Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Considering the DesertXpress LA-Las Vegas HSR option

It seems like the only time LA-Las Vegas HSR has been in the news lately has been when either the anti-rail lobby and its friends use the “express train to sin” to attack HSR in general or when rail advocates fire back by pointing out that the route isn’t even part of Obama’s national HSR plan.

It’s not a particularly healthy outlook to develop if the line is ever going to get built, particularly considering that the maglev option could make it extremely expensive ($12 billion has been the running number). The project competing against maglev is the DesertXpress, a plan to cover the same ground using conventional HSR at a comparatively low low cost of $4 billion. The kicker? That’s all supposedly going to be covered by private investments. The federal government recently completed its draft environmental impact statement for the route, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal covers the story. Watch for the catch:

Like many of those who attended the hearing, Brondo doesn’t mind the train’s initial route. It would carry passengers to Victorville, Calif., a town 190 miles away and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Stone said the train would connect with a voter-approved California system that would take passengers to a major train station in Palmdale, Calif. As California expands that rail system, riders will be able to make their way to major cities in both Southern and Northern California.

“This would be a huge convenience,” Brondo said.

If the DesertXpress system’s initial phase is completed in 2013 as proposed, passengers would be able to rent a car in Victorville to make it to their ultimate destination. Southern Californians, who make up about a third of the 38 million visitors to Las Vegas annually, could park their car at the Victorville station. Their baggage would be loaded on the train and they could check into their hotel at the station.

They should be thankful they’re going for private money; a destination like Victorville, CA has “train to nowhere” politically written all over it [unfortunately]. And if I were a private investor, I might be a bit wary of the fact that DesertXpress’s future rail links will be waiting until build-out of the CAHSR project. Still, with apparently 1/3 of all Las Vegas visitors coming from Southern California, it’s a lucrative route. I’d be curious to hear some more opinion about the project (and its pricier maglev alternative).


Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

Arkansas House Speaker Robbie Wills reads Lyncho

It is a good thing to get a little lovin’ from an Arkansas politician. Robbie Wills, Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, commented on my Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column in his personal blog.

This reminded me that I have been afflicted with Logan Nash disease. Being a full time college student, he has a good excuse to be overwhelmed with class work. I’m just writing a 16 page paper. We are both busy these days so your comments are welcome.

My column is not comprehensive but it does deal with the proposed Little Rock-Fort Worth high speed rail corridor. It especially highlights the incremental aspect of introducing faster conventional trains.  Check it out.

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

Minnesota races toward high speed rail

Logan will have something to say about this one. I can’t wait.

Minnesota officials say the inauguration of high speed rail service would mean the creation of 1800 new jobs. Mike Beebe, the governor of Arkansas, should be paying attention to this. Lord knows, down here we would give away millions in tax breaks to industries (Mississippi’s auto makers come to mind immediately and some wind mill blade producers in Arkansas also) who decide to back off on their original commitments.

1800 permanent jobs is a super-project. Arkansas would give away the ranch for that kind of investment. Now, I am not saying that an investment in faster trains would have that kind of impact here. We do not have the population base, but rail expansion is an investment. Tell that to your teabagging friends.

Anyway. the Stat-Tribune has a comprehensive story.

“We’re doing this for the economic health of the region,” said state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

Absent from Monday’s gathering of the new On Board Midwest coalition was any mention of Rochester’s efforts to steer the high-speed line through that city. Elected officials there have their own coalition, the Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance, to lobby for a direct connection to the Twin Cities. They argue that the Mayo Clinic’s drawing power makes Rochester a required destination.

Update: Thanks to Pat for posting this. When college schoolwork heats up, I tend to retreat inside my turtle shell until I’ve brought it down to a halfway manageable load. As the article mentions, the primary problem with this piece of news is that Rochester is still favoring its own separate alignment. This could only hinder the process, allowing other states to get the competitive advantage for rail funding because of internal squabbling. This is not something Governor Pawlenty seems to understand. Rochester would do much better to press for commuter rail to the Twin Cities that conveniently links up with any future high-speed line. That would be a great compromise that could step up this project’s importance to the Midwest HSR initiative.

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

Amtrak begins work on Missouri bottleneck

The St. Louis Business Journal has details on the new 9,000 foot siding being built to allos Amtrak trains to pass slower moving coal trains. It is an $8 million project.

Construction started Monday for a new $8.1 million, 9,000-foot railroad sidetrack to add capacity and reduce delays on the route used by Amtrak Missouri River Runner trains between Kansas City and St. Louis.

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

Witherspoon Institute: Why Conservatives Should Care About Transit (and, by extension, inter-city trains)

This essay is a little long, but it is approachable. David Schaengold proposes that public transit and walkable neighborhoods are necessary for families and communities to flourish. I am not sure if he checked this line of thinking out with Rush Limbaugh first, but here is a very very small taste of the proposal.

Pro-highway, anti-transit, anti-pedestrian policies work against the core beliefs of American conservatives in another and even more important way: they create social environments that are hostile to real community. Once again, the ways in which automobile-oriented development prevents communities from forming are too numerous to list exhaustively. They range from the very obvious to the very subtle.

