Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Are the Dead From the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Victims of Conservative Ideology?

We have always known this, but to see the truth so bluntly stated, as has been done so  brillinatly by Joshua Holland  of Alternet,  is sobering.

Minnesota’s Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, reacted to the disaster by calling a press conference and, with a steely determination worthy of Rudy Guiliani, lying to the American people. Pawlenty insisted that inspections in 2005 and 2006 had found no structural problems with the bridge. But the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the bridge “was rated as ‘structurally deficient’ two years ago and possibly in need of replacement.” The bridge was borderline — with a 50 sufficiency rating; if a bridge scores less than 50, it needs to be replaced.

According to the Pioneer Press, the bridge’s suspension system was supposed to receive extra attention with inspections every two years, but the last one had been performed in 2003.

The governor had every reason to obfuscate; in 2005, he vetoed a bipartisan transportation package that would have “put more than $8 billion into highways, city and county roads, and transit over the next decade.” At the time, he was applauded by many Republicans for his staunch fiscal “conservatism.”

This is a really great read, and important information. Improvements in infrastructure means incrreased productivity. A wave of repairs to failing bridges, highways and rail systems would unleash a construction boom that would ignite the economy. Why is this not obvious to the political power brokers?

One of the primary reasons for that is that there aren’t organized constituents lobbying for public goods like highways and bridges — people take those things for granted. A thousand grifters have gained office promising to cut taxes as if they existed in a vacuum, without mentioning the cost; no politician has ever won office promising to keep highways from collapsing on their constituents. For 30 years, we’ve been told by a series of right-wing snake-oil salesmen that they could deliver more and better public services while constantly cutting the taxes that pay for them, but it was always a fraud. The result is that the United States enjoys the third-lowest tax burden among the 30 most advanced economies as its public spaces gradually come apart at the seams.


Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Hillary Clinton is on board?

Or is she waiting on the platform? Only time will tell.

The Democratic presidential front-runner has responded to the Minnesota bridge colapse with a wide-ranging infrastructure package. It is a beginning.

8/8/2007 — Rochester, NH– In response to the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota and the concerns it has raised around the country, Hillary Clinton today announced a series of emergency initiatives to ensure that the bridges, tunnels, and roads Americans rely on are safe. These initiatives are part of a broad plan for rebuilding America. Hillary’s plan will not only assure our safety, but create good jobs, stimulate the economy, enhance our global competitiveness, help the environment, and improve quality of life by reducing congestion.

“Something is very, very wrong when, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, in the richest country on earth, people are actually nervous about driving over bridges for fear that they’ll collapse. Or they’re worried that their levees may burst, or their highways may buckle. And let’s be clear: the degradation of our infrastructure isn’t just a serious threat to our safety – it is also a grave threat to our economy,” Clinton said. “We do not need any more warnings. We do not need any more wakeup calls. It is time to stop wringing our hands and start rolling up our sleeves. It is time for us to rebuild America.”

Clinton correctly observes the deplorable condition of New Orleans levees and the failure to properly respond to Hurricane Katrina. What follows is the part which is relevant for advocates of sensible ground transportation.

Intercity Passenger Rail

Invest an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems. In the 21st Century, intercity passenger rail should be a viewed as a critical component of the nation’s transportation system. It is an environmentally efficient alternative to highway driving and short flights; it relieves congestion on roads and airports; reduces the emission of automotive pollutants; and it stimulates economic growth by linking metropolitan areas. States have been left to pursue intercity rail projects with only modest federal support. Hillary believes that greater federal involvement is needed to maximize the potential of this transportation mode. She will increase federal investment in intercity passenger rail by $1 billion over 5 years in order to help finance capital projects. These investments are in addition to those made in Amtrak.

Well, at least her heart is in the right place and by the time she gets elected, who will remember anyway?

Honestly, $1 billion sounds like a load of money, but considering more than 30 years of neglect, woefully inadequate to address the enormous needs for stations, track, signals and equipment.

But, it is a beginning. Remember that her opposition is not so much from Republicans as from well-oiled highway and airline lobbies. Swallow hard and support her.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Fresh start for Talgos

The Albany, Oregon paper has a sensible editorial on the continuing withdrawal of the Spanish-built Talgo trainsets.

