Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Missouri Amtrak subsidy gets renewed

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, Amtrak’s state subsidy for running their two trip per-day line between St. Louis and Kansas City has been renewed.

Missouri House and Senate budget negotiators approved on Tuesday $8 million in subsidies that will allow Amtrak to continue operating two passenger trains that make two trips per day between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Brian Weiler, director of multimodal operations for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the $8 million contract to Amtrak is good for one year beginning July 1. The current $7.4 million contract expires June 30.

Unfortunately, Amtrak still lacks the $10 million it needs to perform infrastructure improvements on the line. These improvements would help alleviate timeliness issues, which are largely due to sharing the rails with freight trains.

The capital improvements would go toward extending current sidings near California, Mo., and Strasburg, Mo., to 8,500 feet in order to accommodate longer freight trains and expedite passenger train movement, according to MODOT.

In fiscal 2007, only 71 percent of trains were within 30 minutes of their scheduled times with performances in some months as low as 54 percent. Some trains were delayed by several hours.

Poor on-time performance has played its part in the drop of Missouri’s state-supported passenger rail service, dropping from a high of 208,000 riders in fiscal year 2001 to only 144,000 in fiscal year 2007.

Anti-rail legislators will complain about how late Amtrak trains are, without stopping to realize that the primary reason for that is because they have to share their lines with slow moving freight trains. If the federal government and states want to provide their citizens with good passenger rail service, they need to be willing to put in what they want to get out of it.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Are state DOT’s staffed for handling rail transit?

Most of us associate our respective state Departments of Transportation (with their oh-so-cute DOT acronyms) with one thing and one thing only: highways. They’re the ones responsible for maintaining the interstates that grow ever wider in and around our cities.

So it should come as no surprise then when Albert Song points out in the Hartford Courant that his state’s DOT, at least, is ill-equiped for managing the passenger rail systems that serve the Northeastern state.

My understanding of the DOT’s function, which has not changed much since I went to work there in 1986, is to construct, service and maintain highways and bridges. The department is well qualified and equipped to build highways in a professional and efficient manner, and is unquestionably good at it.

However, in my view, the DOT is not organized and staffed to direct rail car design, rail car manufacturing nor construction of mass transit system. As far as I knew, no interest or effort was ever expended to develop a transit capability.

Considering that Connecticut lies in one of the more active rail regions in the country, one wonders how capable the DOT of other states, such as those in the West and the South, are in terms of passenger rail. It’s not a happy thought.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, Travel Woes

Oklahoma-Kansas developments

Evan Stair in Oklahoma City brings the latest Heartland Flyer developments forward, leading with some of his own comments.

 

This story is typical of something I have discussed in the past.  Some people do not believe that Tulsans are adverse to expanded Amtrak service through Wichita.  Well some are… Read the comments section following the article.  

 

I was checking this morning for information regarding the INCOG (Indian Nation Council of Governments) Rail program in the Tulsa World following last night’s meeting at Tulsa Union Station.  I did not attend the meeting because of other commitments; however, there are some financial realities that I believe trump political realities.  In fact, it might be easier to trump the political realities if Tulsa legislators and civic organizations were honestly educated about what is easiest to do with regard to Oklahoma passenger rail expansion.

 

1) Missouri is not presently considering Amtrak expansion between St. Louis and Springfield (Branson).  The idea was snuffed out last year as too expensive for the added transportation benefit.  There are still some in Oklahoma who refuse to consider the Missouri initiative dead, despite the fact that Missouri is threatening to cut one of the two Amtrak frequencies between St. Louis and Kansas City.  Until Missouri begins seeing a need for additional state passenger rail routes, the Eastward (or Northward) expansion of Amtrak service from Oklahoma City to Tulsa and beyond will have to wait.

 

2) ODOT figures show that track upgrades between Oklahoma City and Tulsa will be in the range of $110 million.  Amtrak’s pending study for “Tulsa” operation is expected to blow the Tulsa operational concept out of the water financially.  Now, $110 million is not a lot of money in ODOT’s overall $1.5 billion budget, but it is large when ODOT does not seem willing to confront the “Heartland Flyer tourist train” myth.  This myth is perpetuated in the Oklahoma Legislature as I am certain that the ODOT sponsored “Beach Party” train is on the horizon.  Information is sketchy at best with regard to the quality of the track between Oklahoma City and Sapulpa.  It is “dark territory” meaning that passenger trains would not be allowed to go conventional passenger rail speeds.

