Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Passenger Train Journal Sunset Proposal

NOTE TO READERS: The posts in “comments” are very informative concerning the specific PTJ conception of the Sunset.

Passenger Train  Journal enters the expanding conversation over “fixing” the Sunset route in its latest issue by making a few suggestions of its own. My understanding is that the Orlando arrival is early morning and departure is around 11 PM. This has the effect of putting Jacksonville train times at the middle of night.

I am presuming a late afternoon departure from N. O. and early morning out of San Antonio. Again, the out of luck city, I am willing to bet, is Houston.

I am presuming a mid-morning EB run from New Orleans. It would be sheer speculation on train times at Los Angeles. It would be great to hear from somebody who has seen the issue and, respecting PTJ’s copyright, lay out the essentials. After all, it’s their proposal.

Amtrak has spent a lot of time and energy on the Sunset and is suggesting a remedy that gives the entire route daily service. I think we need to give the Amtrak idea preference, but that could be wrong.

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

High Speed Rail funds should be targeted: BNSF CEO

Dow Jones files a report from Austin that may become formative in transportation discussions.

“I’m concerned (the money) will be spread like peanut butter” nationwide and have little impact, said Chief Executive Matthew K. Rose, speaking to the Austin Economic Club, a local business group. “I’m afraid it’ll be a missed opportunity.”

The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion in seed money for development of high-speed passenger rail service, and U.S. President Barack Obama also has called for an additional $5 billion over the next five years.

Rose sees little benefit for operating “host” railroads, and emphasizes the cost of developing 15-2- true HSR corridors. Nonetheless, he seems genuinely supportive of the concept.

Additionally, Rose says he sees no momentum for HSR in Texas and contends that nobody in D. C. is talking about the Texas T-bone.

Rose focuses the debate as the development of true European style HSR. At TFA, we have been supporting an incremental approach. The disadvantage of this is exactly what Rose contends, HSR never happens anywhere.

Politically, our position has the advantage of giving various constituencies a tiny slice of the pie and there is an improvement in local rail service. One point to remember is that we are in a transportation deficit because of interest based political decisions. If our viewpoint prevails, true HSR is moved to an indefinite future time.

Rose stakes out a reasonable position. Devoting the entire $13 billion to a single European style HSR project makes completion much more likely. In our political climate, his purist position, while containing many positive attributes, is unlikely.

It benefits those of us who support a rationale transportation policy to be intellectually honest about the choices and their consequences.

This may sound very trite, but I think we might all want to remember that we live in a very imperfect world. This ain’t Burger King and we can’t always have it our way.

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

A modern transportation policy? (Nah, let’s keep making the same ol’ mistakes!)

Building America’s Future sent this item along.

Washington, DC – As Congress prepares to revise the federal transportation program (SAFETEA-LU), Building America’s Future – a national, bipartisan infrastructure coalition led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Ed Rendell and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – released a memo today calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to make transformative changes and chart a new transportation vision for the 21st Century.

“Our nation’s current transportation system is simply outdated and unable to meet the demands of the 21st Century,” said Kerry O’Hare, policy director of Building America’s Future.  “We cannot continue to channel billions of dollars through the same old programs which lack innovation, accountability and an outcome-driven focus. The country is hungry for change and Congress and the Obama Administration have a unique opportunity to transform current transportation programs and enhance our nation’s economic competitiveness and improve the quality of life for all Americans.  The time to act is now and Building America’s Future stands ready to help build the political consensus to make this vision a reality.”

Included in the memo were four key principles to use in shaping this new transportation vision.  Excerpts:

1.      Renew Leadership at the National Level
To ensure that America has a 21st century transportation system that meets our 21st-century needs, the federal government must once again lead, by outlining key national goals that will guide how transportation investments are made in the coming years…

2.      Increase Accountability at the Federal, State, and Local Levels
Federal transportation funding is no longer guided by clear objectives. Rather, funding decisions today are based more on politics than on merit. For example, the number of earmarks in surface transportation bills has ballooned from 10 in 1981 to over 6,000 in the 2005 transportation authorization. While not all of these earmarks involved funding “bridges to nowhere,” a politicized method of distribution increases the risk of funding inefficient projects that do not meet national objectives…  In laying out a vision for a new national transportation policy, we challenge Congress to significantly reduce earmarking and offer alternate routes – with greater transparency and accountability – to achieve national goals…  Congress and the Administration must begin to hold states and localities – and themselves – accountable for ensuring that federally-funded projects meet national goals and that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently. Otherwise, it will simply be business as usual – and that is no longer acceptable.

3.      Encourage Innovation and Flexibility at the State and Local Levels
In recent years, the federal government has begun to allow states and local governments greater flexibility in how they spend their resources, leading to increased innovation in meeting national transportation objectives. The next transportation bill should significantly accelerate this development, through streamlined processes as well as expanded financial incentive programs, such as the Urban Partnership Program…

4.      Find New Ways to Fund National Goals
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is a critical down payment on our country’s backlog of transportation capital needs.  But much more needs to be done to address both that backlog of capital projects as well as ongoing and future operations and maintenance costs. If we are truly going to address our nation’s transportation needs in the size and duration required, we need ongoing and stable streams of revenue that are dedicated to transportation…

Read the full memo at:

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

UPDATE: CSX reveals SecureNOW system

TFA was fortunate to be included in a conference call concerning the new computer aided tracking system. This was  the first time the system was presented  live to non security/CSX personnel It is significant from the rail passenger perspective in that, including Amtrak and commuter runs,  CSX operates 215 passenger trains every day and 20 million passengers every year.

