Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Confronting the “speed” issue in high speed rail

The Minneapolis Star -Tribune runs an excellent item on the distinction between faster American trains and European HSR. It raises some excellent points and I must admit some areas of conflict as to whether some of us are demanding enough.

“There are people that have expressed a concern that we’re not making that big leap into what more people would call true high-speed rail,” said Mike Schadauer, director of transit at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Officials in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois need to be more aggressive, said Rich Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association in Chicago. “We had trains running at faster than 100 miles per hour … in the 1930s,” he said.

To operate faster conventional trains, say between Minneapolis and Chicago for example, is not necessarily a waste of money. People often forget that Acela is the leading “airline” between Washington and Boston.

We can afford conventional improvements on existing tracks. It is a beginning on a longer term plan. This time last year, nobody would have considered it possible to even have this discussion.

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

Built To Last

Winner of The Congress for New Urbanism CNU 17 video contest.This short film explores the connection between New Urbanism and environmental issues. Created by independent filmmaker John Paget ( with First+Main Media (Drew Ward, Chris Elisara and John Paget).

TFA believes good transportation choices (as opposed to endless highway expansion) contribute to more livable cities.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Built To Last“, posted with vodpod

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

NIMBY attitude on HSR: the perils of going green

The Inquisitr has a thoughtful item on the social costs of windfarms and true high speed rail. It is almost a case for vastly improved conventional rail. Of course, in time that will not be enough.

Change is coming and it is not always easy.Now we come to the high-speed rail project in California and find that this NIMBY attitude is starting to show its head as people start worrying about the effect the rail system will have on their property values. The people involved try and cover up much of the rhetoric with phrases like “ … no socio-geographic distinction to being on one side of the tracks.” and where the residents were given enough information before the vote.

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

Reality check on HSR (and it’s a good thing)

Niel Pierce has a column for the National League of Cities web site. He takes quite a strong positron on financing true European style HSR (not entirely against) but writes about the current situation with a great deal of clarity.

But a robust American rail system is about more than tracks and train sets. It will make us less oil dependent, undergirding our national security. It will lower our carbon emissions. And it can contribute in a big way to the mobility and economic health of “megaregions,” those metropolitan areas where most Americans now live.

A prime example: the prospect of a Chicago-centered “hub and spoke” rail system to serve the Midwest. With top train speeds increased to 110 miles an hour, two hours would be trimmed off the Chicago-Detroit or Chicago-Cleveland runs. Equally vital: the convenience of frequent service. Chicago-Detroit daily round trips would rise from three to nine, for example, and Chicago-Milwaukee service from eight to 17.

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

Missouri senators push Chicago-St. Louis high speed rail

More politics and positive words. The story is here.

Rep. Charlie Schlottach (R-Owensville) is the chairman of Missouri’s Transportation and Economic Development Committee. He also chairs the Midwest Regional Rail Commission that comprises 13 states.

Schlottach says transportation funding has always been a matter of contention in the Capitol, but that attitudes are changing. “People are demanding choices,” he says, and many of them indicate that travel by rail is among the choices they want as a viable choice.

Centrally located, Missouri had a lot of potential for conventional fast trains.

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

THIRD UPDATE: FY 2010 federal budget proposals

Progressive railroading has a report.

As previously promised, the budget also recommends $1 billion for high-speed and intercity passenger-rail service, the first of a five-year program to build on the $8 billion included for high-speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The Administration also proposed $1.5 billion for Amtrak in FY2010, slightly higher than the railroad’s $1.49 billion FY2009 appropriation.

For those of us accustomed to an administration “freeze out” and not even enough money for car repairs, this is good news. There is more.

The Republican tactic will be to public favor rail improvements, even high speed rail. The argument will, however, favor a financing system that will never work in practice. A Georgia representative is already peddling this stuff. He gets to have it both ways by seeming to favor the public interest while actually pandering to airlines and truckers.

Special interests are regrouping right now and we should expect an all out attack on all fronts, and I am not referring exclusively to transportation issues. For noe-cons and big dollar pressure groups, these are desperate times.U

UPDATE: It is obvious that a have tarred all Republicans with a very borad brush while many are favorable t some degree of social improvement. I should more correctly say that some congressional lapdogs of special interests are always trying to have it both ways. If I may drift only a bit off topic, here is a perfect example.

This item came across my email and I am very pleased that there has been some progress toward reducing health care costs. Check it out.
Six health care industry groups including executives of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, a lobby for medical device manufacturers; the American Hospital Association; the American Medical Association; the America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for insurers; the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; and the Service Employees International Union met with the President today and presented him a letter pledging to pursue efforts like those outlined above to make significant costs savings in the health care system over the next ten years.  These groups represent a “strange bedfellows” coalition of competing interests which have concluded that health care costs are rising at an unsustainable rate and must be curtailed.

Question: why would health care corporate interests enter such an agreement? Answer: a temporary staying action until they can get more tea party lunatics elected in congress and defeat President Obama. This is called playing the game. Nothing more.

As the old song goes, “Smiling faces sometimes lie.”

FURTHER UPDATE: Krugman in today’s New York Times welcomes the seeming good intentions, but casts things in a proper context. The column is an excellent read.

I’ve already mentioned AHIP. There’s also the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobbying group that helped push through the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 — a bill that both prevented Medicare from bargaining over drug prices and locked in huge overpayments to private insurers. Indeed, one of the new letter’s signatories is former Representative Billy Tauzin, who shepherded that bill through Congress then immediately left public office to become PhRMA’s lavishly paid president.

The point is that there’s every reason to be cynical about these players’ motives. Remember that what the rest of us call health care costs, they call income.

What’s presumably going on here is that key interest groups have realized that health care reform is going to happen no matter what they do, and that aligning themselves with the Party of No will just deny them a seat at the table. (Republicans, after all, still denounce research into which medical procedures are effective and which are not as a dastardly plot to deprive Americans of their freedom to choose.)

All of this is observed for the purpose of reminding you that, in the political circus of Washington, transportation is just another special interst dominated money pit. If they don’t care whether your sweet mama or little baby live of die, they surely do not give a dime about high speed rail. So, it’s our job to make them give a damn.

THIRD UPDATE: And just in case you think I am some kind of nutcase, here is a little tid-bit from the Huffington Post about a strategy memo concerning how to defeat health care reform. The plan is one of misdirection. Pretend to be in favor of the proposal while working behind the scenes to gut it. This is the fine handiwork of Dr. Frank Lutz. You can read all about him here. And this is a salient portion of the story.

In his memo, Dr. Luntz lays out multiple ways that opponents of health care reform can trick and manipulate the American public. One strategy that stood out to me is to call efforts to reform our broken health care system a “bailout for the insurance industry.” This is ridiculous. This statement is developed to serve the same interests who stopped at nothing to derail health care reform in the 90’s, who blocked health care coverage for low-income children, and whose top Medicare priority for 15 years has been transferring money from seniors and taxpayers to the insurance industry.

If this is how it goes concerning the very health and lives of women and children, families, and the well being of ordinary people in something as essential as medical care for life threatening issues, if this is the conservative attitude toward the lives of real people, they will stop at nothing to preserve the financial well being of powerful corporations. In this case, it is the drug manufacturers and insurance companies. They will not blink an eye to help out airlines and truckers. Be warned. If their lips are moving, it’s a lie.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

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May 2009