JUST WHAT long-term effects the appalling terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 will have on the rail business is hard to foresee. Washington metro stations at the Pentagon and National Airport closed immediately, but reopened next day, with restricted access at the Pentagon.

In New York all passengers and staff were safely evacuated from the PATH terminal five floors below the World Trade Center by trains returning to New Jersey or by stairs and escalators before the twin towers collapsed. Quick-thinking dispatchers halted trains in New Jersey heading for lower Manhattan within minutes of the first aircraft hitting the WTC. The Trans-Hudson tunnel is partially flooded from burst mains and water used by firefighters, and was to be sealed with concrete plugs at Exchange Place station to prevent water flowing into PATH’s New Jersey tunnels. It will be years before the WTC station reopens, probably as part of the project to rebuild the WTC, albeit in different form.

NYCT’s E line station at WTC is closed, and MTA says that service on Lines 1 and 9 below Chambers Street has been lost ’indefinitely’. It appears that one portion of the tunnel has collapsed, and many months will elapse before it is rebuilt. The N/R line between Canal Street and Whitehall Street is likely to be out of service for weeks as rescue and clean-up operations continue. Seven stations in Lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, remain closed.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, operators suspended subway, commuter and Northeast Corridor inter-city passenger services, with Norfolk Southern and CSX stopping freight in the area. Many services resumed quite quickly, and as soon as the ban on air traffic became known, Amtrak trains filled rapidly, with most airline tickets honoured under a standard policy. During September 12-17 traffic on Amtrak’s long-distance trains was up 35%, with Northeast Corridor services recording a 9% increase. Amtrak said it added 1600 seats each day on long-distance services, 300 on West Coast trains, and 2000 to Northeast Corridor services. By September 18 Amtrak had carried 237 extra carloads of mail, and two days later the airlines were still not permitted to carry mail.

Amtrak announced increased security measures with patrols on trains and stations, bridge and tunnel inspections, and monitoring of some routes from the air. It also warned of plans for further measures, ’many of which will be visible to the travelling public’. But with extended check-in times for domestic flights, Amtrak clearly expects to continue providing higher capacity for the moment. Freight operators such as UP also stepped up security measures, with checks on bridges and tunnels as well as policing of control centres, yards and other locations.

With a drastic fall in air traffic predicted, rail-air links can expect business to slow, and some airlines are prohibiting in-town check-in where it was available. The downturn will also affect the viability of airport rail link projects in the pipeline. Increased spending on defence, bailing out of airlines and other efforts to stimulate the economy could have a negative effect on US federal spending on rail - the 2002 transport budget has not yet cleared Congress.

More generally, the increased likelihood of a recession looks certain to slow or reverse the growth of freight and passenger traffic in many countries, and managers will be reviewing plans for major projects and reassessing funding risks. Insurance and other indirect costs are certain to rise, and railways would do well to prepare for tough times ahead.