You are probably aware that there are 5 Class 1 railroads and that CSX operates 21,000 miles through most of the eastern U. S. and passes through 31 DHS designated “high threat areas” Skip Elliott is in charge of security for the railroad and made the interactive presentation in which I was able to see the SecureNOW system running on my office computer screen.Elliott is able to point out the Amtrak trains by current location on the  map and by name.


This is an important breakthrough in safety and security for several reasons. The “live” maps allow personnel to view trains by category: passenger, freight, and freight trains carrying potentially dangerous cargoes (alert trains). Hazardous materials fall into three categories: chemicals, explosives, and spent nuclear fuel. Very little of the latter is handled.

The computer interface allows a train to be located in a “static” geographic context. That is, in relation to buildings, parks, roads and highways. This kind of specific information can be very helpful for emergency responders. The application for a passenger train in some remote location would be obvious.


We know that freight trains have computer generated manifests and that cars handling hazardous materials must bear certain markings and information. SecureNOW takes the train manifest to the next level. It presents the train order in the form of on-screen icons. Click the icon (which tells about the origination, destination, cargo, and empty/loaded status) and you willl learn EVERYTHING about the car.

All the above mentioned data can be put into a format for Blackberry or email. This means that a procedure which might have taken 30 minutes (not too bad actually) can put crucial safety information in local firefighters and rescue crews almost instantly.That’s the purpose of this substantial investment.

TSA has this system and so does New Jersey Transit has the SecureNOW systen, and the State of New Jersey Department of Homeland Security has access to the system and, if needed, they would share the information with New Jersey Transit. CSX is in discussions with several states to share the information and has a relationship with security authorities in the District of Columbia.

So you may be wondering about the other four Clas 1 roads. Will they run SecueNOW? Based on what I heard today, I can conclusively say that I have no idea. It is a substantial investment in a down economy. Railroads will need to provide more information on shipments and TSA will probably want to use a single platform.

And government always does the logical thing, right?

But seriously, CSX gives TSA high makrs for not sharing sensative corporate data with enforcement agencies.

The SecureNOW system is bound to very helpful to local authorities coping with a crisis.

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

Canadian shakedown on Amtrak Vancouver expansion

Some fairly tough words today concerning Ottawa’s plan to charge Amtrak $500,000 for added customs inspection of the proposed second daily train. Miro Cernetig is a columnist for the Vancouver Sun.

Sure, it’s great if you can get someone outside the country to pay for your government services. And there’s no doubt the federal agency has to mind its budget in a time of restraint.

Moreover, Ottawa is being penny wise and pound foolish. We’ll easily get back the investment. A study by the Border Policy Research Institute of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., calculates Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal governments will collect an extra $1.87 million in GST, PST and hotel room taxes from the extra tourists who would travel to Vancouver if a second Amtrak train begins service.

The column also cites another economic study by the Washington State Department of Transportation that adds even more bucks to the B. C. coffers.

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

New England lacking behind in HSR prospects, but at least Vermont is keeping its Amtrak service

Seems like news about its salvation was far more muted than the ruckus surrounding its possible cancellation, but Vermont has chosen to increase its gasoline tax rather than cease support for its popular Ethan Allen Express route. Here’s the critical portions of a brief AP snippet from earlier this month:

Vermont lawmakers have passed a transportation bill that will raise gasoline taxes by about 3 cents at the pump at current prices.

The $540 million transportation bill for the fiscal year that begins July 1 spares Amtrak rail service between Rutland and New York from being eliminated. It also sharply increases the budget to repave Vermont’s battered roads.

This is great news. It would have been a huge shame for the state to end one of its well-liked Amtrak services at this critical juncture. Sure, the economy is bad, but ending smart transportation services like this is not the way to put us on the path to a more stable green economy.

But if New England is avoiding steps back, it doesn’t really seem to be moving forward, at least according to this Boston Globe article:

Until late last year, New England lacked a regionwide high-speed rail organization – an illustration, transit advocates said, of the region’s belated effort to craft a high-speed rail plan encompassing all six states.

As a result, advocates fear, a region that hosts the fastest train in the nation, Amtrak’s Acela, and has no shortage of ideas for improved rail service, may miss out on the funding in favor of California and the Midwest, which have been methodically developing high-speed rail plans for decades.

“New England needs to be better organized,” said Tom Irwin, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation and one of the founders of the New England Regional Rail Coalition, the group assembled last year that is lobbying for a share of the high-speed rail funding that Congress approved as part of the economic stimulus plan.

A missed opportunity? Depends on the way you look at it. On one hand, this is a fairly dense region that seems well-suited to passenger rail service. On the other hand, there are already a number of lines that crisscross New England, which is more than you can say for an underserved region like the Midwest or Florida. And as the article admits, successful projects anywhere in the country could increase momentum for HSR that could eventually benefit the region. So while I certainly sympathize with Globe article, it’s high time forother parts of the country to see at least some of the same service that the region enjoys with the Acela and other frequent routes. Certainly worth a read.

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail,

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May 2009