Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Spanish airlines feeling the crunch due to high speed rail

The AFP reports that Spain’s extensive development of its high speed rail network is putting the crunch on short-distance air carriers. The article contains a number of facts about Spain’s bullet trains that should make anyone who’s ever had to sit on a crowded airplane drool:

The government plans to have 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) of high-speed railway track in place by 2020, meaning 90 percent of Spain’s population will live less than 50 kilometres from a bullet train station.

The high-speed AVE trains, which are fitted with video and music players and chairs that can swivel in the direction of travel, can make the 660-kilometre trip between Madrid and Barcelona in about two and a half hours.

Passengers say bullet trains have more roomier and comfortable seats than planes, faster check-in times and have the advantage of arriving and departing from downtown cores.

If you can get over the sad fact that Spain’s policy is light years ahead of anything Congress could even dream of, there’s plenty of good news to be found for American HSR. Primarily, it proves that people want and will use high speed rail. That’s not going to come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog, but it seems to be a lesson that politicians in California and Washington have yet to pick up on.

And while news like this will certainly strike fear into the hearts of the airlines, this could actually be good for them in the long run. The article says that the area where HSR is seriously competing are the trips that would take 3 hours or less. These are the distances that never should have been ceded to the air industry in the first place. And allowing these routes to fall to high speed rail will free up space at our crowded airports, hopefully alleviating problems with delays and ultimately increasing customer satisfaction on the long haul flights that airlines should be paying attention to.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Travel Woes, , , , ,

Are state DOT’s staffed for handling rail transit?

Most of us associate our respective state Departments of Transportation (with their oh-so-cute DOT acronyms) with one thing and one thing only: highways. They’re the ones responsible for maintaining the interstates that grow ever wider in and around our cities.

So it should come as no surprise then when Albert Song points out in the Hartford Courant that his state’s DOT, at least, is ill-equiped for managing the passenger rail systems that serve the Northeastern state.

My understanding of the DOT’s function, which has not changed much since I went to work there in 1986, is to construct, service and maintain highways and bridges. The department is well qualified and equipped to build highways in a professional and efficient manner, and is unquestionably good at it.

However, in my view, the DOT is not organized and staffed to direct rail car design, rail car manufacturing nor construction of mass transit system. As far as I knew, no interest or effort was ever expended to develop a transit capability.

Considering that Connecticut lies in one of the more active rail regions in the country, one wonders how capable the DOT of other states, such as those in the West and the South, are in terms of passenger rail. It’s not a happy thought.

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

Canadian corridors

The Montreal Gazette makes another entry in the ever expanding inquiry about why ground transportation in North America is relegated to the dark ages. Justin Bur is vice-president east of Transport 2000 Canada and he wrong this important essay.

The premiers of Ontario and Quebec have announced a feasibility study for high-speed rail in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, including the key Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle. It is good news indeed that better
intercity transportation is back on the political agenda. But it is hardly a new idea. At least seven studies have been conducted on the subject in the past quarter century, each one shelved for two main reasons: the high cost of the project, and doubts that the corridor has the population to justify such a service. Are these really valid objections?

Over the period that high-speed rail has been rejected as “too expensive”, many billions of dollars of public and private money have been lavished on airport expansion and highway development. The

Toronto Pearson airport expansion alone would cover the costs of a high-speed line between Toronto and Montreal. What do we have to show for this investment? A passenger transport system entirely based on
petroleum consumption, with little hope of using alternative energies in the medium term. The highest possible emissions of smog and greenhouse gases. Frequent congestion in airports and on highways.

High vulnerability to adverse weather conditions. No other country in the industrialized world does quite so badly, except perhaps the United States. The question is not whether high-speed rail is too expensive, but rather how we can afford to delay it any longer.

Doubts about the population of the Quebec-Windsor corridor are equally misplaced. The fact that we have large planes flying half-hourly each way between Toronto and Montreal, in addition to VIA Rail’s most heavily travelled routes and the busiest highways in Canada, demonstrates the demand for travel in this part of Canada. By international standards, the population numbers and distances between the cities are well suited for successful fast trains. What the population is not sufficient for, however, is building high-speed rail while also retaining all the air traffic. Airlines and politicians are legitimately worried about the risk of destabilizing the fragile Canadian air transport system. The way out of this problem is not for lobbyists to block high-speed rail, but rather for airlines to negotiate favorable terms for using high-speed trains to transport passengers bearing airline tickets. This is common practice in Western Europe and of benefit to traveller and airline alike.

