Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

State of the Blog

My fellow Americans and citizens of the cosmos,

First and foremost, we at Trains for America try not to take ourselves too seriously, In the current political and economic climate, that is no small task. As this is being written, July 2009, this internet conversation approaches two important hallmarks. TFA is now two years old and is approaching a milestone of 200,000 hits.

For many larger sites, this may not seem like much but we think it is quite a privilege to address around 800 readers on a typical working day. It is also noteworthy that around 15% of these visitors are from foreign countries. Each of you is appreciated.

TFA was born out of my desire to ventilate a strong personal opinions about rail passenger issues. My newspaper editors and radio employers would probably expect a more diverse coverage of events and issues, but my own blog was to be a sanctuary for my “quirky” interests.

It seemed apparent that, if I was going to need to be more than a nostalgic yearning for the days that are long lost. It was also clear that the site would take on a strong contrarian tone in view of the domination by aviation and trucking, coupled with the stout opposition of most operating rail companies.

All of this was changed by the election of Barack Obama. The most immediate and noticeable consequence of this event, for the personal perspective, is the explosion of readership on the TFA blog, which was previously 300 readers on any outstanding day.

While it is a pleasure to have, for once, an occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who appreciates the social and economic benefits of decent ground transportation, the times are still full of danger. Republicans unambiguously state their desire to “break” the president.

The political climate is overly influenced by an elitist neo-conservative faction that is completely insulated from all economic fallout from bad policy and does not give a tinker’s damn what happens to regular people. For proof, I propose the subprime mortgage collapse in whch millions of small people suffered and the people who caused it drifted away on golden parachutes.

The current battle over health care reform is for all the marbles. If there is not some sort of strong federal option (single payer?), the drug manufacturers and health insurance companies will have won a magnificent victory at the cost of working people and small business. Should this occur, aviation and highway interests will move quickly to crush HSR developments and improvements in Amtrak.

Transportation policy is very much connected to health care reform and larger fiscal issues that congress must decide. Of course, infrastructure is a thousand times more effective than income redistribution to bankers, but we should never expect simple rationality to triumph in political debate.

The truth is that, in a country that enshrines free speech as one of its highest virtues, it is just about impossible to have an honest discussion on anything. That is because “some people” have elected to pursue the option of winning at any cost.

From the more parochial standpoint, high speed rail seems to have emerged from the slums of public policy consideration. Even if that revival is on account of perceived benefits to the wealthy, we must not question good fortune.

Let us consider the times. Amtrak is preparing for a significant purchase of motive power and long distance passenger cars. Ground has been broken on a new Autotrain terminal. Beaumont will soon have a new station and its location hangs entirely on the will of local politicians.

Progressive Railroading reports the FRA “has received 278 pre-applications for high-speed rail (HSR) grants totaling $102 billion.” Now that is a lot of interest. When conservative Oklahoma gets in the discussion, things are really changing.

Nonetheless, truckers and aviation interests stand ready to oppose all improvements in alternative transportation at all costs. The elephant in the room is that highways do not begin to cover their costs and will demand support, no SUBSIDIES, from other sources.

Of course, in the trucker’s alternate universe, the rest of us are not entitled to any say on how the money is spent. Should drug manufacturers and health insurance companies succeed in “breaking” President Obama, there is little to prevent the final destruction of sensible transportation. Our battle is a tiny skirmish in the larger political landscape.

Nonetheless, there is some reason for optimism. Some big money special interests seem rail improvements as an aid to economic development, especially real estate. It is also notable that airlines have not protested the latest push for HSR in Texas, and Southwest is officially “neutral.”

TFA will be favorable to HSR connectivity with local transit and airports. We also like the “incremental” approach and the need to grow a rail passenger culture along many corridors. This is exactly the NARP position and the outlook from the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Long distance trains are an important part of a balanced national system and those trains should, over time, be expanded and improved to connect the regions and states. It appears that Amtrak shares this vision.

