Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

UPDATE: Republicans oppose Wisconsin Talgo deal

We always hesitate to get involved too deeply in the state politics surrounding high speed rail. Florida and Texas have taught us to stand back and gasp in amazement. California? Well, you get the picture.

The happenings in Wisconsin demand some consideration, with an advance proviso that TFA welcomes more informed local insights. The latest story has to do with Republican objections to the announced purchase of Talgos.

Republicans object? Yeah, seems so hard to believe coming from a party of potent intellectual standing and vibrant well-conceived forward looking policies.

The Wisconsin State Journal has a lengthy report and I sense they attempted to get various opinions and to use professional journalistic standards.

Wisconsin didn’t hold a competitive bidding process before agreeing to purchase two high-speed passenger trains from a Spanish company last month for $47.5 million, potentially missing out on other offers.

Officials with Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration said they bought the Patentes Talgo trains because they are ideally suited to high-speed rail in the Midwest. They said they also needed to move quickly to tap into possible federal stimulus money and land jobs for Wisconsin workers assembling the trains.

Two things to keep in mind. According to the report, the transaction was legal. Further, the legislature has to appropriate the money, so the checks and balances are working right out in the open. Republicans will have every opportunity to kill this venture.

One GOP budget committee member says he will vote against the transaction, citing the tough economic times. I guess that will go down very well with the unemployed manufacturing workers who will not be hired by Talgo. Republicans observe that the Spanish government paid for Wisconsin officials to visit and this may have had an undue influence.

Never mind that Talgo trains operate satisfactorily in the Pacific northwest and meet FRA standards. The State Journal also reports that the state did seek information from other manufacturers of rail equipment, but did not seem to have issued an official RFP.

Why would officials move forward so quickly. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel adds some clarity in another well reported story..

But transportation officials already had decided Talgo was the best company for the job, Jambois said.

That’s because only Talgo trains have the tilt-train technology to handle tight curves at high speeds without jolting passengers, and because their lightweight construction allows quicker acceleration and deceleration, he said.

Among Wisconsin’s planned high-speed rail routes, transportation officials count 17 curves of 2 degrees or more in the 86 miles between Chicago and Milwaukee; 20 such curves in the 79 miles between Milwaukee and Madison; 125 curves in the 266 miles between Madison and the Twin Cities; and 58 curves in the 131 miles between Milwaukee and Green Bay, Jambois wrote in a May 11 memo to Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi.

If the state has to straighten out those curves, track upgrades for high-speed rail would cost $60 million a mile, [Transportation Department General Counsel Robert] Jambois said in an interview. But using tilt-train technology cuts the cost to $5 million a mile, he said.

Anyway, that’s what those wacky cheeseheads are up to today.

UPDATE: The Monday Wisconsin State Journal has a note from its blog on politics concerning the Talgo contract.

Three other companies expressed interest in a state purchase of two high-speed passenger trains that was awarded to a Spanish company last month for $47.5 million without a competitive bidding process.


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

NYT Editorial: America’s not very fast trains

The New York Times has an editorial today concerning President Obama’s proposed 18 month delay in a comprehensive transportation policy. The writers correctly observe that, while Japanese trains cruse through the countryside at 180 mph., Acela operates between Boston and Washington at an average speed of 70 mph.

The administration has proposed $8 billion for a high speed rail down-payment this year, while Spain plans an outlay of $140 billion over the next decade for its domestic network. Yes, Spain.

The Times observes that the country has some urgent needs for improved infrastructure. TFA agrees with the NYT.

There are big needs — like money in New York City for the Moynihan Station and funds for the corridor between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But there are many smaller communities that dream about high-speed rail as well. Florida’s Tampa to Orlando corridor was the subject of one proposal. Another was for a fast train from Portland to Eugene, Ore. The total number of requests would cost about $100 billion.

