Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

East Texas HSR Discussion (lies, damn lies and statistics)

The Longview, Tx. News-Journal is running a significant and long story dealing primarily with developing a high speed rail corridor running from Dallas east to Shreveport. There is also coverage of the Texas, Eagle and the story is, for the most part, on point with the facts.

There are several things which should be highlighted here, but the most egregious misstatement was cited from a former employee of an outfit called the Goldwater Institute who is some sort of graduate student.

Despite the increase and ridership and revenue, only one Amtrak route — the high-speed service between Washington, D.C., and New York City — captures enough revenue to cover its costs, according to Salya Thallam, a former fiscal and urban policy analyst for the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute. He is now a reseach fellow and graduate student in Washington who has written and spoken on issues of urban growth, transportation, fiscal and tax policy and regulation.

Thallam said New York City and Washington are ideal places to subsidize rail transit, but the issue transforms when considering Western cities and states where growth and a dependency on cars developed during post-World War II growth. The landscape of cities like Houston and Dallas is spread out, to less densely populated areas away from the central core, which lead to the development of regional cores, or suburbs.

“All this said, a new rail line may have at best an initial minor effect on adjacent traffic. But as cars become cheaper and cheaper (relative to the median income), people will always prefer to travel by car and truck when they can, and they will be able to do so more and more,” Thallam said in an interview. Thallam noted that total transit-miles have increased several-fold since the 1950s while total passenger-miles carried on rail has fallen from near 50 percent during World War II to less than 2 percent now.

Let me grab a shovel. This stuff is pretty deep.

Since when does the northeast corridor cover even its’ operating costs? I do not recall hearing or reading that anywhere. Considering the costs of maintaining track and associated signals to 125 mph standards, not to mention the tunnels and bridges, the enormity of this misstatement is nothing but breathtaking. Such talk is absurd.

Query: if it covers the costs, why does it need a subsidy? Do they teach logic at your graduate school, Salya? Maybe you could audit that one with the underclassmen.

AND FURTHERMORE …There was that little thing called the national interstate highway program in which billions of taxpayer dollars were expended to create giant slabs of concrete on which truck and travelers could pass, thus diverting passengers and freight from railroads, most of which were built with some sort of public private partnership. So, yes,  passenger train ridership had been on a downward spiral for some time. In the present context, that information is meaningless.

There is more important information in this story which demands commentary, and most of it is based on a more reliable source.


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

Harrisburg – Lancaster, a “no go”

The “corridor” is 35 miles, almost too short for TFA commentary. These are two cities and folks in this part of Pennsylvania seem to have a gripe about transportation dollars going to the big cities.

But, isn’t that where it is needed most?

The politics on this look so sadly predictable. State officials are totally in the bag to special interests. The highway lobby runs the show. Pennsylvania might be considered a battleground in reining in pesky rail projects.Where big dollars are in the mix, desperate actions will sometimes be taken by those who stand to lose.

The proposed project uses existing track. That should make some difference. it seems that the state contribution is $20 million, pocket change in the larger context.

The real question is the reliability of the ridership projections. If those surveys were taken with gas at $2 a gallon, results might be much better today. This argument about buying every passenger an automobile instead of building an essential service which would potentially decrease auto pollution resonates with the many lies frequently used in arguments against Amtrak, particularly the Sunset. This statement is just a little too smug.

It may be that this line is a terrible idea. You decide. The Patriot News files a complete report.

The commuter rail project known as Corridor One hasn’t been on the fast track, but now it faces a monumental hurdle.

State Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler said it is unlikely that the proposed Harrisburg-to-Lancaster rail line will get significant state money during Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration. Biehler wrote a searing critique of the project in a column for The Sunday Patriot-News.

Citing what he said were Capital Area Transit’s projections of 444 daily one-way passengers, Biehler said the line would run an annual operating deficit approaching $11.5 million.

Looking at it another way, Biehler said, that’s more than $51,000 per year per round-trip rider.

“It would be cheaper to lease each rider a car and pay for downtown parking, fuel and maintenance, and insurance,” Biehler wrote.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

Reservation computer crash: one story, two versions

This was posted on the site, which has several areas for discussion and exchange of information. Much of the area is by subsciption, but the front pages of threads is available to the public. This was in the “Passenger train” section and was posted by Gene Poon.

The following are two different viewpoints of what happened out on the railroad when Amtrak’s Arrow computer system went completely down a few days ago:

Dear Co-workers,

We write to thank and recognize the efforts of the many front-line employees who persevered in the face of this weekend’s unprecedented system-wide Arrow system outage.

On Saturday and Sunday morning, call center employees, ticket agents, conductors and many others pulled together to manage what was a very difficult situation. While our front-line employees were handling the situation with customers, IT employees worked around-the-clock to identify and resolve the problem.

In some cases, conductors assisted station employees with long lines and dissatisfied passengers. Tickets were booked by hand and online confirmation printouts were being accepted as tickets.

-excerpted from an Amtrak advisory dated 29AUG2007, and signed by William Crosbie, Chief Operating Officer; Emmett Fremaux, Vice President Marketing & Product Management; and Ed Trainor, Chief Information Officer.


No one out here in the Midwest knew what they were doing. Chicago and St. Louis both REFUSED to issue hand-written tickets. Agents in St. Louis said they weren’t issuing tickets because they did not know what to charge. They were offered a Conductor’s tariff book but they absolutely refused to take it.

A Conductor remarked that if the train breaks down, he won’t call the ticket agents and ask them to come aboard and fix the problem or deal with pissed-off passengers; so he was irritated that the station agents thought they could just pass off their job on the Conductors.


During the outage, NO ONE received any official guidance on what to do from what I could see. CNOC could have faxed each station, or at LEAST each crewbase, with some documentation showing what to do, but they failed to do so over the entire 24-hour period. What are THEY there for, then?


Chicago refused to issue tickets for one train that I know of, because the system had just gone down, so the crew let unticketed passengers board. ARROW then came back online but Joliet reported they still had no service. Downline stations issued tickets for
Chicago passengers, but it was like pulling teeth to get those ticket agents to do it (to their defense, perhaps Arrow wasn’t really working all that well. -GP).


Work a train that actually originated with the system being down (i.e., no manifest, no data on pre-pays or existing reservations)? CNOC Customer Service desk likely would’ve dodged the question as to what to do. Several conductors made up their own minds: Not to take a single ticket.

Selling tickets on the train meant relying on the passengers to tell the truth “Oh, the guy behind me already paid for his ticket so he doesn’t have to pay now? Uh, I did, too!” (YEAH, SURE!) Since there would be no information to work with, I wouldn’t take a single one of them, even if the passengers offered one. After all, why should I take tickets from people who made their reservation in advance and picked up their ticket in advance if I am going to let last-minute passengers, folks who may not even have a reservation,
ride for free?

There should’ve been more communication from the leadership on what the front-line folks should’ve been doing.

-statement by an Amtrak front line employee

Filed under: Amtrak

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September 2007