Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Hillary Clinton on Amtrak – are good words enough?

Statement of Senator Hillary Clinton on Full Senate Approval of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007

October 30, 2007 — “The passage of this critical legislation is truly a great achievement. For New Yorkers, Amtrak is not just a commodity, but a life source. Passenger rail is an essential element of our transportation network that provides irreplaceable capacity and mobility to New York and the nation. For the past near seven years, we have had to fight the Administration’s constant attempts to privatize and dismantle our nation’s premier passenger rail service, Amtrak. Eliminating Amtrak service would be an economic disaster and an irresponsible policy.

Today, as gas prices continue to climb and airline delays are at an all time high, Amtrak not only provides a necessary and affordable alternative to our congested airways, it links commuters to local locations not serviced by the airline industry. The enactment of Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 will end the stop-gap funding process for Amtrak, and will provide the traveling public with the security of a comprehensive plan for improving our nation’s passenger rail system.

No country in the world has ever developed and maintained a successful passenger railroad system without assistance from their national government. Without offering an alternative, President Bush has aimed to simply shut down passenger rail in the U.S.

This plan will authorize $19.2 billion in federal funds for Amtrak by providing $3.2 billion over the next six years, and will allow Amtrak to make critical repairs and improvements to its service. Funding under the PRIIA will allow Amtrak to implement a comprehensive plan that will enhance rail security, reduce train delays, and improve customer service. It will also provide sufficient funding and direction to bring the Northeast Corridor up to a “state-of-good-repair,” including vital tunnel life safety work in the Hudson River Tunnels.

In recent years, attempts by Congress to improve and modernize Amtrak’s operations were stalled by the Republican-controlled House, and earlier this year the President proposed cutting $493 million, more than 38 percent of Amtrak’s operating funds. This sort of backwards thinking would have severely jeopardized Amtrak’s ability to serve their passenger lines in New York and throughout the Northeast.

In the State of New York, Amtrak operates 140 routes, employs more than 1,900 people, and has two of the top ten busiest stations in their rail system. Amtrak is an integral part of our transportation infrastructure and continues to service parts of the state that need the influx of tourists, business travelers and others. The future without Amtrak for New York would be devastating.

I am proud that the full Senate has rejected the Administration’s approach to Amtrak. As an original co-sponsor of this legislation, I commend Senator Lautenberg and Senator Lott for their leadership in steering this critically important legislation through the United States Senate. I am pleased that my colleagues have voted overwhelmingly to continue to provide critical funding for Amtrak, and I look forward to when this legislation is signed into law.”

Source: Senator Hillary Clinton


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Some notes from Nebraska

The McCook paper has a remarkably complete story which perfectly states the case for Amtrak service to rural America. (Yeah, the headline writer should be administered a sound thrashing. It’s still a good story.)

Today, the United States Senate passed legislation to authorize $11.4 billion in total funding for Amtrak rail service over the next five years. Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson applauded the passage of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 294).

“Particularly for rural states like Nebraska, we have to make sure that there are viable transportation options. Amtrak must have the resources necessary to maintain and improve its services,” said Senator Nelson. “Nebraska’s future relies on remaining connected to the region and the rest of the nation.”

The bill aims to reduce Amtrak’s federal operating subsidy by 40 percent and requires Amtrak to become more efficient through increased revenue and ridership, cost containment, and management improvements. The reauthorization bill also requires performance improvement among the long-distance lines, such as the California Zephyr which runs through Omaha, Lincoln, Hastings, Holdrege, and McCook.

Last week, Senator Nelson joined the successful effort to block an amendment that would have arbitrarily capped subsidies on long-distance routes. This cap would have likely resulted in the termination of the California Zephyr – Nebraska’s only passenger rail service.

“This amendment would have eliminated Amtrak for Nebraska,” said Senator Nelson. “It would have stripped the railroad of needed flexibility to improve and ensure the future of America’s railroads. I will always put the needs of Nebraska first and reject attempts to balance the budget on the backs of our state.”

