Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Parade Magazine Preview

Parade magazine runs an insightful piece that tells our story with amazing clarity. Peter Richmond’s item runs in Sunday’s paper nationwide. I could not be more pleased, but be aware that there will be a strong push-back from the well funded special interests.

“The transportation funding mechanism is skewed toward highway construction,” says James RePass, principal executive of the National Corridors Initiative, a transportation advocacy group. “The game is rigged against rail.”

In contrast, the rest of the industrialized world is investing heavily in its train systems. From border to border, Europe is wiring itself for high-speed rail. The result? Decreased emissions and increased productivity. Some predict the eventual obsolescence of air travel on the continent.

How did we fall so far behind? Blame it on our love affair with the automobile and a historical antipathy of legislators for subsidizing the nation’s railroads. Our government’s disdain for trains began with FDR, who in the late 1930s turned his back on fat-cat railroad barons asking for federal handouts. Two decades later, President Eisenhower certified our commitment to cars when he built the interstate highway system.

The current administration has been particularly unfriendly. Amtrak, which is federally funded, received just $1.3 billion last year—the same as 25 years ago. Compare that to the $40 billion allocated for highways and the $14 billion for airlines in 2006. For the 2008 fiscal year, the Bush Administration pro- posed just $800 million for the railroad—a $500 million cut from 2007. In 2005, the President proposed pulling the plug entirely on Amtrak’s subsidy.

The Parade editors also run a strong international sidebar on Japan, Spain, France, and China. It demonstrates how very far behind the United States has fallen.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

Here’s some comic relief

National Review used to be a serious publication, but I guess those days are long gone. Instead of me ripping the illogic contained herein to pieces, may I invite readers to use our comment section to post your additions, corrections, and gasps of disbelief. There is so much error and agrerious hokum here that I simply do not know where to begin.

Let me simply say for the record that this man is sadly (and deliberately) misinformed except that he seems to be one of the few reporters who understands that the northeast corridor is not profitable. Too bad he can’t figure out the rest of the transportation equation.


Money Train
Another subsidy, no real reforms for Amtrak.

By David Freddoso

It was the winter of 1999 when my train arrived at Penn Station about 24 hours late. All flights had been grounded because of a major blizzard, and so I figured that an overnight train ride from South Bend, Ind., would be easier than an eleven-hour drive through the ice and snow.
Boy, oh boy — was I ever wrong.

I cannot blame Amtrak for all of that delay, but I absolutely blame them for refusing repeatedly to inform us on how late that train was going to be. I waited with the other passengers in the seedy old train station on Orange Street for something like twelve hours, during which I could not even make the trip to a nearby McDonalds, out of fear that my train would show up when I was gone.

That is my own little reason for hating Amtrak. American taxpayers have more than 40 billion reasons more, for all of the subsidy money Amtrak has squandered over 37 years without ever turning a profit. The U.S. Senate continued this folly on Tuesday with its 70-22 vote to keep subsidizing the rail corporation’s abject failure to provide Americans with a reasonable or efficient transportation alternative. Senators laid the groundwork for an $11.4 billion handout to Amtrak over six years, fending off even the most modest reform proposals. The House has yet to act.

When you think of Amtrak, don’t think of that sleek, silver train in the commercials. Think instead of a passenger rail car with children sitting in every seat, each of them throwing quarters and dimes out the window at every mile-marker. This would approximate the rate at which most of Amtrak’s trains lose money.

Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation notes that in 2006, Amtrak lost enough money per passenger on at least three of their long-distance routes — Orlando to L.A., ($436 per passenger), Seattle to L.A. ($227), and New York to Florida ($132) — that they could have easily come out ahead by collecting passengers’ fares and handing them round-trip airline tickets. As of August, Amtrak had lost approximately $845 million for the year.

Amtrak’s routes in the Northeast Corridor, many will argue, make money. This claim is actually false, the result only of Amtrak’s shady bookkeeping (turn to section C). The northeast routes have made $272 million this year, but only if you completely exclude $414 million in depreciation losses, $88 million in debt service, and $211 million in nationwide losses, none of which Amtrak allocates by route. If the company actually kept honest books, we would likely see that Amtrak loses some money even in the Northeast Corridor.

Another false claim is that Amtrak does not get its “fair share” of transportation subsidies. Airline passengers pay taxes and fees at every turn and receive a subsidy less than one-thirtieth of Amtrak’s per-passenger mile. Motorists receive no subsidy at all, once they have paid tolls and gasoline taxes.

The fact that Amtrak hemorrhages money is not the only thing that makes it so awful. There’s also the maddening inefficiency of a system that has no competition and practically no accountability.

