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November 1998


Amtrak Cuts Travel Agents' Commissions, Increases Tour Incentive

Amtrak has announced that it will reduce its travel agents' commissions to five percent effective this month, and increase its tour incentive to as much as 15 percent, based upon sales performance. In announcing the change, Amtrak explained it is increasing its investments in travel agent support services and in the quality and consistency of its train products, something the agents have been requesting. Although ridership and revenue have been climbing, the proportion of tickets sold through travel agencies has dropped, from 40 percent of sales prior to 1995 to just 29 percent this year. This decline occurred despite Amtrak's decision last year to maintain commissions at 10 percent across the board, two percent higher than the airlines. Also, Amtrak never imposed limits on commissions, as did the airlines in 1995. "We've learned the hard way that commissions are not the key to driving Amtrak product," said the company.


Oak Point Link Opens in The Bronx

Oak Point Link, a 1.9-mile line constructed by the state of New York in The Bronx, opened October 12. The line permits intermodal traffic to reach the Harlem River Yard without disruption from commuter trains operating to and from Grand Central Station.


Norfolk Southern Opens Bulk Transfer Facility in North Carolina

Norfolk Southern opened a bulk transfer facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, on October 22, for shippers of food-grade commodities and chemicals. The terminal has 102 car spots with two tracks for food-grade commodities and four tracks for chemicals. An earth berm separates the food-grade and chemical tracks.


Sunbury-Scranton Line Rededicated

As a result of a $12-million improvement project on the D&H freight line between Sunbury and Scranton, Pennsylvania, Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific "rededicated" the line on October 20 as a "vital part" of their joint route linking the Southeast and Central Pennsylvania to Upstate New York, New England, and Eastern Canada.


BNSF Completes 71 Miles of Double-Track Project on Clovis Subdivision

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has completed 71 miles of a $140-million-plus second mainline construction project on the Clovis Subdivision in New Mexico. The project, which was completed October 20, adds capacity to better handle up to 100 trains a day that use the route, part of the railroad's main line from Chicago to Los Angeles.


Construction Begins on "Flyover Bridge" in Kansas City

The Kansas City Terminal Railway has begun construction of a 1.5 mile train overpass in Kansas City, Missouri. Called a "flyover bridge," the $75-million project will eliminate a "persistent rail bottleneck" to accommodate east-west traffic where it intersects north-south traffic. KCT, which is owned by railroads that move freight through Kansas City, is constructing the overpass in partnership with the Missouri Department of Transportation. The project is expected to be completed in July 2000.


A Celebration of Buses

[By Allen Brougham - a feature article] . . . .

I've a confession to make . . . I like buses.

As a kid, I was enamored by Greyhound's fleet of Silversides coaches. I thought they were neat. (I still do!) "How fast can they go?" I asked my father. He had me ask a friend of his, somehow an expert on the subject. "They can go about 60," said the friend. "Wow!"

I so much wanted to ride in one. A few years later, I did. But only once. My father and I rode it from Mill Valley (California) to San Francisco.

The Silver sides remained the mainstay of Greyhound into the early 1950's, then to be replaced by the Scenicruiser. Now THAT (the Scenicruiser) was a GREAT BUS. I always gave it a hard look as one of them went by. And, of course, I wanted to ride in one (the upper level, of course). But I never did.

In my Navy years (1959-1963) I did get a chance to ride a number of buses that are now considered vintage: the GM-4104, and later its replacement, the 4106. My interest waned as the novelty wore off, but I still longed for a ride in a Scenicruiser . . . if the opportunity ever developed.

In the mid to late 1960's (before joining the railroad) I often commuted to work on buses of a pre-MTA Baltimore-based carrier that used a collection of noisy rattletraps which (along with the other passengers) I referred to as "junk." I now regret not giving these circa-1940's coaches more respect; I would love to see one of these gems again today.

Enter now the mid 1970's. It was my friend Alan Crumbaker who filled my receptive ears with his vast knowledge of buses, far and beyond my narrowed interest of the subject until then. In due time I purchased a book - "Over the Road," by Albert Meier and John Hoschek, 1975, Motor Bus Society - which enhanced my interest so much further with photos and descriptions in the historical perspective.

