Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Joe Vranich is still alive? (Who would have figured?)

The Arkansas Times blog directed me to this somewhat partisan article. Frankly, I can’t quite fiugre out what’s wrong with the New York Times. The Obama administration scored an important political breakthrough for better transportation by increasing Amtrak money and seeking to improve HSR.

Joe Vranich has been, from time to time, a proponent of good transport policy, but one wonders if he has not assumed the position of permanent curmudgeon. Joe, this is America. It’s all about politics and that means spreading mney around on a regional basis. He (conveniently) forgot to tell the NYT reporter that a national HSR system would cost trillions.

Of course, these days that does not seem to be much of a problem.

He also fails to note the environmental issues and a larger question as to whether HSR is even justified on some routes. (I am speaking in the true European sense of 200 mph. trains and I think Mr. Vranich is too.)

Finally, it’s not airlines versus trains. Each has an appropriate place in the mix. If there were good HSR service, airlines would concentrate on the routes they best handle and we could all live in peace and brotherly love! (Sorry.)

Anyway, here’s the story.

It may be the longest train delay in history: more than 40 years after the first bullet trains zipped through Japan, the United States still lacks true high-speed rail. And despite the record $8 billion investment in high-speed rail added at the last minute to the new economic stimulus package, that may not change any time soon.

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That money will not be enough to pay for a single bullet train, transportation experts say. And by the time the $8 billion gets divided among the 11 regions across the country that the government has designated as high-speed rail corridors, they say, it is unlikely to do much beyond paying for long-delayed improvements to passenger lines, and making a modest investment in California’s plan for a true bullet train.

In the short term, the money — inserted at the 11th hour by the White House — could put people to work improving tracks, crossings and signal systems.

That could help more trains reach speeds of 90 to 110 miles per hour, which is much faster than they currently go. It is much slower, however, than high-speed trains elsewhere, like the 180 m.p.h. of the newest Japanese bullet train. (The Acela trains on the East Coast are capable of 150 m.p.h., but average around half that.)


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

Obama rail push

Now actually news, but something you need to take in. It is a lengthy Politico piece on the HSR negotiations. Disclaimer: Amtrak seems to consider anything over 100 mph. as HSR. (Hope I got that right.) Anyway, here is the story.

Big hurdles remain. Critics already argue that the money is misplaced in a stimulus bill since it will be hard to spend quickly. Much depends on winning the cooperation of Class 1 freight lines that control many of the rights of way outside the Northeast.

But it is a landmark transportation investment with regional effects in almost every corner of the nation. Just last October, former President George W. Bush signed a bill authorizing up to $1.5 billion for high-speed rail through 2013. Obama’s commitment in the same period will be eight times that.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is given 60 days to come up with a strategic plan for the funds. The combination of large capital upfront — followed by annual appropriations — fits the prototype for the infrastructure bank once considered for, but never included in, the recovery bill.

“High-speed rail is the infrastructure bank,” said Emanuel, and the legislation gives LaHood discretion to assign “priority to projects that support the development of intercity high-speed rail service.”

There is some precedent. At the height of the New Deal, FDR’s Public Works Administration played a role in persuading the Pennsylvania Railroad to complete the electrification of its Washington-New York line and finish Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Today, the government could make capital investments that both benefit freight operations and facilitate high-speed passenger service. With the drop in freight traffic, the railroads might be more cooperative, although they are sure to want some liability protection for accidents.

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

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February 2009