Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

A Better Way To Travel: Why Isn’t the U.S. Investing In High-Speed Trains? – Harvard Political Review

Usual disclaimers apply. The USA will never construct a single mile of European style high speed rail. This is a well considered and intelligent article. It’s still just pissin’ in the wind, but follow the link anyway.

A Better Way To Travel: Why Isn’t the U.S. Investing In High-Speed Trains? – Harvard Political Review.

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

5 questions on high-speed rail and its U.S. future – CNN.com

It is my opinion (sadly held, I might add) that there will never be one mile of true European-style HSR ever put into commercial operation in the USA.

(CNN) — A train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, that killed at least 80 people and injured 178 more Wednesday poses many questions for investigators, who are homing in on what role the train’s speed may have played in the crash.

The issue of high-speed rail may raise more questions for the public at large, specifically in the United States, where high-speed trains are rare. Here are some basics on this speedy mode of transportation:

 

5 questions on high-speed rail and its U.S. future – CNN.com.

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

Illinois is a bright spot for improved passenger rail service

Evan Stair, the passenger rail supporter from Oklahoma, sent along some very encouraging analysis on the Illinois experience. He certainly hits one aspect of this battle for improved transportation straight on the bulls-eye. So far, the real beneficiaries have been the consultants and the numerous state functionaries who pretend to advance the interest of better rail passenger sail service. These people are generally predators and have no conscience about wasting the public’s money and misleading the populace. Another thing Stair hits, which is of extreme importance, is the necessity of walking before running. Put simply, if there were to be high speed trains in the United States (real 200mph European style operations), it would develop incrementally from successful passenger trains running in the conventional 110 mph range. The cost difference between the two types of construction is astounding. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has an excellent conception of how this would work, but in the USA, where only highway and airline interests have a seat at the table, they have had limited impact.Anyway, here is the story and commentary from Mr. Stair.

This story shows how to develop conventional 79-mph – 100-mph passegner rail, leading to Regional 125-mph and Express 150-mph High-Speed Rail Services (per Federal Railroad Administration definition).  Illinios is doing it right and in a similar fashion to the work done in Missouri.
The Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas DOTs are just creating the illusion they are passenger rail supportive by conducting study after study.  The Oklahoma investment to get 79-mph rail service jump started between Oklahoma City and Sapulpa is $90 million according to the Tulsa Rail Advisory Committee (TRAC), $100 million to reach all the way to Tulsa.
Illinois is learning to walk before it can run.  Again, this is an example of how High Speed Rail is defined dramatically different in the United States.
Evan Stair
President
Passenger Rail Oklahoma
Posted Jul 22, 2013 @ 10:22 PM
Last update Jul 22, 2013 @ 10:43 PM
High-speed rail construction is in its fourth season in Illinois with $1.45 billion in contracts awarded for projects ranging from track and signal upgrades to environmental studies.
Work this year concentrates on sidings and design of the automated control system for faster passenger and freight trains, according to a summer 2013 update from the Illinois Department of Transportation.  The goal is regular 110-mph Amtrak service on most of the St. Louis-Chicago corridor in 2015.
“Expansion of 110-mph service to about two-thirds of the corridor is expected in the fourth quarter of 2015,” IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said in an email Monday.  Amtrak started 110-mph speeds last fall on the northern end of the Lincoln Service route, between Dwight and Pontiac.
The federal government has awarded Illinois about $1.45 billion toward upgrades between Chicago and St. Louis. Still more money is being sought, including for consolidation of Third and 10th street trains on 10th Street in Springfield.
High-speed rail supporters also announced Monday separate funding would be sought to improve capacity at Union Station in Chicago.  About half the cost of contracts awarded as of June 2013 have been for rail and structure upgrades, according to the IDOT update.  Another $211 million is for new passenger cars and equipment, and $211.4 million for design, construction and other professional services.
Miller said about $350 million actually has been spent to date on the rail work in Illinois. She said construction in 2014 and 2015 would concentrate on 13 new sidings, purchase and installation of automated train-control systems, crossing upgrades and new equipment.
Lincoln Service passengers will switch to charter buses for eight days starting Aug. 16 to accommodate bridge and culvert work north of Bloomington, according to an announcement from Amtrak and IDOT.  Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said, despite construction disruptions, more than 551,000 passengers took Lincoln Service trains through the first nine months of the federal fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
The number is up 4 percent from the same nine-month period the previous fiscal year and on pace for a record.  Amtrak has accommodated the steady increase by refurbishing and returning old passenger cars to service. The first new passenger cars are not scheduled for delivery until early 2016.  “People have been more flexible in their schedules,” said Magliari. “We haven’t had any change to our capacity. It’s why we needed to get the additional cars.”
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association also has begun lobbying for federal funding to expand capacity at Union Station in Chicago.  Executive director Rick Harnish said Monday the station has become a passenger bottleneck, especially as Amtrak use continues to grow.  “We need to figure out how to get some federal money flowing, so we can get moving on a lot of these things,” said Harnish. “They should be doing it now.”
Tim Landis can be reached at 788-1536. Follow him at twitter.com/timlandisSJR.
***
High-speed price tag
Breakdown of $1.45 billion in contracts for high-speed rail work in Illinois as of June 2013:
* Track and structures: $726.3 million
* Professional services (design, environmental studies, program management): $211.4 million
* Cars and equipment: $211 million
* Signal and communications upgrades: $183.9 million
* Grade crossing approaches, bridges, fencing and related work: $61.6 million
* Station upgrades: $40 million
* Land acquisition: $16.3 million
Source: Ilinois Department of Transportation
__._,_.___