The Record in Hamilton has a similar report on the same regional problem.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Travel Woes

Sunset difficulties at San Antonio

It is not our purpose at TFA to defend Amtrak under all circumstances, nor is it our job to condemn all negative press accounts. It is very true that reporters generally know very little about railroads and are under a lot of pressure to get more than one story done before a deadline. When you add in the seeming step-child status of the Sunset Ltd., there is a strong possibility to get things wrong.

By the time one group of inconvenienced passengers left San Antonio, their train was so far behind that it was not even on the right day of the week. I may a well admit that I was confused at first, so it is little wonder that Clear Channel flagship station WOAI TV had a few problems with the story.

News 4 WOAI’s Demond Fernandez spoke to those passengers about the delay.

“We’ve been over here for 12 hours already, going on 16 hours, now we got to wait,” said one passenger that waited while Amtrak tried to fix the problems.

“If you’re just sitting in one spot for 16 hours, that’s hard on anybody,” added Floyd, another passenger.

The travelers were stuck with no place to go.

“They broke the train apart. There is no dining car on the train. The toilets are overflowing,” said Anthony Verlec, on his way to Los Angeles.

“I’m missing a day of my reunion because I’m getting there late and I’m real unhappy about it,” said Ella Whitmore. She was on her way to Arizona.

Many of the riders said Amtrak was not giving any clear answers on when they would get back on track.

According to an Amtrak spokesman, the delay all started in Shrivner, Louisiana. That’s where the city had to evacuate because of a natural gas leak.

The spokesman says that leak set the train schedule back 12 hours. To top that, a passenger died of natural causes on a connector heading to pick up these people.

“The thing is there are no contingency plans. Only thing they tell us to do is wait,” said Verlec.

The people we talked to were heading to cities all over the country. Amtrak’s spokesman said the company regrets the delay.

He says they tried accommodating the passengers by offering them two complimentary meals.

(Deep breath)

The “stranded” passengers were not on the eastbound Sunset, but on the southbound Eagle from Chicago, St. Louis, and Fort Worth. Their cars would have immediately continued west on the Sunset to California had that train been on time, but the incidents in Louisiana caused the tremendous delay.

I feel very sure that Amtrak might have handled this better, although one should remember that the rail service is operating with not enough employees or equipment. Blame Congress and the various administrations which have starved this company since day one in 1952 1971.

According to my top secret source, “Deep Throttle,” taxis took the folks to a nearby Denny’s for breakfast on Amtrak. Later, a charter bus took them to a restaurant, again on Amtrak. I am reliably informed that some of the people waiting for the very late Sunset actually walked to nearby attractions.

Apparently, some unhappy passenger made a media call from the train once they were again underway Amtrak’s response was probably insufficient.

It’s hard to organize a full-scale witch hunt knowing that Amtrak employees are already overworked and demoralized. The minimal netowrk of long distance trains, especially the three times a week Sunset, is woefully under funded.

Amtrak management should develoop contingency plans. Congress should develop a realistic budget that includes, stations, track work, signalization, and employees on both the northeast corridor and the other 40 states.

Filed under: Amtrak, Travel Woes

And you thought The Sunset had problems?

Continental Airlines encountered a “situation” that caused discomfort, danger and humiliation to its’ passengers. None of us should take pleasure in the problems of another transportation company, but if you want to see how terribly things can go from bad to worse, as it seems to happen so frequently on America’s rails, read this report from ABC News, part of which is highlighted below.

Because of bad weather, Continental’s July 19 Flight 1669 from Caracas, Venezuela, to Newark, N.J., was diverted to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where it landed at 1:50 p.m. Passengers said after sitting on the grounded plane for hours, they began protesting by banging on overhead compartments, clapping their hands and even signing a petition asking to be let off.

“We were not provided with food,” said passenger Caroline Murray. “There were passengers who were ill. There was one woman who was diabetic. There was a pregnant woman with small children. It was shocking to me.”

As the 124 passengers repeatedly tried to get answers as to why they couldn’t land in Newark or get off the plane, someone caught the scene on film.

“When you’ve got passengers about ready to riot, you’ve got an air crew that’s not properly trained to communicate,” said ABC News aviation consultant John Nance.

At 6:30 p.m., homeland security officers finally allowed passengers to exit the plane, but their troubles didn’t end. The officers led them into a room, where they were held for two additional hours.

“We were removed from the plane and were forced to walk single file against the wall, flanked by armed officers one of whom had an attack dog,” Murray said.

Then it was back on the plane for an additional hour of waiting before the flight finally left for Newark. It landed around 10 p.m., nine hours late.

Continental Airlines said because Flight 1669 was international, federal law prohibited it from allowing passengers off the plane.

“[There is] no question, the flight took a lot longer than planned because of the diversion,” said a Continental spokesperson. “Assistance was provided to passengers with special needs.”

Filed under: Travel Woes

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