Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Auto Train suspended

This is not exactly red hot “news,” but the Orlando Sentinel has the complete report.

SANFORD – Cracks in the underframes of auto carriers have grounded Amtrak’s Auto Train until steel plates can be welded to the cracked area of the frames.

The Auto Train travels both northbound and southbound daily between Sanford and the Washington, D.C. suburb of Lorton, Va. Service will not resume any sooner than Saturday, Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said. A decision about the weekend runs will be made today, she said.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail, Travel Woes

Airlines “can’t afford to carry every passenger who wants to fly”

Via the California High Speed Rail Blog comes this piece from the Washington Post about travellers switching to Amtrak. Inevitably, the article discusses the inconveniences and costs associated with flying these days. Unsurprisingly, many of these frustrated consumers are turning to Amtrak for their summer travel plans.

However, for those patiently awaiting the return of cheap flights: don’t hold your breath. The Post says this about the state of the air industry:

Amtrak’s growth has come as airlines are retrenching, trimming flight schedules primarily in response to high energy prices. The flight cuts started showing up this summer and will intensify through the year. Airlines are trying to recover higher fuel costs with higher fares and charging for snacks, luggage, in-flight entertainment, even pillows and blankets. The fees aren’t likely to go away soon either, analysts say.

John Heimlich, chief economist of the Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s Washington lobbying group, said the changes represented “positive steps” for carriers working their way back to profitability. He said airlines are sacrificing volume to focus on the profitability of remaining flights.

“We simply can’t afford to carry every passenger who wants to fly,” he said.

This underscores the need for trains, and particularly high speed rail. If airlines aren’t interesting in hauling John Q. Public from place to place in this country anymore, who is going to pick up the slack? Do we expect everyone to be okay with driving large distances only to have to deal with the hassle of a car at their destination? Do we start subsidizing the airlines more, ignoring the environmental issues inherent in air travel? Or maybe we just concede that long-distance travel is the exclusive domain of the wealthy who are willing to pay more for air tickets.

The obvious answer is none of the above. Rail needs to be a viable travel option here as much as it is in the rest of the developed world (or at least the developing world, please). It’s not a matter of posterity or nostalgia. Everyday Americans needs to be able to affordably get around their own country and trains are the most sustainable and civilized way to do so.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Travel Woes, , , ,

Slight decrease in oil prices only temporary

Just in case anyone needed to be reminded, scientist Joseph J. Romm has a piece on about how the dip in gas/oil prices we’re seeing is only a temporary reprieve:

John Hess, chairman of Hess Corp., a global oil and mineral exploration company, said recently, “An oil crisis is coming in the next 10 years. It’s not a matter of demand. It’s not a matter of supplies. It’s both.” In October, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of French oil company Total S.A., said that production of even 100 million barrels a day by 2030 will be “difficult.” In November, James Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhillips, the third biggest U.S. oil company, told a Wall Street conference: “I don’t think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day … Where is all that going to come from?”

Why does this matter? Because although Amtrak has been hitting record record ridership levels all over the country, the driving force behind this trend has been fuel prices. If politicians, being the fickle creatures they are, don’t think that prices are going to stay up, they won’t see the point in investing in Amtrak after years of neglect (despite that just being one of many reasons we need intercity rail).

I wish I could say that we’re not so shortsighted as to believe that this is the end of the fuel crisis, but I saw a piece on the local news the other day about how SUV sales at area dealerships have spiked in recent weeks due to lower gasoline prices. This is exactly the kind of thinking that prevented us from addressing this issue 25 years ago.

HT to Streetsblog’s daily update for the original source.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Travel Woes,

NYTimes: Cars still status symbols?

Today’s Sunday Times has a piece on how fuel prices are affecting how Americans perceive their own cars. Are they a mode of transportation? Or are they an important statement about a person? It seems like the idea of the “dream car” is being sacrificed to save money:

Can you love your Prius the way you once gave your heart to a 4Runner or a luxury sedan?

Increasingly, for many, the question is moot.

“I’m willing to not love it,” said Justin McCarthy, 43, a public relations executive from Long Beach, Calif., who is considering replacing his 10-year-old Volvo with a hybrid.

Americans have long seen cars as a fashion statement.. a reflection on the driver.

For many drivers, their cars are an extension of themselves, displayed as fashion or an accessory.

