Trains For America

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Historic preservation?

Media people tend to be a fairly stupid bunch. I know all about that.

Lynne Varner is a columnist for the Seattle Times and I know she must be very well informed when she writes about everything else. What is a bit surprising is that Varner takes off after Amtrak in one of her oped pieces as an exercise in nostalgia after riding the Washington D. C. to New York City corridor.

It’s the fastest busiest portion of the national system and the part that Amtrak owns and operates. Acela is darned high class equipment for us train-deprived North Americans. The loss of this service is unimaginable, even to a hayseed in far off Arkansas.

Recently, I took the express Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., to New York City. If I include the train’s 90-minute tardiness, I could’ve driven the distance in holiday weekend traffic and still have been ahead.

Standing in 100-degree heat waiting for a diesel-powered behemoth, I began to wonder why my fellow taxpayers and I are subsidizing this system to the tune of $1 billion annually.

Let me be fair with Ms. Varner. She is not for an absolute cut in Amtrak spending. I think she worries about whether the program is effective. Most of us that follow the rail passenger service do too.

I am wondering where she would have parked once she arrived in the Big Apple, and aren’t the corridor trains electric?

Let us have a moment of silent prayer that Ms. Varner never decides to take off on the Coast Starlite. I never want to see that column.
And airlines are NEVER late.

Amtrak proponents need to keep away from nostalgia and the “glory days of railroading.” It’s pure poison.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Amtrak’s poor first impression

This is going to hurt, but a confession is in order. I have not ridden Amtrak in at least 8 years. Until the congestion, chronic lateness, and employee indifference is corrected, I’ll be a no show down at the station.

So you are wondering why I am writing this blog. The reason is just this simple, passenger trains are too important to the social fabric and transportation system to quietly surrender to giant corporate interests that seem to run just about everything.

Die hard rail fans need a good dose of reality sometimes and it is best delivered by a dispassionate “guest.” Most folks ride Amtrak to get from “A” to “B,” and the experience can be horrifying to the uninitiated.

Here, for those with a clear mind and a strong stomach, are the travel notes of a recent Amtrak passenger aboard the once proud, but ill-fated California Zephyr. Stan Dyer’s experience was nothing but miserable.

What Mr. Dyer endured is the natural result of inadequate track capacity and rail infrastructure. The good news is that, with a little political will and leadership, Amtrak can do better.

Someday, and it may be soon, I will again ride the California Zephyr.

Filed under: Amtrak

Trackless in Seattle

Although this blog is not much interested in commuter rail, the story from Metro Seattle has one of the maddening elements facing rail passenger proponents. The “rails to trails” fad must be stopped. America has already given up too much valuable and irreplaceable infrastructure.

The Seattle Times has the complete story.

Here is a priceless quote:

Standing in front of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train at the downtown Renton railroad depot, rail advocate Al Runte, who is running for Seattle City Council, declared, “For $30 million, we could have equipment, tracks upgraded and operational. We could do it in 60 days. We could have commuter rail on this track in 60 days.”

Among the tour guests was state Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, who said, “I can’t imagine taking these tracks out. I can’t imagine it. We’re spending billions to bring the [Sound Transit light-rail] track from the airport to downtown Seattle. This track is already here.”

Studies conducted for the Puget Sound Regional Council suggest the best way to provide high-capacity commuter service would be with a two-way elevated rail line costing $150 million a mile.

And, yes, it is heartening, in a dark sinister sort of way, to see corporate types latching on to rail projects to pad that old bottom line. .

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

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July 2007