Trains For America

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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

4 Responses

  1. Nikki says:

    I definitely agree that fixing Amtrak is not going to be the answer to making advanced rail technology a reality in the United States. Combining modern day rail technology with over a century old infrastructure wouldn’t look to be the most successful combination. If we are truly looking to embrace rail as our transportation vehicle in the future I have really been impressed with ALT’s idea so far on how to make it a successful reality. They call for coupling advanced rail technology with green energy technologies, and lining this infrastructure along our country’s backbone, the interstate. With funding guidelines for high speed rail coming out tomorrow, it’s worth looking into.

  2. Paul says:

    I think having high speed trains flying past cars on the interstate would be the best marketing tool but we still need to connect city center to city center with stops at airports.

  3. Paul says:

    Clearly this mode of transportation is not self supporting and should no longer be funded by the government. Kidding of course..

  4. Paul says:

    “But he said the President Barack Obama administration has ruled out raising the gas tax to provide additional funding, saying an economic recession isn’t the time to make such a move.

    “We are not going to raise the gasoline tax. I’ll just say that emphatically,” LaHood said.

    Last year, Congress passed emergency legislation to provide $8 billion in extra money to shore up the highway trust fund.”

    Here is one point where I disagree with the current administration. Now is the perfect time to raise the gas tax as people have recently (about a year ago) paid prices much higher at the pump than now.

    It will not be too hard to swallow a little at a time. Perhaps raising the per gallon tax by 5 cents each month for the next 2 years. At the end of that time you have a tax that is $1.20 higher and providing more than 240 billion a year in annual revenue to the trust fund.

    Also, now is the time for a passenger rail trust fund. One might ask, how does that get funded? My ideas are a nickel or dime of the per gallon increased gas tax (20 billion a year if a dime-last I checked the gas tax provides $2 billion annually per penny) and/or a little from the airport tax/ticket fees and a 50 cent fee on each train ticket sold in the USA. That is not just Amtrak but regional commuter and other similar services. What does this fund? Real high speed rail build out with a dedicated funding source over time. Also, it provides for connections to airport (that is how the air fare tax is justified). It also provides for better connections and infrastructure for commuter rail. How is gas tax portion justified? Less congestion and less wear and tear on the roads saves auto users time and money.

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June 2009


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