ON JANUARY 20 Amtrak President & CEO George Warrington announced a series of ’business partnerships’ intended to cut costs and generate extra revenue, as part of a programme to enable the US national passenger operator to break even by 2002. A seven-year contract with airline caterer Dobbs International Services will see Amtrak’s 11 catering shore bases handed over next month, improving the quality of on-board catering and cutting costs by around $28m.

Most of the other initiatives relate to the rapidly-developing parcels and mail business. In a three-way alliance with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and United Parcel Service, Amtrak is to lease 40 RoadRailers to carry express parcels traffic for UPS and four other forwarders between Kansas City and Albuquerque on the Southwest Chief. This cargo was previously hauled on BNSF intermodal trains, but UPS believes it can be carried more efficiently and quickly by Amtrak.

At the same time, the US Postal Service is planning to expand its shipment of second class mail by rail, adding $15·2m to the $73m a year which Amtrak has been earning from postal traffic. An extra 89 RoadRailer Mailvan trailers will be leased, bringing the fleet to 166. Two new transcontinental mail routes will link Philadelphia and Springfield, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles and Oakland.

Amtrak will also enter the refrigerated market, acquiring eight rebuilt refrigerated boxcars for a pilot programme to move traffic between California and the Northeast and Florida. Michigan firm ExpressTrak will provide marketing, billing, car maintenance, customer services and related functions.

During February, Amtrak was to inaugurate a premium package service on the Metroliner expresses that connect New York City with Washington, DC in 3 h, in partnership with same-day delivery specialist Dynamex, providing pickup, delivery, sorting and tracking. Although officially an experiment, the service is expected to generate $1m in revenue during its first eight months.

Midwest funding

A week later, on January 28, Amtrak approved an initial $25m investment towards the $3bn Midwest Regional Rail Initiative to upgrade several inter-city corridors radiating from Chicago from 125 to 175 km/h (RG 10.98 p660). Of this, $5m will fund demonstrations of a ’new technology train’ which could help boost ridership. Another $5m will fund a connecting link line south of Chicago to eliminate back-up moves and cut journey times by 20 min. The rest will be used for station and infrastructure improvements and for research into high-speed services.

On the same day, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater announced the planned Chicago Hub high speed corridors would be expanded to include Indianapolis and Cincinnati, increasing the catchment area from 20 to 24 million people. The move makes the 1560 route-km eligible for a share in the $5m a year of federal funds for level crossing and infrastructure improvements for speeds of up to 175 km/h, made available under TEA-21. Slater also announced a $200 000 grant to study the impact of running the FRA-Bombardier ’Next Generation’, turbine-powered locomotive on the Chicago Hub corridors.