Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Wall Street Journal reports on airport congestion

This WSJ report showed up in my hometown paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. That is a subscription site, so you are on your own to find the longer, fact-filled version. It highlights the aviation industry’s scheme to divert transportation funds for a new air traffic control system.

The nation’s air-travel system approached gridlock early this summer, with more than 30 percent of June’s flights late by an average of 62 minutes. The mess revved up a perennial debate about whether billions of dollars should be spent to modernize the air-traffic-control system.

But one cause of airport crowding and flight delays is receiving scant attention. Airlinesincreasingly carry passengers into jammed airports on smaller airplanes. That means using more flights – and increasing the congestion at airports and in the skies around them.

At La Guardia, half of all flights now involve smaller planes: regional jets and turboprops. It’s the same at Chicago’s O’Hare, which is spending billions to expand runways. At New Jersey’s Newark Liberty and New York’s John F. Kennedy, 40 percent of traffic involves smaller planes, according to Eclat Consulting in Reston, Va. Aircraft numbers tell the tale: U.S. airlines grounded a net 385 large planes from 2000 through 2006 – but they added 1,029 regional jets – according to data firm Airline Monitor.

Just thought you would like to know.

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Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Clevelanders enjoy boarding an Amtrak train in daylight

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a remarkably positive and factual travel story concerning the Lake Shore Limited.

Since the schedule change, ridership for the Lake Shore Limited route from Chicago through Cleveland to New York is up over last summer – 4.2 percent in May, 4.9 percent in June and 6.9 percent in July. That’s a total of 4,666 extra passengers hopping aboard.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said there’s no decision yet whether the daylight schedule will continue when schedules are posted in October.

And there’s no news yet on the possibility of a daylight trip from New York to Cleveland. Returning Clevelanders now board at 3:45 p.m. in New York and get back here at 3:30 a.m., once again rolling into the circadian blur of the wee hours.

While the response to the new eastbound schedule has been popular, it was not created primarily to please Cleveland travelers, said Magliari. Trains from the western part of the country were getting into Chicago so late that passengers missed their connections eastbound.

Many of us might have nuanced the following passage a bit differently,  but let’s hold back on the tar and feathers.

There are extenuating circumstances, of course. The rail lines used by Amtrak are owned by freight companies such as CSX, which have the right of way. This is a busy era for moving coal, cars and anything else by rail. The passenger trains have to wait.

“We’re dealing with a record volume of passengers and diminished capacity” because of the increasing traffic, said Magliari.

Amtrak owns the tracks on some popular East Coast routes, where schedules are more often met. Legislation has been proposed to give Amtrak more traffic clout and improved timing.

Actually, somebody should send that to Arkansas Congressman John Boozman (R-Wal Mart) who sincerely believes that every time an Amtrak train pulls up, the freight train is obliged to pull over.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Authority would have been a good resource for the reporter, and I het that groups a few generous notes to add to this positive coverage. At the end of the day, one of the country’s most important papers sees the need for viable passenger rail service. I’ll take that as a “win.”

Filed under: Amtrak

Faster trains for Britain

From here in the colonies, the UK seems to have a great transportation system. There are highways, large airports, and plenty of fast convenient passenger trains operating on a nationwide grid. There is also a new true high speed service through the Channel Tunnel

The Observer has plenty of background and news on the arrival of some enw trainsets manufactured in Japan by Hitachi. The new train willoperate at 140 mph, faster than current domestic runs, but fat short of French and German rivals.

The debate is over whether a geographically small nation should spend billions on high speed passenger trains, or concentrate on railroad capacity. A significant purchase of more conventional equipment for fast (125 mph) trains was recently announced.

The £260m contract for the 29 six-carriage trains was placed in 2004. The services will be operated by South Eastern, the franchise won by the Go-Ahead Group last year. Built by Japanese group Hitachi, the new trains are a distant cousin of the bullet train. The arrival of the new trains from Japan at Southampton docks is being seized on by supporters as an important step in their campaign to convince government of the value of spending billions of pounds building a high-speed UK network.

