Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak June revenue and ridership up

Railway Age has the release.

Amtrak ridership, revenues rise in June

Amtrak reports that its June ridership of 2.29 million was 5% over June last year and 2% over budget. Continued strong Acela Express demand helped bring June ticket revenues up 7% to $138.7 million, 1% over budget. Acela ridership was 10.7% higher than in June 2006. Amtrak said Acela improvement will be more moderate as sell-out conditions are reached on many routes.

NEC regional ridership was even with last year and 4% above budget. In other regional corridors, June saw a general improvement of 7% in ridership and revenues, due partly to increased service in the East (Keystone), the Midwest (Illinois), and the West (Capitol Corridor and Cascades). Amtrak said that on an individual route basis, FY07 demand remains “weak” for the Texas Eagle, Cardinal, Capitol, California Zephyr and Lake Shore trains. Long-distance ridership in June was up 1% over last year, and while ontime performance was only 40%, it represented an improvement of 11 points.

Customer satisfaction with Amtrak performance also improved in June. Overall customer satisfaction was at 77%, up two points, due generally to ontime performance improvements on Acela and some long-distance runs.

So, where’s the Sunset? Please don’t tell us that the tri-weekly whipping boy has riders?

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Filed under: Amtrak

Amtrak equipment shortage highlighted by Talgo failure

Arkansas Congressman John Boozman told me recently that Amtrak officials have never spoken to him about any need for additional equipment. Boozman is the same Arkansas congressman who believes that Amtrak causes polution, but he is, at least, sincere, though misinformed.

Anyway, the loss of Talgo service in the northwest has had a domino effect in that region, and in the crowded northeast corridor, which Amtrak raided to provide replacement cars. Some of the equipment has also been moved from service in California, which has been left hurting.

In Oregon, the Albany Democrat-Herald reports.

A new schedule for the Cascades trains took effect Monday.

One of the trains, shuttling between Eugene and Portland via Albany, Salem and Oregon City, consists of one Amfleet 70-seat coach and one food service car.

The train is called 1004 when going north and 1005 when returning to Eugene. No. 1004 replaces a Talgo run called 504.

“Unfortunately, the 70-person capacity of Train 1004 is considerably less than Train 504’s average daily passenger count of 121 during May and 104 during June,” ODOT-Rail official Bob Melbo said in an e-mail. “We’ve asked Amtrak to try to find another coach for this equipment set.”

The food service car has 48 booth seats, and some of those are now listed as salable, Melbo added. Still there may be days when passengers are turned away.

“What dismays us is that we’ve seen good growth with 504 so far this year, but the Talgo crisis carries the likelihood of blunting that upswing during 2007’s second half,” Melbo wrote.

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

Houston Chronicle readers question airport congestion

Two very fine readers are featured with “letters to the editor” in the Houston Chronicle. Both come directly to the point on urgent transportation issues. Edward Vesely favors new digital air traffic control equipment, but raises an important point.

A recent Department of Transportation study showed that 28 percent of airline delays are a result of 17 airports, where the airlines saturate the arrival and departure routes during peak demand. An estimated 40 percent of delays are due to weather; and another 25 percent are due to mechanical, crew shortage, baggage delays, etc. The key issue is not an airspace shortage or the fee allocation, but infrastructure.

This country has not built any new airports in major metropolitan areas in decades, and building new runways at existing airports only contributes to the congestion of airspace. It does not relieve it.

Ray Lawrence adds this.

There is no question that we need a complete revamping of our air traffic control system. But one of the roots of the problem is that we have far too many commercial airline flights taking off and landing at our major airports. This is due to the fact that our national transportation system is essentially a bimodal system almost totally dependent on highways and airways to get people where they want to go. Europe and Japan have fully developed rail networks, including many high speed trains that exceed 150 miles per hour, but we continue to depend on a highway system that is growing increasingly more congested, and an airline network trying to serve an almost infinite number of destinations, many less than 300 miles from departure points. With a hub and spoke rail system that could replace shorter air trips — except for connecting flights — that are within 300 miles of a major airport, we could reduce the total number of short haul flights substantially and thereby free up airport gates and airspace for long distance domestic and international flights.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

Beaumont, Texas is on the radar

The Beaumont Journal, so far as I can tell, has not reported a single line about the deplorable condition of the local Amtrak station, nor the threat to “suspend” service by the Sunset Limited. It may be that the local stories have not made the web edition. Folks in Florida will tell you that a suspension can become permanent. They have reprinted a column from Senator Kay Baily Hutchison dealing exclusively with transportation issues.

Without getting nostalgic, in the late 60’s when I visited the Beaumont area, there were three passenger stations. Kansas City Southern, Southern Pacific, and Missouri Pacific each maintained facilities, although I seem to recall that KCS was the smaller but more modern. SP moved from downtown into a newer smaller station during the declining years. KCS also has a station in Port Arthur.

Jefferson County has a reported population of 251,000 It would be an unspeakable offense not to stop in such an important locality. It is also inappropriate that Amtrak should shift responsibility for maintaining part of a national system on local government. This is a serous situation.

Part of the national strategy of “benign neglect” is to force the Sunset out of existence. Killing Beaumont would be one more master stroke. This train should certainly operate daily west of New Orleans. The death of the Sunset would place the Eagle next in line for elimination.