Amtrak may be the only commercial enterprise on earth that actually loses money selling beer. Its food and beverage service requires an $80 million subsidy from Congress each year, and this despite the fact that the food and drink are not cheap. Airlines, facing hard times, have already cut back on free food and beverages. By contrast, starting today, Amtrak is offering some frequent riders a $100 booze credit on certain long trips.

An attempt by Sen. Tom Coburn to require that food service on each route break even or else be cancelled was crushed in a 67-24 vote on Tuesday. Part of the problem is that Amtrak’s workers are ridiculously overpaid. Amtrak’s food-service workers make $54,000 per year plus tips, according to congressional testimony from June 2005 — comparably skilled food-service workers make less than half that amount.

Rail transportation is certainly not faster, nor is it usually cheaper (even with the huge subsidies), and so it is little wonder that trains are more than half-empty on average. Nor is rail travel especially environmentally friendly. If you are traveling more than 75 miles, the Congressional Research Service found in 1999 that Amtrak is slightly less fuel-efficient per passenger-mile than driving, and far less efficient than taking a bus. That study was conducted before the introduction of hybrid cars and better gas mileage.

It could not be clearer that inter-city passenger rail has lost its raison d’etre. Rail is a good way to move cows, logs, grain, and cars. It is not a good way to move people, except the ones who are willing to pay far too much (even after the subsidy) for a trip that takes far too long. Other industrialized nations are already privatizing — it is about time Congress gave someone else a chance to improve the margins on the most cost-efficient routes (in the northeast), and stop running the ones that lose the most money.

Unfortunately, this proposal makes too much sense, Utt explains. Some congressman, tears in eyes, will tell a story about the man who absolutely depends on Amtrak to get him from Helena to St. Louis for his monthly kidney dialysis.

Well, we could give every such man in America a free automobile — with chauffeur — and still save billions of dollars if we were to stop subsidizing Amtrak. For $54,000 a year plus tips, I might even consider making myself available to drive.

— David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Senator Byrd gives himself a pat on the back

… and it is much deserved.

Washington, DC (HNN) — U.S. Senator Robert C.Byrd, D-WV, applauded the passage of bipartisan legislation that will keep Amtrak running for the next six years, and preserves routes important to West Virginians. The Passenger Rail Investment and ImprovementAct of 2007, which passed the Senate Oct 30, will serve as a comprehensive blueprint for the continuing improvement of America’s national passenger rail system. Byrd joined Senator Jay Rockefeller, D.-WV, in opposing Republican efforts toprivatize Amtrak and cut funding for routes that serve rural communities in West Virginia and across the nation.

“This is a great day for rail passengers in West Virginia and across the nation who rely on Amtrakfor long-distance travel and daily commuting,” Byrd said. ‘The Senate has passed strong legislation that will improve and modernize ournation’s rail system. By investing in infrastructure and strengthening efficiency and marketability, this bill will put Amtrak on stronger footing fort he future.”

For the past six years, the Bush Administration has repeatedly sought to break up Amtrak’s service and eliminate rural routes.Byrd, joined by Senators from both political parties, has consistently led the effort to protect Amtrak and improve its service. In the 2007 Amtrak bill, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller successfully opposed an amendment that would have taken funding away from “long-distance” routes, including those serving West Virginia.

“Amtrak carries people between our biggest cities and our smallest communities,” Byrd added. “Without Amtrak service, many regions of rural America would not benefit from the convenience and economic opportunities offered by a rail system. I have consistently fought against efforts that would harm Amtrak service in West Virginia, and will continue to do so.”

Amtrak’s last authorization, the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act (ARAA), expired in 2002. In recent years, attempts by Congress to improve and modernize Amtrak’s operations were stalled by the Republican-controlled House.

“After more than seven years of stopgap funding bills, the new Congress has acted responsibly by putting a plan in place thatwill sustain Amtrak for the long-term,” Byrd said. “This $19.2 billion authorization will mean better long-term planning and stronger accountability for Amtrak. This plan is right for America,and it is right for West Virginia.I hope the President will do the right thing and sign this legislation into law.”

Between Fiscal Year 2005-2006, Amtrak welcomed more than 24.3 million passengers, representing the fourth straight fiscal year of record ridership. An average of more than 67,000 passengers ride on up to 300 Amtrak trains per day.

