Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

New York Times Magazine talks HSR, reminds us why we like Ray

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine is all infrastructure, and it has a quite thoughtful and well-researched piece on high-speed rail in America. It focuses on the California project, but also discusses the international context and the  dilapidated state of Amtrak. Unfortunately, their “fix” for Amtrak seems to be projects like CAHSR rather than, you know, fixing Amtrak. But still, what an illustrative quote this is:

When the conductors stepped back on board, they had satisfied looks. “We threw some switches to get onto the sidings,” one of them told me, catching her breath as she removed her work gloves. I hadn’t realized that Amtrak employees who take tickets and wear crisp formal uniforms also tend to the tracks. But on the Surfliner, at least, they do.

European rail systems are [rightfully] praised up and down in the article for their efficiency and service. But this isn’t just because they have true-HSR lines. They also manage their conventional passenger rail system a whole lot better than we do. They can walk and run while we’re still crawling around looking for our glasses. Still, it’s a really excellent article. But we just wouldn’t be rail advocates if we weren’t complaining about something, right?

Also worth checking out is the Magazine’s little interview with Ray LaHood. Although it oozes with awkwardness as the transpo man tries to respond to odd questions about things like skateboards and his last name (is it that strange?), there are some gems in there:

President Obama has talked about his desire to wean Americans off automobiles.
What we’ve talked about is getting to a concept that we call livable communities, where people don’t have to get in a car every day. You can use light rail, you can use buses, you can use walking paths, you can use your bike.

The conservative columnist George Will recently denounced you as the “secretary of behavior modification,” in reference to your plan to have Americans give up cars.
When George came over here for lunch, I could tell from the tone of our conversation that he wasn’t particularly keen on what we were trying to promote here.

Oh, George Will. The Overhead Wire also points to another recent interview done by US News and World Report which, oddly enough, seems to be more professional.

Does anyone else remember when all the sustainable transport blogs were biting their nails over LaHood’s appointment? Funny how he turned out to be one of the most sensible and visible people in the job for quite a while.

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

Georgia governor Purdue is HSR convert

Maybe it’s something they put in the Kool-Aid at Biden and LaHood’s HSR meeting earlier this month. For whatever reason, Sonny Purdue has had a change of heart about HSR. From the Savannah Morning News:

Gov. Sonny Perdue returns from a meeting of governors in Washington as a new convert to the idea of high-speed rail.

What’s more, he’s vowed to evangelize the governors of neighboring states — who skipped the meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — on the merits of establishing a high-speed rail network.

Perdue’s change of heart is welcome news. For years, Perdue downplayed high-speed rail as too expensive and unlikely to draw enough riders to be self-supporting.

To be sure, President Obama’s announcement of $8 billion in rail funding from stimulus funds, plus another $5 billion called for in the president’s budget, might have been enough to turn the governor’s head on the issue. (Although aides say Perdue’s train travels in China and Spain also played a role.)

That’s all well and good, but is he going to do anything to overhaul Georgia’s inflexible DOT and dethrone King Highway? Probably not, but there’s definitely something to be said for having an administration that is, at least, not hostile to passenger rail in one of the nation’s growing population centers.

And if it’s all political posturing? That’s good news too. Since when did passenger rail support become something political figures had to pay lip service towards?

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

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