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

House Appropriators Declare War on Trains

This item is in today’s mail. With God’s help, I will turn 63 this August. In this lifetime, I cannot recall a time when passenger trains were up against the ropes. Around the world, rail intercity passenger service has flourished while American trains limped along at 50 mph. This is a sorry state of affairs and even more bad news for small town America, which depends on decent passenger train service to remain connected to teh nation’s cities. This network was decimated in the 60s and70s so that today there is almost no memory of a time when one could take the train. This is by no means a sentimental appeal to preserve a historic artifact, but a call to use modern technology to conveniently move large numbers of people best served by ground services.

House Appropriators released a draft bill today that slashes Amtrak’s budget by a third. NARP responded immediately with a press release denouncing the proposal as unacceptable: The National Association of Railroad Passengers announced that it will fight implementation of the House Appropriation Committee’s Fiscal Year 2014 transportation funding levels. The draft bill, which the subcommittee will consider tomorrow, slashes Amtrak’s budget by a third, threatening the very existence of Amtrak. The bill also fails to include funding for the High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program. Not only does the bill include no new funding for the highly over-subscribed TIGER grants­a competitive, multi-modal program where rail has competed well­it rescinds $237 million in previously appropriated FY 2013 TIGER funding that is not yet obligated.

The House proposal denies state and local leaders the resources they need to develop the modern transportation network necessary for mobility and economic growth. It comes as economic experts and the International Monetary Fund criticize the U.S. for plunging ahead with austerity even as low interest rates make borrowing for projects unusually affordable, America’s unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, and the need for transportation infrastructure investment is widely acknowledged.

The House committee’s bill has just $950 million for Amtrak, a 29% cut from the final 2013 number [$1,344 million]. This includes a $350 million operating grant (21% below the FY 2013 level), and $600 million in capital (33.5% below FY 2013). <http://org2.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=fOcum5bGSC4Xm9xXajM7ccs4i37FSIE%2F>[Read the full press release here] NARP will be launching a campaign to rally support for Amtrak and passenger trains soon, so stay tuned for more developments. In the meantime, you can pass the word of this alarming proposal on to your local elected officials, your friends, and your family ­ help us stand up for trains!

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief plan sparks rail passenger lobby response, Arkansas connection here!

