Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

UPDATE: WSJ: Congressional investigation of Amtrak IG

This goes to show the system works and, very honestly, I would prefer this kind of thing happen before Amtrak gets neck deep in its desperately needed equipment repairs and (hopefully) placing orders for desperately needed equipment.

The Wall Street Journal reports.

By CHRISTOPHER CONKEY

WASHINGTON — A House committee is investigating the recent resignation of Amtrak’s inspector general, citing concerns about oversight at the publicly funded corporation at a time when it is set to spend more than $1 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Reps. Edolphus Towns (D., N.Y.) and Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, launched an investigation Monday following the resignation this month of Fred Weiderhold, Amtrak’s longtime inspector general.

Further note the sudden and suspicious departure of former president Alex Kummant and the “activist” reputation of the Amtrak board.

No excuses, no whining. I beat the daylights out of my enemies for this kind of thing, I can hardly let it pass when my friends are under the microscope.

It is, however, possible that the typical bunch of neocons might save the chest thumping for a more appropriate occasion. All this proves is that the system can be made to work.

UPDATE: While Michelle Malkin may fall into the general classification of neocon chest beater, her commentary on the Amtrak IG affair bears consideration. Memo to Michelle: Amtrak is hardly “awash” in $1.3 billion dollars in stimulus money. Amtrak is capital starved and management impaired with a meddlesome board and micr0-managing congress. Every sensible person wants the Amtrak money to be used as advertised, station improvements and desperately needed repairs of rolling stock.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Midwest High Speed Rail Association proposes 220 mph. for Chicago-St. Louis

The Chicago Tribune says that a new study on the St. Louis-Chicago corridor will be released today. Currently, Amtrak operates at around 79 mph. on this route and the latest plans would raise speeds to 110 mph. There is good cause to be thinking of something very much faster, according to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

By going 220 m.p.h., however, those improved trip times would be cut roughly in half, to 1 hour and 52 minutes, according to the association. The estimate includes making intermediary stops in Champaign and Springfield, while providing customers with downtown-to-downtown service and beating the door-to-door trip times of airline travel.

This is a very old railroad right-of-way, and in this case it is a good thing. Originally the Chicago and Alton, the Lincoln funeral train used this route from Chicago to Springfield. It is the old GM&O, which is my family railroad. The point is that it is straight in many places and people are accustomed to its operation.

This is a situation in which it makes a great deal of sense to relocate freight traffic and completely rebuild the line for the fastest trains possible. The $11 billion price tag tells me that the AHSRA is making a strong bid for a major slice of the federal money.

There are several excellent reasons to favor this route, including the existance of a “mature” base of consummers who already use rail transportation.

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

France plans new TGV line

The reports from France could not be better. Here is the latest item of interest from The Connexion.  

THE ROUTE of a new high-speed rail link across the South-east will pass through Marseilles and Toulon on its way to Nice.

The route will make it possible to reach Paris from Nice in 3hrs 50mins compared to 5hrs 25mins at present.

Those hopeless French morons! Don’t they know that Paris is 387 miles fron Nice and that is far too long a trip by high speed rail? Those buffoons! If only they had some tried and true American know how, they would already know that what they are planning is impossible! French cities are just too far apart. I mean, don’t misunderstand, high speed rail is a sweet childish dream, but you can’t expect to actually construct high speed rial lines because there’s always a reason why not. It just won’t work. End of story.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Transportation reform must wait, Obama administration folds

This actually came up last week during the  Texas High Speed Rail Corporation board meeting and the National Intermodal Steering Committees joint meeting in Little Rock. It was the consensus opinion that waiting till after the midterm elections would be a mistake and that the Oberstar process was to be preferred.

The Washington Post has the latest developments.

After rejecting criticism that it is taking on too much, the Obama administration has identified one area where ambitious reforms will have to wait: overhauling the nation’s aging, congested and carbon-emitting transportation system.

