Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Sunset Ltd. news in Trains magazine

Apparently, Trains magazine for November carreis a story concerning the proposed discontinuance of the Sunset name and service alterations along the route. These are professional journalists, so we must assume that plans are well beyond the rumor stage.

It must also be realized that there is, according to my sources, not a unanimous opinion inside Amtrak on this plan, and there are some technical obstacles.

Here’s the straight dope, as I understand it.

The Crescent will stop at San Antonio. The Eagle thru cars would continue as a complete train to Los Angeles. There would be NO practical connection between the two routes. The Crescent from New Orleans would arrive mid-afternoon, and the Eagle to Los Angeles would depart sometime around 3am. That sounds like a 12 hour layover, but with the days of operation proposed, as dictated by the most efficient turns of equipment, the Crescent and Eagle would not even make 12 hour connections most of the time — it would be more like 12 hours + 24 hours —- in both directions.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see what a forced 12 to 36 hour layover at San Antonio each way will do for the now growing Los Angeles-Houston and Los Angeles-New Orleans traffic — it will kill it overnight.

The Crescent would replace the Sunset between NOL and SAS, the Eagle would replace the Sunset between SAS and LAX, so the Sunset name would be discontinued. The Sunset name is the oldest name train still in operation, having started around 1902. From Amtrak’s perspective, it is a lightning rod for criticism from the forces of evil who like to quote losses per passenger and suggest that handing out free airline tickets is the answer. So… the Sunset name would disappear, but service would remain over the NOL-LAX route.

The facilities at SAS are a major concern. There is no track space to store an additional train during the layover, and the SAS mechanical department has for years focused only on maintaining Superliners. A large inventory of low-level parts will need to be stocked at SAS, and either track rental or track construction will be necessary to solve the equipment storage problem. Since Viewliner sleepers are in such short supply already, the Crescent would carry only a single car to San Antonio, and in that car, 4-5 rooms would be blocked out for dorm use by the diner and lounge car crew. That amounts to more than a 50% reduction in the present sleeper capacity east of San Antonio.

And the cities east of NO still have no service. Part of the strongest push to get the Sunset back on the east end (or some service, probably not the Sunset as we knew it), is due to the argument that service needs to be provided to the Katrina devastated areas as they continue rebuilding. Same day connections in NO are urgently needed.

Obviously, this proposal is a danger to all long distance trains. The Sunset, operating only three days a week, has been demonized in the conservative echo-chamber. Of course a train that has the same basic infrastructure costs as a daily operation and less than half the available inventory will have problems.

So-called “corridor” trains suffer ultimately because they are often “fed” passengers from long haul routes, and they likewise send traffic on the long distance trains.

My point is this. Let’s not make Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison do all he dirty work. There should be widespread congressional opposition to this crude assault on intercity passenger trains.

The real problem is a lack of equipment. Amtrak needs sufficient equipment to run the Sunset daily and provide thro cars from the Eagle every day.

There are serious infrastructure problems on the UP, and that is a problem for freight and passenger trains. There is a significant national interest in helping provide necessary trackage to accommodate the booming volume of shipments from the west coast.

The next “demon train” might easily be the Eagle or the Starlite. Remember that there is a political component at work here. Bush is paying off his owners at UP and proving he can still be a tough guy to the hardened neocons. He may not have had much luck with al-Queda, but he sure stood up to Amtrak.

It’s late here. Tomorrow, I will have, perhaps, put some bullet points together. Your discussion in the “comments” section might be very helpful.


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

This is what it takes

Although some newspaper editorial writers in Sacramento are having trouble gazing into the future, it might be better to look at the here-and-now. Scroll down for the editorial in the Sacramento Bee.

Part of the negative argument is that, in other countries which enjoy HSR, they already have a developed passenger train system. Of course, it is difficult to find a first world economy with a rail transport system so completely backward as the USA.

Eurostar is about to begin regular service between Paris and London. What did it take. The report in The Guardian is a detailed and fun read that lays out the many engineering marvels that made this link possible. Here are the bare facts.

Broken down into its bare facts, which are to be released this week, the £5.8bn project is constructed of big numbers: over 11 years engineers worked for more than 100 million hours, removing 530 million cubic feet of earth out of 37 miles of tunnels through east London and Kent. They laid 310 miles of rail, five million sleepers and 185 miles of communications cables; 1.2 million trees and 19 miles of hedgerow were planted. They even built 19 miles of road just to get to the railway.

The result is that, compared with four years ago, the fastest journey times to Paris will be cut from 2 hours 55 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes, and to Brussels from 2 hours 40 minutes to 1 hour 51 minutes.

With just over a month to go, railway author Christian Wolmar calls it ‘a project with national pride’. Here we reveal the feats of engineering that made it possible.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

One of these days, someday, maybe …

Out in California, state government is going to be making some crucial transportation decisions.  Yes, $10 billion is a lot of money. It’s about a month of war in Iraq. It would probably fund Amtrak’s entire national system for five years. Here is an interesting argument for just waiting till some undetermined miracle occurs, or money falls from the skies, or highway and airline congestion gets so bad, travelers just say “to hell with it.”