Amtrak has enjoyed something of a respite from the more than 30 years of non-stop struggle for survival. This has resulted in a comprehensive plan to provide daily Sunset service west of New Orleans and upgraded service between the Eagle and the Sunset. A report on alternatives for restoring service east of N. O. has been released. Equipment purchase have been proposed. Management has begun to manage. It’s tentative, but generally positive.

These developments have given TFA a wealth of material. The addition of Logan Nash as a regular contributor has contributed an informed and useful viewpoint for this conversation. Logan is a great writer and a clear thinker. The “generation gap” that exists between us has been nothing but favorable for the readers.

This site provides a source of current rail passenger news and commentary. My wish is that we could agresssively provide more independently generated stories and opinion pieces. There are important conferences that go uncovered for lack of resources. This is the “next level” and I have not figured out how to get there – yet.

It is most gratifying to be interviewed by journalists looking for pithy quotes of good background on rail stories. I am always available for that and I would like to develop an informative (“dog and pony”) multi-media rail passenger presentation to take on the road. (Or, maybe I could settle for a dancing bear.) I think there may be a “market” for this kind of overview.

It is our goal to create a favorable atmosphere in which people who support sensible transportation policy can meet and develop the language and background to successfully advocate a positive rail passenger position. There is no logical reason to accept insult and dismissal for holding a position that is readily embraced everywhere else on earth.

Your loyalty and comments are always appreciated. Thank you for reading Trains for America.

3 Responses

  1. Marcus Garnet says:

    We in Canada are watching the American transportation policy shift with much interest. Our own passenger rail system is far from secure. While our federal government recently invested hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade Via’s tracks and equipment, it has also imposed a 5% budget cut which, according to informed sources, will lead to major cuts in our eastern and western transcontinental trains. Canada lags even behind the US in government interest in passenger rail. As a professional community planner, I wish you the best in your endeavours.

  2. Dr. Glenn Edward Roy says:

    OUR DECAYING MEXICO BORDER RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE

    What can be done to repair our decaying border freight rail infrastructure west of El Paso, Texas?

    During the George W. Bush Administration new rail lines were pushed across the border from Texas into Mexico.

    Meanwhile, freight rail line upgrades in the bi-national region west of El Paso have been negelected for decades.

    The only U.S.-based major rail company presence there is that of “Union Pacific” which controls U.S./Mexico border rail Ports-of-Entry (POEs) at Nogales, Arizona Nogales, Mexico and Calexico, California / Mexicali, Baja California.

    Why isn’t Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) aggressively pursuing new border rail POEs west of El Paso?

    Are my notions about resurrecting old short haul lines and mining companies’ abandoned rights-of-way in the bi-national region west of El Paso, Texas unrealistic due to the current economic realities?

    I think not!

    It seems always to be a guns or butter economy for the big rail companies today!

    When good times return and facilities cannot accommodate traffic, it’s then that rail planners come of the woodwork to propose upgrades of exisiting lines, plus propose new lines, new ports, new intermodal facilities —

    but nothing happens because another downward cycle begins and such construction then cannot be justified.

    Wouldn’t it be beneficial for BNSF to acquire an intermodal facility between Arizona and Sonora simply to possess a border crossing west of El Paso and so obtain that option for increasing BNSF freight in the region?

    There exists a solid plan to create a new border rail crossing east of Nogales, Arizona…

    and also to re-open the two shuttered border rail crossings of Naco, Arizona / Naco, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona / Agua Prieta, Sonora near the Arizona/New Mexico stateline which have been closed to rail traffic since the 80s.

    The new “Puerta de Anza” intermodal project just east of Nogales is being promoted by brothers Fernando and Raymundo García de León Peñuñuri.

    Raymundo is the former head of Economic Development for the State of Sonora…

    and is a good friend to the former Sonora governor and processed-chicken billionaire, Eduardo Bours Castelo.

