Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Sen. Dick Durbin proposes funding for more Amtrak rolling stock

According the Springfield’s State Journal-Register, Dick Durbin (the other senator from Illinois) has introduced legislation that would provide funding to improve Amtrak’s current cars and use 1/4 cent from the gas tax to create a fund for the company to buy new stock. Apparently these would be American built, as the bill also provides tax incentives for companies producing passenger train equipment to build facilities in the United States.

The bill proposes a package of financing options to bring Amtrak’s existing 1,500 passenger cars up to snuff and “lay the groundwork for the next generation of trains built in America,” he said.

Amtrak, which will receive federal subsidies of almost $1.4 billion in this fiscal year, uses another 140 or so passenger cars that are state-owned.

“We’re filling the cars we own, and we have to start expanding,” Durbin said. “We gave up production of train cars in this country years ago, and we need to re-establish that industry.”

I wasn’t able to find this piece of legislation on Open Congress or anything yet, but we’ll be checking around for more updates on this bill as time goes on. We all know that Amtrak’s limited equipment is in high-demand and under high-stress due to increased usage. This seems like a step in right direction to help rectify that situation.. although I’m not entirely sure that we can wait for American factories to start producing train stock again.


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

28 percent Downeaster ridership increase spurs more regional rail investment

Amtrak’s Downeaster service, which runs from Boston to Portland, ME, has seen a 28% increase in ridership this past year. The line is partly funded by the state of Maine, which, due to the popularity of the route, is working toward expanding it northward to Brunswick.

The rapid growth has the Portland-based rail authority considering all options, including negotiating with rail owner Pan Am Railways to add a sixth daily round trip, to meet demand. Pan Am Railways, formerly known as Guilford, owns the rail between Portland and Plaistow, N.H.

The Downeaster added a fifth round trip last August and added a fifth passenger car on all runs in April, but Quinn is worried that might not be enough.

“What’s going to happen is we’re going to get maxed out,” Quinn said. The early train out of Portland each morning already is running at 90 percent of capacity, and the 5 p.m. train out of Boston is typically 95 percent full, she added.

The Downeaster’s success has also prompted a movement for a similar service in New Hampshire, running from Concord down to Boston. Activists say that rail service will spur investment in the NH communities served by the route, helping to revitalize downtown areas. And their hopes aren’t unfounded. According to the Boston Globe’s site, the Downeaster “will eventually lead to $7 billion in investment, including the construction of 40,000 new homes and creation of 17,000 new jobs in the state over the next decade.” Sounds like a good deal for the $8 million the state invests in the service every year.

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

NYTimes: Cars still status symbols?

Today’s Sunday Times has a piece on how fuel prices are affecting how Americans perceive their own cars. Are they a mode of transportation? Or are they an important statement about a person? It seems like the idea of the “dream car” is being sacrificed to save money:

Can you love your Prius the way you once gave your heart to a 4Runner or a luxury sedan?

Increasingly, for many, the question is moot.

“I’m willing to not love it,” said Justin McCarthy, 43, a public relations executive from Long Beach, Calif., who is considering replacing his 10-year-old Volvo with a hybrid.

Americans have long seen cars as a fashion statement.. a reflection on the driver.

For many drivers, their cars are an extension of themselves, displayed as fashion or an accessory.

“You wear your car like you wear a Ralph Lauren suit,” said Clotaire Rapaille, an anthropologist and psychiatrist known as the car shrink, whose company, Archetype Discoveries Worldwide, studies consumer preferences.

While it’s certainly possible to be proud of a train as well, it’s a very different kind of pride. Americans are used to viewing their transportation as a matter of personal pride, whereas an amazing train elicits more of a feeling of civic pride. It’s that last quality that’s lacking when our government fails to allocate the necessary resources to our intercity and metropolitan rail serivces.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Travel Woes, , , ,

Amtrak reauthorization bill going into conference committee

Judging by news of congressional appointments, the two different “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act” versions passed in the Senate and House seem to be in the process of getting reconciled before a conference committee. This is the next step before the legislation goes to President Bush’s desk. Fortunately for America’s railways and rail passengers, the proposal passed both houses of Congress with a veto-proof majority, hopefully negating his stated intention of slowly strangling Amtrak in this critical hour.

You can check out Trains for America’s previous coverage of the bill, known as H.R. 6003 and S. 294 in the respective houses of Congress, read NARP’s letter to the committee members, or peruse general information about the the bill at Open Congress.

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

A rail system on the Interstates

A big thanks to commenter A. Schrimer for pointing us in the direction of this piece.

J.H. Crawford, author of the book Carfree Cities, has a very interesting and well thought-out proposal on his website… the gutting of the Interstate highway system to support medium-speed trains (~100 MPH). And he’s clearly done his research. The proposal is filled with analysis of our current rail system, and it provides various ways in which design standards could be altered in order for trains to run on current Interstate highway right of ways.

The core of the idea is to remove traffic from the interior (fast) lanes of the Interstates and replace it with well-maintained rails at gauges as wide as 8 feet. He argues that the removal of Interstate lanes would be justified because of the decreased automobile usage due to rising fuel prices. The kicker? The copyright for this piece is from 2001, when gasoline prices weren’t nearly as high as they are now.

Now, this is a political blog, so naturally what came to my mind while reading this rather technically oriented piece was the insane opposition that would spring from all sides. Americans love their big roads, and they have the oil/auto/air industries reinforcing that destructive relationship every day. If this paradigm changed in a rather large way (think: social collapse) then we might have a real winner on our hands. For now, Americans aren’t going to quit driving altogether because of fuel prices, they’ll just complain more vocally about it. Most of our infrastructure leaves them no choice but to keep filling up their cars every week.

Nonetheless, it’s certainly an interesting idea, and it’s actually quite an educational article in terms of the technical limitations of automobiles and railroads.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, , , ,

New York State high-speed rail plan stagnant

Out of the Utica Observer-Dispatch comes an article about the status of the proposed upstate New York high-speed rail plan. The original idea was to undertake a number of improvements to the tracks between NYC and Buffalo in order to reduce rail travel times and reinvigorate the upstate area. Here are some of the possible methods from the article:

Among the proposals:
* Make improvements in the next several years to fix outdated tracks and signals.

* Over the next two decades, use new technology and, in some cases, new tracks and bridges to reduce the train travel time from 2½ hours between Albany and New York City to as little as one hour.

* In the long run, reduce train travel time between western New York and Albany from about five hours and 45 minutes to as little as two hours to three hours.

* Total spending proposed over two decades could exceed $10 billion. However, the report cited numerous benefits, including a five-million gallon reduction in gasoline use by upstate drivers.

The state would have to establish a rail authority to manage such a plan, said state Sen. Tom Libous, chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Transportation. And authorities across the state are under scrutiny right now, so it would be difficult to convince the state government to establish a new one, he said.

The article indicates that there is still some optimism about the project, but with fuel prices the way they are, now is not the time for the state to be sitting on its laurels.

It seems like a common pattern with state HSR plans, actually. Voters demand better passenger rail, and a grand plan is developed. Then it’s either killed off by short-sighted politicians (see: Jeb Bush and Florida) or those with a vested interest in limiting Americans’ transportation options (see: Southwest Airlines and Texas). In New York it seems to be nothing more than bureaucracy. Let’s hope that the current fuel crisis and what looks to be a probable victory for HSR in California will help bolster efforts in other states.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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July 2008