Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

More pressure for Sunset Limited restoration

Unsurprisingly, local governments along the route of the former Eastern portion of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, from New Orleans to Florida, are clamoring for the service to return. Now of course, fuss created by city councils and whatnot generally doesn’t add up to much, but last year’s Amtrak Reauthorization bill requires the company to study reopening the route, which closed after Hurricane Katrina damaged the tracks back in 2005. The report is due this summer. Yet this article mentions the uncertainty of an actual comeback for the Sunset:

Sunset Limited, particularly the eastern portion, has long ranked as one of Amtrak’s most problematic trains.

In fiscal 2004, the last full year before Hurricane Katrina, the Sunset carried just 96,000 riders, including 37,000 east of New Orleans. The remaining, western portion carried 72,000 passengers in fiscal 2008, making it Amtrak’s least popular long-distance train.

The most popular long-distance route, the Empire Builder that links Chicago with the Pacific Northwest, had 554,000 riders.

The railroad already was discussing whether to discontinue the eastern portion of the Sunset Limited when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, The Associated Press reported.

Of course, Amtrak ridership has been surging since the closure. I think a well- managed return for the service might very well be a success. What do you all think? Should it be brought back?


Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

Obama press secretary talks about intercity rail in the stimulus

Gibbs responds to the transit and intercity rail question at about 2:00 into the video. Here’s a transcript from The Transport Politic:

Today, the Obama team responded to a question asked on its website:

Will transit and intercity rail projects be a major
component of the infrastructure stimulus package, rather than focusing
on highway projects?

– John B, Chicago

Here’s the response given by incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a video:

Yes, John, transit and intercity rail projects will
be a major component of the President-elect’s infrastructure program.
Not only will they provide jobs to help get this economy moving again,
but they’ll reduce our dependence on foreign oil, cut the amount of
carbon in our atmosphere, clean our air, and more importantly, improve
the quality of life for millions of Americans

Vague? Yes. But at least they’re talking on the right track. The Transport Politic also points to Congressman James Oberstar’s bill redirecting more of the stimulus money toward rail and transit. Their analysis is quality as usual. Here’s the relevant part for Amtrak and HSR:

  • Amtrak would receive $1.5 billion in the bill for the purchase of new equipment, improvements to track and catenary, and service expansion. States would get $3.4 billion
    for their own rail projects, some of which would probably go towards
    California’s developing high-speed rail system, which is likely to need
    start-up funds in the coming months. The rest of the funds would likely
    to go to states like North Carolina and Michigan, which have dedicated
    rail investment programs.

An overview of the bill (PDF)
has been posted on the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee’s website. State Departments of Transportation would have to
develop quick action plans for how to utilize the funds, and would have
to submit various reports to the federal government on their progress (PDF) to ensure accountability (PDF).
In addition, states that fail to define the use their allocated money
within 90 days would have their funds revoked and sent back into the
general pool and to be used by other states. If, for example, Wyoming
decides that it has little to do with the $10 million that is allocated
to it for transit, that money can be reused by other states.

Sounds like a good way to make the stimulus a little more future proof.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

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January 2009