This item appeared in my email and I am sure Mr. Evan Stair will not object to my distribution here. While I am pessimistic about the future of almost everything, the 60-year silliness over doing away with intercity passenger trains is simply beyond laughable, even as they become more necessary in an increasingly depressed economy.  This controversy concerning the Southwest Chief will have an impact on Arkansas. Read on.
Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas rail supporters, 
While we are frequently critical of the National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) the below NARP letter is refreshing.  Kudos go out to George Chilson, Bill Hutchison and Jim Loomis for their work on this critical statement.  We hope this means you, the rail supporter, are finally being heard in the hinterlands.
As we alerted three years ago, the Southwest Chief is the most threatened Long Distance train in the nation.  This train runs daily between Amtrak’s Chicago – Kansas City – Albuquerque – Los Angeles with many intermediate stops.  It is the spine upon which many passenger rail expansions depend.  This expansion list includes the following:
Oklahoma City – Tulsa – Joplin – Kansas City (Oklahoma City – Tulsa Regional Economic and Transportation Authority work is progressing)
Oklahoma City – Wichita (Work remains stalled in the planning stages)
Kansas City to Omaha/ Lincoln (Long term vision to create a connection between Southwest Chief (Chicago-LA) and California Zephyr (Chicago-San Francisco) routes)
Albuquerque – Pueblo – Colorado Springs – Denver (Long term Colorado Regional Transportation District goal)
Amtrak Concerns:  Our concern today is not just with Congress, but also Amtrak.  Amtrak has expressed an interest in expanding state supplemental requirements beyond the 750-mile-or-greater Long Distance definition.  Historically Long Distance trains have been funded 100% from Amtrak’s annual federal appropriation.
Amtrak has approached the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico to provide state supplemental funding for the Southwest Chief. (see the attachment for the Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico joint response to Amtrak’s request for state supplemental funding for a Long Distance train)(e-mail us for a copy if it is not included in your e-mail.)  We expect Amtrak to approach the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico next year to request state supplemental reroute costs with similar results.  We also anticipate, if non-federal funding is not identified, Amtrak will have made a discontinuance case for the Southwest Chief.
This will set equally as dangerous precedent as that offered by Representative Shuster.  State Supplemental Long Distance represents an unworkable model that will doom Amtrak’s Long Distance network.
More than Just a Long Distance Threat:  Amtrak’s caviler approach threatens more than just Long Distance trains.  For example, the state supplemental Oklahoma City – Fort Worth Heartland Flyer depends upon the federally funded Texas Eagle.  A Texas Eagle discontinuance would doom the Heartland Flyer as it daily transfers 30% of its ridership beyond Fort Worth.
Position Statement:  Our position is that Long Distance trains should remain federally funded due to the interstate nature of their service and round-the-clock operation.  Passenger Rail Oklahoma and our affiliates emphatically encourage NARP to protest the proposed Amtrak Southwest Chief state supplemental policy foray.  This policy states that the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico are responsible for funding $100 million in initial capital rehabilitation of the Newton, KS – La Junta, CO – Albuquerque, NM BNSF Railway Southwest Chief route segment.  The request also includes annual state operational requirements.
NARP Letter to US Representative Bill Shuster:
June 11, 2013
The Honorable Bill Shuster
Chairman
Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
2165 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Shuster:
As reported by Politico, your June 6 comments about Amtrak’s long distance trains caused anxiety among our members for it understandably raised the concern that these popular, heavily-used trains could be in jeopardy. We appreciate that you are “not committed to” specific shut-downs. In a similar vein, we appreciated Chairman Denham’s comment at the end of his May 21 hearing that his goal is to make the long distance trains more efficient.
Millions of Americans are already facing a loss of their personal mobility. Airlines are reducing the number of flights and have reduced or discontinued service to literally hundreds of smaller cities. Many older citizens are unable or unwilling to drive their personal automobiles for more than just a few miles; this population will grow dramatically over the next few decades in the U.S., and their needs must be accounted for. An increasing number of young people don’t own automobiles, either as a personal choice or because they are unaffordable. Millions more find flying to be too expensive, too inconvenient or simply too unpleasant.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers believes that these people—and indeed all Americans—have the right to choose

how they travel. We also believe it is a fundamental right that they be able to travel.

Some 173 million Americans – more than half of our total population – live within 25 miles of an Amtrak station that is served by long distance trains. Moreover, in 23 of the lower 48 states, long-distance trains are the only intercity passenger trains. The growth in revenues (up 24.4% from FY 2008 to FY 2012) and ridership on the long-distance trains, that has come in spite of unchanged capacity and aged equipment, is one indication of strong public support for these trains.
As your committee begins its work, we urge you to seek a fresh approach, focusing on legislation that will encourage and support improvement and expansion of the long-distance network.
Most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains are currently at or near capacity—and capacity has not been expanded for decades. We are convinced that both ridership and revenues will continue to improve—if capacity is improved, by some combination of expanding existing trains, adding frequencies and adding routes.
We look forward to working with you on the ongoing passenger rail reauthorization.
Sincerely.
Robert Stewart
Chairman
Ross Capon
President and CEO

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

The death of rail advocate John Mills

Gene Poon reports the sad news on another site. I believe I met Mr. Mills once and he certainly had a wonderful mind for good transportation and passenger rail service. I am sorry to see him go and glad that he will not have to endure the slow undoing on Amtrak at the hands of political bullies whose only interest is their own small-minded power trip.