You may wish to scroll down to the reports frm last week for for some background.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Just what is the federal plan for high-speed rail?, asks GAO

For the first time, a fair amount of federal money has been set aside for high-speed rail — the much sought after $13 billion from the federal stimulus and budget. And we’ve seen all sorts of hands in many different states reaching for this funding for their projects, many of which certainly stretch even the low federal 110mph definition of high-speed rail. Last week’s project evaluation criteria put out by the Department of Transportation for rail stimulus money sets some boundaries, but the Government Accountability Office is asking a fair question: where’s the real “strategic plan” for this high-speed rail “vision”? The Transport Politic, naturally, has some good commentary on this:

[GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure] Ms. Fleming’s statement comes three months after the release of GAO’s major report on high-speed rail, which advocated a major federal investment in the transportation mode. Emphasizing that that report pushed the DOT to pinpoint specific goals for rail improvement, Ms. Fleming argued that the Obama Administration’s actions so far were little more than a “vision,” rather than “a strategic plan.” The U.S. must “define goals for investing in high speed rail,” she said, and describe “how these investments will achieve them, how the federal government will determine which corridors it could invest in, [and] how high speed rail investments could be evaluated against possible alternative modes in those corridors.” Ms. Fleming said that the FRA largely agreed with her opinions. In fact, DOT has been planning to release a draft national rail plan by mid-October; however, that is a month after the FRA will release initial stimulus bill grants to applicant projects for rail investment.

Mr. Szabo, the head of the FRA, said that U.S. plans were similar to those already achieved in Europe. Yet the U.S. government has yet to commit to even one high-speed corridor, nor has it established a reliable and objective framework for national planning.

Mr. Boardman, meanwhile, claimed thatWith high-speed rail, speed is not the issue. Convenience and trip times are.” This rhetoric is dangerous on several counts. For one, it will allow the U.S. to distribute funds to projects that are ill-suited to high-speed rail, but which are politically popular. The Senate’s strong rural bent means that unworthy projects may be given the green light ahead of more valuable ones if the DOT’s guidelines for resource distribution aren’t based on projected passenger ridership and cost effectiveness.

Second, the repeated claim that speed “doesn’t matter” may result in less-than-popular completed projected. It is worth again mentioning what I wrote yesterday: if the U.S. doesn’t get high-speed rail right the first time, it may be decades before the mode is politically acceptable enough to promote again.

This is a difficult issue to grapple with. Here at TFA, we’re in favor of passenger rail improvement on all levels… not just the European-style “true high-speed” routes. Incremental improvements to existing routes can make a huge difference in a country that is woefully under-served by convenient rail transportation. On the other hand, Freemark’s comment about the need to “get it right the first time” is certainly valid. Any slight boondoggle with high-speed rail money is sure to be leaped upon by highway interests as a way to put a stop to this new progressive attitude towards intercity transportation. This is why projects such as California’s are so important. It’s the ideal proving ground for an American rail line at world-class speeds. It can be the example rail advocates and politicians can point to in the future as a successful model. On the other hand, any federal rail plan needs to address the more immediate (or, dare I say, “shovel-ready”) problems that are affecting our existing Amtrak network. Passenger rail in America is growing in popularity and visibility, and it needs immediate improvement if this momentum is going to last until the first “true” high-speed line is built.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

California high speed rail may have an advantage

It is no surprise that California’s bonding authority approved last November, coupled with a developing plan for construction, is a strong contender among states seeking federal high speed rail money. Those ambitions have been edged a bit upward, according to this item in sgvtribune.com

This week Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, praised California voters’ approval in November of $9 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail project.

“California, by having the bond, has a step up,” Rae said.

Overall, the state’s high-speed rail authority is flush with billions in bond money and is poised to get billions more from the federal stimulus package. Now experts say California’s $45 billion bullet train project could be changing from a public-works pipe dream into a real possibility.

There is an interview on California HSR consultant Keith Jones recorded last week and posted here.

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

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