Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

PBS show about sprawl features California High-Speed Rail, interviews “expert”

PBS’s “Now” program is doing a series on America’s infrastructure, and last Friday they kicked it off with a piece about America’s transportation woes. It’s a short and sweet piece that ties together long automobile commutes, lagging funding for public transit, high gasoline prices, and our current financial and housing turmoil.

In relation to HSR, they highlight Obama’s support for HSR and McCain’s dismissal of anything that doesn’t have rubber tires. They bring up California’s promising vote this November, although they follow it up with an interview with James Elliot Moore, who informs us that in his professional opinion, the bonds for CAHSR would be better spent on airport infrastructure upgrades. Clearly, this is a man with his finger to the pulse of fuel prices, climate change, and land use. He then informs us that city buses should be privatized too. Because, you know, that worked out so well for the British in the 80’s. One might also look at his University of Southern California faculty profile and see that at least half of the publications listed have to do with freeways and none of them relate to rail transportation or mass transit. Was this guy really the best pick?

This gripe aside, I’d encourage you all to give the video a watch. It’s only about 25 minutes long, and it’s a well done piece.

Filed under: United States High Speed Rail, , , , ,

Southern region HSR summit

Ida Brown in the Meridian Star files this.

National and state leaders convened at downtown Meridian’s Union Station Friday to plot a strategy for high-speed rail.

A first for the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission, the summit’s intent was to look at and talk about proposals for bringing passenger rail to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“Several lines are being proposed, but the most important thing is to get all the states’ governors and senators and the leaders of the city to really appreciate that investing in rail that would connect the cities will create a lot of jobs, stimulate reinvestment in all the cities where the train stops, and it will give people an affordable way to travel,” said Shelley Poticha of Reconnecting America, a national non-profit organization working to integrate transportation systems and the communities they serve.

Attendance included 97 people from the three states – representing their departments of transportation, elected officials, city planners, chambers of commerce and tourism officials – and the rail commissioners.

“Those assembled heard from the best minds in the nation on rail policy, rail development and transit-oriented development, which Union Station is an example of that,” said Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith.

Although planned for several months, Smith said the timing for the summit was ideal, referring to last week’s passage of the Amtrak Reauthorization and Rail Safety Bill by Congress. The bill more than doubled the funding authorization for Amtrak, authorizing more than $13 billion for passenger rail development.

To be eligible for funding, states must have a rail plan crafted by their federal, state and local officials.

“My purpose in recommending that the commission hold this summit was so that we in the South can be ready for those rail improvement dollars that will flow from the next Congress in the next administration,” Smith said.

Soaring fuel prices and the financial meltdown of recent weeks only accelerate the need for other modes of transportation that are more cost effective.

“Congress has now caught up with the American people in realizing that rail is that option,” he said.

The summit featured both national and local industry leaders and high-speed rail advocates, including Alex Kummant, Amtrak president and CEO; Mike Haverty, Kansas City Southern Railway chairman and CEO; Bill Bronte, chief, California Department of Transportation’s Rail Division; Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts Governor and former Amtrak chairman; William Ankner, secretary, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development; Frank Busalacchi, chairman, Southern High-Speed Rail Commission and former chairman, Amtrak; and Karen Parsons, executive director of SHSRC.

“The Southern High-Speed Rail Commission is going to go back and put together a plan for how to really take this idea into reality, so they have a map that shows where they would like to improve the service to go faster,” Poticha said.

“This is really exciting; something like this puts Meridian and the Southern states right on the cutting edge,” she said. “It’s a very significant step.”

Antonio Perez, president and CEO of Talgo – a Spanish manufacturer of railway vehicles – and Nora C. Friend, director of the company’s business and development, agrees.

“The region’s realizing the importance of getting together and the speakers coming here shows the importance of this region for the rail and transportation,” Perez said.

“And the fact that Mayor Smith has been able to pull together the high profile speakers in attendance points to the fact that the region is seriously considering implementing a transportation mode that is very important – important not only for transportation itself, but also economic development.”

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

Amtrak national ridership increase includs Texas Eagle

Here is a regional angle on the new passenger figures from the Arkansas NARP head, Dr. Bill Pollard. He also chairs the TEMPO marketing group for the Eagle.

Earlier today, Amtrak issued a press release which details ridership for the fiscal year concluding on September 30, 2008.

