Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

State asked to pay part of Little Rock airport expansion

It’s only $17 million on a very much larger project, and airports are necessary in the transportation mix. Still, the sense of entitlement shown by so many aviation types just galls me. The Associated Press covered the legislative hearing.

Deborah Schwartz, the airport’s executive director, told members of the Senate and House public transportation committees that she’s working with other Arkansas airports to push for a dedicated revenue source in the 2009 legislative session. Schwartz would not say whether the revenue source would be a new tax or fees, but said the airports need money beyond one-time capital funding.

Around here, we always try to play fair, so you need to know that much of the airport expansion is for land that will become industrial sites. Several large employers located at the airport want to expand. Let’s not get in the way of progress. And Ms. Schwartz is a very nice lady, I am sure. Besides, you can’t get mad at somebody for doing their job.

What’s wrong with a few questions?

Should we expect a straight-line trend in air passenger traffic always headed up? Is there any circumstance in which the number of flights, especially for mid-size markets like Little Rock, might be reduced? Should the terminal be expanded?

So long as the “dedicated source” for airport improvements concerns airport users, there is probably not much of a problem with that.

Back in the dusty archives of virtually disregarded national policies, there was once talk of high speed rail connecting Texarkana and Little Rock and Little Rock to Memphis. It just so happens that a major rail link passes near the Memphis International Airport. Here is a release from back in 2000. Airport delays were serious prior to 9/11 and much today. In 20/20 hindsight, it is hard to argue with what Senator Blanche Lincoln had to say back then.

If Arkansas is truly going to compete in the global economy, we must think beyond the status quo,” Lincoln said. “Land and financial resources are scarce and we’ve got to make better use of what we have. Our rail lines are there, ready to help solve many of our transportation problems.”

This is certainly not to say that the Little Rock airport expansion project is unworthy, but even down south, folks need to start asking some harder questions and use a broad perspective on transportation issues.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

ABC News reports on high speed rail

This report on the expansion of high speed rail around the world almost got past me.

Conspicuously absent among those emerging markets: the US. Of course, news of the achievement sparked yet another round of well-worn rants, often delivered by globe-trotters who return home after rides on slick Japanese or French trains wondering, “Where the hell is my high-speed rail?” It’s a question that betrays a certain naiveté about transit policy — but it’s still a good one. If the country has a prayer of solving its traffic woes and creating a more efficient, environmentally sound infrastructure, we’ll need some first-rate, wicked-fast trains.

Food for thought.

There are potential true high speed corridors in the United States. Very expensive to build, but highly popular. Ops, that may be bad news for airlines, but maybe not.

Conventional corridor trains, like Amtrak’s Washington-New York Acela service, make more sense on many routes.

Can we trust Amtrak wth a lot more money? Even though the new president of the rail passenger corporation is President Bush’s hand-picked man, maybe not.

Amtrak needs strong well-educated management and a stable source of funding. So long as it’s a yearly battle to keep going, there will be no progress. This is the president’s fault.

No better source than Arkansas Republican congressman John Boozman has personally told me that highway capacity is maxed out in many areas. Improving ground transportation is too important for the usual giberish from the usual opponents.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Good regional transportation for Boston – Portland

For a change, some good news.

EFFECTIVE FRIDAY, AUGUST 17, 2007, A FIFTH ROUND TRIP WILL
OPERATE ON THE BOSTON-PORTLAND DOWNEASTER SERVICE.

MONDAYS THROUGH FRIDAYS, EXCEPT SEPTEMBER 3

680 – DP POR 555A, AR BON 825A.
682 – DP POR 800A, AR BON 1025A.
684 – DP POR 1250P, AR BON 315P.
686 – DP POR 305P, AR BON 535P.
688 – DP POR 810P, AR BON 1035P.

681 – DP BON 905A, AR POR 1130A.
683 – DP BON 1105A, AR POR 130P.
685 – DP BON 500P, AR POR 725P.
687 – DP BON 620P, AR POR 850P.
689 – DP BON 1120P, AR POR 145A +1.

SATURDAYS, SUNDAYS, AND SEPTEMBER 3

690 – DP POR 710A, AR BON 935A.
692 – DP POR 815P, AR BON 1040A.
694 – DP POR 145P, AR BON 415P.
696 – DP POR 300P, AR BON 525P.
688 – DP POR 810P, AR BON 1035P.

691 – DP BON 1025A, AR POR 1250P.
693 – DP BON 1200N, AR POR 225P.
695 – DP BON 500P, AR POR 725P.
697 – DP BON 625P, AR POR 850P.
689 – DP BON 1120P, AR POR 145A +1.

It’s 116 miles and not especially fast at around 2 hours and 30 minutes. In fiscal year 2006, it was Amtrak’s fastest growing service, with overall ridership up 22.9% from the previous year. The population of Portland is around 64,000, which is a lot less than my hometown of Little Rock.

Perhaps some of our friends up north can expand on reasons for this sucess, but good frequencies and reliable schedules probably play a big role.

America wants trains.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

The mailbag

Thanks for the great response. Your letters are very gratifying and don’t be afraid to post comments here. Contrary opinions are always invited and I do appreciate different perspectives. My way is not the only way.

No personal attacks. I won’t put up with it.

One of my most respected correspondents had a rather sharp reaction that demands comment.

On the other hand, that is one of my harshest criticisms of the railfan types who have no shortage of opinions…. they haven’t been on a damn train since 1979, but they can give you the full lecture on passenger demographics, travel patterns, demand or lack thereof, etc. Most of that hot air discussion is without merit.

Good point. I am now looking for positive Amtrak experiences. Drop me a line plynch@swbell.net. I promise to highlight them here.

More than one of you have mentioned the tension between long distance service and corridors. I may have caused some confusion in my post about capital needs.

Specifically, I listed eight “corridors” served by the Sunset. By no means am I suggesting to bastardize this train into a bunch of non-connecting daylight trains. My point is that killing the Sunset Limited destroys the only passenger rail service on at least 8 important city pairs.

This has become such a hot button issue because those of us who support sensible ground transportation are used to fighting over crumbs. Our system should never have been allowed to deteriorate to the deplorable level that exists today. Both overnight and daylight short-haul trains are necessary parts of a national operation.

Or, that’s what I think. What say you?

Filed under: Administration, Amtrak

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