Filed under: Amtrak

Capon’s critics

Ross Capon, who represented NARP on NPR yesterday has taken some criticism I believe to be unjustified on account of his radio appearance with Diane Rhem.

Damn easy for a bunch of railfans to critique the man charged with the actual responsibility of representing NARP members in a forum that was not altogether friendly. Capon is obligated to maintain civil relationships with detestable liars and never call them on it. I can call out Istook here, but there is an unwritten code of behavior which is necessary in the give-and-take of negotiating legislation.

It is no small task to refute individuals who are in no way tied down to the truth. The only reason institutions such as the Heritage Foundation exist is to protect the elite status of privileged people. Our opponents are the bought and paid for servants of special interests. One of my main themes here is that the United States is woefully behind other less established nations in transportation policy. There is no other reason for this deplorable situation than the disproportionate political power of wealthy extremists.

These people come prepared and are always ready with some obscure nonsense like what dining car attendants get paid. Istook stated as Gospel that highways were self-supporting as if nobody has ever witnessed an interstate bridge collapse in downtown Minneapolis. Taxpayers pay for highways and don’t let anybody tell you different. Of course, only a complete moron would ever need to be told that.

Another thing worth noting is that when we speak about railroad issues to the general public, it is often as incomprehensible as speaking in Sanskrit. The question about freight interference with passenger trains was just such an issue.

Considering the intense opposition of well funded and fanatically committed professional distortionists, the ignorance of most journalists, the historical context, economic peculiarities,  and the general lack of experience with any kind of meaningful rail passenger systems, Ross Capon has a formidable task. Throw him a bone.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

Diane Rehm Show



Ross B. Capon, executive director, National Association of Railroad Passengers

Rep. Ernest J. Istook, Jr., former congressman from Oklahoma and chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Transportation; distinguished fellow, the Heritage Foundation

Derrick Cain, reporter, Bureau of National Affairs

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey

Listen to this segment

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Some thoughts… O typed these out while I was listening.

  • Could NPR make this show any stiffer and stuffier?
  • Diane asks Lautenberg what congress expects in return … discusses inconvience of air trave.. obviously has never been on a long-distance train.
  • Congressmen have to be so polite. This administration will not willingly provide health care for poor kids, so transportation is out of the question.
  • Lautenberg tries to explain to the chromiglically gifted Rehm that no passenger service on earth is “self-supporting” .. it is a PUBLIC SERVICE. Good manners prevail.
  • The comparison of long distance train subsidies to “essential air service” is a poor argument. The Amtrak long distance system is inherently inefficient becuase of too little equipment and too few trains.
  • Diane just woke up and asked about HSR. Lautenberg tip-tied around it. After all, when Americans go faster than79 mph, their fillings fall out.
  • And Lautenberg is one of our best guys. He is good, but not excellent.
  • Capon is on now. Fine commentary on the freight railroads.
  • Some idiot congressman spouting off about food service. Losing $80 million a year. Demeans dining car crews, and here comes the SUNSET! Watch out! Is he lying? Only when the lips move.
  • Starvation diet? Do food service people make $55k? Capon gives an excellent answer on labor costs.
  • Reporter connects increased ridership to 9/11.
  • Thanks, Mr. Conservative, yeah, Amtrak ridership is up but what does that prove? We’re Republicans and we hate ordinary people.
  • Back on dining cars. Why do passengers expect to eat anyway?
  • Capon addresses dining cars. Portland, Me. train has private operator. NC has private maintenance of its’ train.
  • First caller is one of ours. Would have never made it on a commercial talk show. Diane lets former Oklahoma goof-ball congressman direct unwary listeners to Heritage’s lying web site.
  • Oklahoma nutcase says that highways are not subsidized. Nada. Makes perfect sense to me.
  • Caller from Buloxi, Mississippi. This guy is a real windbag. Capon gives the right answer. Oklahoma nut recites the perfectly anti-Sunset argument. By the way, Mr. Conservative genius, the solution is to extend service back to Orlando and run it daily.
  • Wayne Allard, congressman from Colorado, is on the line. Totally idiotic argument about how Amtrak should pay its’ own way – just like highways and airports. (Sorry, Mr. Oklahoma Wizard)
  • Allerd is griping about Amtrak tickets being too high. This guy wants it both ways. Goota’; pay your own way, and don’t charge for the product. Brilliant. Diane must have a crush on him. (Just joking.)
  • Email complains about Amtrak’s typically poor schedules. Listener has a point. Capon is very cool. Points to Midwest High Speed Rail Association.
  • More lies form Istook. Never let facts get in the way of prejudice. Istook completely misconstrues the MWHSRA.
  • It is interesting how the very people who cripple the system complain that the stations are not just perfect.
  • Caller from Florida. Frequent Amtrak traveler. Diane cuts him off. May be pressed for time. The man asked about freight interference. Capon gives good but vague answer.
  • Guy from Chicago complains about the cost of a family traveling on Amtrak. Capon responds about the cost of gas and increased cost of driving.
  • Another caller about baby boomers. Rather positive. One of the conservative guests dreams up more “evidence.” Rather sad.
  • Email from lady with Parkinson’s. What can anybody say to that? Yes, Amtrak is better for many disabled folks. Of course, Istook disagrees. This guy should go on Saturday Night Live.
  • Diane does a nice job of wrapping up. Handling so many guests and callers is a handful.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

