Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

American high speed rail at dead end?

There is an epic report in an online publican called Government Technology. If you want the complete review of disappointments in Florida, Texas, and California, (and the article is really long) this one is for you. If anything, we are realists, and facts are facts.

High speed rail has support, even among people who are quite auto-addicted. The economic benefits are provable and technology has been demonstrated to be swift and safe? So what has gone wrong?

Politics is not a bad thing, but there are interests that benefit from the indefinite delay of improved transportation. Remember that America has a history and general policy of codling big business. It is to their benefit to spread confusion and misinformation, and we need to enter this debate by being innocent as doves and wise like serpents. (I’ve heard that somewhere recently. Catchy, isn’t it?)

Conductor Wanted
As California aptly demonstrates, high-speed rail projects need a high-profile advocate. The various rail authorities are simply not enough to make these railways a reality.

Rick Harnish is the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a nonprofit advocacy group trying to spark interest in a high-speed railway that would connect major Midwestern cities. Harnish said people should demand that government step up and provide alternative transportation options. He added that if California made it happen, it would be far easier for high-speed rail to flourish elsewhere in the country.

“It’s not impossible, and people need to tell their legislators they need real travel choices,” he said. “In a national sense, California is so important because if that system could get built, it would prove the case. The key is people throughout the country need to start telling their elected officials they want high-quality train service and they expect their elected officials to come up with a solution to make it happen. If the governor said we’re going to link L.A. to the Bay Area within five years, it could be done very quickly and at a fraction of the cost of comparable highway capacity.”

We are not crazy and there is nothing to be uneasy about in advocating for sensible ground transport. The international experience is now well known and America is obviously behind the times. A change is coming.

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

Amtrak lifeline for Montana Hi-Line

Folks in Montana are very smart. I lived in Great Falls back in the 70’s and it is bitterly cold and tough to get around in the winter. The Empire Builder provides a necessary public service throughout some of the most isolated and difficults parts of America. 700 miles of that route pass through Montana and the Billings Gazette is directly “on point” today with an outstanding editorial.

The Amtrak Empire Builder is much more than a tourist train. The 700 miles of the route through northern Montana are home to individuals and businesses who rely on Amtrak for regular transportation of people and cargo.

In testimony earlier this summer to a U.S. House subcommittee, Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger made a strong argument for the state’s only remaining regular passenger rail service, which serves nearly 500,000 riders a year.

“In northern Montana, which is the area served by the Empire Builder, our transportation system consists of one north-south interstate highway and one east-west two-lane highway,” Bohlinger explained. “We have no intercity bus service and only limited access to scheduled air service. During winter, when highways are often closed due to extreme weather, the Empire Builder provides lifeline transportation to residents and businesses that have few other options.”

The Bush people have lots of clever schemes to destroy necessary and efficient transportation, but the Gazette is not buying into such nonsense.

The Bush administration scheme to have states pick up Amtrak costs won’t work in Montana. The state doesn’t have the money to pay for a 700-mile train route. A national rail system must connect states, not exclude them. The Montana Amtrak line is essential to national connections and vital to local residents.

It’s “interstate commerce.” People travel from Fargo, to Williston, to Minot, to Spokane. Amtrak does provide “corridor” service, of course, but the long distance trains are also an essential part of a needed national network

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

License plates pay for trains

In Oregon, they do.

In fact, the Albany Herald Democrat reports that the legislative session lacked the usual drama over whether funds would be scraped together to fund a pair of state supported passenger trains from the capital city of Eugene north to Portland, and beyond.

Custom license plates now have a $50 fee that is directed into a rail transportation fund. That raises about half of the tw0-year cost of the state funded trains.

The Oregon Cascades trains counted 102,031 passengers in 2006, up 2.9 percent from the year before.

Ridership keeps rising. Last month, the state reported 8,977 train riders, up nearly 10 percent over June 2006. During the same month, ridership on the Amtrak buses rose nearly 16 percent to 3,130.

Cascades trains stop in Albany three times daily in each direction.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

A little history lesson?

From an unlikely source, there comes today an excellent recitation of railroad history. “The historical roots of the crisis of Amtrak” is a superb analysis of the present situation, which reaches a bad conclusion.

Let’s (gently) cut to the chase. Take a deep breath.

The option of safe and efficient passenger rail has been excluded, solely because the profit interests of freight railroads, automakers, and airlines were not served by its development. The only way to provide adequate passenger transportation is under a planned socialist economy, where all aspects of transportation can be efficiently arranged on an international scale.

But honest folks, the World Socialist Federation didn’t get it all wrong.

Would anybody argue that freight railroads, automakers, and airlines have too much influence over the transportation decisions made by congress?

That part about the “planned socialist economy” gives me the chills too, but let’s think about this. There is a plan. Truckers, airlines, and automobile companies are all invited to the table, and the doors are then shut. We, as mere taxpayers, are never supposed to think that there could ever be a better way to get from “A” to “B”. The “plan” exists to benefit a favored few economic interests. All any of us would ever ask is to be allowed to take part in significant decisions that effect everybody.

The exclusion of logical and efficient transportation choices is not in keeping with “free market economics.”

It’s a darned good thing for America that the elites that control transportation decision today were not the owners of buggy whip factories and horse drawn carriage; manufacturers, or we would still be shoveling the manure out of the streets.

And, as far as that stuff about “a planned socialist economy, where all aspects of transportation can be efficiently arranged on an international scale,” I think history speaks loud and clear about that possibility.

Click the above link. It is a most concise organization of facts regarding the dire condition of America’s passenger rail system.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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