Trains need a fresh start

The withdrawal of the Talgo trains in Oregon and Washington says nothing profound about rail passenger service in general. Passenger rail faces hurdles that could and should be overcome, but they have nothing to do with the discovery of cracks in the suspension systems of Talgo cars.

Taking the trains out of service was the responsible thing to do, even if the likelihood of an accident seemed remote. In the Age of Blame and Sue, you can’t run equipment that has been found to have a flaw.

Some modern thinking — and probably a lot of money — is needed to assure the future of passenger rail in the Willamette Valley: The trains have to run more frequently. They have to run on dedicated tracks, not on tracks where freight has the right of way.

They also have to be more convenient to use. For example, Amtrak has elaborate rules for taking bicycles along. (The trains substituting for the Talgo in the Cascades service don’t allow bikes at all.) Taking bikes along should be easy, the way it is in Europe, where you just have to show up and can push your wheels into the baggage car. This kind of accommodation would not cost Amtrak a whole lot of money. It would require only a switch from big-railroad thinking to the idea of serving customers and attracting riders.

ODOT-Rail has won legislative approval of a

$2 million study of the Oregon rail system and all its issues and problems. That study will be useful to passenger rail if it can identify some feasible alternatives for speeding up and improving service at least in the valley. The study might also examine why we need Amtrak to run intercity service within the state. A less ossified company with a more modern and sprightly approach might have a lot better luck.

After all, most people love riding the train. Many more people would actually do so if the system didn’t make it so hard.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Oklahoma City Hub UPDATE

An update on this weekend’s event arrived today.

Save the Rails! rally in OKC calls for different transportation choices

Elected officials, candidates and citizen activists
to speak to save the Union Station railyards
for future mass transit

OKLAHOMA CITY – Citizens from around the state will be gathering this Saturday at Oklahoma City’s Union Station for what they call a rally to “Save the Rails” network that crisscross Oklahoma and provide a ready-made solution to mass transit needs for the entire region. They are inviting all concerned citizens to join them to demand better transportation choices by our politicians and business leaders.

Confirmed to speak at the rally are State Senator Andrew Rice,
Oklahoma state Representative Wallace Collins, Tom Elmore of North American Transportation Institute and Fannie Bates, candidate for Oklahoma County Commission

“The people’s needs and expressed desire for viable mass transit are not being considered,” said Ms. Bates, who is centering her campaign for the Oklahoma Country District 1 seat on the issue. Bates, a teacher with a masters in public health, will speak at the rally.

“This event is an opportunity for the people of the state to speak up for responsible government, safe highways and badly needed alternatives to the automobile,” said Tom Elmore, a long time activist for rail transport and one of the organizers of the event. “Using the state’s unique 900 mile network of publicly owned rail lines, OKC Union Station is the only hope baby boomers and older Oklahomans have of seeing a comprehensive, regional rail transit system in our

Existing plans for the new CrossTown will pave over some of Oklahoma City’s important rail infrastructure and any future rail development will require untold expense to create what exists right now. Union Station, which was restored with tax funds, will become a “museum relic” if the rails don’t exist.

The current development path is extremely shortsighted, says Evan Stair, Executive Director of Passenger Rail Oklahoma. “now that we know the environmental cost of petroleum use, and the future value of rail transportation, it is crazy to pave existing rail lines to build a new highway!”

“The simple and inexpensive alternative is to route heavy trucks
around Oklahoma City on the South Loop unless they are ,making OKC deliveries, then shore up and re-deck the existing I-40 overhead. This would save money, save the rails, make future rail use possible, permitting Oklahoma City to become a regional rail hub.”

Organizers say their goal is to focus community attention on the
issue, and lobby public officials who are only listening to business interests. To this end, there will be literature and ideas for future action available for attenders.

Joni LeViness, of Tulsa, plans to bring a number of environmental and community activists from the east side of the state to the rally, saying the issue is a statewide and national one. “There needs to be a reformation and extension of public transit, that’s the only sane thing to do,” she said.

The rally will start at 10 AM at Union Station, 300 SW 7th St (corner of S. Harvey and 7th). After the rally, participants will be invited to walk to nearby Wheeler Park, which is itself set for destruction as part of the rerouting, for a BYO picnic lunch.

“It’s not too late,” says Ms. Bates, “Together, the citizens can
prevent this development dead-end and help create a transportation system that will be the envy of the nation.”

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

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