German privitization iced

 Germans walked up to the edge, looked over, and stepped back Spiegel International Online has an extensive report.

German Train Sell-Off Derailed in the Nick of Time

Germany’s railway privatization has been shelved indefinitely following a decision by the Social Democratic Party to demand fundamental changes to the planned sale. Media commentators say the plan in its current form wouldn’t have boosted competition anyway.

A high-speed ICE train, the pride of the German rail network, at Munich station.


Getty Images

A high-speed ICE train, the pride of the German rail network, at Munich station.

The wheels of change turn slowly in Germany. The country has been planning to privatize (more…) its railway for the past 15 years and seemed tantalizingly close to going ahead with it next year.But the plan appears to have been derailed by the center-left Social Democrats who voted at a party conference last weekend to demand fundamental changes to the privatization — changes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have already rejected.

Critics will say the dispute shows once again how bad Germany is at modernizing itself. Supporters of the country’s elaborate system of checks and balances say it proves that democracy works – many Germans were getting increasingly worried that a privatized rail network would hike fares and shut down unprofitable routes. And the plan in its current form had been criticized as being over-complex, contradictory and too focused on funding the railway’s global expansion rather than boosting competition and efficiency on German tracks.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Chicago Tribune takes the bait

We’re talking about a complete press release reprint. Read the best thigh slapper of the day here, which I have highlighted.

A bilevel diner car called the Cross Country Cafe will pull into Chicago Union Station for the first time Monday on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans trains.

It’s part of Amtrak’s effort to restore ambience to rail travel as well as introduce a taste of the regions that the intercity railroad serves, officials said.

The cafe is outfitted with more comfortable seating and adjustable lighting, Amtrak said. Some items on the City of New Orleans cafe menu include red beans and rice, jambalaya and bread pudding pie, in addition to lounge service providing other choices on the route between Chicago and New Orleans with a stop in Memphis, Amtrak said.

Although we are not devoted to nostalgia here, was not the lunch counter style cafe care on the Pan American called the “Cross Country Tavern?”

And, yes, I know, it’s “ambiance.” Without becoming some sort of nitpicker, I thought everywhere had some sort of ambiance. Wonder what they meant to say?

I have already said enough on this subject anyway.

Filed under: Amtrak

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October 2007