This man stood up to opposition from Amtrak management and the political opportunists who are always working to favor the transportation special interests. John Mills, well done!

John Mills, tireless passenger rail advocate and retired Amtrak manager
(placed in the sequence that he himself saw fit) died today in Little
Rock, AR.

To quote Marc Lowrance of Arlington, TX, in another discussion board:

> Mr. Mills joined Amtrak in the early 1970’s and was assigned to Fort
> Worth, Texas as district supervisor. He annoyed staff members in
> Fort Worth by insisting that they park their cars in the station’s
> north lot to preserve the front of the station places for paying
> customers. He met and walked through every train that passed through
> FTW, and was not afraid to deal with dirty conditions or lazy
> on-board staff.
>
> His pride was the reinstatement of service between Fort Worth and
> Laredo, that led to the full “Inter American” service from St. Louis
> to Laredo in 1974. When unreliable equipment, slow operation speeds
> over the then Missouri Pacific, combined with blisteringly hot Texas
> summers threatened the success of the train, John worked to solve
> the problem. Paying no attention to Amtrak bureaucracy, he worked
> directly with board member Charlie Luna to secure former Southern
> Pacific train sets that could handle the slower speeds without
> losing power (and air conditioning) until Amfleet equipment came to
> the route in 1977. John’s direct, opinionated style and ability to
> get things done did not go over well many Amtrak executives.
>
> John moved to Little Rock briefly as supervisor before being
> transferred to Topeka, Kansas where he became supervisor of stations
> in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. In the 1980’s John
> became the Senior Quality Control man for Amtrak and spent much of
> his time in Vermont. There, he was the purchasing agent for the
> entire Amfleet II car order, as well as some Horizon equipment and
> Bombardier-built second generation Superliner cars.
>
> After retirement he remained in Topeka as an outspoken proponent of
> passenger rail. John moved home to Little Rock after the death of
> his longtime wife, LaVern several years ago.

I knew John Mills in his last years with Amtrak and during an
incredibly productive retirement.

His inspiration drove passenger rail advocates to
great things, accomplished by hard work even in the face of
opposition by Amtrak. In the dark days of 1997 when Amtrak was bent
upon killing several long distance trains, John Mills’s proteges did
things that amazed many, and…face it…outfoxed Amtrak. It would
not be a stretch of the truth to say that had there not been a John
Mills, there would be no Texas Eagle today. Significantly,
Amtrak has not since tried to massacre so much of its long distance
service in one swoop.

Farewell, John. You have done very well indeed.

-GP

My friend and fellow Arkansan, Dr. Bill Pollard, gave this reaction to the terrible loss.

first met John Mills 45+ years ago, when I was still in high school and he was bitterly contesting Missouri Pacific train discontinuances at ICC train-off hearings in Little Rock.

Exactly forty two years ago to this day, April 30, 1971, John refused to even acknowledge, much less ride, the last run of Missouri Pacific passenger service in Arkansas – such was his determination that the service would return. Within days of the time that Arkansas fell into the freight-only ranks, Mills was plotting strategy with J.O. Powell, editorial page editor of the late, great Arkansas Gazette, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. The Gazette’s involvement brought immense credibility to the cause, and the newspaper’s constant litany of pro-passenger train editorials helped to persuade two members of the Arkansas congressional delegation (Senator John McClellan and Congressman Wilbur Mills, collaborating with Texas Congressman Jake Pickle) to demand restoration of passenger train service between St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas and Laredo. Without the relentless involvement and the congressional testimony of John Mills, it is very doubtful that passenger service would have been restored over what was historically the most heavily traveled route between St. Louis and Texas.

The Inter-American, predecessor of today’s Texas Eagle, began service on March 13, 1974. I was the ticket clerk on duty when the first train arrived in Little Rock. John hadn’t conducted my employment interview, but I have no doubt that he helped influence that decision. By that time, John was an Amtrak manager in Fort Worth, but that didn’t stop him from publicly lambasting Mopac for operating the Inter-American at 60mph maximum on track that was easily good for 79mph. Long after retiring from Amtrak, John continued to produce a barrage of letters promoting passenger rail and, when necessary, chastising Amtrak for what he viewed as various shortcomings.

We have lost another tireless advocate for the cause, but along the way, John Mills did influence a lot of other people across the country to get involved. The battle for more and better intercity passenger rail service will continue.

Bill Pollard

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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