The administration’s desire to fight one war at a time is understandable. Nonetheless, a comprehensive transportation bill is better considered now than later.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

For Beaumont, Texas; good news and bad news

The local paper reports that there will, in fact, be a new $1 million Amtrak station to replace the laughable concrete slab which greets the Sunset’s arrivals and departures. That is the good news and it is very good indeed.

The bad news is that the site of the concrete slab will be the site of the new station. KCS says “no,” and it is their railroad. Yes, there is more to the argument, but with a two-year time-line, Amtrak is moving forward.

I asked the newspaper for permission to reprint a picture of the slab and the reporter is very professional, but I never got a reply from “on high.” Take my word, the situatino is beyond appalling.

And so it goes.

Filed under: Amtrak

Railroad Passengers Deplore Transportation Funding Direction

This is the latest release from the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which has apparently not received the memo that Hyatt or some Caribbean cruise line  is ready to take over sleeping car service and the private sector chomping at the bit to lift Amtrak to the glide path to profitability.

TFA agrees with the following 100%.

July 31, 2009

Washington D.C., July 31, 2009—Here is the statement of National Association of Railroad Passengers President and CEO Ross B. Capon on Fiscal 2010 federal passenger train funding prospects following Senate Appropriations Committee and House floor actions:

“Enactment of a passenger train reauthorization last October and the March unveiling of President Obama’s vision for modern passenger trains appeared to set a new course that would give Americans a convenient, safe, energy efficient and green transportation choice that promotes smarter development patterns more conducive to livable communities.

“Unfortunately, Congress seems headed towards funding levels that threaten continuation of existing service, while virtually ruling out improvement and expansion of service nationwide.

“The House and Senate – following the bad example set in the Administration’s budget – slashed the grant for national system operations $27 million below Amtrak’s request.

“US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in May at the National Press Club, succinctly described the folly of inadequate operating grants for transit: ‘I think it’s a little bit silly to provide all of this money to transit districts to buy new buses if you can’t afford to have drivers and employees to use the equipment.’

“This same argument applies to intercity passenger trains.  But here, Congress is not cutting just operating funds, but capital as well.  Yesterday, the Senate slashed $381.4 million from Amtrak’s capital request.  Last week, the House slashed even more—a whopping $453 million–leaving Amtrak with a capital grant $10 million below this year’s level.  These actions imply providing only 60% to 66% of the capital Amtrak needs.  Since basic mechanical and engineering ‘state of good repair’ work will require $550 million, the Senate would provide less than $188 million (and the House less than $116 million) to buy the new equipment needed to replace Amtrak’s oldest cars and to support service expansion as well as investments required to comply with a reasonable interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Thus, it is important that the current direction get changed on the Senate floor or in a House-Senate conference.

“As to high-speed rail funds, the Senate committee provided $1.2 billion compared with the House’s $4 billion, and would prohibit the Federal Railroad Administration ‘from awarding grants until the agency has completed a national rail plan as required under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.’  As a result of the historic $8 billion for high-speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment act, 40 states submitted 272 applications for over $105 billion of high-speed rail projects.

“Fully funding trains provides good, safe transportation choices and creates well-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced overseas.

“But, even though interest in passenger train development has never been higher and the President has set a new direction for transportation policy, what is actually happening is a piling up of more highway subsidies and a continuation of inadequate funding for Amtrak.

“The House voted today to add $2 billion to support the “cash-for-clunkers” program that lets people trade in old cars for subsidized new ones.  Before initially enacting this program as part of the war supplemental, in one indication of how little Washington has changed, House-Senate conferees deleted a provision both bodies had approved which would have let clunker-disposers get public transit vouchers instead of credit for purchase of a new car.

“Evidently citizens must shout still louder to Washington before federal funding will move clearly to rectify decades of neglect of rail and overemphasis on highways and aviation.  That change will be necessary to create a cleaner, safer, more-efficient transportation network.”

Our statement to a Senate Banking subcommittee outlining highway subsidies can be found by clicking here.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

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August 2009