigor each time, but only because I have learned the tools I’ve needed over the years.Mental health is a big issue within our community, and it’s time that people in the spotlight start talking about it so that people (especially our youth) understand that it is okay to talk about it. Struggling with mental health is not a sign of weakness, and there is nothing “wrong” with it. We must find a way to make people comfortable talking about their struggles, and it starts with having this conversation publicly. Again, it is okay to not be okay.Los Alamos County has a myriad of services at its disposal regarding health services, including the health council. I would like to see those services leveraged to provide better mental health services within the county, especially to our teens and youth. I want to see if we can provide better services at the schools, as well as the teen center. We need more providers for mental health services for children within our community as well. We need to foster an environment that gives our teens and youth the tools they need to better confront mental health issues when they come up. These tools will prove extremely valuable as they navigate the waters of stepping into adulthood, and throughout their lives.It’s not just our youth that need better services. We need more/better services for the adults within our community as well. Again, that would mean finding more providers for these services and having a discussion at multiple levels on how to increase their availability. I also want to look at the possibility of “traveling” providers that could assist our senior population at our senior centers in Los Alamos and White Rock, as well as our senior housing locations.If we are to continue to have a wonderful community, we need to address the hard topics. We need to have discussions that may be hard to talk about. Mental health is one of those discussions. I will say right now that I struggle with mental health sometimes, and that is OKAY. It doesn’t define me or make me a weak person. It makes me human being with real emotions and real feelings. I am willing to discuss this openly and honestly, and it’s time we start erasing the stigma of mental health.last_img read more

Smoking Ban Provision Allows Communities To “Opt Out”

first_imgIf a community decides it wants to allow smoking in those environments, they can choose to “opt out” by putting the question on the ballot for the residents of the area to vote on. Sen. Micciche: “It was important to us, that if a community decides it’s not for them they can put it to a vote, and overturn it. So, we are staying with local control.”  Starting on October 1, the measure bans smoking on buses and in cabs, and in places including office buildings, hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. It also restricts outdoor smoking in certain areas. Representative Gabrielle Ledoux (R-Anchorage) has repeatedly held up the bill over the years, but finally let the bill out of committee on Saturday, but only with the provision added. Senate Bill 63 sponsored by Senator Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna): “We are not banning smoking for smokers, we took the action to protect non-smokers in the workplace.”center_img FacebookTwitterEmailPrintFriendly分享The Alaska Legislature has passed a statewide smoke-free workplace bill, but with a provision that allows communities to opt out of the regulations. The bill passed the House 32-7 on Saturday. LeDoux was among the dissenting votes. It passed the Senate early Sunday morning. Sen. Micciche: “People have the personal choice to do what they want to do with their own body. This is about protecting those who choose not to vape, or choose not to smoke.”last_img read more