Trains For America

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Talking tall in Texas

The Hillsboro, Texas Reporter gives some information on an event conducted in association with last week’s Transportation Summit in Irving. The Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation met with experts consultants and suppliers of equipment from various countries. It would seem that a goal  has been set to establish HSR service by 2020, that’s 13 years away.

This is not the first time Texas has been proposed for HSR, and I seem to recall that it was Herb Kelleher, President of Southwest Airlines, who shot down the entire concept. THSRTC claims to have airline suppport, but a careful read shows that Southwest is still prominent by its’ absence.

Hillsboro is proposed to be the first stop on the high-speed rail line once it leaves the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

This approach to high-speed rail is much different than the first attempt (in the early 1990s). This is a grassroots approach rather than a top-down approach.

The first attempt proposed connecting Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio with a triangle configuration of rail.

Bills were passed by the Texas Legislature and then supporters attempted to sell the idea along the proposed route, which included Hill County.

The (THSRTC) has come up with what it is calling the Texas �T-Bone.

A line would run from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio, with a second line T-ing off in the Temple-Killeen area to Houston, saving hundreds of miles of rail construction.

A third big difference since the early 1990s is the fact that major players in the airline industry are supporting the rail proposals as signified by Continental and American hosting the charrettes.

The corporation has been working along the route to build its support and secure member cities, counties and other organizations.

The THSRTC web site is a huge disappointment, especially when compared to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and California HSR sites. This is important because those most likely to support this kind of venture ore more apt to look for information on the web.

Another curious aspect of this operation is the “T-bone” which omits the essential Houston – San Antonio leg. That does lessen the cost of construction, but it also eliminates a substantial market. Again, the Midwest HSR website contains the reports showing how transportation decisions were reached and what levels of service were necessary to obtain the most revenue.

A rhetorical question: if high speed train will make its’ first stop at a Dallas suburb, Hillsboro, how fast can it be anyway? What kind of transportation planning is this? Or,is the THSRTC an excuse to ride fast French trains and sample the good wines?

I wish them luck.

One wonders if developing conventional fast train service on existing right of way might be cheaper and quicker to implement. Two words immediately spring to mind in this consideration, Union Pacific. It may be that true European-style HSR is the only solution in the Lone Star State.

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Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

Amtrak makes Bush’s “naughty” list

This is not exactly a surprise, but how it is done and the influences behind the scenes in the Bush administration’s politicization of every federal program and agency is shameful and shocking.

Here is a dispatch from ePluribus Media on a thing called the “Performance Assessment Rating Tool.” Not surprisingly, it has discerned that very many federal agencies and programs are not “effective.” Even more shocking may be the revelation that the largest number of these “bad” and “under-performing” programs are social services, related to protecting consumers and investors, or environmental in mission.

Although you need to read every last word of this amazing work, let’s get down to the part we care about.

Well, then, what about Amtrak ? The answer to that can be found in a Public Citizen investigation of effort to privatize AMTRAK. The report is described in a news release entitled “Bush Campaign Contributors Try to Railroad Amtrak Passengers: Privatization Plan Smacks of More Crony Capitalism.”

The Public Citizen analysis tracks how architects of Amtrak privatization are lobbyists for or have close business ties with rail interests who stand to profit from Amtrak’s privatization, including the National Rail Construction and Maintenance Association, and Norfolk Southern Railroad. Many of those interests provided tens of thousands of dollars in hard money contributions to Republican campaigns in the 2000 election cycle. Union Pacific, one of the largest freight railroads–and whose corporate board formerly included Vice President Dick Cheney–contributed more than three-quarters of a million dollars to Republican campaigns in the last election cycle. This year alone, the nation’s leading freight railroads, some of whom stand to benefit if passenger rail is taken off their freight lines, have contributed more than a half-million dollars to the Republican National Committee.

Privatizing Amtrak would be much more appealing if the agency was failing; so, now we know why that program’s on the fail list.

At least a portion of Amtrak’s problems must be laid at the door of cumbersome regulations laid down by congress. Scroll down to the next post and read a few of the “provided that’s.” Much of this language is from the Republican years of running things in the legislative branch and Democrats should look strongly at deleting some of the more time-consuming and intrusive interferences.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

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