Trains For America

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Wilmington Whine

And it is not full-bodied, fruity, or a noble enhancement to fine cuts of beet. It’s just whine.

Perhaps that was a little strong. Let’s start over.

Amtrak has from its’ inception been the object of far too much political maneuvering. It is understandable that many different interests (to use a current term popular among socialists, “stakeholders”) should feel the need to exert control, to the exclusion of any rational decision making process.

Wilmington, Delaware’s News Journal reports the latest complaint about Amtrak’s new express Acela, which serves only Philadelphia on its’ journey between New York and Washington. The one-stop Acela shaves 10 minutes off the regular running time.

Ten whole minutes. That’s 600 extra seconds that could be spent sharpening 300 pencils, printing 2,000 pages, or listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” nearly twice.

“That’s obviously not a lot of time,” Sarah Lubin of Wilmington said as she waited for the Acela to Boston earlier this week. “But the powerhouses are in New York and D.C., so their demands are certainly going to be met a lot quicker than normal passengers.”

For Wilmington, however, the Amtrak station is the transportation hub. The station saw 712,219 passengers board trains in Amtrak’s last fiscal year, making it the 11th busiest in the nation.

But when it started offering the new Acela service, Amtrak picked Philadelphia as the only stop. Philly’s 30th Street Station is the third busiest in the country, with more than 3.5 million passengers

By bypassing other stations, Amtrak shaves 6 percent off the trip time of a standard five-stop ride, which takes 2 hours and 45 minutes.

(Deep breath.)

It’s a business decision. I bet 90% of you folks in lovely Delaware, the state in which most of America’s corporate renegades are legally organized, want Amtrak operated like a business. Well, that means working on the product. Experimentation.

If it doesn’t work … I was about to say “Wilmington will get its’ precious train back,” but that would be wrong. The one-stop train is a completely new service and has taken nothing away from Wilmington, Delaware. Nothing.

Let’s agree that 10 minutes does not seem like much. Now, try thinking a step ahead. Just suppose the new Acela express is a raging success. It might just be that Amtrak could figure out a way to cut off a few more minutes running time.

Finally, and this is not meant to be an insult or in any way punative, has Delaware considered buying high speed train sets for direct trains out of Wilmington? It is just a thought.

Finally, I bet there must be 30 trains that stop at Wilmington every day. That level of service is a far cry from my home town, Little Rock. The Texas Eagle comes though twice daily, and it appears in the dead of night.

People in Mobile, Amarillo, and Nashville would appreciate ANY Amtrak service.

Let’s not get into a big argument about this. Here is a great opportunity to highlight how many people will use good train service and how important it can be in a great city.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Question mark over Michigan Amtrak operations

Norfolk Southern plans to sell segments of track in Michigan to a short-line operator out of Pittsburg, Kansas. The Enquirer of Battle Creek has the story of another pending corporate train robbery.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Railroad Passengers, however, is concerned that a short-line operator could let the top speed for passenger trains fall below its current 79 mph standard.

Three daily Wolverine Service round-trip Amtrak trains between Chicago, Detroit and Pontiac pass through Battle Creek. In fiscal 2006, 54,238 passengers boarded and alighted in Battle Creek, an increase from 47,785 passengers the previous year. Overall, Amtrak increased ridership 8.6 percent in Michigan between 2005 and 2006.

State officials have been working to create a high-speed rail corridor between the Windy City and the Motor City. Track improvements already have increased speed west of Kalamazoo to 90 miles per hour and studies are under way for commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit, according to the NARP.

“Our primary concern is the ability of the new carrier to maintain the rail in a state that will allow passenger service at its current level,” said Larry Karnes, Michigan Department of Transportation freight policy specialist. “Whether the railroad or the Surface Transportation Board dictates those conditions, that remains to be seen.”

Norfolk Southern announced its intent on July 12, but Amtrak officials say it is still too early to tell if the potential venture will affect its passenger service.

“We’ve had a series of conversations with the current and prospective owners,” Washington-based Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “It’s not clear what the impact will be.”

America’s railroads have been built by public-privte partnerships for the purpose of providing good transportation. Just because that deal seems inconvenient at the moment is no reason to let railroads off the hook.

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

Minnesota conference on energy hits important rail issues

Today’s most significant policy development comes from the West Central Tribune – Bemiji Pioneer in Minnesota.

BEMIDJI — Calling today’s investment in ethanol production “feedstock,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson believes the nation can reach energy independence in 10 to 15 years.

“The bottom-line goal is for us to get off foreign oil,” Peterson, DFL-7th District, said Friday as a keynote speaker at an energy conference at Bemidji State University.

He was joined by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, who said in his remarks that moving more Americans to public transit — or bicycling — can negate the need to import millions of barrels of foreign oil. The first order of business under a new Democrat-controlled House was to move on an energy bill that creates energy independence for America, Oberstar said.

It may be the result of too many years spent watching Arkansas politics (24, to be exact), but such conferences arouse suspicious. Where to begin?

First, completely off-topic, all of this talk of turning corn into fuel suggests to me that the food we enjoy may soon be a lot more expensive. It’s not that I don’t wish the farmers well, it is just that I worry about myself.

Am I the only one that gets a little Suspicious about all this happy talk about getting people from thier automobiles on to bicycles. This is not happening down south. For one thing, it is just too hot and people’s trips to work take too long.

If these guys are so hip to high speed inter-city trains, let’s build a couple!

There was one section that caught my attention. It deals directly with our focus here.

High-speed intercity passenger rail, light rail, commuter rail, dedicated high-speed bus service in the cities, and bicycles will all reduce reliance on oil-using cars, he said.

Federal incentives for transit are working, but more is needed.

“Consumers are responding,” Oberstar said. “In the last five years, we’ve been adding a million new transit riders a day in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States.”

Oberstar has also authored measures to provide short-sea shipping, using the Great Lakes ports to ship by water to salt water ports cargo that now is congested in rail freight yards or in trucks on high-ways.

“Freight movement in this country is absolutely choking,” the Chisholm Democrat said. “Railroads don’t have enough capacity to handle all the containers coming into the United States. … We have 7 million trucks on the road. In this era of just in time delivery of goods, our highways have become rolling inventory warehouses.”

Moving goods by surface vessel from Duluth or Green Bay, Wis., avoids a bottleneck in Chicago, and at lesser cost and with lesser impact on the environment, he said.

This is the mantra of “host” railroads. They correctly point to severe congestion, and then chime in with the latest invention of Wal Mart, “just on time delivery.” That refers to a system of coordination between inventory warehouses, trucks, and stores, using computer tracking to keep products continuously moving to stores where they might be needed.

The concept of “just on time delivery” was an integral part of an interview with Arkansas Congressman John Boozman (R – Wal Mart), who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Boozman’s argument is that Amtrak trains should not have priority access on “host” lines becuase they interfere with efficient freight hauling.

Hearing Oberstar singing from the corporate hymnal is more than disturbing.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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