“You wear your car like you wear a Ralph Lauren suit,” said Clotaire Rapaille, an anthropologist and psychiatrist known as the car shrink, whose company, Archetype Discoveries Worldwide, studies consumer preferences.

While it’s certainly possible to be proud of a train as well, it’s a very different kind of pride. Americans are used to viewing their transportation as a matter of personal pride, whereas an amazing train elicits more of a feeling of civic pride. It’s that last quality that’s lacking when our government fails to allocate the necessary resources to our intercity and metropolitan rail serivces.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Travel Woes, , , ,

Rail and the Pickens Plan… why the environment needs more trains

Yesterday I was having a conversation with my friend, while CNN was quietly playing on the TV in the background. All of a sudden the conversation stops and we both find ourselves staring at the current commercial, which was tersely presenting the rather gloomy facts behind US oil importation. This wasn’t some typical oil company “we’re trying to solve this transportation crisis that’s milking you dry and making us rich… really.” It was an ad paid for by a former oil executive looking to redeem himself and address America’s fuel crisis: T. Boone Pickens. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. I watched his longer video online:

It’s certainly good that someone is taking up the crusade to encourage renewable energy development and domestic alternatives to oil such as natural gas, but I was disappointed that his plan failed to discuss another big step is reducing America’s dependence on foreign energy: stop using so much of it.

Switching to cleaner energy will be beneficial for both [new] automobiles and [new] trains, but renewable energy isn’t the “magic bullet” politicians are always looking for when it comes to solving problems. What’s also important is to ensure that our avaricious consumption doesn’t negate this new production of clean energy. Investing in passenger rail can be a crucial element towards achieving this goal.

Even if everyone in America switched to a zero-emissions car (that’s a bit misleading considering that they still use electricity.. still mostly generated by fossil fuels), we still have to deal with the fact that most people in this country continue to be glued to their automobiles. Environmental problems associated with driving such as urban sprawl and habitat destruction won’t be affected at all.

The air/auto/oil industries have gotten us into a huge pickle, and we have to recognize that we can’t depend on them to fix it. Vehicles such as the Chevy Volt can be part of the solution, but they’re not the solution. We need to be promoting energy efficient alternatives to driving such as walking, biking, and yes, trains.

A look at the relevant blogs should tell you that environmentalists and rail advocates on the grassroots level are quickly joining forces, but it just seems like the higher-ups haven’t quite caught on yet.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Travel Woes, , , , , ,

Memphis sinkhole plugged (maybe)

This arrived just today.

I have just received word from the Mayor’s assistant, Pete Aviotti, that the City of Memphis and the Canadian National RR have reached a verbal agreement on the settlement of who pays what on the repair of the Great Memphis Sinkhole.  While I don’t believe there was any legal obligation for the CN to pay for any portion of these repairs, they are agreeing to pay an undisclosed amount for “Good Will” as good corporate citizens of Memphis.  

The 8 foot diameter pipe needed to make the repairs has been on hand for a long time. A contractor has been selected to do the actual repairs to the broken culvert. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the repairs will commence and be completed quickly.

The City is now getting with Sprint Communications, based on the original contract between Sprint and Illinois Central RR back on the late 1980’s, to get their fiber optic cable out of the way so that repairs can commence.

It is still a shame that this procedure drug out for so long and precluded the repairs being done much more quickly. I do not understand the secrecy that has cloaked this issue from the beginning or the nature of the mysterious lost contract documents involved.

The Amtrak passengers were the ones that suffered the most, being bussed to the remote loading location in South Memphis to board their train. Amtrak also suffered dearly by having to spend approximately $4000 per day to cover the buses, drivers, portable lights at the loading site, and additional Amtrak staffing. Instead of spending this money to repair badly needed damaged-out of service passenger cars, Amtrak was burdened by paying for this busing exercise since April 22.

I wish to thank all of those who helped create the public outcry about the absurdity for the delay in effecting these repairs. Those who wrote letters, sent e-mails, made phone calls to the Commercial Appeal, and the players in Memphis’ City Government, truly helped greatly in getting this matter resolved. I particularly want to thank the members of the Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers for their hard work in this effort. Had it not been for these concerned citizens, the City might have let this matter drag on for who knows how long.



Bill Strong
VP Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers
Director, National Association of Railroad Passengers

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail, Travel Woes

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August 2021