Idaho Transportation

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563

ITD-hosted rail conference attracts record numbers

The Idaho Transportation Department welcomed a record number of participants last month for the 2005 national meeting of the AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) Standing Committee on Rail Transportation (SCORT).

About 130 participants and 35 guests from 33 state DOTs and the rail industry participated in the four-day meeting (Aug. 28-31) at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

The agenda included discussions that ranged from developing and operating intercity passenger rail corridors to rail financing and making productive investments in freight rail projects. The meeting also included a train trip on the BNSF Railway from Spokane to Sandpoint and a dinner cruise on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Lance Giles of Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s office joined Idaho Transportation Board member John McHugh in providing opening remarks at the conference, along with Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, conference chair Ron Kerr of ITD and SCORT chairman Bob Flanagan (secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation) as major speakers.

Among the speakers were representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Amtrak, short line and regional railroads, Association of American Railroads (AAR), rail consultants, state DOTs and a number of Class I railroad representatives including Norfolk Southern Railroad, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.
Program sessions included:

  • The Washington Report
  • Rail Initiatives-West and East/State and Local
  • Perspectives on State Rail Plans
  • Intercity Passenger Rail-Getting to Yes
  • Lessons for Multi-state Rail Corridors
  • Rail Financing: So You Want to Finance a Rail Project?

Conference highlights

  • Kerr moderated a panel on shipper requirements that that included John Ficker, president of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), and Idaho’s Dave Weisel of Potlatch Corp. and Bryan Whipple of Amalgamated Sugar. The speakers discussed how shippers cope with their multi-modal shipping challenges.
  • State DOT staff and railroad representatives shared their experiences and ideas on how the public and private sectors can collaborate on projects that are mutually beneficial during roundtable discussions on public/private freight rail projects. Included was the Bridging the Valley project between Spokane, Wash., and Athol, Idaho, and the Mid-Atlantic Rail Operations Study, which identifies rail bottlenecks in the five-state mid-Atlantic corridor. Six other projects also were discussed.
  • Gil Mallery, vice president of Amtrak, was the Monday luncheon speaker. He discussed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2005 recently approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. The act reauthorizes funding for AMTRAK, creates a federal capital financing program for intercity passenger rail and contains a rail planning provision that requires states seeking aid under the act to prepare a comprehensive, long-term rail plan.
  • Ed McKechnie, executive vice president of Watco Companies, Inc., was the Tuesday luncheon speaker. Watco has about 60 percent of the short line rail miles in Idaho and about 80 percent of the short line traffic in the state. McKechnie discussed the status and future needs of short line railroads – an industry that has $1.5 billion in track needs. He also discussed how states can and should help in developing rail networks by educating the public and private side of the transportation industry.

Innovative approach
ITD used information technology to help make planning the conference easier and more efficient.

The department was the first SCORT conference to create its own website outside the AASHTO website and the first to use online registration with an E-commerce credit card payment system.

The SCORT 2005 meeting also was the first meeting hosted by ITD to use the online registration system. The system was developed by the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor in conjunction with Access Idaho. Visit the SCORT 2005 website here:

“ITD could not have hosted such a successful conference without the splendid work and commitment of ITD staff,” Kerr said. “It was gratifying to have our guests compliment me on how smoothly everything went.”

ITD staff that helped stage the successful conference included: Pat Marler, Judy Rogers, Reggie Phipps, Pauline Davis, David Coladner, Carinjoy Condon, Jonathan Lenhart, Joe Peagler, Ken Stewart and Eric Copp.

District 1 assisted by providing a van and equipment.

“And it goes without saying the Coeur d’Alene Resort is an outstanding place to hold a conference. Not only is it a beautiful location, but the resort staff did an terrific job in working with us to make our conference a success,” Kerr added.

What participants said about the conference...

Photo captions: Top: Participants at the rail conference paused for an informal discussion before the opening welcome; from left to right they are: Lance Giles of Gov. Kempthorne's Office, Ron Kerr of ITD, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, SCORT Chairman Bob Flanagan and transportation board member John McHugh; bottom: SCORT members await departure on the BNSF Railway special train at the Spokane Depot.