    My “Ferrocet” group intends to assist the completion of new rail lines running northward through an intermodal facility to the international border and beyond.

    Ferrocret shall build a concrete railroad tie manufactory near Cananea, Sonora…

    which little mining town thirty miles south of the international border is the site of the world’s third largest open pit copper ore mine.

    It is in Cananea that we possess an enormous source of a waste product derived from the extraction of the copper from the ore…

    which “escoria” is a perfect, virtually free aggregate that produces a significantly stronger concrete at a significantly lesser cost.

    Ferrocret intends to provide 100% of the concrete ties for the upgrade of the rail lines in the region and for the rail switching yards at the planned intermodal container handling facilities of Puerta de Anza and Naco.

    As the world economy recovers, access to the U.S. transcontinental rail system by way of Mexican ports shall be a lesser-overhead-cost alternative to U.S. ports which were at maximum capacity before the downturn.

    I encourage BNSF to actively pursue this opportunity before its major competitor “Union Pacific” controls all U.S./Mexico border rail POEs west of El Paso.

    “Puerta de Anza” is to be built on the old “Mascareñas Ranch” east of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico near LAT/LON coordinates: 31 18′ 0″N, 110 49′ 60″W

    This scenario creates the opportunity‏ for a new border rail crossing Port-of-Entry (POE) which would benefit BNSF…

    far from the congestion of that single “Union Pacific” track which slowly snakes through downtown Nogales to cross the border into the United States.

    A Google Earth search of those LAT/LON coordinates shows the loop in the track near the river crossing bridge as one departure point for rail lines north toward the international border.

    As I mentioned, my company intends to build a new plant in Cananea, Sonora for fabricating concrete railway ties (a.k.a. railway sleepers).

    My group’s plan-in-progress is to create a robust pre-cast concrete industry in Sonora…

    and to establish a concrete products industrial park near Cananea to avail ourselves of that abundant, cheap “escoria” aggregate there and at nearby Nacozari de Garcia, Sonora.

    Ferrocret needs a border rail POE controlled by BNSF to cost-effectively ship our concrete sleepers to BNSF jobsites in the United States. Re-opening Naco would be our perfect solution.

    Further west, my company, Ferrocret, needs other border rail POEs re-opened.

    The ambitious Port of Ensenada to Tecate rail line prepared by rail constructors “Gannett Fleming” back in 1996 apparently is the front burner issue for former Baja California governor Ernesto Ruffo Appel…

    The hour-long “San Diego & Arizona Railway, The Impossible Railroad” tv special produced by KPBS San Diego Public Television showed the terrible condition of that track.

    But there exists the will to rebuild that track to modern standards so that both Ports of San Diego and Ensenada can become viable container handling facilities — with direct access eastward to the U.S. transcontinental rail system.

    This link to San Diego from El Centro will help Ferrocret deliver concrete ties to the California voter-approved “California High-Speed Rail Authority” bullet train project which will run from San Diego to Sacramento through Los Angeles with a spur to the San Francisco Bay Area — a full 1,600 miles of track.

    Disused rail lines in the bi-national region can create a regional rail network…

    and planned intermodal projects now in motion would benefit BNSF’s position along the U.S./Mexico border…

    I encourage the route planners at BNSF to consider what may be possible for BNSF to expand its operations into the bi-national region west of El Paso, Texas.

    Otherwise, “Union Pacific” will always control the southwestern border…

    and when trade does improve BNSF will not enjoy a good position in northwest Mexico and the southwestern United States.

    Dr. Glenn Edward Roy
    Ferrocret

    e-mail: oliviaca@hotmail.com

    PS Glenn is a prinicpal of “Ferrocret”, a Mexican coporation

    .

  3. Rick says:

    What an informative resource! I am featuring your RSS prominently on my site RRworks.com and hope that’s ok with you. (Let me know if you want me to take it down for any reason.) Here’s to seeing that golden spike driven on the intercontinental Maglev RR in our lifetime!

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