Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Baltimore uses Penn Station as hub for urban development (good idea)

Here’s a great example of how intercity rail can interlock with local transit and just good urbanism in general. Baltimore’s Penn Station, on the Northeast Corridor, is already a multi-modal hub, serviced by Amtrak, Maryland’s commuter rail service, and the city’s light rail system. The City of Baltimore has been planning a revitalization of the area around the station for a number of years, and Amtrak is taking another step in that direction by commissioning proposals for a 77-room hotel in the station itself. Other projects include the conversion of a nearby parking lot (surface parking lots are the bane of good urban design) and renting more retail space in the station building. Here’s some details from the Baltimore Sun:

The inn is one of several steps that Amtrak, also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp., is taking to improve its properties in Baltimore.

Amtrak has leased space to Faber, Coe and Gregg of Secaucus, N.J., to run a Java Moon cafe and limited-menu branch of Dunkin’ Donuts on the station’s main concourse. Faber’s operations will replace a coffee shop and cafe run by Eddie Dopkin’s Crazy Man Restaurant Group, which left the building on May 22 after 17 years.

Faber, which also runs the station’s newsstand, opened a temporary coffee shop this week and plans to open the permanent replacements this summer, according to senior vice president Roberta Rubin.

Amtrak is also preparing to hire architects and planners to complete a “highest and best use analysis” of the 185-space parking lot it owns north of the station, property that is considered a key to the area’s revitalization.

Fifteen teams, including some of the country’s top urban designers, sought the work after Amtrak issued a request for proposals in April. Amtrak has narrowed the list of candidates to three and is in the final stages of selecting a design team. All work by the winning team is scheduled to be completed by mid-September.

I’ve never been to Baltimore and can’t really speak to the area around the station or the project’s prospects (I’d love to hear some thoughts), but at least in principle multi-use stations are a great idea. The problem with many intercity rail stations is that they don’t feel lived in. The train comes once or twice a day and in between those times they sit empty and unused. Retail, hotels, and connections to more frequent local transit increase the level of activity, making a station feel more like a real place than a passenger rail warehouse. It also brings attention to the rail services offered there, increasing visibility and knowledge about intercity trains and where to catch them.

Train stations are not airports. When we’re looking at where to spend future money for passenger rail service, we should be attempting to integrate stations as much as possible with the community rather than isolating them from it. It’s great that this is happening with older stations, but our approach to new or relocated facilities should also follow this principle.


Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Florida vies for federal HSR funds (yeah, right)

The Sun-Sentinel has an editorial that ties it up in a neat little bundle. Florida has failed to properly provide for its only commuter system and utterly derailed any attempt to start an HSR system.

Bruce Richardson (with whom we sometimes disagree) has an epic retelling of the political fiasco which is Florida politics as expressed in transportation policy. It is a sorry state of affairs.

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

New fast trains, Europe watches USA

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Secretary of Transportation is on the road in Europe looking over the far advanced transportation equipment providers.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled through Europe this week, riding France’s 200 mile-per-hour bullet train, and meeting officials from several companies eager for U.S. orders.

On Friday, he is expected to visit Spanish construction, civil engineering and train-building companies.

“We think that the U.S. is a market that is going to explode,” said Nora Friend, a vice president for the U.S. unit of Patentes Talgo SA, a Spanish train builder that is in talks with several U.S. states.

This article is full of information concerning the various European companies with an interest in American rail improvement. You may think this is good news, but for neo-cins and highway/airline shills, it is a gift from heave.

The solution would be to construct new equipment in the United States. There will be some facilities in MIchigan available soon.

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

High speed rail: reliability more important than speed

International Railway Gazette focuses on Boardman’s Illinois testimony. Nothing really new, but a decent story.

USA: Incremental improvements to permit more frequent and reliable passenger services are more important in revitalising the inter-city rail sector than developing a national network of 320 km/h trains, according to Amtrak President & CEO Joseph Boardman. Testifying before the Illinois House Railroad Industry Committee on May 11, Boardman emphasised that ‘it’s really not about the speed. It’s about reduced travel times.’

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

Ohio Rail Commission approves funding for Hub studies

Progressive Railroading has the entire report. The Ohio Railroad Commission approved around $7 million in funding for various projects which are listed on the PR site. Included is $7 million to study four of the seven proposed Ohio HSR corridors.

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

LaHood gets after George Will

It was, at least, partially deserved. How on earth anybody could think that initiatives for livable communities are a threat to individual liberty must have something wrong upstairs, right?

But seriously folks, George Will is an honest-to-goodness intellectual, even if he is suspicious of bike riders and mass transit.Republicans have been under a lot of pressure lately and Will, especially in a recent Newsweek column, is not quite himself.

And long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America’s “automobile culture,” many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people’s lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this.

Being trapped in an automobile and paying $4 a gallon for gasoline (where it is already slowly drifting) is not freedom and its something many of us would cheerfully chose to do as little as possible. Mr. Will momentarily forgot the basis of a free market is the ability to  make choices.

George Will widely suggests those who support sensible transportation choices are “elitists.” Pretty brave words from an “inside the beltway” intellectual who may ride the METRO and enjoy a relatively short commute. As was observed here earlier reporting on a Witherspoon Institute study, the transportation policies of so-called conservatives tend to work against smaller neighborhood businesses and ordinary working families.

LaHood spoke at the National Press Club.

“We have to create opportunities for people who want to ride a bike or walk or take a streetcar,” he said. “The only person that I’ve heard of who objects to this is George Will.”

LaHood is wrong about that. Alas, plenty of politicians in rural areas will make much of LaHoods comments, and deliberately take him out of context. The comments above provide a fuller view of the entire speech.

In the world of transportation, it seems as if conservatives are not in favor of a fundamental freedom.

So Ray LaHood used a naughty word. Specfically he said,

“About everything we do around here is government intrusion into people’s lives,” he said. “It is a way to coerce people out of their cars. Yeah.”

So, let’s see. Big money says we must be slaves to truckers, oil companies, and Detroit. Big money says we must pay whatever Saudi Arabia and oil speculators decide for gas. Big money dictates unlimited highway construction at who knows what environmental and personal cost to American taxpayers. And none of that is coercion?

The hell it’s not coercion.

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

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May 2009