 

3) Based upon the existing Heartland Flyer schedule, Tulsa as a terminal would have a train arriving from Oklahoma City at about 1:00am.  It would have to leave Tulsa by 5:30am to reach Oklahoma City in time to continue the existing schedule.  Further, Tulsa would be a lengthened stub end.  The goal is of course developing a corridor between Texas and Kansas.  With a layover (to be determined by Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas governments and Amtrak… not by any rail advocacy organization.) 

 

4) ODOT figures also show that track upgrades between Oklahoma City and Newton will be in the range of $5 million.

 

5) We will see what the Amtrak Tulsa study says.  We will also see what the Amtrak Kansas City – Fort Worth study says later this year or early next.  It is nice to have both studies ending within a year of each other as it will help lawmakers make decisions about what is best with regard to expansion.  Both routes are necessary.

 

6) The better and less costly “Tulsa” alternative is to operate the Tulsa to Oklahoma City corridor as a non-Amtrak route using state owned equipment.  This would include state owned equipment from a provider such as Colorado Rail Car.  It could be operated like that in New Mexico (RailRunner) ala progressive Governor Bill Richardson.  This would provide more frequent service that would come online faster than Amtrak could provide.  Remember folks, this is an INTRA-state route.  Consider that with Rail upgrades Tulsa might eventually “get” an Amtrak train “through” Tulsa with state funded rail upgrades capable of 50-50 federal matching funding already available for grant applications.  However, they might also find the state operated routing more to their liking.  Just getting something on the rails at this point is important.

 

7) Kansas is showing signs that they want to join the 14 other states supplementing federally funded Amtrak service.  Until this imitative is as dead as Missouri’s it behooves Oklahomans to unify behind this effort.  Why?  Because it is fiscally less taxing to the taxpayer and is in effect easier to sell to fiscally conservative lawmakers.

 

Evan Stair

Oklahoma Director

Northern Flyer Alliance

 

————————–

Kansas City rail service may be expanded to Oklahoma City 

http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?articleID=20080321_1__TOPEK78751

 

By Associated Press 

3/21/2008  10:28 AM 

 

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas transportation officials have asked Amtrak to study the possible expansion of rail service from Kansas City to Oklahoma City.

 

The rail line will look at connecting two existing routes — one that runs from Kansas City to Newton, Kan., the other from Fort Worth, Texas, to Oklahoma City. The study will consider scheduling, the availability of locomotives and cars and whether rail improvements are needed.

 

The study would be paid for by the Kansas Department of Transportation at a cost of $150,000 to $200,000. It would begin this summer and be completed in the fall of 2009.

 

KDOT said in a news release Thursday that Arkansas City, Strong City, Lawrence, Winfield and Emporia have expressed interest in the expansion. By Associated Press

 

7 readers have commented on this story so far. Tell us what you think below!

 

1. 3/21/2008 11:10:43 AM, Leo Graves, 

Tulsa gets bypassed, what a shock. Tulsa’s dead, bury it and give it a nice tombstone. 

2. 3/21/2008 11:30:08 AM, TURobY, Tulsa 

It’s not a shock, as it would not be feasible to go through Tulsa because the passenger infrastructure doesn’t exist here. Remember, this is a feasability study by Kansas transportation officials to connect existing lines together in the least obtrusive way. Those lines exist from Fort Worth to OKC, and Kansas City to Newton, KS. Examing a map, you’ll notice that the next logical stop from Newton would be Wichita, then down I-35 to OKC. 

3. 3/21/2008 11:59:31 AM, jason, tulsa 

With fuel prices rising at least it nice to see some more mass transit options being visited. (even if tulsa isn’t included) However it would be nice to see this done with “bullet” trains capable of 200+ mph, however I’m sure the cost would be enormous. 

4. 3/21/2008 1:21:25 PM, KC Fan, Tulsa 

This is awesome. I have lived in Oklahoma City, Lawrence, Winfield, and Kansas City. Kansas City is an awesome place. It is much better than Dallas. I think people would enjoy visiting KC and this makes it easy. It is only a 3.5 hour drive from Tulsa so I would not use the train if it did run to Tulsa. 

5. 3/21/2008 9:12:18 PM, patrick fox, Tulsa 

We should protest any state funding for this line, unless it contains money to connect Tulsa to OKC via the rail line that the state ALREADY OWNS.

 

And…TuRoby…I don’t believe that what you are saying about Tulsa to KC being an inferior connection is true. Not according to any rail study I have seen.

 

6. 3/21/2008 9:27:25 PM, Stacy Richardson, Tulsa 

TURoby is wrong. The lines are already in place between Kansas City and Tulsa, and from Tulsa to Dallas. It’s a matter of coming up with some money to remodel a depot to resume passenger service, finding the funds to upgrade the track, and doing it. 

