Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Cheyenne, Wyoming endorses Amtrak restoration

It’s good news trapped inside an awful AP story. The useful part is this.

Mayor Rick Kaysen, the economic development group Cheyenne LEADS and the Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau all have written letters urging Amtrak to restore the route.

There is also a line insinuating that the train was discontinued because it lost $20 million. It makes you wonder where they get this stuff.

Rather than starting an all-out shooting  war over which train loses more than another, let us agree that railroad accounting practices have been a mess, and weighted against passenger trains, for a long time. The Pioneer carried significant loads out of Salt Lake City and Boise. Cheyenne was served by a station outside town on the U. P. mainline. It seemed to put on its share of passengers as well.

If it is true that the Sunset is going daily (which is by no means official) it would make this route improvement less likely.


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

If California towns balk at HSR, Minnesota’s can’t get enough

Anyone following the progress of the California High Speed Rail project in recent months is surely familiar with the whines and complaints of towns like Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Atherton. It’s a case study in NIMBYism, and a tedious obstacle to an important project for the environment and the economy.

But Californians, if this example of petty squabbling has damaged your view of American local government, take heart. Your municipal friends in the slightly less tropical locale of southern Minnesota are practically tearing each others eyes out trying to get the proposed Chicago-Twin Cities HSR line routed through their towns.

The most obvious option is to just follow Amtrak’s current line, stopping in Winona, Red Wing, and ultimately St. Paul. But Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic and Minnesota’s 3rd largest city (not a particularly amazing feat considering that St. Paul and Minneapolis basically count as one), is scrambling to get the line rerouted in its favor.

And Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s Republican governor and no great proponent of passenger rail in the past, seems to support this idea. From the Rochester Post-Bulletin:

“I think it is important, particularly when you have a city and a region that is this vitally and strategically important to the state of Minnesota that you be fully and fairly included in the possibility of high-speed rail,” Pawlenty said.

But one area lawmaker says the high-speed train has already left the station.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Steve Murphy said a route along the Mississippi River is the federally-designated corridor for a high-speed rail line from Chicago to the Twin Cities. The Red Wing Democrat argues it makes no sense to abandon that route.

“For (the governor) to stick his nose in in the 11th hour in an area where he probably has little or no expertise I think is inappropriate,” Murphy said.

It’s all a bit of a fuss, and the indecision certainly isn’t going to help Minnesota get any of that federal rail stimulus money. But at least their heart is in the right place, right? If we’re going to have local government squabbling about the details of HSR, it can at least recognize the local and statewide economic importance of the plan.

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

In leadup to LaHood’s plan, The Economist masters “US Passenger Rail 101”

It seems like every other story about High-Speed Rail or Amtrak wants to give its own version of events that brought American passenger rail to its current unfortunate state. Usually they’re either biased, misinformed, or just plain wrong. Trust The Economist, Britain’s largest consumer of tweed and fine cigars, to get it more or less right:

In the 20th century rail travel languished as Americans fell in love with cars and interstate highways. Jet travel made railways even less attractive. A thinly scattered population and government subsidies for road and air travel did not help. In 1970 Congress created Amtrak to take over the ailing rail passenger service. Over the years the semi-private corporation has been plagued by poor management and volatile funding. Except for the Washington-Boston line, trains have been mostly slow, unreliable and unpopular. By 2000 rail accounted for just 1% of all intercity commercial trips. On National Train Day in May 2008 Amtrak employees handed out bumper-stickers that read “I’m a trainiac”, apparently not realising the irony of placing such a message on one’s car.

Trainiacs have had a better stretch of late. Ridership on Amtrak has jumped by 18% over the past two years. In October Congress reauthorised Amtrak for five years, and included plans to advance intercity and high-speed passenger rail. The stimulus added cash and momentum.

Worth a read, if for nothing else than to get some perspective on US passenger rail from the other side of the transatlantic glass onion.

Filed under: Amtrak, International High Speed Rail

Missoula, Montana reaches out to Amtrak

Missoula is one of America’s great small cities. It is hone of the University of Montana and a beautiful place. It’s also full of right-thinking people. Here is the story.

Community members, students and the City of Missoula held a “Rally for Rail” at the center of the University of Montana campus Wednesday.

Missoula Councilman Dave Strohmaier, the MontPIRG Student Chapter, and other community organizations showed up at the oval to encourage people to support extended passenger rail service in Montana — and the music and speakers caught the attention of many students passing by.

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

UPDATED: Amtrak Sunset route gets Florida notice has today’s report of discussions on the future of the Sunset east of New Orleans. You can read the entire story here. It is full of useful notes.

Here is the part you may not like.

The damaged tracks have been repaired, and CSX says it has no objections. But low ridership before Katrina hit has Amtrak hesitating. About 81,000 people rode the line in 2005, down from 96,246 in 2004.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., who chairs a rail subcommittee, has insisted that Amtrak look into re-establishing the route. She inserted a requirement into recent Amtrak legislation that mandated the rail agency do at least that by the summer.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari  said the study into feasibility and cost is under way and will be submitted to Congress by July. A process is also being developed that will seek public feedback, but he couldn’t comment on what that process would be.

There is a link in the right hand column for the national petition to restore the Sunset east of New Orleans. Honestly, it does not look good. You can help by signing the petition and passing it along to all your friends. This is a system priority. If Amtrak gets away with this “suspension” in one of the wealthiest and most populated states, they can do it anywhere.

Perhaps some smarter person can enlighten us on the numbers cited in the article. Obviously, a three-day a week train will have challenges not faced elsewhere, and have the same overhead as a daily train.

Amtrak has said that, concerning the Sunset, everything is on the table. Their statements indicate a willingness to make changes. Again, be warned that not everybody will like the changes.

I have some ideas, but that is just a lapse into railfan babbling.

UPDATE: It did not take Jerry Sullivan long to rise up with the needed information. His entire note is in the “comments” but here is the most relevant portion concerning 2004 passenger loads.

Ridership in 2004 was down from 2003 as well, but here is why.  From early February to late May, of 2004, only two trips were made a week east of NewOrleans account of CSX maintenance blitz’s and no alternate transportation was provided.  This  was 14-16 weeks, so do the math.  At the same load levels involved (whatever they were), full service should have yielded 106,117 riders.
[(16/156) x 96,246] + 96,246.  Now we don’t know the exact effect of this loss on travel plans, but I always rode the train out of Jacksonville on Thursday night – the night it did not operate during those periods, and so I would have had to “make other plans”.

Now, it is stated that “only” 81,000 rode it in 2005.  Duhh, the train did not operate at all after August, i.e. 4 months, and again only two trips a week from February through April of 2005, and two or three
trips were lost by an earlier Hurricane in July.  Lost trips, approx. 50 for that year.  [(50/156)x81000]+81000 yields 106,961 who might have rode the train in 2005.  Looks to me like a potential increase.

But there is more.  Everytime a Superliner bit the dust and was beyond cheap repair – remember Congress and Bush would not allow repair of long distance equipment – a car was robbed from somewhere, so after some time in 2004 before my next to last trip on it, a sleeper and a coach disappeared from the consist.  Duhh, reduced capacity = reduced ridership.  Them nice cars are not made of spandex folks.

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

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April 2009