The national ridership across the system for FY-2008 was almost 29 million passengers.  This was the LARGEST number of passengers carried in one fiscal year since Amtrak began operating in 1971.  Amtrak’s press release highlights the Texas Eagle as achieving a 15.2% ridership increase (compared to FY-2007).  This increase was the largest percentage increase of ANY national network train.  The Texas Eagle revenue increase for the fiscal year was 18.8% — surpassed only by the Cardinal route, which achieved 19.0% revenue increase.

Many factors have helped contribute to the Texas Eagle’s strong showing, perhaps the most important being a core group of dedicated employees (both management and union) who are determined to see this route succeed, despite often overwhelming odds.  The determination of those employees is bolstered by the political and promotional efforts of TEMPO, ETCC, and other groups, all of whom fully expect to see not only a continuation, but an expansion of rail passenger service along the route of the Texas Eagle.

The Texas Eagle still faces many challenges, but there is no question that progress is gradually being made.  As we continue to address remaining challenges, step back for a moment, reflect on this milestone, and know that you are an important part of this success.  Thank you for your unwavering support of the Texas Eagle, and for your commitment to a modern, efficient rail passenger network for the future.

 

Bill Pollard, chair

Texas Eagle Marketing & Performance Organization (TEMPO)

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

Amtrak bill opens door for bikes on trains

Via New York’s Streetsblog comes the observation that Amtrak’s new reauthorization bill allows its federal budget to be spent on making trains accessible for bicycles. From Streetsblog writer Ben Fried:

Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner got the language into the bill after prompting from Transportation Alternatives. President Bush has not yet signed it into law, but according to the Times, the White House has signaled that he will.

“In the past, Amtrak has claimed that because the funding bill did not explicitly say that the money may be spent on bikes that they couldn’t make trains bike-accessible,” says T.A.’s Noah Budnick. “Now it should be clear to the most bureaucratic bureaucrat: Federal money for Amtrak can be spent on bike-accessibility.”

The bill does not mandate bike-accessibility, so riders will have to contact Amtrak to put it on its agenda.

This makes perfect sense when you thinking about Amtrak and intercity rail’s role in a cleaner environment. If someone can bike (possibly with the help of public transit) to the train station in New York, it makes sense that they should be able to take their bike with them and use it to get to their final destination when they arrive in Washington DC. Plus, wouldn’t some of those stops on the long distance routes be a great place to have a bike to explore with?

Filed under: Amtrak, ,

Congress passes Amtrak reauthorization bill, Bush will actually sign it

It’s funny, after months of languishing in legislative hell, the Amtrak reauthorization bill has blasted its way through Capitol Hill in a matter of weeks. It’s not the nicest thought, but it probably has a lot to do with the LA Metrolink crash and the new safety measures tied into the bill.

Perhaps the extra bit of irony here is that President Bush, an avowed enemy of a reasonable budget for Amtrak, is now planning on signing the bill, according to the New York Times. It must be a sign of the times (no pun intended). With high gas prices and declining automobile usage, the Bush administration is perhaps realizing the virtues of passenger rail in its twilight hours. Or maybe they just don’t want to make the public any more disillusioned with them than they already are. The past eight years were basically treated as a swear word in last night’s Vice Presidential debate (on that note, no mention of Amtrak last night.. oh well).

Unfortunately, Amtrak’s not out of the woods yet (is it ever?). The company and the NARP are going to have to go hunting for where these funds are coming from in Congress. But still, this is significant progress for Amtrak. Let’s hope we don’t lose the momentum with important votes about transit and rail coming up this November (CAHSR by itself is enough to get excited about).

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, , ,

Little Rock – Memphis corridor advanced

My pal Max Brantley and I had some fun over an important transportation development. This ran on the Arkansas Times Blog and you ought to surf over and read the comments. Of course, as one of the resident “rail heads” I took the bait.

Route of the Rockets

U.S. Rep. Marion Berry says he’s added to continuing authorization of Amtrak a provision requiring a feasibility study of a high-speed rail corridor from Little Rock to Memphis. (Would that be the old Rock Island route, hence my reference to the Rockets?)

Berry says high-speed rail would help the national transportation system and economic development and give people a way to cope with high fuel costs and highway congestion.

This corridor would be an extension of a previously designated corridor from San Antonio to Dallas and then branches to Tulsa and Little Rock.

I love trains. And no offense to the congressman. But the population density between Little Rock and Memphis seems lacking for rail service on the current U.S. model. I’m sure railheads out there will correct the record.

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

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