 

The track between Oklahoma City and Tulsa is in deplorable state. We could fund track improvements all the way to Dallas for what it would cost to fix the track between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

 

But, of course, such a plan wouldn’t help Oklahoma City. In this miserable, misbegotten state of Oklahoma, if there’s a way to screw Tulsa, Tulsa will get screwed. And once again, Tulsa is getting screwed. 

7. 3/22/2008 1:56:28 AM, Larry, 

How could anybody around here believe that Tulsa would get rail service? Several years ago someone from the Tulsa World speculated that we would never see rail service. I see nothing has changed. 

OKC has all the free roads in the state and now apparently will have even better rail service. And if it wasn’t for Americans’ main maintenance base our airport would probably dry up and blow away. 

For those of you who make trips to Dallas you’re faced with going to OKC via the pike and then take the free Interstate to Dallas or face Hwy 75 where a number of small infamous municipalities await your arrival to pick your pickets big time (speed traps). 

A train ride would bypass this harassment and make life a little easier and less expensive for us. What are our Tulsa legislators waiting for? 

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Mark your calendars… National Train Day is coming

May 10th will mark the first ever National Train Day, commemorating the 1869 historic driving of the “golden spike,” which marked the completion of the transcontinental train line. There will be festivities at Penn Station in New York, as well as the primary train stations in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

You can visit the event’s website, where there is a poll asking which legendary train you would most like to ride on. The list includes the Hogwarts Express, the Shinkansen bullet train (no maglev?), and the Polar Express. One option I didn’t see on there was an American train system that the federal government actually cared to maintain and improve. Oh well. I did really appreciate this comment from the about section:

Now, 139 years after the golden spike connected east and west, there’s never been a better time to take the train. Huge crowds and the frustrations that go with them burden our highways and airports. And at a time when we all share the same pressing concerns about ecology and energy conservation, trains are a more energy-efficient mode of travel than either autos or airplanes. Riding the rails is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Not to mention meet interesting people and see breathtaking scenery.

No directions will be provided from the airport.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

Nashville maglev plan inches ahead, more good rail news for Chatnooga

The Chattanooga Times Free Press is reporting that the preliminary study into a Nashville-Chatanooga indicates that the I-24 corridor would be the best place for a proposed maglev route linking the two Tennessee cities. The next step is to do an environmental impact study similar to what is already being done for an Atlanta-Chattanooga airport maglev link.

Joe Ferguson, who is overseeing the fast-train initiative for Chattanooga’s Enterprise Center, said the study’s results also will offer ridership projections as well as suggestions where stations may go on the route.

He said the $870,000 study is slated to be finished in late May.

Officials have said that while there’s no money to build a train, Chattanooga needs to be ready if funds become available from the federal government or private sector.

Mr. Ferguson told the center’s board the next step will be to perform an environmental impact study such as that which is in progress between Chattanooga and Atlanta.

“It’s preliminary to an EIS,” he said of the Nashville-Chattanooga study.

Wayne Cropp, the center’s executive director, said he returned earlier this month from Shanghai, China, where he rode on a magnetic levitation train that reached 280 mph.

“Maglev is outstanding technology,” he said about the train which operates on a 20-mile route.

Mr. Ferguson said the $7.9 million EIS study under way between the Chattanooga and Atlanta airports just completed its first full year and has about 18 months left.

This is great news for rail transport in Chattanooga. A city famous for its railroad heritage just might be at the center of two ultra-modern HSR projects in the coming years, bringing passenger trains back to what has been an obvious dead spot in the national system.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

China’s new HSR line continues to make U.S. look backwards

Last week, China began laying the groundwork for a new high speed rail line from Beijing to Shanghai. The service will be capable of reaching speeds of up to 220 mph and will take about five years to build. It’s harrowing to see that the PRC is modernizing its already extensive passenger rail system while Amtrak has to fight a hostile executive branch for every penny of its modest funding. Not to mention that Amtrak’s Acela high-speed train service still runs on antiquated tracks, and could never reach the speeds promised on this route.

While China’s government may be oppressive and disdainful of human rights, they at least seem to realize that a thorough passenger rail network is a service to its citizens (And despite my taste for trains, I don’t think I’d like to trade the former for that latter). In terms of comparing the cost of traveling by rail, I would suggest you look at this site, which shows the cost of rail tickets in China, but I suspect you would find the information just a tad bit depressing.

China railmap image from johomaps.com, American rail network image from Amtrak.

Filed under: Amtrak, International High Speed Rail

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