Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Sen. Tom Coburn singlehandedly blocking Amtrak legislation

We’ve been talking about HR 6003/S 294 for months now. The generous Amtrak reauthorization proposal is long overdue to have its House and Senate versions reconciled so a compromise bill can be placed on the president’s desk. In July we reported that House members of the conference committee were being appointed, but no news of the legislation has followed since then. Apparently, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has taken it upon himself to block the appointment of Senatorial negotiators. From

Coburn spokesman Don Tatro says Coburn doesn’t believe taxpayers should subsidize what he regards as Amtrak’s inefficiency.

In response, legislators in favor of the bill held a news conference at Washington’s Union Station. They were joined by [mostly northeastern] business groups that emphasized the bill’s importance to the economy. Those at the event included Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Tom Carper, and Rep. Rob Andrews.

What’s frustrating is that this popular plan, which passed both houses of Congress with a supermajority, could be held up by one backwards senator. America needs this legislation, and it seems that we don’t even need an uncooperative president to see this bill de facto vetoed.

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

Good Morning America to broadcast from Amtrak train

In what is certainly a nifty move, ABC News will become the first news outlet to broadcast live from a moving train. As part of the network’s plan (along with USA Today) to visit each of the 50 states in the run up to the November 4th election, shows like Good Morning America will be broadcasting from a specially equipped Amtrak train. Although the ABC News site hypes up the rail aspect of the voyage, Amtrak obviously doesn’t come anywhere close to serving all the states in the union. According to Reuters, the news train will only be rolling to the New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and DC broadcasts. It’s campy, absolutely, but it’s a cool idea and it’s great to see Amtrak get publicity like this.

Apparently our ABC News anchors failed to appreciate the spacious nature of train travel:

On Monday, “GMA” anchors checked out train that will become their home next week for and reacted predictably to the train’s tight quarters — with smiles and laughter.

“Five days and we’re going be this close?” Robin Roberts joked with Chris Cuomo. “Then I’ve got one word for you — ‘Scope.'”

They would rather be living out of a cramped airplane? I suppose they were disappointed that they haven’t figured out how to put 5th Avenue apartments on wheels yet.

The journey kicks off on September 15th. It’s probably worth watching if just to see what sort of setup they have on the train.

And a big thanks to my friend, the esteemed J. Michael Winston, for this scoop.

Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

More details on Air France/KLM high-speed rail venture

Earlier this summer we posted about how Air France-KLM (or whatever they’re called in these days of airline mergers) was considering getting into the high-speed rail business when the EU liberalizes international rail travel in 2010. That plan took a more solid form today when the airline publicly announced its intention to begin offering high-speed train service in partnership with environmental services company Veolia. The company has apparently been in talks with Alstom, developers of the TGV stock, about purchasing a more advanced version known as the AGV.

What’s interesting is that the sources I’ve read don’t seem to be talking about this as just a useful way to connect flights. Air France seems to want this to be a money maker. According to Deutsche Welle:

The diversification amounted to a “change in flight direction for Air France” which was responding to “the difficult position of airlines for journeys of less than three hours.”

This is great, but I can just imagine that misguided politicians here are going to start pointing to Europe saying “Look, rail can make money over there, why does it need public funding here?” What they fail to understand is that new operators such as Air France will be using tracks that were built with public money, tracks that are rented from a public company. Amtrak’s situation is very different from those of the European rail carriers, but many tend not to realize this when they cry “Privatize!” from the rooftops every year.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , , ,

Maglev-HSR conflicts and other China rail news

There’s lots of rail related news coming out of China this week.. not surprising considering the massive investments they’ve been putting into the technology in recent years.

The first item relates to the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev extension we talked about last week. According to the mayor of Hangzhou, the maglev line may face delays due to a conventional HSR route also being planned to connect the cities. He seems adamant that the project will go ahead.. but one would think that this sort of redundancy with such expensive proposals would put one of the lines on the chopping block eventually.

In a more dangerous example of bad coordination, an archaeological site containing ancient artifacts was badly damaged by construction of China’s newest HSR line, connecting Beijing and Shanghai.

The builders of the railway, which will allow trains to travel at 236 miles a hour, discovered shards of pottery and bones in the Yuhuatai district of Nanjing last October, during an initial site survey.

A subsequent survey found a 250,000 sq ft area filled with “countless relics dating back to the Shang (16th to 11th century BC) and Zhou (11th to second century BC) dynasties.” Nanjing has been the capital of China on several occasions in the past.

However, the company never replied and simply proceeded with the construction, destroying around 20,000 sq ft of the site in the process.

Municipal authorities have now halted the work and are likely to fine the building company up to 500,000 yuan for the damage. Mr Yang said the area had been “severely damaged”.

A spokesman at the Ministry of Railways said the mistake “should not have occurred”.

According to the BBC, this new HSR route will be the longest in the world and will go up in only four years.  In this country however, environmental studies and legal red tape can drag out construction time tables in the best of circumstances. Yet it’s examples like this archaeology hiccup that remind us why we undertake these studies in the first place.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , ,

Amtrak suspends New Orleans service, helps evacuate residents to Memphis

Due to hurricane Gustav, Amtrak has suspended its services to and from New Orleans. This includes the Crescent coming from Atlanta and New York, the Sunset Limited approaching from the west, and the City of New Orleans coming from Chicago and Memphis to the north.

Having put its services in the city at the disposal of FEMA, Amtrak trains have been used to evacuate New Orleans residents to Memphis. According to the Overhead Wire, this was an offer that went unheard when hurricane Katrina hit three years ago. As a national asset, it’s good to see that Amtrak is being for the benefit of the country in a time of emergency.

Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

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September 2008