Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Georgetown paper calls for increased rail funding

It is an editorial in the Georgetown Vooice.

The Senate recently passed the bipartisan bill Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which would provide $11.4 billion over 6 years to Amtrak. Though it doesn’t address the long-term problems preventing Amtrak from becoming an optimally functional passenger rail system, the bill would provide funding desperately needed to improve Amtrak’s outdated infrastructure. Worn-out cars and machinery would be replaced, including transmission cables dating from the 1930s in Baltimore’s tunnels. The extra cash will also make up the difference between revenue and operating costs for Amtrak. The House of Representatives should pass the same bill, and President Bush should sign it into law.

Opponents of the bill—including President Bush, who is threatening a veto—want Amtrak to become financially self-sufficient. In FY 2006, Amtrak covered 67 percent of its operating expenses, but to expect it to operate without subsidies is foolhardy at best.

“You cannot get a passenger rail service, as we’ve seen throughout the world, that can operate without some form of subsidies,” Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said on the Diane Rehm show. The government subsidized air travel and highways to the tune of $55 billion in 2007, so critics should hardly complain about the $1.3 billion Amtrak received or expect the company to be economically self-sufficient.

Increased subsidies will not only help repair Amtrak’s crumbling infrastructure; they will also help lower its exorbitant prices. A regular Amtrak ticket to New York on December 20 will run you $98, and the high-speed Acela train costs $188. By contrast, a JetBlue plane ticket for the same day is only $69.

Eventually, Congress must consider building Amtrak its own tracks. Amtrak currently shares tracks with commuter and freight trains operating at full capacity. If the U.S. wants to have a successful train system on par with those in Japan, Germany or Switzerland, just to name a few, then the U.S. government will have to make it financially feasible.


Filed under: Amtrak

Amtrak management is a bunch of idiots

… and that is pretty much the state of every major corporation. Here, just for the benefit of readers who might think this blog is a full-scale non-stop Amtrak suck-up, here is a little item that shows how much the National Railroad Passenger Corporation fits in the culture of corporate America.

Railroad reversal: Two years after Amtrak conductor Rebecca Gettleman was fired for injuring herself while keeping a passenger from stumbling down the train stairs, a federal arbitration panel has ordered her reinstated with back pay.

As we reported last year, Gettleman’s Orwellian adventure began in August 2005 when she wrenched her right arm while preventing a drunken traveler from falling while getting off the train at the Amtrak station in Emeryville.

Faster than you can yell, “All aboard!” she was brought up on Railroad Labor Act safety charges – namely, allowing herself to get hurt helping the passenger.

Her Amtrak bosses wrote her a letter saying she had violated a rule that says, “Employees must be careful to prevent injuring themselves or others. They must be alert and attentive when performing their duties and plan their work to avoid injury.”

But the real blow came a few days later when Gettleman was notified that she was being fired for being accident-prone – with Amtrak citing four injuries over her eight years on the job as evidence of “extreme negligence” on her part.

Gettleman appealed her dismissal to Amtrak higher-ups but lost. Her case was eventually heard by a three-member federal arbitration panel, which just this month reversed her dismissal on a 2-1 vote.

The dissent came from Amtrak’s representative on the board, who wrote that the railroad was within its right in making personnel decisions to “consider injuries for which the employee is not responsible.”

Given Gettleman’s eight-year track record at Amtrak, the rep said, “she can be expected to incur an additional 12 injuries between now and her projected retirement date of Nov. 1, 2031” – which exposes the railroad “to unreasonable and unnecessary risk and/or liability.”

But Ed Adams, head of United Transportation Union Local 1732, which represented Gettleman in her arbitration, called Amtrak’s logic flawed and said its actions would only “intimidate people to not report an injury.”

In any event, Adams said Gettleman was “ecstatic” at the prospect of going back on the job within a couple of weeks.

We had hoped to speak directly to Gettleman about the arbitration ruling. But her union advised her to stay mum, fearing Amtrak might use anything negative she might say about her employer as grounds to try to fire her again.

Filed under: Amtrak

Hunter Harrison, CN CEO

He is getting his accolades, and TFA noes that the City of New Orleans is fairly punctual. Although we do not follow freight except as it impacts Amtrak, Hunter’s scheduling ideas are not exactly new. Anybody ever heard of Cotton Belt’s Blue Streak Merchandise?

Here is a great profile.

Harrison’s vision has spread, revolutionizing an antiquated business. Rail companies across the continent have started to copy his “precision railroading” model—running freight trains on a schedule, much like a passenger line—attracting an ever-larger following of big-name investors in the process. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns 17% of the Big Four U.S. line Burlington Northern Santa Fe. And the only man richer than Buffett—Microsoft’s Bill Gates—is CN’s largest shareholder.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Way up north too …

Peter Griffin, a rail advocate in New Hampshire, is just full of common sense. If you want a little taste of how much the political dynamic of transportation has changed, read the lively and detailed piece in the Laconia Citizen.

In the Granite State, the association is already working to bring by 2011 commuter rail service between Boston and Nashua, Merrimack, Bedford, Manchester, Hooksett and Concord, Griffin said, before turning its attention to other initiatives like a high-speed rail link between Boston and Montreal.

There are also plans to restore service, passenger and/or freight, between Conway and Portland, Maine; from Newburyport, Mass. up through Hampton and Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine; between Manchester and Lawrence, Mass.; and to extend commuter service from Haverhill, Mass. up into Plaistow and maybe Rochester.

