Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Told ya’ so. Amtrak faces critical equipment shortage.

This comes to the core of criticisms frequently leveled against Amtrak. Although I am not always a fan of NRPC management, the corporation has been on a starvation from day one. Airlines and truckers have done everything possible to maintain preferred status and the consequence has been steady cutbacks on a service that should have been intelligently increased. 

The UPI reports.

Amtrak is unable to quickly meet increasing demand for its rail services because it has been scaled back so much in the past, officials say.

We’re starting to bump up against our own capacity constraints, said R. Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak.

The New York Times reported the number of passenger milestraveled on intercity rail has dropped by about two-thirds since 1960, and the companies that build rail cars and locomotives have also shrunk, making it hard to expand.

Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.

Instead of fiddling around waiting for things to get better, Congress and the states should get moving on several fronts. European equipment,  perhaps of the Talgo design, should be ordered. England buys its trains from Japan. We need an infusion of modern standard equipment right now.

The next step is to give federal preferences to transportation initiative as the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. This is where the states step in an make use of the already existing rail infrastructure. And let us remember that system was originally constructed as a public-private partnership which has made the operating lines wealthy.

Domestic drilling only delays the certain inevitable end of oil supplies. 

This, of course, is only part of the larger solution, but it is the portion relevant to transportation. 

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Obama speaks up again on high-speed rail

For those who are wondering how each of the major presidential candidates will be addressing our nation’s tranportation problems, the answer is becoming increasingly clear. John McCain has shown himself to be an enemy of Amtrak and a friend to the auto and air industries, while Barack Obama has said that he wants to put high-speed rail lines on the ground.

In a speech in Miami, Obama again showed concern about our transportation problems. He discussed investment in mass transit, city planning, and a number of other issues, but importantly he also equated construction of high-speed rail lines with national pride:

And we’ll also invest in our ports, roads, and high-speed rails – because I don’t want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai, I want to see it built right here in the United States of America.

It’s great rhetoric, and, as one of the commenters on the linked site points out, people like to hear about American ingenuity much more than they like to be scolded for driving their car to work or flying short distances. What does all this talk mean, though? In the speech, he mentions his plan for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which could support projects such as new rail development, but how do we know all of this won’t go right to the airports and highways? Obama’s website contains a not-so-prominent white paper on transportation issues, which points out his support of Amtrak and even has a paragraph devoted to high-speed rail. It’s not much, but it’s certainly more than McCain has told us about how he would approach passenger train service if elected.

So to Obama: You’re certainly paying lip-service to trains, but what can we really expect from you as President when it comes to catching up with the rest of the world? Does this notion of “Change” apply to our transportation network too? Or will things just be business as usual?

And McCain: Even with rising fuel prices and mounting environmental concerns, are you still intent on tearing Amtrak apart limb-by-limb? High-speed rail is probably something of a non-starter, isn’t it?

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, , , , , ,

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

Transit trends

Although TFA generally deals exclusively with intercity rail transportation, there are some stories which can only be described as “signs of the times.” I think you will agree. First, here is one from today’s Dallas Morning News.

By MICHAEL LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas-area rail passengers should probably get used to standing this summer.



A recent DART light-rail train heading north out of downtown Dallas was filled to standing-room-only capacity.

For the second month in a row, DART light-rail and commuter trains drew more passengers than in the same month last year, according to numbers released by the transit agency Thursday.

The increase has made finding a seat on some business routes more difficult, DART officials said. And with gas prices expected to stay at or above $4 a gallon, it’s not likely to get any easier.

The overall increase in transit ridership has been modest, with bus ridership showing only a small gain in April and a small reduction last month. But DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the busiest light-rail routes – including the morning Red Line train cars headed downtown – are seeing passenger loads up to about 1.25 times the available number of seats. That means that for every four people who have seats, another person will be standing.

The Los Angeles Times has a similar report.


Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times
Metrolink commuters arrive at Union Station in Los Angeles. Caltrans officials said that traffic on California freeways dropped 1.5% today compared with last year — or the equivalent of a billion fewer miles traveled, said spokesman Derrick Alatorre.

Amid rising gas prices, more in L.A. turning to commuter rail

Metrolink recorded its highest number of riders for a single day. More than 50,000 people boarded its trains Tuesday.
By Joanna Lin and Francisco Vara-Orta, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers 
June 20, 2008
» Discuss Article    (77 Comments) 

Commuter rail ridership broke an all-time record this week, and Caltrans reported a dip in freeway traffic as commuters across California struggled with record gasoline prices.

Metrolink recorded its highest number of riders in a single day Tuesday — 50,232 — a 15.6% increase over the volume on the Tuesday of the same week last year. Metro Rail ridership has also risen, shooting up 6% last month over May 2007, with the downtown L.A.-to-Pasadena Gold Line setting an all-time ridership record, said Dave Sotero, a Metro spokesman.

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

State projects (Ohio, California) energized by passing of HR 6003 in House

Last Wednesday the House of Representatives passed HR 6003, which, in addition to increasing Amtrak’s budget, frees up grants for rail projects designated as high-speed. While President Bush has threatened to veto this forward thinking legislation for the benefit of his buddies in the oil, air, and auto industries, the bill has now passed both the House and the Senate with veto-proof majorities.

Although the House version, which has the language pertaining to high-speed rail, still needs to be reconciled with its Senate counterpart, states are already looking forward to the boosts their projects might receive if this legislation becomes law. California, which, as readers of this blog know, has been a focal point recently in the battle for fast trains, sees itself as one of the beneficiaries, but it’s not the only one. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says that planners of Ohio’s proposed rail system see hope in federal funds.

“This is a huge step,” said Stu Nicholson of the Ohio Rail Development Commission. “A bill like this could make the difference between a plan and a project.”

Ohio began working on the hub plan more than a decade ago with a mission to improve both passenger and freight rail service.

The plan includes more than 1,200 miles of track and 46 stations. The seven corridors would connect to planned or existing networks in neighboring states and southern Ontario

With the federal government hesitant to invest directly in high-speed trains, it’s good to see that regional projects are getting ready to take advantage of federal funds. This may be how America sees it own high speed rail network getting built: region by region, state by state. Let’s just hope that other states will catch on to this trend and not be left behind.

Ohio rail project site: here

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail, , , , , , , ,

Rocky mountain states looking into rail connections

Planning is underway for a [potentially] high speed rail connection in the “tri-state” area of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. The 1,100 mile route would run between Casper, WY and Belen, NM. It would probably link to New Mexico’s existing commuter-ish Rail Runner service centered in Albuqurque. Apparently planners are considering either making use of existing tracks or building potentially faster rails running parallel to these routes.

Naturally, however, there are obstacles. This part of the country is no NEC or California; most cities are less dense. Each state is also performing its own environmental impact statement, with varying timetables.

Money, operational rules and railroad accident liability are a few of the obstacles related to a tri-state partnership, Briggs said. And once Colorado’s study is complete, the state Legislature must create a Colorado Rail Authority to finance construction and operate the rail service. He said he estimates that the newly created authority would have to issue a revenue bond worth at least $11.4 billion.

However, this part of the country (like all the other parts, actually) could certainly benefit from better rail infrastructure. I personally hope they go with the high speed option simply because the vastness of the route could make traditional rail speeds unpalatable for the jet set crowd.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail, , , , , , ,

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June 2008