So I am slightly concerned about the lack of alarm in Senator Kay Baily Hutchison’s recent column distributed statewide which denotes a rather “business as usual” tone concerning Amtrak.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), for example, is a model of excellence in urban and suburban transportation. The organization has consistently finished its expansions on time and under budget, making it possible for me to secure a $700 million federal funding agreement for a new southeast/southwest rail line last year. The Houston METRO system is pursuing a similar grant agreement to serve the residents of Harris County, and I am pleased that projects to expand METRO were included in the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget. In addition, Amtrak passenger rail links Texans to hundreds of destinations within our state and across the nation.

Hutchison might have more accurately said that Amtrak “barely links Texas to hundreds of destinations within our state and across the nation.”

TFA does not believe in punishment for our friends, but weo do think that politicians deserve scrutiny and we would expect good words directed to rail advocates to be backed up by good deeds. This is especially necessary considering how totally messed up rail service to Texas has become.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

Bombardier looks ahead

Investors are wondering if Bombareier’s new profitability is sustainable. The Montreal Gazette looks at prospects, and does not overlook the rail sector.

There is a notable absence. Can you figure out who is missing from the list of prospective projects.

On the rail side, there are several big opportunities to win contracts, he says, even after an order intake of $11.8 billion in the last fiscal year and another $3 billion in the first quarter.

– Bombardier is part of a consortium that will bid on a $2.7-billion contract to build Dublin’s first subway line.

– Poland’s PKP Group plans to spend $1.5 billion to replace and modernize rolling stock.

– In Britain, the Intercity Express Programme is expected to result in major investments over the next 30 years, with up to 2,000 rail cars to be provided by a single consortium or supplier. Bombardier has teamed up with Siemens to bid.

– A $200-million contract for the metro system in Santiago will be up for grabs.

– Mexico is expected to move ahead with its proposed Yucatan fast-train project, at a projected cost of $1.7 billion.

In the long term, transportation markets in India, Russia and China could be key drivers of growth.

In India, Bombardier has won a $590-million contract for the Delhi metro, and that could be just a taste of things to come.

Cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai need transit systems, too, and the country has overall transit needs of $3 billion over the next five years, according to management.

Market needs in Russia could grow to $2.5 billion a year by 2010, while China’s market potential is pegged at $8 billion over three years, according to the analyst’s report.

All this suggests that Bombardier’s size and scale as the word’s leading provider of rail equipment could finally pay off. But execution will be key if the company is to wring profits from its order flow.

In the rail business, Bombardier has been plagued by such nasty surprises as its mid-July decision to write off its full $164-million investment in Metronet, the public-private partnership formed to upgrade London’s Underground.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

North Carolina’s positive viewpoint

There is nothing hazy in the editorial logic of the Smoky Mountain Sentinel’s analysis of regional and national transportation needs. Harrison Kelly writes about the NARP proposal to expand rail passenger service to a level that might actually represent a functioning national system.

Speaking of the distant future, “road and air congestion, worldwide competition for oil and growing environmental concerns will make $4 a gallon gas seem cheap, today’s traffic jams modest, and affordable flights a distant memory,” according to George Chilson. Chilson, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), is looking forward into the past.

America’s once busy rail network would provide an answer to such troubles, as our European and Japanese counterparts have already proven with the expansive, high-speed, top-quality railroads spanning their lands. If enough money was invested in American railroad, studies prove the air would be cleaner, the roadways more navigable.

This summer Chilson and NARP introduced the “Grow Rail Campaign.” which aims to shift thought and discussion from “which passenger train gets cut next?” to “Which routes do we add next and how quickly can we add them?”

It takes forward thinking to establish accomplishment and NARP has already assembled a map that shows proposed new rail routes alongside of and interconnecting with current lines throughout the country. The new map adds roughly 100 destinations accessible by rail including new cities like Las Vegas, Boise, Billings, Bismarck, Phoenix.

NARP’s additions to North Carolina would send passenger trains through Hickory and Asheville, connecting a new route from Greensboro to Knoxville.

Making the necessary improvements will no doubt be costly, something the government says it can’t afford. But that doesn’t phase Chilson, who says that the government can’t afford not to.

Such a mindset is precisely the one America needs if progress is to be made for the future. The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently published an article about high-speed rail in foreign nations, specificallyShanghai and Japan. Emulating the design of high-speed maglev trains across seas, the Georgia’s transportation committee is looking at the sincere possibility of running a rail line from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tenn. The benefit, they say, would be decreasing demand at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest in the world.

The 117 mile route would cost a sum of $5 billion, but may be less expensive than constructing a new airport or continually expanding the current one. Speeds of up to 350 mph may also be a benefit of the new service which could pack a total of four stops into 54 minutes. However, most high speed rail isn’t nearly as expensive as the magnetic levitation track.

Five proposed maglev train lines are being reviewed in the United States currently, but it will be years before any tickets can be paid for. However, NARP isn’t looking for a solution to be here ten years from now; it’s looking for changes now. And if the current mindset doesn’t change, the future looks grim for every method of transportation. That’s a web we shouldn’t spin.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

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