Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

And a little commentary from here and there

Don’t expect me to show up at the TFA offices every working day, but since I wandered through today, here is one from This Week that highlights various opinion pieces.

What the commentators said
The House bill is “well-aimed jab at rising fuel prices,” said The Denver Post in an editorial. It gives Amtrak a 48 percent increase in funding for new equipment and facilities. That’s money well-spent, because inter-city rail service is “America’s most fuel efficient form of passenger transport.” President Bush should put away his veto pen and “give American travelers some real relief from soaring fuel prices.”

Congress usually makes a stink about reauthorizing funding for Amtrak, said the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier in an editorial. “How quickly $4 per gallon gasoline has focused its collective mind.” It’s understandable that President Bush still wants use the veto threat to push Amtrak to make better progress toward self-sufficiency. But the real problem is that Amtrak service is concentrated in the Northeast, and we need more trains in the rest of the country.

The real problem is Amtrak’s shoddy service, saidDan Kennedy in the blog Media Nation. Even in the Northeast, where rail connects the major cities, frequent cancellations and other problems can turn off even devoted train travelers. “It’s a shame.”

It still takes as long to travel from Vermont to New York City or Washington, D.C., as it did in 1938, said the Brattleboro, Vt., Reformer in an editorial. One reason is that freight companies own the rails, so passenger trains aren’t the first priority. “Trains are going to be an important part of the transportation mix in coming years,” but “our rail network is a mess.” It’s time to “put rail travel on the political agenda.”

And now, for MY opinion.

It would be helpful to understand that any percentage increase of capital for Amtrak is a shameless numbers game. What is 50% of ZERO. Amtrak has been starving for equipment over the past three decades. If memory serves, the last new standard cars arrived well over a decade ago. Acela went online in the northeast about eight years ago.

So it’s nice to see a few crumbs tossed along the tracks, but Amtrak needs a lot more right now if Americans are to get any relief from high gas prices. 

What we are experiencing right now is the last gasps of the old power structure doing everything possible to stop anything that might interfere with highways and airlines.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

One Response

  1. Allan says:

    “What we are experiencing right now is the last gasps of the old power structure doing everything possible to stop anything that might interfere with highways and airlines.”

    Oh please … a highway is a ROAD and railROAD is a ROAD with rails. Roads, whether you call them streets, highways, or whatever are wide ways connecting one place to another. They will always exist because they are needed. If they didn’t exist, we would need to create them.

    Railroads came into existence as a better way to move freight because the roads were so poor. Just as now, passengers were an after thought. Roads are much better now than then.

    The benefits of roads are obvious to the average person. We pay a fuel tax that is used to build and maintain roads. The roads are open to all to use and, with the exception of a few toll roads, there is no direct additional costs for the use of the road itself. They give us great flexibility.

    However, the rail lines are not open for all to use. I can’t drive my own personal rail car onto a set of tracks. For that matter, except for some tracks in the NE, the rails aren’t owned by Amtrak but are privately owned.

    Let’s go over this. Greyhound uses roads it doesn’t own but pay fuel taxes and income taxes and I can also use the road; airlines use airports they don’t own but pay landing fees, fuel taxes; income taxes, and the passengers pay additional tax and I can use the airport as a private pilot; avg Joe in his car uses a road he doesn’t own but pays fuel taxes and an income tax; if he is a pilot he can use the airport and still pays a fuel tax; Amtrak pays to use the tracks it doesn’t own and charges freight companies to use the rail it does own, pays a fuel tax (I assume), pays no income tax (no profit), and the avg joe cannot use the tracks.

    So, for the avg taxpayer, who is already seeing some of fuel tax diverted to subsidize transit systems that they don’t use, it’s difficult to justify more subsidies to an entity that competes with private industry (buses and airlines).

    And what do you want to do with the money? Lay gov’t owned track? Electrify routes? What??? If you look at the major routes in the late 1800s and look at them today, you’ll see that they haven’t changed much. It’s an antiquated route structure, especially for passengers.

    But that brings up a point, if you’re going to lay new track where none exists, why stick with rail? Example, there isn’t a direct route between Nashville and Chattanooga … it’s rather circuitous to avoid the Cumber Plateau. If you’re to spend a bundle of money to lay track, the make it HSR, but why stop there? There is a proposal for a maglev between the two that would continue on to Atlanta. A maglev can handle steep inclines than rail.

    I want to ensure that Amtrak doesn’t have blinders on concerning the NEC. It seems to want to pour money into it at the expense of the rest of the system.

    So I, and others, want to know the short-term and long-term plans for the money that Amtrak keeps asking for. Is it for capital improvements and how will these improvements help improve Amtrak’s financial position. I want to know why Amtrak doesn’t appear to be able to cover it’s Operating and Maintenance budget with fare revenues. Why should we give more money to Amtrak until it improves the above mentioned shoddy service?

    You going to have a difficult time to convince the travelling public that Amtrak is being stonewalled because of some “old power structure” when the they ride a train with shoddy service or it continually arrives late. And remember, the travelling public uses those roads and those airports extensively!

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June 2008


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