Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Your High Speed Rail 501 (OK, we’re being pretty demanding) emd of term exam

A reader became as irritated, as I often do,  with some of the grain of truth but generally misleading opinion pieces we so often encounter The column under consideration came from the Boston Herald. It’s a real piece of work form a guy named Guy Darst (clever play on words, aye?). His technique is to use a scatter gun approach with half-truths, unimportant factoids, and confusion.

Since I am tied up with an academic paper these days, I have a plan to keep you people out of my hair.

OK. Settle down. Can’t anybody take a joke anymore?

Your exam is open-book. Deal with one issue raised by the column. Identify the issue properly and state your response using whatever sources you may wish to cite. Cite two for extra “points”

By the way, points are worth nothing, but everybody will know that you REALLY know your stuff. Here is the email that raises the questions/issues.

I get mad when I see stupid stuff going unchallenged.

Here are the contentious points in his article, as I see them:

“It’s doubtful there are many like that.” He says there aren’t many “shovel-ready” projects. Well, from what I’ve seen, there are many of them, even on the California HSR plan. Agree? How could I substantiate it?

“the European trains so praised by the president all eat large subsidies (about $88 billion per year overall).” I live near the current eastern end of the TGV Est line in France. From what I’ve heard, the SNCF makes an operating profit on its TGV operations, enough to cross-subsidize the rest of the network. But it’s not unusual for public transit to require an operating subsidy, much as do cars and planes, which get concealed subsidies. But this figure sounds silly and extreme. How to attack it?

“Despite their splendid trains, Europeans drive almost as much as we do.” Well, sure, but that’s specious. If there weren’t all these filled to capacity (try to buy a ticket from Luxembourg to Paris less than a week an advance and you run the risk of it being sold out) trains, where would the excess go? Back into planes and cars, in that order.

“This is hard to believe – unless the trains are to be powered by electricity generated from nuclear reactors and hydroelectric plants.” Or how about windmills or geothermic or solar? Isn’t Spain committing to drive all of its high speed trains from wind power? Has anyone written about this?

“Amtrak and private automobiles emit about the same amount of carbon dioxide per passenger mile.” This strikes me as either wrong or misleading. First of all, Amtrak uses diesels, and operates them inefficiently. But even so, I’ve heard figures of 1/3 less CO2. Am I right?

“Remember the claims for Acela?” What is he talking about? The Acela runs over barely upgraded tracks from the early 20th century. The only money spent on it went into getting trains that can go faster where possible, and keeping the electrical overhead from falling down. What is his point, anyway? There has never been multi-billion investment into the NEC. Maybe $1 billion?

My problem in dealing with this stuff is I know when it’s wrong, but I don’t have a set of facts close to hand that I’m sure of to tackle these fellow. Maybe one day.

Anyway, thanks for listening.


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

Florida lawmakers’ feet to the fire on commuter and high speed rail

Jane Healey has an extensive and well-considered opinion piece concerning legislative actions that hold both commuter and HSR projects hostage. It is a bit of complex local politics, but here is the good part.

As with the other stimulus projects, these need to be “shovel-ready.” And Florida’s high-speed rail is indeed that. After voters approved it in 2000, $30 million was spent on planning and routes.

Jane Healy Jane Healy E-mail | Recent columns

Unlike many of the other projects competing for the money, it could be up and running quickly, particularly since the lengthy environmental studies already are done. And, remember, these dollars are all federal. Local and state taxpayers wouldn’t have to put up anything to get this going.

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

UPDATEED: CQ Weekly comments on political and economic challents for high speed rail

Mark Stencel has a column in CQ Weekly well worth your read, even if he does start off recounting the poor ratings performance of the NBC TV network bomb of all time “Supertrain.” Come on, Mark, give us a break over here!

He further observes, accurately, the failure of all efforts to improve rail transportation in the United States of America.  Stencel’s political observations are quite on target. To sustain transportation improvements demands long term thinking and cooperation.

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

He makes a point, and this is going to be a long hard fight. Considering a recent GAO report, one wonders how they do it “over there.”

Given the challenges, how do Asian and European countries pay for their high-speed trains? The GAO found that fast rail systems in France, Spain and Japan are generating sufficient passenger revenue to cover ongoing expenses but not the cost of building the systems in the first place — an expense officials in those countries justify for environmental or other societal reasons. “In the countries we visited, the central government generally funds the majority of up-front costs . . . without the expectation that their investment will be recouped through ticket revenues,” the agency’s report said.

UPDATE: Mark Stencel is a good guy. He kindly mentioned my post and we have Tweeted. He is on Twitter @markstencel

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

Arkansas paper asks the right question about high speed rail

The Times-Herald of Forrest City, Arkansas ran a story last Thursday, It raised some insights on a study of rail service from Memphis to Texarkana. This is the old Cotton Belt and is definitely fast track.

One issue we run into out here is the Union Pacific practice of directional running. The Eagle operates on such a route between Poplar Bluff and Fort Worth. My understanding is that this line runs in the opposite direction. To state the obvious, this means that a passenger train would run opposite the flow on one of its scheduled runs.

Here is what the paper said, in part.

While the state Legislature has authorized a feasibility study for a high-speed rail from Texarkana to Memphis, people probably shouldn’t start looking for such a train any time soon.

More to the point, if there was a high-speed rail line, and even if it was routed through this area, could people in the Delta expect it to so much as to slow down on its way through? No one really knows at this point, because the realization, if it happens at all, is years in the future.

The point is that conventional rail service would be a big improvement to the quality of life out in the Arkansas Delta. This particular line serves many towns that have no transportation connections at all, most notably Pine Bluff. Other towns include Brinkley, Fordyce and Stuttgart.

So community leaders are right to ask and the answer is that the trains would stop. One imagines that such a service would continue to Fort Worth. The connection with the Eagle could happen at Texarkana, but that is up to the professionals to figute out.

Steve Harrelson is an important Arkansas lawmaker, lives in Texarkana, and is on the side of intelligent transportation policy.

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

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April 2009