Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

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, , , ,

Amtrak trying to expand Acela service

Via the Boston Globe, Amtrak CEO Alexander Kummant says that the company is looking to increase the number of cars run on its Acela trains. Unfortunately, Amtrak would need to buy new cars for the route, as the Acela can’t use the normal Amtrak stock (which aren’t exactly easily available anyway). What does this mean for passengers of this very crowded service? Well, possibly ticket surcharges to fund the purchase of new coaches from Bombardier.

“We’re out of capacity,” said Kummant. “Most people know that’s a pretty tough ticket” because seats are hard to find except at “way-off-peak” times.

The Acela’s top speed of 150 miles per hour is drawing travelers who want to avoid rising airfares and highway congestion in the Northeast. Acela ridership climbed 7.7 percent in the first 10 months of fiscal 2008, part of Amtrak’s 11 percent gain.

The trains now run with an engine at each end. While that step speeds turnarounds when the Acela finishes its route and then reverses direction, reconfiguring trains to add coaches would be “very difficult and very time consuming,” spokeswoman Karina Romero said. Amtrak also doesn’t have any spare Acela passenger cars, so extending the trains would require buying more custom-built coaches, she said.

Trains are “running full and the demand is there,” said David R. Johnson, deputy director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers consumer group. “They have been under pressure to act like a business, and this is how private business acts.”

Higher fares alone wouldn’t produce enough money to expand the Acela, for which Amtrak agreed to pay $800 million in 1996 for 20 trains and maintenance. Such a step would require more funding for Amtrak, a “political football” that has struggled for aid in President Bush’s administration, said Kummant.

So there you have it, supply and demand. It’s amazing how even very flawed high-speed trains like Acela can generate so much increased traffic.

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail, , ,

Biden the right pick for rail

Joe Biden is officially Barack Obama’s running mate for the November election… but although we know Obama’s position on rail, where does Biden stand? Our friend Robert Cruickshank over at the California High Speed Blog has clearly done a lot of research on the subject and has an excellent post up that includes a number of direct quotes from the man himself. The short answer? Rail advocates have a friend in Joe Biden. Just a few exciting excerpts from what CAHSR has collected:

A lead author of the legislation, Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (DE) said, “Every advanced economy in the world invests more than the United States in high-speed inter-city service. We like to think of ourselves as the most advanced country in the world, and I believe we are, but for years we have nickel-and-dimed passenger rail service in this country.”

Biden proposes an interstate high-speed rail service similar to the interstate highway system.

“One mile of one lane of I-80 costs $22 million,” Biden said. “One mile of I-95 (on the East Coast) holds more traffic and costs $41 million.” By contrast, “One mile of high-speed rail costs $1 million.

“You can fit more people on a rail car and you’ll be taking 50 automobiles off the road. Rail uses 1/50th of the cost (of a car) in terms of energy consumption.”

Biden said the reason why railroads haven’t been used more in the past is because of special interest groups, most notably the airline industry. “They get $350 million a year to go where no one wants to go,” Biden said, qualifying that by saying that there is not enough business to support a commercial flight. He said people don’t like the idea of subsidizing railroads, yet the airline industry gets subsidies to fly to sparse locations.

John McCain will be picking his running mate soon as well. However, it hardly matters, as he has long made his regrettable position on passenger rail quite clear. There are some transit moderates in that field of options though, so we’ll be keeping track just in case.

Edit: I don’t know how I forgot to point out what the Obama campaign has been making a big fuss over… that during the time Biden works in Washington, he rides “a lonely Amtrak train” every night back to Delaware to be with his family.

And about the $1 million per mile of high-speed rail thing… I can’t really find the specifics of what he was referring to. Perhaps, as the Overhead Wire editor suggested, he was talking about semi-HSR upgrades or something. Or, well, he is a politician after all. They’re not known for always being informed/honest with their facts.

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

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,

McCain wants MORE trains (for other countries)

Now, it’s been well established that presidential candidate John McCain is not a fan of Amtrak. In fact, he’s called shutting the service down if he was elected a “non-negotiable issue.” Subsidies for highways? Fine. But not for passenger rail. You might think that this means he’s an anti-train kind of guy. But you’d be quite wrong. Infact, he’s all for making more trains, right here in America!  … Just so long as they get exported to other countries. Here’s an excerpt from this video of John McCain campaigning in Pennsylvania:

“I was with Governor [Tom] Ridge yesterday, and we visited a General Electric plant in Erie that makes — guess what? — locomotives. That’s not viewed as, quote, high tech, is it? But you’d be amazed at the product, of the thousands of workers that are working there and building a locomotive that over half of their business is through exports, because they build the best locomotives in the world in Erie, Pennsylvania.”

For one thing… locomotives? I know it’s a correct term technically, but doesn’t it give off the impression that he was surprised that these engines aren’t run on steam power or something? Maybe it never occurred to Mr. McCain that these high-tech locomotives, rather than being exported, could be put to use on our own railways. We could be making travel more accessible for Americans and saving energy with home-grown technology and workers.

It seems like John McCain has been trying to cast himself back as a moderate again, but it’s hard to take him seriously when his only transportation solution is to build more cars and more roads. All while countries such as the UK, Spain, and China are preparing for a more economically sound, environmentally friendly, and energy efficient future with passenger rail.

A bit hat tip to our friends at Streetsblog for this scoop.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, , ,

The Prius of trains

There’s lots of talk in this year’s presidential campaign about hybrid cars. The thought is that we can make this inefficient mode of transport less wasteful through better use of technology. Well why not apply the same principle to rail travel? Why not make the already efficient option even more so? In this vein, rolling stock manufacturer Bombardier has debuted an “eco-train” that aims to achieve “20 to 30 percent less energy consumption.”

The retrofitted Bombardier Regina-model train recently hit speeds of 183 miles per hour, and did so with nature-friendly “ECO4” features developed by the company. A “Permanent Magnet Motor” cut operating costs and environmental impact, while a driver-assistance system provided data on speed and traction to save up to 15 percent of traction energy.

“This project has demonstrated why we believe that the climate is indeed right for trains,” said Klas Wahlberg, chief country representative of Bombardier Transportation Sweden. “This joint effort has shown that our ‘Green Train’ is not only the right train for operation in the Nordic region, but that it also presents a new generation of energy-efficient, sustainable high speed trains. Our ECO4 technologies can be customized to enhance the performance of any fleet, as we have shown today.

Whalberg suggests that this technology could be applied to any train fleet… That’s an interesting thought considering that Amtrak is desperately in need of new equipment, and that some environmentalists haven’t realized the eco-friendly potential of rail travel. No word on the cost though.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Filed under: Amtrak, International High Speed Rail, , , , ,

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September 2021