Trains For America

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Amtrak? Equipment shortage?

This is probably my favorite theme. Due to over 30 years of starvation level funding by a special interest driven congress, Amtrak is flat on its back without even enough cars to operate a a skeletal national system. The Chicago Tribune carries a report on Senator Dick Durbin’s proposal to remedy this ridiculous and embarrassing situation.

Key elements of his plan consist of a trust fund to replace aging trains, along with grants and tax-credit bonds to encourage train-car manufacturing in America for the first time in many years.

“This is not the past. This is the future,” Durbin said of intercity train travel as he stood in front of refurbished Amtrak trains built at the railroad’s maintenance facility south of downtown Chicago.

“We cannot pave our way out of traffic congestion,” he added.

The proposed Intercity Passenger Rail Rolling Stock Trust Fund would be funded by diverting 1 quarter-cent per gallon from the federal gas tax to buy new rail cars.

But the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by gas tax revenue to pay for roads and mass transit, is expected to go bankrupt this fiscal year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Durbin’s plan also seeks authorization for Amtrak to sell up to $2.8 billion in bonds each year to finance train-car projects.

Until this happens, there will be no daily Sunset, no Sunset east of New Orleans, no service to Las Vegas, no improvements in service, period. Of course, this is exactly as airline and highways interests would have it.

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

7 Responses

  1. Well, good for Dick Durbin! About time SOMEBODY did something about it! 🙂

  2. Allan says:

    Two ways to stop the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) from going broke …

    1. The obvious is to slow down or stop the building of new roads and use the money for maintenance of existing roads and necessary upgrades.

    2. Stop using the HTF for mass transit and especially expensive light rail projects.

    The use of gasoline is down this year which means less money for the HTF no time to be raiding it.

    As I understand it, Amtrak has many pieces of equipment that are sitting on sidings and in yards because of out of date inspections or the need for minor repairs. Make those repairs, get the inspections, and put that equipment to use and thus generate revenue to cover the cost of the repairs and maybe some revenue to buy new equipment where needed rather than begging the feds for it.

  3. EvergreenRailfan says:

    Rebuild the out of service sleepers, and they will bring in money. They are First Class Accommodations, or at least they are supposed to be. Those who use them pay more than coach, so that should bring in more revenue, but instead we have leadership that thinks the corridor runs with passengers riding for less distance, is where the money is. The NEC is owned by Amtrak, claimed by some to make a profit, but with Amtrak owning the infrastructure, they are on the hook for the maintenance costs.

    The Durbin plan is a start. The Empire Builder has passengers riding it for much longer than the Acela Express. In fact, the Empire Builder does pretty good in ridership compared to the State Supported Amtrak Cascades services. I am not mentioning this to play the two services off against each other, but just to put out some differences. Most of the money for the service on the Cascade Corridor comes from Washington State, with Oregon and British Columbia putting up some money. So far this year, Amtrak Cascades ridership is 612,000 riders. The Empire Builder is carrying 446,000 riders this year. The Cascades service runs multiple trains on the corridor, with 5 round trips on the main spine, two going North of Everett, and one of the trains from the North runs through to Portland, plus a round trip to Eugene. If any more round trips are added Seattle-Portland, Horizon Air and Greyhound will feel jealous, although if the proponents of outsourcing get their way, Greyhound might be operating Amtrak Cascades, remember, Greyhound is now owned by a big rail and bus operator from the UK.

    A case of the fares for the Empire Builder. Remember, Amtrak fares are by distance, and many commuter rail operators do that too. The sleeper fare is really two fares, and probably a holdover from the Pullman days. A few years ago, to a family reunion in Montana that I attended, and by the way, the Empire Builder was the only way in to that town unless you were driving. Nearest Airports were Great Falls and Glasgow, and US2 is not exactly a high-speed highway. My mother and grandmother rode in the sleeper, I chose to bear it out in Coach. Coach accommodations are better than Coach on a airliner, but people in the sleepers pay more for ammenities such as meals included in the price of the ticket, and the privacy of the rooms in the sleeper. The sleeper is the subsidizer on this trip. It subsidizes the coach, and for some of these communities, their lifeline. The fare for the bedroom my Mother and Grandma were in was $2000, round trip, the sleeper was half that. The trip was about 900 miles.

    Also, besides the diner on the Empire Builder, which was always full when I rode it, there was a bar and grill owner in Havre that provided some good dinners, Big Sky Chicken Dinners as they were callled, for sale in the Lounge Car. That was in addition to what he was contracted for, to provide breakfeast for the Portland Sleeper Passengers, as the diner goes on to Seattle.

  4. Allan says:

    I rode coach overnight to Chicago. Yea, it wasn’t the best sleep I ever had but it was a lot roomier than sleeping in coach on an airplane.

    Most of the time I’m willing to trade off a little time to ride rail but not if it is more expensive than flying. I take into account everything … price, time, comfort when I decide which mode of travel to use.

  5. […] would need to buy new cars for the route, as the Acela can’t use the normal Amtrak stock (which aren’t exactly easily available anyway). What does this mean for passengers of this very crowded service? Well, possibly ticket surcharges […]

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  7. Frank says:

    Hi Rail fans. let us get to the point.
    Sure Amtrak has it share of delay and canceled Train Service. this was due to winter snows. not rider ship. Therefore. the last place on earth is a boring Airport with rude Airline Employees with no change of clothes, due to back up Baggage Checks and only garbage fast food is offer.

    Sure and Obviously, Amtrak has fewer Passenger. but. have Hotels along the way, in-case. i.e. BNSF, UP and so on is close down due to the snow Storm.

    We need more Amtrak cars. not budget cuts
    Airline travel is gotten worst and worst and worst. and in your seat with people you have no clue if they have slower. and stuck in your set with no where to go.

    On the Amtrak, one may get up and talk a walk, shoot the boo with a Amtrak person, and just enjoy the time going by.

    Hoping that the Heat is working in the winter time. and enough food going around. and polite Amtrak Employees.

    Thanks for nothing Fox News.
    You guys make it sound like, no one talks the Train, when you the nerds that have no clue, because, being at Fox is too pig headed. yet.. never stuck at a boring airport.

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August 2008


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