This excellent article deals not only with local transit systems, but highway and inter-city transportation polices. In the view of the author, these reflect anything but free market capitalism.

Sensible transportation policies are good for families and communities. Who would have thunk it?

Transportation issues, as most TFA readers know, are environmental and social. These are urgent quality of life considerations and they are typically made for the convience of special interest and against what should be core conservative values.

Then again, do not this talk about “communities” sound a lot like “socialism?” Hmmmm.

It is an absolute must read. It will improve your arguments and thking.

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

Sunset options at first glance

There is no firm decision, but three options appear to be moving forward on restoring service fo east Florida and Orlando. Richard L. Wright was at a meeting in Birmingham and his report is included in full here with permission.

Amtrak Report On Possible Restoration of Passenger-Train Service Along the Gulf Coast Between New Orleans and Orlando:

They started out by stating that the Sunset Limited in the years it ran from LA to Miami/Orlando was a problem train in so far as performance (ridership, equipment and reliability).

They looked at a number of options starting with about 12 train combinations.

They considered times of day and directions of all the different trains.

They also said that there are those who would consider recommending a route change for the Florida service, i.e., serving Montgomery, etc. Research confirmed that was not a desirable consideration.

They assume all stations will be fixed up for Amtrak by owners.

They assume CSX cooperation.

After looking at 12 possibilities they narrowed it down to 3. These are:

1 – restoration of the Sunset as it was prior to Katrina

2 – a through train from Chicago to Orlando,

3 – a coordinated connector train from NOLA to Orlando.

These three options are being evaluated for overall potential performance, i.e., which would give greatest reliability and consistency in performance.

The primary reason for the problems with the original Sunset was essentially the extreme length of the route from LA to Orlando. Problems anywhere along the route impacted the entire route, i.e., a delay in Texas meant a passenger going from NOLA to Mobile was out of luck – no train. This scenario would play out dozens of times all along the route. This very problem is being carefully considered in looking at these three options. They want the option which will result in the fewest problems of this nature.

Before Katrina the Sunset carried about 16,000 – 17,000 passengers yearly between NOLA and Orlando. This is considered very poor. These are the figures with which Amtrak has to work.

It is estimated that options 2 & 3 would result in an increase in passenger count of about five fold – 50,000 – 100,000. There was a de facto realization that a return of the Sunset as was would result in far less of an increase in passenger load.

CSX must be brought on board.

PTC must be considered.

They are looking at possibilities on departure times from NOLA. It is felt that a 5 to 6 p.m. departure may be advantageous. They also looked at an early morning departure, but that would result in a night in NOLA. Some think that is beneficial while others don’t. It would result in a late-night arrival in Orlando which is considered an idea-killer at this time.

There is a realization that a daily train shows far better performance in all areas than a thrice-weekly train.

Equipment is a big problem at the current time. This is an ongoing study. Adding to the difficulty of finding equipment is that they are at this very time also looking at restoration of trains through Utah to Portland and through Montana to Seattle on two routes. The equipment needed has not been determined as the option has not been selected.

All cities on the former route will be contacted for their input on restoration of rail service.

There was no discussion of changes on the Sunset Limited between NOLA and LA. Todd said this discussion was for purposes of exploring passenger service east of NOLA to Florida.

Todd made it very clear that there is nothing final. No option has been selected. He made it clear that option 1 does indeed present the most problems, and by extension restoration of the Sunset Limited east of NOLA the least likely option.

Possibly the most challenging comment which Todd made at the very end, and emphasized is that there is no funding in place. Funding simply is not part of the study at this point.

He and the staff who are working on this study must report back to the Amtrak Board by mid June so time is short. The Board can accept their recommendation or send them back to the drawing board.

There is no estimate on a time frame of restoration of service for all the reasons presented.

Richard Wright – Gulf Breeze

The options under consideration are:

  1. Restoration of LA-Orlando service as previously operated.
  2. Operating a separate train east of New Orleans.
  3. Operating Chicago-Orlando.

These are tentative opinions and your input is requested and needed.

Option one seems the least likely. Running such a lengthy schedule is a nightmare for obvious reasons, as noted above.

Furthermore, operating daily LA-NO is probably a higher priority and suggests greater revenue opportunities.

Option 2 is good and might not require Superliner cars. I am no expert on Amtrak rolling stock, but I presume most of it (including newly repaired cars) is spoken for.

The third option had me quite confused at first, and Mr. Wright must think I am quite dim. The proposed solution would extend the City east after its mid-afternoon arrival. This also works in reverse. One advantage is a good arrival time in Mobile (my home town) each direction. This looks like the strongest possibility, but we are all held hostage by 30 years of bad federal policy and the death-of-a-thousand-cuts policy of the Bush administration.

It is a damn shame Amtrak does not have financial or rolling resources for a  Chicago-Atlanta-Orlando service.

Of course, financial logistical and equipment concerns may continue delays.

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

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April 2009