Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

San Fran (of course) wants TWO HSR routes

TFA just simply loves California. Why not?

Here is the latest twist from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Bay Area transportation leaders today endorsed a future statewide high-speed rail system with two routes through the region: one that runs through the East Bay and over the Altamont Pass and another that would head over the Pacheco Pass via the South Bay.

The preference of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission angered some rail advocates and environmentalists, who say the recommendation is a fantasy since two stretches of track likely won’t be built. Instead, critics charged, the endorsement of two routes amounted to a defacto vote for the Pacheco Pass route.

The alignment of a future high-speed rail line that would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles has been controversial for years. While the Southern California routes have been decided, the Northern California route is still being debated.

The California High Speed Rail Authority at one point had chosen the Pacheco Pass route, in part because it is the quickest way to reach Los Angeles. Critics say the route has several problems: It would traverse more environmentally sensitive land than the Altamont option, may open huge swaths of open space to development, and might not attract as many riders as a route that cuts through the East Bay and into San Joaquin County.

Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

Taiwan update

The China News reports the latest developments, and a little politics too.

President Chen Shui-bian said yesterday that Taiwan is not dragging its feet but is “moving forward at a galloping speed of 300 kph.”

The president was referring to the speed of the high speed train when he attended a ceremony sponsored by the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. (THSRC), builder of the bullet train, to express appreciation for those who took part in planning and constructing the railway. The day was chosen because the northern and southern parts of the original rail system in western Taiwan were connected Oct. 24, 1908.

The president also used the occasion to tout Frank Hsieh, presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, and to pan Hsieh’s rival, Ma Ying-jeou of the main opposition Kuomintang.

Chen said that during Hsieh’s term as premier between 2005 and 2006, he helped bail out the cash-strapped THSRC to enable it to complete the 345-km railway linking Taipei in the north and Kaohsiung in the south.

He touted Hsieh’s resolve, saying that the high speed railway is a major development project and that if Hsieh had chosen to keep his distance and leave the financial problem to the THSRC, the public would not be able to enjoy the convenience of the system today.

“The public will return justice to Hsieh,” he predicted, referring to Hsieh’s controversial use of government-affiliated foundations to bail out the THSRC.

Chen noted that people have recently been saying that “Taiwan is dragging its feet,” but he claimed that if they have the opportunity to board the bullet train, they will witness Taiwan’s progress and development.

He said that conducting smear campaigns and “belittling Taiwan” will not be “a boost to oneself,” an apparent oblique reference to Ma.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

Michigan ridership up

For the past six years, ridership on the Pierre Marquette has been on the upswing. The Associated Press has a complete report in the Grand Rapids Press.

Michigan Department of Transportation officials say close to 105,000 passengers used the line connecting Grand Rapids to Chicago this fiscal year.

That’s a 2.8 percent increase from the previous year. The Grand Rapids Press reports it’s the second year in a row that the Pere Marquette has topped the 100,000-passenger mark.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

NARP pushes national grid in Charlotte paper

From George Chilson, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers:

The opening of Charlotte’s south light rail transit line next month is one of the nation’s most impressive municipal efforts to give people travel choices that conserve energy, combat congestion and address global warming.

Combined with commuter rail services planned for Charlotte, a strong commitment to pedestrian- and transit-friendly real estate development, and existing and planned intercity train services, the new light rail service symbolizes Charlotte’s emergence as one of the nation’s most livable areas.

Every American city should have a system as comprehensive and coordinated as the one Charlotte will have. Gasoline is approaching $3 per gallon and likely to rise further in the long run. Runways and roadways are more clogged than ever, and getting worse. Study after study predicts crippling gridlock at airports and in the skies, and the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials anticipates that, by 2020, 90 percent of urban interstates will be at or above capacity. Beyond the local and national concerns are the increasing worries that all those idling cars and planes are hurtling us toward irreversible climate change.

Department of Energy figures show that planes burn 20.5 percent more energy per passenger-mile than Amtrak (a passenger-mile is one passenger carried one mile). And, due to high altitude emissions, planes’ climate change impact is double or triple that of Amtrak’s, depending on length of trip.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, whose board is meeting in Charlotte beginning Thursday, has laid out a vision for change that would connect Asheville, Hickory and Wilmington to a “grid and gateway” passenger train system networking across America, vastly expanding service between Raleigh, Charlotte and points beyond (including a direct Charlotte-Charleston connection). The major terminals would connect long-distance, commuter and high-speed train services, creating a networked grid connecting the Triad, Triangle and other major cities across the southeast and mid-Atlantic.

The beauty of NARP’s vision is that it is achievable. Almost all the rail lines or rights of way in our vision are already in place. Routes were chosen based on demonstrated demand — either from Bureau of Transportation Statistics data or from demand indications in the establishment of new air routes or roadways.

In fact, not only is NARP’s vision achievable, work has begun in North Carolina and across the country to provide multiple options for short-, medium- and long-distance travelers. Other states with notable intercity passenger train programs include California, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin and Maine.

What’s keeping the network from happening everywhere? The federal government has failed to demonstrate leadership and commitment to funding an integrated national passenger train system. This shortsightedness has left us with too few passenger trains, serving too few destinations — almost two-thirds less service than America had in 1971 before Amtrak started.

North Carolina and some other states have tried to fill the void, but have been hampered because the federal government provides no matching funds for intercity passenger trains, unlike for highways, urban transit and aviation. It will take federal leadership and funding, in partnership with states and railroads, to create a national passenger train grid. What if President Eisenhower 50 years ago had left interstate highway planning and funding to the states?

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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