Elsewhere, Griffin said there are efforts afoot to link Brattleboro, Vt. to Springfield, Mass. to New Haven, Conn., which itself is a relatively short train ride away from New York City and its many connections; and of doubling the number of trains between Worcester and Boston.

From Boston, trains, using existing rail lines in many cases, could link New Bedford, Worcester, New London, Conn. and Providence.

“The whole dynamic of transportation has changed so much from being road centric to being more of a multi-modal concept and it’s something that New Hampshire had really up until the 1930s when we had rails, trolleys, roads, the beginning of the airline industry and also in some cases, ferry service along the coast.

“But after the depression, we narrowed our focus very much to automobiles which is very contradictory to how we live our lives. When we plan our retirement, we diversify. If we’re sending children to school, we explore different colleges. But with transportation we have this very narrow, really destructive focus on just the automobile and this is unlike to what is happening in the region as a whole.”

Contrary to popular thinking, “you cannot build yourself out of traffic jams … you need a multi-modal concept,” to address current and future transportation needs, said Griffin who pointed out that money for roadwork in New Hampshire is not as readily available as it once was.

Interim N.H. Department of Transportation Commissioner Chuck O’Leary “has really come clean with what has happened with the 10-year highway plan in New Hampshire and now we have enough projects for 35-40 years,” but not the money to pay from them. “We can’t afford to build highways the way we used to.”

Meanwhile, there is money for rail, and in New Hampshire “you have an elected body that realizes you have to do something different and we have a governor (John Lynch), the first governor in modern times, who said I support rail and I will spend money to support it.”

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail

And I thought Arkansas politics was rough

You have probably heard about the train accident near Chicago Union Station yesterday. The cause is under investigation and it would be unfair for TFA to speculate. However, one Republican from cheery Chicagoland has a few harsh words, and some of them are right on target.

Andy Martin accuses Dick Durbin of over 25 years of inaction in providing dedicated-track high-speed passenger rail service for Illinois

Andy Martin

2007-12-01 09:57:59 – ‘Illinoisans risk their lives when they ride passenger trains,- Martin charges. ‘Every nation but the U. S. is developing regional, high-speed dedicated-track passenger service. As the capital of the Midwest, Chicago should be a center of high speed service. Durbin has done nothing. We are losing jobs; our economy is atrophying because Do-Nothing Durbin does nothing.-

‘He works for
the People of Illinois-
Republican for U. S. Senator
Suite 4406
30 E. Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611-4723
312) 440-4124



(CHICAGO)(December 1, 2007) Republican U. S. Senate candidate Andy Martin will hold an angry news conference Saturday, December 1st, to charge that Senator Dick Durbin has ‘blood on his hands- because of the senator’s failure to fight for dedicated, high-speed passenger rail service, in light of the Amtrak/NS train collision in Chicago on Friday. In a preview of a slashing U. S. Senate campaign set to debut on February 6th, Martin will accuse ‘Hollywood Durbin- of being more interested in fund raising than passenger safety.

‘If Dick Durbin spent a fraction of the time fighting for high-speed, dedicated passenger rail service for Illinois that he spends as ‘Hollywood Durbin’ working to raise campaign cash, we might have avoided the tragic crash Friday in Chicago,- Martin says. ‘Durbin has blood on his hands. He has spent over 25 years in Congress accomplishing nothing, and our rail service has deteriorated to the point where you risk your life to ride the rails. This is unacceptable and Friday it became tragically unacceptable.

‘Our prayers are with the victims of the crash. But our eyes must be focused on the future, to avoid continuing risks by developing high-speed passenger rail service for the Midwest that runs on dedicated tracks.

‘Durbin doesn’t really care about passenger trains because he rides in lobbyist limos. Rail service out of Chicago is pathetic. Every time I take the train to Springfield we sit on the side while freight trains pass us.

‘There are also economic consequences to Durbin’s inaction. The economy of the Midwest is atrophying because of lack of adequate transportation.

‘Chicago is a ‘dream’ center for high-speed rail. We are the capital of the Midwest. Distances to Milwaukee, Rockford, the Quad Cities, Peoria, Springfield, Carbondale, Champaign-Urbana and Indianapolis are ideal for passenger service. Durbin has given lip service to passenger rail, but he has no record of producing trains on the tracks. Durbin’s talk has been too little and too late, and usually timed to his reelection years.

‘Anyone who has tried to book a plane ticket to Peoria or Springfield knows you can fly to London (England) for less than it takes to get to Illinois cities. High fares and infrequent service are strangling our regional economy. High-speed, dedicated passenger rail service would boost the economy of Illinois, as well as all of the surrounding states. But most importantly, dedicated track, high-speed passenger rail service would enhance safety.

‘Do-Nothing Durbin has done nothing to advance Illinois’ regional needs for safe, high-speed dedicated-track passenger service. In Washington I will champion the need for enhanced rail service, and enhanced safety. It is sad that at a time when every civilized nation in the world is developing outstanding train service, we rely on Toonerville Trolleys and risk our lives to ride passenger trains. I’m angry about Durbin’s incompetence and inattention. I intend to take action when I get to Washington.-


WHO: U. S. Senate candidate Andy Martin
WHERE: 30 E. Huron (indoors-see concierge)
WHEN: Saturday, December 1, 2007 11:00 A.M.
WHAT: Andy Martin says Senator Dick Durbin has ‘blood on his
Hands- because of his failure to fight for high-speed
dedicated passenger rail service
CONTACT: (312) 440-4124

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Forbes slideshow highlights World’s Fastest Trains

You will enjoy the many cool photos of practical high speed passenger trains. In fact, these are the fastest on earth. So, where’s Acela?

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

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December 2007