Sadly, this is an editorial in the Sacramento Bee.

Whichever route is chosen, the Legislature should not ask voters to decide on a $10 billion high-speed rail bond on the November 2008 ballot. California has too many other pressing transportation infrastructure needs, including conventional rail, which would deliver much needed congestion relief sooner. Moreover, strategic investments in conventional rail could benefit any high-speed rail system in the future.

The worthy goal is that bullet trains would travel at speeds up to 220 mph, making the travel time from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles just under 2½ hours. But those who question why California can’t have sleek, fast, modern bullet trains like those in Europe and Japan need to understand that high-speed rail abroad emerged from efficient and successful conventional passenger-rail service. Before the state borrows billions to build high-speed rail here, California needs to do all it can to enhance what’s already in place.

There are signs that that is beginning to happen.

Over the last decade, ridership has soared along the Capitol Corridor, the intercity train service that runs between Auburn and San Jose, and the Pacific Surfliner running between San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and San Diego. Locally, Capitol Corridor passenger counts have increased by almost 14 percent over the last 12 months, with trains carrying 1.4 million passengers annually. Ticket revenue is up a hefty 20 percent over last year.

Capitol Corridor now offers 32 trains on weekdays, but delays and disruptions are still too common.

Capitol Corridor alone has four capital projects ready to go that would improve reliability and increase speeds. Those fixes would cost tens of millions of dollars, not billions.

By investing in those more modest rail improvements, California will create a solid foundation for eventual construction of high-speed rail.

The comparison with other more advanced nations is poor. Those countries also had to build right-of-way and infrastructure dedicated exclusively to the use of HSR. It was very expensive. This is what we sometimes call a commitment. It will take a political courage, but California is a progressive state.

Sacramento is reasonably close to Oakland and the Bay Area, so they may not feel the need for HSR connecting California from north to south.

Prediction: the people are way ahead of the politicians and journalists on this one.

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

Denver air hub expansion

Although it is relatively new, the Denver International Airport already seems to be inadaquate to passenger loads. The plan, as you might imagine, is to keep on doing what we have always done. Of course, that always has the same result – more congestion.

The proper course of action is not to starve the airline industry, but to provide transportation choices for intermediate and longer trips. Colorado, by the way, has a HSR program in the development stages and it has a link to your right.

Here is a snapshot from an excellent analysis in the Rocky Mountain News.

Where will the $1.2 billion go?

Denver International Airport plans to issue $1.2 billion in bonds in coming years to fund a variety of projects as it seeks to accommodate growth both inside the airport and out.* Some projects on the agenda:


Involves adding 10 gates onto Concourse C and building a commuter facility that can handle 23 regional jets, similar to the one DIA recently built on Concourse B. Also includes a taxi-lane extension

• Estimated cost: $266 million

• Estimated completion: spring 2010


Involves expanding and adding security lanes and possibly creating another screening area in the main terminal

Estimated cost: Up to $6.7 million

• Estimated completion: By 2013


Involves building parking garages near the airport’s main terminal and a third shuttle lot, adding thousands of new spaces

Estimated cost: $124 million

Estimated completion: One new garage should open later this year; other expansions to be completed by 2013.


Involves building a new system to route outbound and inbound luggage using conventional methods such as conveyor belts. Also involves upgrading baggage sorting and claim carousels and moving explosives detection equipment from Concourse B to the terminal

Estimated cost: More than $90 million

• Estimated completion: By 2013


Involves upgrading the computer hardware and software that routes the underground trains shuttling passengers between the main terminal and the concourses. Also involves extending the tracks south of the terminal to accommodate more trains

Estimated cost: $25 million

• Estimated completion: By 2013Note: *Some Of Dia’S Projects Include Money From Federal Grants. Source: Dia

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Eugene to Vancouver, B.C. Amtrak Talgos returning to service

Here is the AP report form KING TV in Seattle. Read it all here.

11:00 AM PDT on Friday, September 28, 2007

Associated Press PORTLAND, Ore. – Passengers who travel by train between Eugene and Vancouver, British Columbia, should soon have quicker journeys.

This weekend, Amtrak will return the region’s “Talgo” trains to service.

Those cars were taken out of action in August, when inspectors found cracks in the suspension of the linked trainsets.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Munich Maglev

Some readers of TFA are also big proponents of maglev transportation. I always appreciate a note and a link, so here is the latest from Europe.

The biggest thing in high-speed maglev was announced yesterday in the world press: The reaching of a financing agreement between the major players for the first in-country commercial Transrapid maglev line in Germany. The project will be an airport connector in Munich, similar to the Shanghai shuttle system that’s been in operation since 2003.

Attached is the official press announcement and here are two links taken from many that appeared yesterday:
Germany to build maglev railway,

Germany to build first commercial Maglev train line,

The press release is here.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

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September 2007