Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Screw the NEC, look to the Pacific Northwest for progressive rails

It seems like whenever anyone from the mainstream press talks about Amtrak, they bring up the Northeast Corridor as a ray of light for our favorite troubled railroad. “The density is right! (it’s always right when the station is in a city) It can fund itself! (debatable) It has high-speed rail! (even more debatable)”

Well, British national and Guardian writer Michael Tomasky is doing what Americans seem hesitant to do.. looking to our fellow citizens in the Northwest for an example of good rail road policy.

Now this is more like it. After days of airplane flights, I ditched the nightmare of security lines and uncomfortable seats for a lovely, state-underwritten, socialistic-type ride aboard the rails from Portland to Seattle.

East coasters will be stunned to learn, as I was, that a business-class seat for this trip — duration three-and-a-half hours — is…ready…$42! And that comes with a coupon that gives you $3 off any purchase in the cafe car.

How can they possibly make money on this? They don’t. They make their money on schmucks like me, riding between Boston and Washington. A business-class ticket from Boston to New York, a ride of similar duration, is north of $300 most days. I support Amtrak wholeheartedly, but I have to say I don’t mind taking advantage of the super-discount fare this once, since I have in essence subsidized my own trip a hundred times over down the years by using Amtrak exclusively on the east coast.

The Amtrak Cascades route is jointly funded by the states of Oregon and Washington as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia. Is it socialism, as Tomaski suggests? Perhaps. But I find it hard to disapprove when government is able to transcend territorial and international borders in order to bring safe, convenient, and efficient transportation to its citizens.


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

Rail associations call on Congress to include transportation funds in economic stimulus package

This report comes through from Progressive Railroading. Included here is $250 million for intercity rail.

Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure, and House Ways and Means committees held a congressional hearing to review pending and delayed transportation projects that could be quickly expedited to boost the economy. Committee members are considering whether to add a transportation element to a second economic stimulus bill. 

Investing in transportation infrastructure projects would be a double bonus, transportation officials say. Not only would it create new jobs (35,000 for every $1 billion of federal investment), but an infusion of federal dollars also would foster new and improved infrastructure to meet the rapidly growing demand for transportation services. 

Several transportation groups weighed in on the hearing, including the American Public Transportation Association, which has identified 559 ready-to-go public transit projects from 170 transit agencies. Worth a total of $8 billion, the projects could start within 90 days after federal funds are made available. 

Meanwhile, the States for Passenger Rail Coalition called on Congress to set aside $250 million in an economic stimulus bill for intercity passenger-rail improvement projects. 

In addition, the Railroad Cooperation and Education Trust, in partnership with the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, proposed the economic stimulus package include $100 million in general funds over a two-year period for transit, short line and regional railroads to complete projects that could begin within 180 days and be “substantially completed” in 2009. 

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

Texans voice support for High Speed Rail

OK. Logan and I have both been negligent. That means you will all get refunds of your subscriptions. Furthermore, as a sign of good will and a peace offering, here is a news item from Marshall, Texas concerning HSR in the Texas region. This one is full of details you will find fascinating.

Linda Young – AHN Editor

Marshall, TX (AHN) – Even commissioners in a small northeastern Texas county along the Louisiana border have hopped on the bandwagon of commuters and business people being able to shed their cars to get around Texas – and eventually travel to other states – as quickly as they could drive there or faster.

Harrison County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve a resolution supporting a bill passed by the state legislature in 2007 to develop a statewide rail transit system.

That statewide system calls for building a double-track system now under way. The system will have passenger rails running parallel to the existing tracks for freight lines, and trains would be switched between the two.

“They’re starting in San Antonio and moving toward Austin,” Bexar County Judge Richard Anderson was quoted as saying by the Marshall News Messenger.

It was Anderson who pushed the Harrison County Commission to pass the resolution.

He would like to see tracks for moving high speed passenger rail cars link Harrison County to the rest of Texas. Then he would like to see the system expanded to link Texas to Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to the Marshall News Messenger.

Texas Rail Advocates, an organization supporting high speed trains in Texas says that travel on such a train traveling at 90- to 110-miles per hour between downtown Houston and downtown Dallas would take three hours less than flying there would, according to a statement on the organization’s website.

Texas Rail Advocates puts into perspective some of the benefits of building a high speed passenger rail system.

