Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Iowa musings

Many years ago (I am starting to sound like a geezer, which is far from the truth), I resided a short spell in Boone, Iowa. There are plenty of good rail lines in Iowa and I have no idea if the state authorities are looking at good routes. Anyway, here is a note for all you Hawkeyes from WHO.

Iowa travelers could eventually have a new way to get around the country. Two studies are underway to expand passenger train service.

One study looks at Amtrak service between Chicago and Iowa City. The feasibility study examines costs and potential use. A similar study requested by the Iowa Department of Transportation looks at service between Iowa City and Des Moines.

Once the studies are complete, state transportation departments will decide whether to move forward with construction.


Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

Grass Roots Syndrome

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.”

There is a magnificent essay online at Atlantic Free Press dealing with land use and urban sprawl. You need to read the entire thing, and it might even provide a few surprises. Kunstler writes about his hometown, Saratoga Springs, New York.

Now this town happens to be on a railroad line that connects New York City to Montreal. Before 1950, it was the main way that people came to this town. These days, we get one train a day in each direction. The trains are invariably late, and not just a little late, but hours late. The track bed is in miserable shape and, of course, Amtrak is a sort of soviet-style management organization. There is no awareness among the public here, or our leaders, that we would benefit from improving the passenger railroad service, and around the state of New York generally there is no conversation about fixing the railroads. (Governor Elliot Spitzer is preoccupied these days with arranging to give driver’s licenses to people who are in the country illegally.) We are going to pay a large penalty for these failures of attention.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Indiana behind the curve

Here is a prime example of why American transportation is sadly lagging the entire civilized world It’s pure small-mindedness. If you don’t beleive me, scroll around the blog and see how sensible decisions are made.

Efforts to create a high-speed rail network and enhanced real-time traffic information system in Northwest Indiana got the brakes put on them today by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

An RDA committee deferred consideration of $675,000 worth of funding requests from the Indiana Highspeed Rail Association and 21CSI, a private company working on the traffic information system.

The high speed rail request was for $125,000 to study the impact on local economies from the creation of a high-speed rail line stretching from downtown Chicago to the Gary/Chicago Airport to Valparaiso.

Board members balked at funding the study without knowing the prospects of federal funding for the project, or whether existing railroads would agree to sharing their right-of-way with the high-speed line.

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

Rome, Georgia has high speed in mind

The Rome newspaper, the Rome News, has a rather fair and generally informative story about the ongoing discussions to link Atlanta and Chattanooga by European style HSR. Memo to headline writer: quit calling it a “choo-choo.” That’s childisn and inaccurate. Trains no longer use steam generation. OK?

One more friendly reminder, taxpayers fund all public improvements and any new highway will be outdated opening day.

Here is part of a long story that is worth your time and perhaps reaction.

A route to near Cartersville and then on to Rome … maybe, as Atlanta’s main stations would still survive.

IT WOULD ALSO cut down on the certain construction chaos an I-75 pathway will cause … well, at least north of Cartersville. Are the lane closures and similar for heavy equipment access to the median from Hartsfield to near Cartersville even imaginable?

And remember, all those Atlanta area stations not only will slow the train speed but it has to decelerate, stop, let off, board passengers, start up again, accelerate. All time lost … which the super-fast last legs from Cartersville to Rome to Ringgold might help to make up.

Still, one gets the distinct impression that the “four projected routes” are there mainly in order to toss three of them away while saying “all options were considered.” If Atlanta and Chattanooga are growing into a single megapolis, then anything less than a straight-arrow route between them appears illogical.

Rome should certainly makes its case, if only for the potential convenience offered to current residents of this region. However, not to be overlooked is that such a train might also cause a form of growth not now really possible: Atlanta workers living in Rome in large numbers because they don’t have to worry about the commute. Given our lifestyle advantages over the metro, which are considerable, that’s a real likelihood.

A TYPICAL two-track configuration has a capacity (in Europe) of 15 trains per hour with 800 passengers per train, or 12,000 an hour (in each direction). If only one in 10 decided to call Rome home, that would be a lot of subdivisions (and water/sewer needs, classrooms, added street congestion and so forth).

Under current plans, the route selection will be narrowed sometime late next year and then a preferred first choice made in mid-2009. Don’t expect a Rome route to become the last man standing. But at least Rome does get to say it was “big enough to be considered.”

Nor, for that matter, does that preclude a future fast rail line from Rome to the next nearest station on the main route.

Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

Rail car manufacturing in Nebraska

This note from a Japanese business journal. Japanese high speed trains are about to appear in Europe, and they are in the commuter car business over here. Who knows where this might lead?

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. boasts of delivering more cars for New York City Transit’s subway services than any other manufacturer. Recently, it spent about 3.3 billion yen to expand a train manufacturing facility in Nebraska. Kawasaki Heavy has received orders for trains for commuter services in suburban New York City. The firm’s cars are well regarded for their reliability.

KHI aims at accelerating its business expansion in the United States by doubling the facility’s manufacturing capability by 2008 to 40 cars a month.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Editorial home run, in the Baltimore Sun

Another myth bites the dust, and the Baltimore Sun takes note. This is important stuff. Driving an automobile is heavily subsidized.

Researcher Mark A. Delucchi of the University of California, Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies recently looked at the nation’s total expenditures on roads and compared the result with the total collected in highway-related taxes and fees. The gap was substantial – the tax on a gallon of gas would have to be increased 20 to 70 cents per gallon to make driving a car a truly fee-for-service arrangement.

That’s not necessarily to advocate for an immediate doubling or tripling of the gas tax, but policymakers need to reject the long-held myth that driving a car is not a heavily taxpayer-subsidized activity. This is a key point in the ongoing debate over whether to spend money on public transit or roads. Transit may be subsidized more overtly, but roads require their share of tax dollars, too.

And when broad societal costs are part of the equation and transit’s energy efficiency and advantages to the environment are weighed, rail and bus travel looks like an even better bargain. The UC Davis study notes that if these kinds of nonmonetary factors are considered, the gas tax would have to be raised more than $1 per gallon to finance roads.

In this context, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to raise nearly $400 million annually to invest in Maryland transportation projects – particularly with its projected fraction-of-a-cent gas tax increase next year – may simply be too modest in scope.

Count the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as among those favoring a tax increase on the federal level. The conservative business group has called for more to be spent on intercity passenger rail, transit systems and ports, all of which could be paid for by higher gas taxes or perhaps a “carbon tax to address global warming.” Looking at the numbers, it’s difficult not to agree.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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October 2007