Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

POLITICO Exclusive: American Conservative Union offers support for $2 million

For those who may have been suspicious of our steadfast observance between so-called conservative “think tanks” and the financial handouts from big money special interests, this one is a blockbuster. Just consider the doings of such Republican darlings as Cato, Reason, and the countless other shameless shills for corporate owners.

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s support in a bitter legislative dispute, then the group’s chairman flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics

Amtrak report complete on New Orleans-Orlando Sunset restoration

The report is 78 pages. It is comprehensive and explores the three options previously reported; a stand alone daily train, a continuation of the “City” from Chicago, and a three times weekly extension of the existing Sunset. Here is a link to the Report which contains exhaustive operational notes, financial analysis, and proposed schedules.

Unlike some who rise to criticize this report before the ink is dry, I have attempted to take a measured approach. The report is a study in the complexities of passenger railroad operations. Some observations:

  • Restoring each of the 13 “suspended” stops is presumed but not necessarily required.
  • $10 million in station costs, including $3 million in Sanford, Fla. How close is that to Orlando?
  • The option extending the “City” produces significantly more revenue and better “numbers” overall.
  • The daily “stand alone” option produces less revenue than extending the present Sunset consist.
  • $20 million for Positive Train Control and CSX wants increased “capacity”” for daily operation. CSX is clearly getting ready for negotiating by stating the firmest position.
  • The Sunset gets “murdered” in total travel time New Orleans-Orlando, 18.5 hours. Not a surprise.
  • 20 month lead time to extend the Sunset and 4 years on a stand alone train or extending the “City.”
  • The option exists not to restore service.
  • New stations are necessary at Mobile and Sanford. You can argue about Sanford, but the Mobile case is obvious and the solution is unclear. Report estimates 20 months needed for planning and construction.
  • 13 options were originally considered.
  • Schedules for restored Sunset three times weekly look pretty good. Four hours dwell in NO eastbound, 2.5 hours westbound. If only there were sufficient equipment to operate this schedule daily, life would be good.
  • The schedule for extending the “City” is also good with reasonable times in Pensacola.

This report recognizes some hard realities, including the scarcity of available rolling stock and the potential availability of capital. In plain English, it is not very subtly suggested that restoring this service may have the effect of reducing service elsewhere.

It is unclear how any of the three options interface with upgrades of the Sunset west of New Orleans. It is also clear that the running time east of New Orleans, 18.5 hours, is a  detriment, which is mitigated by overnight operation. I also think it is probably proven that Orlando must be the east terminal.

Finally, and I could be wrong but, this does not look to me like a case of Amtrak foot-dragging of an opposition to long haul trains. It is, however, a realistic assessment of existing difficulties.

Filed under: Amtrak

Talgo will bring new high speed trains to Wisconsin

The release comes by way of Wisconsin’s Governor and has implications for Cascade service.

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced an agreement with the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo to put two Talgo train sets into service in Wisconsin and to establish new assembly and maintenance facilities in the state.  The rail car assembly plant will support the delivery of Talgo trains throughout the country.

“We are pleased to welcome Talgo to Wisconsin,” Governor Doyle said. “I can’t wait for our Midwestern travelers to experience first-hand the comfort, modern amenities and expanded seating capacity on these wonderful trains.  In addition, the company will use Wisconsin workers and skills to assemble and maintain Talgo trains. This relationship has the potential to create even more jobs, gives the state a major role in the growth of an exciting transportation industry and helps us move forward with our vision for high speed passenger rail service in the Midwest.”

Talgo officials joining Governor Doyle to make the announcement in Madison included Antonio Perez, CEO and president of Talgo Inc., the company’s U.S. subsidiary, and Jose Maria Oriol, CEO and president of Patentes Talgo, Spain.

“After 14 years of track record in the US market and having participated in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative in 2000, Talgo is very excited to have its equipment selected again as the most suitable for the Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago Corridor,” Antonio Perez said.  “We are very excited with the opportunity of manufacturing high speed trains in Wisconsin and helping to bring economic development and the option for proven intercity passenger rail equipment to the Midwest region. We appreciate the leadership from Governor Doyle in this very important step towards accomplishing the new Administration’s Vision.”

Wisconsin will purchase two, 14-car train sets for $47 million. The agreement provides an option to buy two additional train sets if the state is successful in securing federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for the extension of passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison.

Talgo cars are made of aluminum alloy with welded seams to form a structural frame making them lighter weight and stronger than traditional rail cars.  The rail cars use passive tilt technology that allows the cars to navigate curves at higher speeds with less car tilting and to ride smoother at higher speed, greatly enhancing passenger comfort.

The trains will be put into service on the Amtrak Hiawatha Service with the cars pulled by existing locomotives. Each train set provides a seating capacity of 420 compared to the current capacity of 350. The popular Amtrak Hiawatha Service provides daily trips between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ridership on the Hiawatha Service continues to grow, with more than 766,000 riders in 2008, a 24% increase over 2007.

“I’m delighted the State of Wisconsin has taken the bold step to purchase modern, new passenger rail equipment,” said Amtrak Chairman of the Board Thomas Carper. “Amtrak has had a great response to Talgo train equipment on its Cascades Service in the Pacific Northwest, and we are confident travelers on the Hiawatha Service will have the same reaction.  Wisconsin has always been one of Amtrak’s strongest state partners, and we congratulate Governor Doyle on this important and exciting initiative that will bring new levels of comfort and convenience to intercity travelers.”

The locations of the assembly and maintenance facilities have not yet been determined, but are likely to be in south central or southeastern Wisconsin. Together, the assembly and maintenance facilities are expected to create about 80 jobs for Wisconsin workers, with the potential for more jobs as operations grow.

Aluminum alloy structural frame parts for the Talgo trains will be manufactured in Spain and then shipped to Wisconsin for assembly.  Talgo will be working with Wisconsin and other U.S. vendors to supply parts for outfitting the trains.

The dedicated rail car maintenance facility will provide ongoing service for equipment used in the Midwest. Talgo currently operates a maintenance facility in Seattle, Washington, to service Amtrak Cascades trains.

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

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July 2009