‘We’ll only get high-speed rail if people have seen the advantages of it and realise what it can do. So introducing them to it through this is splendid, and hopefully they’ll clamour for more,’ said Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College London.

Not everybody is so optimistic, however: the latest railway white paper made no commitment to a long-discussed high-speed line from London to the north, proposals for a new inter-city fleet only specify top speeds of 125mph, and there are concerns about the increase in energy required to power super-high speeds.

In the United States there is no debate because the only voices permitted to be heard are airlines and trucking interests.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

Christian Science Monitor highlights airline polution

America needs a balanced transportation system, not only in deference to consumer preferences, but also for a number of good policy reasons. One of those, as we learned on 9/11, is national security. There is also an important environmental component.

The Christian Science Monitor asks a probing question in a major report, “Must we quit flying to save the planet?” Air carriers are rightly concerned now that the spotlight of accountability has begun to shine. There are many studies under way to improve airplane emissions, but the need is staggering.

The U.N. International Panel on Climate Change says perennial improvements have made planes 70 percent more efficient than they were 40 years ago. An additional 40 to 50 percent improvement can be expected in the next three decades, the panel says.

The problem, climate experts say, is that current projections indicate air travel will grow 400 percent in the same period.

In America, one can expect policy to be set by industrial polluters, to the exclusion of travelers and other mere inhabitants of planet earth. There are other models developing in the industrialized world.

Given the limited prospects for a technological solution, a growing body of opinion is arguing for efforts to manage demand for air travel. “What matters is the next 10 to 15 years, and technology can do very little in that time frame,” said Kevin Anderson, of Britain’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “The principal issue is to reduce the rate of growth of air travel.”

Experts point to several options. Europe plans to include aviation in its emissions-trading plan starting in 2011. The hope is to show the rest of the world, chiefly China and India, where aviation growth is surging, that concerted efforts can make a difference.

Airlines will receive a limited number of carbon-dioxide permits that can be traded; top polluters will have to buy additional permits, hurting their bottom line. The idea is to give airlines incentive to operate cleaner aircraft.

But experts note that caps will be set fairly high, weakening the imperative, and ticket prices are expected to rise only slightly, if that. Thus, consumer behavior may be little affected.

An alternative is direct taxation. John Stewart, chairman of AirportWatch, a British movement opposed to aviation growth, said that without a radical price change, it will be impossible to change the mind-set of a generation that thinks little of hopping cheap flights for weekend pursuits. Some people have lobbied for cigarette-style health warnings on ads for air travel, but Stewart argues that the only way to change behavior is to hit the pocketbook.

He noted that 45 percent of all flights in Europe are less than 310 miles. “The French and Germans are showing that if you invest in good railways, you can persuade people to travel by rail and not by air.”

America has an advantage. There are no true high speed rail corridors existing here, so they can be developed both on the conventional rail lines and true high speed routes. Both can be operated into airports, providing direct connections to longer flights

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

New Hampshire learns from Downeaster success

Governor John Lynch (no relation) signed the New Hampshire Rail Authority into existence at the end of July. Seacoast Online has the latest developments, which include a story on ways to expand service north of Boston.

The Downeaster has set a successful example to follow, said Pamela Walsh, a spokeswoman for Lynch.

A busy corridor the authority will study is bringing rail from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua and eventually to Manchester, she said.

“Gov. Lynch believes that rail should be considered as part of our future transportation infrastructure and that it offers important opportunities to help people in their daily commutes, decrease traffic on our roads and decrease daily pollutions, as well as improving the quality of life for people who commute.”

Walsh said Nashua is just the first area the authority will examine, and while she could not say whether stops could be expanded into areas such as Newmarket, it shouldn’t be ruled out.

To continue that rail service, the authority has been looking at partnering with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Walsh said.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

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