Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Secret Service forgets that Union Station is for trains

Matthew Harwood over at the Huffington Post points out what seems to be a hiccup on inauguration day that everyone ignored. Obama’s final ball of the evening, the Eastern States Inaugural Ball, was held in the grand hall of Washington’s Union Station. It’s a beautiful place. That makes sense. Except that this was one of the busiest travel events Washington has ever seen and people need to use the station for such frivolous things as, you know, catching a train. From the Huffington Post:

In the end, average rail travelers using Union Station got the same treatment they always do when their interests cross those of our nation’s elite: They were told to be patient and calm and to wait in line.

“And for what,” asked the New York businessman, “so someone could have champagne tonight?”

If you were lucky enough to get into the Eastern States Inaugural Ball, according to the Boston Herald, you could see a few Kennedys, Congressman Barney Frank, and the Senator John Kerry’s brother and sister, before the Obamas made their entrance.

Enthusiasts and critics of Obama are right: maybe this is the new Camelot.

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Filed under: Amtrak, Travel Woes, , ,

Screw the NEC, look to the Pacific Northwest for progressive rails

It seems like whenever anyone from the mainstream press talks about Amtrak, they bring up the Northeast Corridor as a ray of light for our favorite troubled railroad. “The density is right! (it’s always right when the station is in a city) It can fund itself! (debatable) It has high-speed rail! (even more debatable)”

Well, British national and Guardian writer Michael Tomasky is doing what Americans seem hesitant to do.. looking to our fellow citizens in the Northwest for an example of good rail road policy.

Now this is more like it. After days of airplane flights, I ditched the nightmare of security lines and uncomfortable seats for a lovely, state-underwritten, socialistic-type ride aboard the rails from Portland to Seattle.

East coasters will be stunned to learn, as I was, that a business-class seat for this trip — duration three-and-a-half hours — is…ready…$42! And that comes with a coupon that gives you $3 off any purchase in the cafe car.

How can they possibly make money on this? They don’t. They make their money on schmucks like me, riding between Boston and Washington. A business-class ticket from Boston to New York, a ride of similar duration, is north of $300 most days. I support Amtrak wholeheartedly, but I have to say I don’t mind taking advantage of the super-discount fare this once, since I have in essence subsidized my own trip a hundred times over down the years by using Amtrak exclusively on the east coast.

The Amtrak Cascades route is jointly funded by the states of Oregon and Washington as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia. Is it socialism, as Tomaski suggests? Perhaps. But I find it hard to disapprove when government is able to transcend territorial and international borders in order to bring safe, convenient, and efficient transportation to its citizens.

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

Trains [buttons] for Obama?

My mom very kindly sent me this yesterday:

Of course I’m putting it on my backpack, but the button just screams the fact that it was made neither by train advocates or the Obama campaign. They’re being sold by this site, which is also offering such pins as “Mohawks for Obama.” I mean, Barack Obama is supposed to be about a youthful and different future right? Then why put a steam engine on there? How about a CAHSR train? Or at least an Acela? This is a stereotype that passenger rail riders and advocates have to deal with all the time, unfortunately.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, , , ,

Sen. Tom Coburn singlehandedly blocking Amtrak legislation

We’ve been talking about HR 6003/S 294 for months now. The generous Amtrak reauthorization proposal is long overdue to have its House and Senate versions reconciled so a compromise bill can be placed on the president’s desk. In July we reported that House members of the conference committee were being appointed, but no news of the legislation has followed since then. Apparently, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has taken it upon himself to block the appointment of Senatorial negotiators. From Forbes.com:

Coburn spokesman Don Tatro says Coburn doesn’t believe taxpayers should subsidize what he regards as Amtrak’s inefficiency.

In response, legislators in favor of the bill held a news conference at Washington’s Union Station. They were joined by [mostly northeastern] business groups that emphasized the bill’s importance to the economy. Those at the event included Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Tom Carper, and Rep. Rob Andrews.

What’s frustrating is that this popular plan, which passed both houses of Congress with a supermajority, could be held up by one backwards senator. America needs this legislation, and it seems that we don’t even need an uncooperative president to see this bill de facto vetoed.

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

Good Morning America to broadcast from Amtrak train

In what is certainly a nifty move, ABC News will become the first news outlet to broadcast live from a moving train. As part of the network’s plan (along with USA Today) to visit each of the 50 states in the run up to the November 4th election, shows like Good Morning America will be broadcasting from a specially equipped Amtrak train. Although the ABC News site hypes up the rail aspect of the voyage, Amtrak obviously doesn’t come anywhere close to serving all the states in the union. According to Reuters, the news train will only be rolling to the New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and DC broadcasts. It’s campy, absolutely, but it’s a cool idea and it’s great to see Amtrak get publicity like this.

Apparently our ABC News anchors failed to appreciate the spacious nature of train travel:

On Monday, “GMA” anchors checked out train that will become their home next week for and reacted predictably to the train’s tight quarters — with smiles and laughter.

“Five days and we’re going be this close?” Robin Roberts joked with Chris Cuomo. “Then I’ve got one word for you — ‘Scope.'”

They would rather be living out of a cramped airplane? I suppose they were disappointed that they haven’t figured out how to put 5th Avenue apartments on wheels yet.

The journey kicks off on September 15th. It’s probably worth watching if just to see what sort of setup they have on the train.

And a big thanks to my friend, the esteemed J. Michael Winston, for this scoop.

Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

Amtrak suspends New Orleans service, helps evacuate residents to Memphis

Due to hurricane Gustav, Amtrak has suspended its services to and from New Orleans. This includes the Crescent coming from Atlanta and New York, the Sunset Limited approaching from the west, and the City of New Orleans coming from Chicago and Memphis to the north.

Having put its services in the city at the disposal of FEMA, Amtrak trains have been used to evacuate New Orleans residents to Memphis. According to the Overhead Wire, this was an offer that went unheard when hurricane Katrina hit three years ago. As a national asset, it’s good to see that Amtrak is being for the benefit of the country in a time of emergency.

Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

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