Trains For America

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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

One Response

  1. george rieves says:

    more high speed routes are important, but some moderately faster routes between major cities should be included. These can use equipment that is already available, or which the handfull of builders can produce quickly and not require lengthy design-planning-testing periods. A train able to go 10 or 20 m.p.h. faster than The Georgian which ran from St Louis and Chicago to Atlanta through Nashville and Chattanooga would be welcomed for overnight travel.If it cut two or three hours off the 1955 schedule,it would be attractive and serve MAJOR cities along its route.

    Better still would be a re-start of the route attempted between Birmingham,Montgomery,and Mobile which ran for a few years but was cancelled because Amtrak ran short of funds.This moderate-length route could benefit from a slightly faster train than the late Gulf Breeze,and certainly from one of the TALGO trains now in use between Seattle,WA and Portland Oregon. This would be a quick daytime schedule on a par with the ultra-modern Acela between Washington,D.C. and New York City but with a much lower price tag. The short-lived Gulf Breeze was auto and bus competitive where time was concerned,and ran neck and neck cost wise with bus service. A 15 or 20 m.p.h. speedup of a new Gulf Breeze would not be difficult to achieve with existing equipment,more improvements with better safety signals and track upgrades could let it run at 120-140 m.p.h. in places with a Talgo.

    The High Speed trains are a fabulous idea,and long overdue. The image of trains being old,pokey,outdated relics is because for the last 50 years American passenger trains were not improved. FAST trains did operate in the U.S., but only between NY City and Washington,D.C. during the mid 1930’s, and between Chicago,Milwaukee and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-StPaul. The NY Cityt-D.C. line was substantially upgraded by the Pennsylvania RR Co. using then accepted standards for tracks and signals. The railroad used capital from private sources to produce a world class rail project. Only after the stock market crash did it run short on funds and had to borrow Federal money to put the finishing touches on the effort.European rail systems would not exceed this technical wonder until the late 1950’s.
    The Chicago-Twin Cities route was inaugurated for FAST trains in the mid 1930’s,named the Hiawathas, by the Chicago,Milwaukee,St.Paul & Pacific RR. This company designed its train from the ground up,bought the most advanced STEAM locomotives available to pull the train,and was running the trains at speeds over 100 m.p.h. and was capable of speeds as high as 120 or 130 m.p.h. This did not require “rocket science”,it took high quality tracks,updated signal systems for safety,and the Hiawathas had an unbroken safety record. Worth note is that soon after a complete re-equipping of the trains to carry larger loads of passengers,The Hiawatha turned a Net Profit of 700,000.oo one year!

    The only thing “wrong” with these trains was,they were not regularly updated to allow higher speeds.Two other railroads competed with the Hiawatha between the same cities but never outpaced or out-earned them. After 1945. America put its love affair with the automobile into High Gear,every G.I. made it a top priority when he got home to buy a car ASAP. Uncle Sam aided and abetted this with billions spent on the highway system,and then more billions on the advancing airline network. NO PUBLIC(TAX) MONEY was ever spent on railroad passenger services. The Pennsylvania RR and the Chicago,Milwaukee,St.Paul & Pacific built their speedsters with private capital.Only the Penn. RR had to ask Uncle Sam for some funds to wrap up the last portion of its effort and buy its record-breaking electric locomotives,the GG-1. The GG-1’s were the fastest and most powerful electric locomotives in the world until well after WWII. In fact they operated for almost 50 years before being replaced,only 5 survive in museums, one in the Pennsylvania State RR Museum in Lancaster,another soon to be installed in the Henry Ford Museum. Most importantly,the Pennsylvania RR Co. paid back every cent of the loan it took out from Uncle Sam!

    Fast TRAINS are long overdue,getting them will be a problem Ray La Hood must deal with. # 1. no U.S.owned factory exists able to build a European type passenger car(coach),#2. or alocomotive able to pull the train either using overhead wires for electric power,or a fossil-fuelled diesel or gas turbine locomotive( Is anyone at GM reading this? or General Electric?).
    #3.Only the N.E. Corridor from Boston-NY-Washington,D.C. comes close to high speed quality,and much of it needs to be replaced,new tracks,electric power distribution systems,and support systems. #4. Ultimately…SHOW US THE MONEY !!!. Uncle Sam has spent uncounted billions of dollars on OTHER modes of transportation for five decades. A former state transportation department staffer told me a few years ago, “we have mad it so convenient to travel by other means that the train is not an attractive choice for most people”. That was fine as long as fuel was less costly,it is climbing ever higher week by week, and auto and plane travel consumes fuel like there is no tomorrow..or like there is no end to the money to pay for it. TIMES HAVE CHANGED.

    FAST TRAINS are overdue,what Uncle Sam has so generously supported for 50 plus years has put us behind the 8 Ball,there islittle doubt that Uncle will have a hard time coughing up the money to even remotely approach the levels of spending for energy saving trains,or urban and suburban light rail transportation. Travel has become so “convenient” that we are having a harder and harder time of paying for it,and the old iron horse is still stuck at the end of the list of priorities. Just remember, The Hiawathas made a handsome profit in the worst economic period in our history,but only because Uncle Sam was not shelling down mega-bucks to create competition for the passenger’s travel dollar to take away the train’s business. Shakespeare said, “What is past is prologue”,for new high speed trains,this may be very true.

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