Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

A Conservative Investment: Why the Right Can Get Behind an Infrastructure Program

This is solid gold. Every rail advocate must read this powerful and persuasive opinion piece and pass it on to your Republican friends. Here is the editorial I wish the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (and countless other papers) had published last weekend.

Below is an argument that engages facts in the context of current events and respects the Reagan legacy.

I found it in the Washington Post. It explicitly favors high speed rail investment from a conservative economic perspective. Here is a brief sample and this is the link for an important viewpoint.

Economic conservatives recognize the difference between spending and investment. We view sound economic growth as the best way to promote prosperity and protect economic freedom. Infrastructure expenditures are capital investment for future growth. By investing in the reduction of air, automotive and rail congestion, and by improving the reliability of our power supply, we will increase productivity and foster competitiveness.

Conservatives also are the protectors and defenders of private enterprise. Companies invest today so they can grow tomorrow. A manufacturing CEO understands that he is not behaving responsibly if his company’s capital expenditures fall below annual depreciation for a sustained period, or if it invests less in its plant and equipment than competitors do. But this is exactly the scenario today: The average age of our water pipes is about 40 years. Many U.S. power plants were built in the 1950s. China is building the equivalent of one new world-scale (1,000 megawatt) power plant per week. Our transmission grid, with more than 180,000 miles of active high-voltage wire, is an outdated, balkanized patchwork of regional systems in multiple regulatory jurisdictions.

U.S. investment in infrastructure has fallen 50 percent since 1960, to 2 percent of gross domestic product. By contrast, China and Europe are budgeting 9 percent and 5 percent respectively as a share of GDP. The U.S. also lacks high-speed rail.

The author, Emil Henry Jr., was assistant secretary of the treasury from 2005 to 2007. His duties included oversight responsibility for Critical Infrastructure Protection. He is managing director of Neuberger Investment Management.


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

A need for stimulus that works

It starts off as an analysis of the Chicago area commuter trains, so I nearly moved on. The Medill Reports item on rail transit is highly informative and deals with all the current issues. The proper points are well made.

“The temptation is much greater to bail out the automobile industry,” said Anthony Perl, an urban studies professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the author of “Transport Revolutions.” He advocates electrical mass transit powered by renewable energy as the solution to our twin problems of climate change and energy.

The United States once led electric rail technology, stringing interurban rail lines across Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Americans abandoned many of the lines and stalled any new rail development with the coming of the Great Depression and the rise of the automobile.


Today, as Chicago makes do with an aging ‘L’ system and America chugs along with Amtrak, European passenger trains run on electric power and can travel at much higher speeds. France’s TGV (train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train) runs entirely on electric power and can regularly reach speeds of up to 200 mph. American Amtrak trains run mostly on diesel, and the network’s fastest electric train rarely breaks 150 mph. The typical Amtrak train runs at about 80 mph.

The American passenger rail system isn’t as extensive as Europe’s, a continent where countries have collectively built an efficient, clean rail system after the devastation of two world wars.

“In Europe, you can go from the north of Sweden to the tip of Italy all on electric trains,” Perl said.

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

Autos stil rule

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a newspaper which runs my weekly political column every Monday, ran a column in the Sunday paper that may have showed up in your town. Now, you can’t read the Democrat-Gazette online without a subscription. The publisher has taken some heat on that, but the paper continues to operate without the  cutbacks common in the newspaper industry. Maybe some folks in Arkansas know what they’re doing, after all.

Anyway, the column is simply dreadful. Patrick McIlheran takes the mandatory shot at Amtrak and announces that the automobile is still king of the transportation world.

That’s not a surprise. It’s the truth. It’s also what students of rhetoric call a “straw man.” Nobody has ever suggested that the American love affair with the automobile is going to end any time soon. What we at TFA propose is alternatives.

People will continue to drive, but probably less. Why should we take fewer trips just to satisfy the greed of political interests?

We might also note that Amtrak ridership will experience a natural “cap” due to a serious equipment shortage.

You can read it all here, or wait for the darned thing to appear in the local paper. It’s just as wrong either way.

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

Pittsburgh columnist sees electrified Amtrak

Brian O’Neill’s column is getting a lot of discussion because of his suggestion of electrification for Amtrak east coast routes and a slow timetable for equipment repairs. You can read it all in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

All these “shovel ready” construction projects to jump-start the economy will do nothing more than maintain the bridges and highways we have. Amtrak, meanwhile, quietly waits with the existing technology to move the most people with the least fuel.

Mr. Boardman sees an electrified American rail system, both for passengers and freight. The passenger side is well-established in the Northeast, and he’d like Amtrak to move south from Washington, D.C., and eventually electrify an East Coast line from Maine to Miami.

Next up would be the routes from Chicago to Washington and New York. You don’t have to be a geography major to know that Pittsburgh would be in that latter path.

The bad news is that the Amtrak national system is stuck for the next five eyars. That means more politics and more of the non-ending politics of delay. It is the kind of thing that best serves highway and airlines well developed sense of entitlement.

We must convince others and we must get lawmakers to pay attention. Amtrak needs a permanent stable source of funding.That probably means a cut of the national gasoline tax.

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

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December 2008