Trains For America

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Downeaster faces question of survival

it is one of the best and Amtrak’s fastest growing route. Here is the news from WMTW TV in Portland, Me. Patricia Quinn is executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

During its first year of service in 2001, 293,000 passengers rode the Downeaster. Quinn said those numbers are expected to top 400,000 this year.

But the service could end on July 1, 2009, when nearly $7 million in federal funding runs out. So Quinn is trying to get state legislators on board the money train.

“It would really be a shame, after all we have accomplished and all that has been invested, to not have this continue,” she said. “Not just for the past, but also for the future.”

Maine Senate resident Beth Edmonds, one of the legislators meeting with Downeaster officials on Thursday, explained, “Everyone understands we are in very tight budget times. We can’t let this important piece of our economy go down the drain.”

Edmond ssaid Thursday’s meeting was necessary, because the subject is something that needed to be addressed sooner than later.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Tower 55 congestion under review

It’s the busiest rail intersection in the United States. Isn’t it?

Anybody who has ridden the Eagle through the Dallas – Fort Worth maze will attest that is it crowded. What is to be done? The Dallas Morning news notes an upcoming meeting.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments will host two public meetings Tuesday on plans to improve the Tower 55 railroad intersection near downtown Fort Worth. A study on ways to improve the intersection – the busiest and most congested in the country – has been under way for months.

Several freight rail lines, including the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific, as well as passenger lines converge at the intersection, resulting in idling delays that contribute to poor air quality and freight shipment delays, officials said. Residents can attend either meeting, where improvement plans and Tower 55 concerns and issues will be discussed.

The Tuesday meetings will be at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Fort Worth Central Library, 500 W. 3rd St.

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

Cheeseheads get it, again

This time from the editorial pages of the Madison, Wisconsin paper. Dave Zweifel is the editor.

The U.S. Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a bill that will fund Amtrak for the next six years at roughly double the level that it currently receives.

The House, although a vote isn’t expected for several weeks, appears ready to pass the bill, too, meaning that for the first time Amtrak could have the money it needs to improve its service, pay off some of its debt and make some capital improvements.

Of the $11.4 billion in the Senate’s bill, $1.4 billion is earmarked for a new state grant program. That could serve as the catalyst to jump-start the long-awaited high-speed passenger service between Wisconsin’s two major cities, a move that not only could lessen some of our traffic woes but help the environment at the same time.

But, alas, there’s a fly in the passenger rail ointment.

It’s none other than the president of the United States. He and his administration have spent their seven years in office trying to dismantle Amtrak. George Bush’s budget request for the current fiscal year, for example, called for just $300 million for Amtrak operating costs and $500 million for infrastructure needs.

The Senate decided that the time had come to give the nation’s passenger rail service some breathing room. Every year for the past decade, Amtrak has had to come hat in hand, begging for funds. And each year it has had to postpone improvements and nickel-and-dime customers to keep the trains running, all the while going deeper into debt.

Consequently, the U.S. continues to be one of the industrialized world’s few countries with a substandard rail system. While the government continues to lavish billions on airport services and spends freely on paving over more land for highways, passenger rail has been starved. Major U.S. cities continue to be without any rail service at all.

Incredibly, Bush says he will veto the six-year bill if it comes to his desk. For a man who keeps telling us how safe he is making America, he apparently has already forgotten how 9/11 paralyzed the nation’s transportation system, when air traffic came to a virtual standstill.

The Senate passed the six-year Amtrak plan by a vote of 70-22, a sufficient margin to overturn a Bush veto. If Amtrak can garner that kind of support in the House, a Bush veto could be overcome, as well it should be on an issue this crucial to the nation’s future.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

Sioux City slop

The paper out in Sioux City, Iowa takes a contrary view on improving rail service in Iowa. They make a good argument and some of the facts are right. The problem is with correct analysis. The editors were kind enough to list their objections. You can read the entire editorial here.

Here are a few reasons why:

· Unless the tracks in that portion of the state are upgraded, trains would have to travel at about 45 mph. That means two and a half hours more in transit for the few that would even think about opting for train travel.

· There are not cost estimates available for such a route, with or without the needed upgrades. Iowa officials also say they may move forward even without a big federal investment.

· Contrary to statements made by the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Neil Volmer, we don’t see anyone clamoring for such service. Volmer wants to get Iowans thinking about rail travel. We don’t believe Iowans want to think about it.

· The federally run passenger train service Amtrak would be the provider of the trains. Those who live in Illinois or use the two Iowa routes in place now know their service record is spotty. If it weren’t for its federal subsidies, Amtrak would have gone out of business long ago.

· Finally, if the state wants to throw some money around, how about improving the quality of the infrastructure we already have? Or better yet, we think Siouxlanders would much prefer a four-lane Highway 20 that could be traveled at 65 mph.

It appears as if some of our state leaders n especially those in the eastern portion n have a one-track mind on this issue. We hope their constituents will implore them to derail this plan before it picks up any more steam.

They are correct about the speed limitations. So what exactly does the writer think the $7 Billion is going to be used for anyway? (That number is the ENTIRE project from east coast to Iowa.) The editor is absolutely right on this one. Nobody will ride a 45 mph train. In fact, had they researched the Midwest High Speed Rail Association’s site, they would know that there is an enormous difference between 79 mph and 110 mph. The transportation professionals have already figured that one out.There are two links in the right hand column, guys, one is for the “Ohio Hub.”

The point of the proposal is to upgrade the EXISTING railroad and provide passenger equipment to make the service viable.

Then they get down to the fear tactics. Of course, we do the study to find out what it will cost and how many passengers are available. That ought to be obvious. The latest Senate Amtrak bill will make money available to Iowa as well. It is my opinion that the state should not subsidize a 45 mph passenger railroad.

I am, however, darned impressed with the enormous, almost magical, cognitive abilities of this editorial board. They already know what Iowans think, and the best part is that Iowans agree with them. So, guess what, there’s no need to think about it any more. One sure way to win an argument is to end it.

Oh, omniscient all-wise, wizards of the printed word, may I draw near your temple of journalistic holiness? Please do not smite me down, but I would like to humbly suggest that, without Federal subsidies, the highway system would have shut down years ago.

It was very foolish for them to argue against Amtrak’s Illinois operation. Sorry, editorial deities, but passenger growth in the Land of Lincoln is off the charts. Just scroll around the blog for a while and you will see that.

And they are well-informed on one thing, throwing money around at another highway is questionable. TFA does not oppose necessary transportation projects.

Unfortunately, this expression of editorial opinion seems to be based more on sentiment and prejudice than objective analysis or any consideration of the public good.

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

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November 2007