Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

ABC News is favorable

This is not the first fair and factual story from ABC. It is part of a developing trend. The story is lengthy and rich in detail, most of which seems to be right. Also, there is a fantastic slide show of the world’s fastest trains (and not one is American).

During June, only 68 percent of flights were on time. Over the first six months of this year, the rate fell to 73 percent — the lowest over that time period since record-keeping began 13 years ago, according to the Department of Transportation.

By contrast, 88 percent of Acela trains have been on time to date this year, according to the railroad company.

Time Is Money

Time saved by eschewing delays and long security lines is not the only advantage enjoyed by train travelers. Airports like those serving New York, Boston and Washington are located outside the city limits and it can often take an hour to commute downtown to a meeting or tourist locale. But train hubs in those cities are located in the middle of downtown, saving travelers a big chunk of time.

At the end, we always know what to expect. Cliff Cole is an Amtrak spokesman.

Cole said that while Amtrak is always looking to make travel faster, building new rail lines to become even more competitive with airlines is likely not an option.

“The cost factor is pretty much exorbitant. It would be in the billions of dollars,” he said.

Thanks for bringin’ us down to earth, Cliff.

How can we afford billions for rail improvements when highways don’t cost anything? And when you want to make a charitable contribution, just send a check to the Delta Foundation because they just love to fly. Airports and highways don’t cost anybody anything, and what is all this foolish talk about ground transportation anyway?

Still, is was a pretty good story.

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

Shortline company promises to keep Amtrak standards in Michigan

The plan for a Pittsburg, Kansas shortline rail operator to take over part of the Norfolk Southern is causing anxiety over keeping essential Amtrak standards. The Battle Creek Enquirer is following the story in considerable detail.

Critics argue that the short-line Watco does not have the money or equipment to ensure safe passenger rail travel between Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti. Plans to increase rail speed to 90 mph or more between Detroit and Chicago, creating a high-speed corridor through Michigan, could be set back or stopped altogether.

“To the best of my knowledge, there is no short-line railroad in this county that has maintained their rail line to Amtrak standards or are even interested in Amtrak rail on their lines,” Battle Creek Mayor John Godfrey said. “With all of the major colleges located on this line, there is a huge need (for passenger rail). It would be very disruptive to lose Amtrak service.”

Godfrey called the meeting a fact-finding mission between the current and potential railroad owners and municipal and state representatives.

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, who plans to speak at the meeting, said he believes the best option is to try to hold Watco legally accountable in maintaining its rail to Amtrak standards or better.

Meanwhile in Kalamazoo, the Gazette has a report that is only moderately reassuring.

But an executive with the Kansas-based shortline operator that would take control of the rail lines between Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti pledged Tuesday to do whatever it takes to preserve passenger service in Michigan.

“We’re not going to have Amtrak be at risk out there. Amtrak is too important of a customer,” said Ed McKechnie, chief commercial officer with Watco Cos. Inc. of Pittsburg, Kan. “And we’re willing to back that up with a contract.”

And no railroad company would ever break a contract.

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

Volunteers manage Amtrak inventory (and that’s a good thing)

This is an important story and it is in my hometown paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Unfortunately, it is on a subscription site, but I am certain that this will soon appear in a paper near you. If you are a Democrat-Gazette subscriber, here is the link.

This particular item seems to answer some of the legitimate concerns of Arkansas congressman John Boozman, who questions why Amtrak has preferential access to “host” rail lines and ridership statistics.

For nearly 10 years, a Conway dentist and two Texas Amtrak employees have nurtured the financially troubled railroad – or at least a large segment of it – by volunteering their time to set pricing strategies.

Dr. Bill Pollard is in charge of sleeping cars. Jessie Padilla and Griff Hubbard cover the coach seats, one taking long distance and the other short hauls. The three set prices for the Texas Eagle’s journey from Chicago to San Antonio, and then onward to Los Angeles as the Sunset Limited.

As founding members of the Texas Eagle Marketing & Performance Organization, created by Amtrak in 1997 for local input, they approached Amtrak in 1999 and asked to be allowed to set prices.

“We promised the thenpresident that if we could have autonomous control for the Texas Eagle for 12 months, that we would produce for him $1 million more in revenue than the previous year,” Hubbard, president of the Gregg County Rail District in Texas, said in atelephone interview. After getting permission and working on it for a year, “we brought him back $1.7 million more than the previous year.”

Let me disclose that I write a weekly column in this same newspaper. I do not, however, know the reporter.

This is a lengthy, and mostly fair, story that ought to raise one very serious question. Considering the success these volunteers have had managing passenger revenue, why has Amtrak not expanded this capability to every long distance train?

The Eagle’s schedule is substantially slower than similar rail services 40 or more years ago and the trains connections at Chicago have been killed by the advertised schedule and habitual lateness. That means that a traveler from Arkadelphia to Fargo would have to stay overnight in Chicago, which means the passenger would fly or drive instead. One of Southern Pacific’s favorite passenger train killing tactics was to deliberately break connections, thus adding expense and inconvenience for the rail traveler.

Laura Stevens was well balanced in her story, although numbers can get one in trouble.

Although the revenue team may be making progress with the Texas Eagle, the bill for taxpayers is “somewhere north of a $1 billion” to support Amtrak, said George McClure, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.’s editor for technology.

Is that $1 billion anually? Is it for bridges and tunnels in the northeast corridor? Reporters (and columnists) only have so many words. Certainly a reader can figure out that Amtrak has spent nowhere anywhere approaching that sum anywhere west of Philadelphia.

And then, there was this “oldie but goody,” proving that airline and highway lobbyists never sleep.

On some lines, the cost per passenger is higher than the fare. For example, on the Sunset Limited line from New Orleans to Los Angeles, it would be cheaper to stop the train and buy every passenger an airline ticket.

That might be true if passengers rode Amtrak trains end-to-end. Why not figure out the comparable fares between Lafayette, La. And Yuma? Oh! Does Lafayette have an airport? How about Beaumont to Sanderson? Out here, Amtrak is important to smaller towns.

Reporters are not trained transportation professionals and can not be expected to immediately discern the finer differences between rail and air carriers. I will tell you this for sure, Laura Stevens is a thousand times smarter than those editorial nitwits in Connecticut (scroll down). She got a really important story that deserves to be told.

Why is the “fix” in for the Sunset? Obviously the special interests and the Bush administration have the special “talking points.” The Waterbury opinion piece had some similar stuff about the Sunset, but piled higher and deeper.

The Sunset is an essential part of the national railroad passenger system, such as it is.

None of that takes away from a very encouraging story about what happens when ordinary people use their God-given intelligence.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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