A pair of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, the Capitol Limited and the Cardinal, stop in several West Virginia cities, including Alderson, Charleston, Harpers Ferry, Hinton, Martinsburg, Montgomery, Prince, Thurmond, and White Sulfur Springs. In 2006, riders boarding trains in Huntington totaled 13,000,making it West Virginia’s most popular Amtrak station.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Competition in the European market

From the ThisIsMoney web site.

Germans plan Eurostar rival

Reader comments (1) | Vote | Blog

German trains could rival Eurostar services between Europe and London, it was revealed today.

Eurostar trains at platform ON TRACK: Germany’s national rail firm Deutsche Bahn is planning a Eurostar rival


Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national train company, has lodged a formal application to use the Channel Tunnel and high-speed rail line into St Pancras International.The service would run at 186mph via Brussels to Cologne, the western hub of the German high-speed network. From there, ICE expresses operate to destinations including Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg.

Connections at Brussels would also allow changes on to a new high-speed line being built to Amsterdam. The move is being backed by Channel Tunnel owners Eurotunnel to generate desperately needed traffic and income to meet its crippling debts.

Deutsche Bahn views Britain as a major growth market but would have to meet stringent safety laws. These include special trains that can divide in the middle and take passengers in either direction out of the tunnel in the event of a fire or other emergency. At present only the £20m Eurostar trains have this facility.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

Rockford rocks it

The Rockford, Illinois newspaper takes a sensible approach to good transportation.

Senate revives hope on Amtrak

Nov 01, 2007 @ 01:20 AM

By Chuck Sweeny


ROCKFORD -There may be hope for Rockford’s chances of getting that Amtrak train after all. The U.S. Senate voted 77-22 Tuesday to reauthorize Amtrak funding for six years at $3.2 billion a year. The money includes $1.3 billion a year in bonding authority. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was a prime sponsor of the bipartisan bill, which also would create an intercity passenger rail capital grant program for states.

Illinois and Iowa could tap the $237 million-a-year grant program to develop the proposed Amtrak route from Chicago on the Canadian National line through Rockford, Freeport and Galena to Dubuque, Iowa. Durbin has been the primary promoter of restoring passenger service on the track, which last saw an Amtrak train in 1981.

“Federal, state and local leaders recently worked together to find a rail route for residents in Rockford that would serve as an alternative to the congested roads in and out of Chicago,” Durbin said. The bill, “in tandem with state funding, makes it possible or us to continue to expand rail service throughout the state and country.”

The House version of the bill is just being introduced, said Rich Carter, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan.

“The bill treats Amtrak like the long-term federal road program, where we deal with it every six years,” Carter said. Although Manzullo hadn’t seen the details, he generally backs the passenger rail service as part of the national transportation infrastructure.

“The congressman has been a strong supporter of Amtrak and has fought off several attempts by the (Bush) administration to gut or severely cut the passenger railroad system,” Carter said.

Indeed, after fighting the Bushies’ relentless attempts to kill Amtrak for seven years, passenger rail supporters may finally be winning the day. No passenger rail systems make money, but governments in Europe, Asia and Canada are investing heavily in rail to combat pollution and give people an alternative to congested roads and high gas prices.

People are voting with their tickets: When the state increased the number of Amtrak trains in 2006, the riders flocked to them. Ridership on the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor rose 42 percent to 477,888, the rail service said, and ridership between Chicago and Milwaukee is nearing the 600,000 mark.

Other corridor trains in Illinois also are doing well. For instance, ridership between Carbondale and Chicago is up 67.4 percent; the Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy route is up 46 percent. Altogether, about 3.6 million people used Amtrak’s stations in Illinois last year.

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

China steps up

Progressive files a report on the Chinese order for HSR trainsets. The interesting part is that some of the 150 mph capable trains will be outfitted as sleeping cars. This is a development which makes me wonder which overnight routes might offer such a service for business travelers. Fast new sleepers might be an attractive to hotels. Here is the lead.

The Chinese Ministry of Railways recently awarded a $1.5 billion contract to joint venture Bombardier Sifang Power Transportation Ltd. to supply 40 16-car high-speed trainsets — China’s largest passenger-car order placed at one time, according to a prepared statement. The joint venture comprises Bombardier Transportation, Power Corporation of Canada, and China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Group Corp.

Under its $596 million portion of the contract, Bombardier will help manufacture the electric multiple unit (EMU) trainsets, which will be capable of reaching speeds up to 155 mph. Twenty of the EMU sets will be designed for overnight service and fitted with sleeping berth interiors. The other 20 trainsets will be upgraded versions of the eight-car trains Bombardier currently is delivering to the railway under orders placed in May 2005 and October 2004.

The EMUs are scheduled to be delivered between February 2009 and August 2010. 

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

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November 2007