  • You can relax instead of worrying about traffic around you, accidents and construction zones
  • You can use a cell phone all the way
  • You can work on your laptop when you choose
  • You can get food and refreshments on board
  • You can read a book or sleep
  • You are using a fuel efficient form of transportation
  • You don’t have to take off your shoes at a TSA security checkpoint

Here is a sampling of travel times for between a few other select cities.

  • Fort Worth to Austin – 187 miles – 3 hours by car (average 60 miles per hour) – way under 3 hours by train (average 85 miles per hour);
  • Austin to San Antonio – 79 miles – 1 1/2 hours by car (if you could average 60 miles per hour in this congested corridor) – a little over an hour by train that averaged 80 mph with an intermediate stop; and
  • Dallas to Longview – 125 miles – about 2 hours by car and under 2 hours by train.

At a time when high gasoline prices coupled with concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and global warming have more Americans seeking ways to get from one place to another without driving alone in a car, those kinds of travel times times make sense.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

Maryland commuter train cuts highlight irony of transit funding

The Baltimore Sun reported today that the Maryland Transit Administration would be cutting evening commuter trains from Washington DC to Baltimore. The popular routes are not being cut due to lack of use, but rather because diminishing gas tax revenues are affecting funds for transit just as much as for roads.

As big a blow as the state’s overall budget has taken from the ailing economy, the transportation segment is getting hit even harder. That’s because transit and road projects are financed largely by an automobile economy that’s gotten doubly walloped by the recession and credit crisis.

Taxes on gasoline and car sales, titling and registration fees, all have taken it on the chin because people aren’t buying cars and they’re driving less. More than $1 billion in upgrades have been slashed from the six-year transportation capital projects plan, and now operating funds are coming under the knife, too.

Amtrak, with its federal congressional appropriations, is insulated from this sort of crisis (at least as insulated as a company living hand-to-mouth can be), but commuter rail services such as the one mentioned are just as vulnerable as intracity transit. The great irony is that the more people get out of their cars and switch to mass transit, the less money there is for these services. Even our public transportation is dependent on the automobile! Hopefully the next administration/congress will take a serious look at how we’re financing our transit systems, which are becoming increasingly important in this energy climate.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

Amtrak offers national rail pass

Perhaps some very smart reader can recall the history on this, but there was some sort of national plan back in the 70’s or 80’s, right?

Well, I am a bit mystified why, with rising passenger loads, this is being offered now, but here is the latest news. Your reactions welcomed, of course.

Amtrak offers USA Rail Pass to US Residents 

WASHINGTON – Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass is now available for purchase in the U.S.
Until recently, the pass could only be bought by travelers who lived outside the country.
The passes are available for 15, 30 and 45 days of travel. The 15-day pass offers eight segments of travel for $389. The 30-day pass offers 12 segments of travel for $579. The 45-day pass offers 18 segments of travel for $749.
Amtrak counts a segment of travel each time a passenger boards a train or connecting Amtrak Thruway bus.
The passes are priced the same regardless of when you travel, but you must begin your travel within 180 days of purchase.
Also note that the pass is not a ticket. Passengers must also have a ticket and reservation for each train they board.
If your travels are likely to take you to multiple points in California, you might be better off with Amtrak’s California Rail Pass, which offers seven days of travel in a 21-day period for $159.
The USA Rail Pass is not valid for travel on Amtrak’s Auto Train or Acela Express. Some other restrictions apply. Details at 800-872-7245 or for more information.


Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

FRA will assist Maglev studies

I will be moving a few items to the front page today. Thanks for your input. The local and regional stories are appreciated.

Beginning October 20, 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will accept applications from states or state designated authorities for $45 million in grant funding for proposed magnetic levitation (maglev) projects located east of the Mississippi River. The SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 limits the eligible projects to those in or between: Pittsburgh, Baltimore-Washington, and Atlanta-Chattanooga. FRA may award one or more grants which can be used for preconstruction planning activities and the capital costs of the fixed guideway infrastructure.

Internet article is at this link.

For your convenience I have attached the PDF version of the Federal Register “Notice of Funding Availability” which is referenced in the FRA press release.  It can be found at this link.

This money was called out originally in the summer of 2005 when the SAFETEA-LU bill was enacted, but has just become available now.  Needless to say this is a boost for the current high-speed maglev projects around the USA.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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October 2008