But reading and hearing of vintage buses is one thing, SEEING them is something else! So it was with much excitement when I learned that the staff of the Greyhound depot at Frederick, Maryland, was putting together a "Celebration of Buses." It took place several weeks ago, and I went to it. It was a memorable event. I so much wanted to see a Silversides, but none was there. It was a great consolation, though, in the appearance of an old Greyhound Scenicruiser, the occasion to which I for the first time in my life got to board. Indeed, with its eye-level upper windshield, this was to a bus the equivalent to a railroad dome car.

Another gem, actually one of a kind, was a 1957 Mack MV620-D Visionliner, built as a demonstrator for Greyhound, artfully restored to its original livery. It had, as were the other historic coaches on display that day, been through a number of owners. Now that one (the MV620-D) is up for sale once again. "Own a piece of history!" reads its ad in an industry magazine, "Bus World."

Other coaches on display included a pair of GM-4104's, a GM-4106, a circa-1960's GM-Fishbowl, a 1947 ACF Brill C-36 transit coach (for a total of seven oldies), and a modern-day MCI-102D3 Greyhound.

There were vendors there, too, with bus models, supplies, photos, postcards, and other memorabilia. There were even some live greyhound dogs, retired racers now up for adoption.

There IS an interest in old buses; I know I'm not alone. In fact, I saw five people at the event I knew, each of whom I previously knew only as railfans. Still, I think the interest has not caught on as well it should. Case in point: how many bus museums do YOU know of, or have visited? By contrast, railroad (and trolley) museums abound. You wouldn't have to go very far to see a Pennsy GG1, for example, but where would you go to see a 1935 Yellow 843, or a 1936 Crown Sleepercoach? Buses, as with locomotives, do see an end to their useful life. With scant interest in preserving them, many of the models of prior to the 1950's have simply disappeared. Such a pity.

That any of the older coaches remain at all is a credit to the interest of a handful of visionaries who see the historical value of preservation. With few museums available to take in old buses, and the bus companies themselves not usually willing to keep non performing assets in their garage, it is to these dedicated individuals we should give thanks for sharing their collections. Their hobby is akin to that of preserving an antique car, but with a bus it's much more logistically challenging. (Try parking an old bus in a typical suburban neighborhood and see what the neighbors have to say about THAT!) It's expensive, too. The cost of insurance can be frightening, and then there's the four-miles-per-gallon fuel.

Fred Wengenroth, owner of the depot franchise for Greyhound in Frederick, was the organizer of the celebration I attended. He's excited about buses, too. We talked at great length about the hobby and the historical import such an event has to offer. The owners who participated in the event were his friends, he said, "people who want to share their buses, not just to show them off." He considers the event a success, although he had hoped more people would attend. He had wanted, too, to replicate a run of the long-defunct Blue Ridge Bus Lines from Frederick to Hagerstown (with photo stops along the way and lunch in the former Hagerstown bus station, now a restaurant), but it was canceled for lack of interest. Maybe there will be more enthusiasm next time.

Will there BE a next time? YES. Mark this date down. It'll be September 25, 1999. God willing, I'll be there. And maybe there will even be a Silversides on hand for me to drool over!


Bus Museum Planned for Hershey, Pa.

It's to be known as the Museum of Bus Transportation. It will be located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in company with the Antique Automobile Club of America. It is intended as a "national center for the preservation of highway passenger transportation history." The facility will be adjacent to Hershey's entertainment and resort area, located within a day's drive for 40 percent of the U.S. population. Buses will be on display in addition to educational exhibits and an archives of photographs and printed materials of companies and people of the industry. In order to make the museum a reality, a "We're Making History" funding campaign is being conducted with a $4-million goal to include half for the museum's building and the other half to serve as an endowment. Carriers, manufacturers, suppliers and friends are asked to be a part. The museum is a 501(c)(3) charitable, non-profit organization.