Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Minneapolis rail hub

This one is loaded with local politics and, frankly, I can only presume this story represents a good decision. The Star Tribune reports.

Ramsey County rail officials approved a purchase agreement today for U.S. Postal Service property in downtown St. Paul that it sees as critical for developing transit in the eastern metro area.

Regional Rail Authority members, who also make up the County Board, voted 6-1 in favor of the agreement that would give the county the concourse behind the Union Depot, a parking structure and land currently used for parking. The purchase price is $49.6 million, but that would drop to $45.2 million if all payments were made by Dec. 31, 2010.

The Postal Service Board of Governors still needs to approve the purchase. It will discuss the deal at a December meeting.


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

Catholics get it too

The National Catholic Reporter has an outstanding editorial dealing with sensible transportation. (Please kneel)

Contributing to our oil addiction is a shortsightedness about what might be called “sensible” transportation. For example, President Bush, responding to the chaos in America’s airports, recently declared that the government might step in to regulate routes and apportion flights. But it’s a quick fix that avoids the heart of the matter — the need to revisit our transportation demands.

Probably the best way to significantly reduce airport congestion would be to revive passenger trains on routes between closer destinations. Per passenger, trains consume less fossil fuel than planes. Airlines can handle long-range trips, while letting trains deliver people from Chicago to Cincinnati, Atlanta to Washington, or Portland to Seattle.

When fuel is divided among passengers, travel by plane is as harmful to the environment and fuel security as if each passenger had driven their own car. The U.S. Department of Energy reported recently that trains, on a basis of energy consumed per passenger mile, were 18 percent more efficient than airlines. Unlike commercial aviation, which mostly uses refined jet fuel, trains use diesel fuel produced at a higher volume per barrel of oil. What’s more, emissions at high altitude have been proved to be more damaging to the ozone layer.

Rail is seldom mentioned as a partial solution to our energy dependence in transportation. Politicians avoid mentioning conservation measures when discussing oil dependence, shying away from President Jimmy Carter’s fate after he appeared on TV in the late 1970s wearing a sweater and urging us to turn down thermostats and drive less. Critics quickly dubbed his talk the “malaise” speech.

In order for rail to become feasible as a partial solution, mindsets and expectations about travel need to be revised and disciplined, our addiction to speed and hurry addressed. It would take, for example, six times as long to travel by rail than by plane from Atlanta to Washington, assuming the flight experienced no delays.

To sacrifice the need for speed to increased energy security might mean discovering other satisfactions: gazing contemplatively out the window at landscapes passing by at 50 mph instead of 500 or mindfully eating a leisurely meal while conversing with strangers. American culture revels in overwork and the resulting need to get somewhere fast for a funeral or wedding. The spirituality of disciplining that revelry might go a long way toward reducing stress while the earth breathes easier when one less plane flies.

(You may be seated.)

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

South Dakota steals Amtrak money

Only a pea-brain government bureaucrat could approve using transportation money for the South Dakota governor’s ego trip. An aviation news site reports on the new King Air 90.

TFA is not alone in feeling more than bewildered by this outrageous transaction.

According to Bergquist, matching money from Amtrak and airport projects money will be used to pay for the new Beechcraft… which has stirred up controversy in congress.

Congressman Jim Oberstar-D-MN objected and wrote a letter to the federal inspector general last month, contending that transferring federal money to the state account to buy a $1.5 million 1995 King Air 90 was improper.

Oberstar’s concern that the state “improperly used Amtrak money to purchase an airplane … is in our opinion, incorrect,” Bergquist said. “Amtrak funds were properly used as a match for airport projects. By using those Amtrak funds for those matching purposes, it freed up Aeronautics Fund dollars that were used, properly used, to purchase an airplane.”

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Amtrak ridership and revenue up

It’s part of a trend. Here is part of a more detailed Associated Press report.

A record 25.8 million passengers took Amtrak in the last fiscal year, an increase of 1.5 million over fiscal 2006, the national passenger railroad said Tuesday.

Ridership for the year ended Sept. 30 surpassed the previous record of 25.03 million set in 2004, before Amtrak transferred some services to a commuter rail operator.

Ticket revenue at the federally subsidized company increased 11 percent to $1.5 billion from $1.37 billion in 2006. Total revenue was $2.2 billion, Amtrak said. That number includes money states pay for specific trains and revenue from other contract services.

Northeast corridor revenue is up 14%. Acela ridership is up 20%. Big gains in Illinois are also reported.

Imagine what could be done with a national system.

Filed under: Amtrak

Raleigh HSR conference update

The Charlotte Observer covered a meeting Monday on east coast high speed rail. There is a longer and more detailed report online.

But money — for trains and for roads — is tight. An estimated $65 billion is needed in North Carolina for new roads and for maintenance on the existing highways. A growing number of state legislative leaders say a special session or blue-ribbon commission is needed to overhaul the way North Carolina distributes money for roads and maintenance.

$7.5 million a mile

Rail supporters emphasized Monday that trains can be a less expensive and more energy efficient solution than highways and airports.”Rail is not here to compete, but rather to be included,” said Pat Simmons, rail division director for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

In 1992, the federal Transportation Department designated the so-called Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor as one of five high-speed corridors.

It’s an expensive project. Reconstructing, upgrading and building rail lines between Washington and Charlotte alone will cost $3.5 billion, about $7.5 million per mile.

But that’s still about 30 percent cheaper per mile than interstate highways of similar size, said rail supporters at the conference, hosted by the state chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar.

And, they say, people will ride a train. Last year, more than 567,000 people in North Carolina took the train on trips that averaged about 200 miles in spite of Amtrak’s limited service and some reliability problems.

If those people had been on the road, Simmons said, they would have made a noticeable impact on traffic congestion.

Worth the cost?

That’s ridiculous, said David Hartgen, professor emeritus at UNCC and a critic of rail revival.

There were about 101 billion vehicle miles traveled in North Carolina in 2005, compared to the roughly 113 million miles people took on trains in 2006.

Rail travel is from a time of the past, Hartgen said. Government shouldn’t spend tax money on it.

“If you think this is really cheaper and really so cost efficient, why don’t you get a group of people together and build a railroad rather than ask the government to build it,” Hartgen said.

Gee, Gramps, why don’t we get a group of people together and build a railroad rather than ask government to build it?Probably for the same reason J. B. Hunt doesn’t build the highways. I hate to be uncharitable especially to an older gentleman, but one would expect more from an academic.

The state transportation guy is still playing it safe. Thank goodness rail is not competing! That would be a crying shame. Why is European style HSR not discussed on this booming population corridor?

Nonetheless, upgrading existing rail facilities is cost effective and faster than a start-from-scratch bullet train.

Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

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October 2007