Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Lower gas prices aren’t curtailing rail ridership gains

Although the recent surge in Amtrak ridership may have been sparked by high gas prices, it doesn’t seem to be ending there. Gas where I am is a ridiculously cheap $1.58, but many people seem to be sticking with rail, according to this article from the Philadelphia Business Journal, which understandably mostly focuses on commuter rail and Amtrak in Pennsylvania. These figures are all compared to Q3 of 2007, which was record breaking to begin with:

SEPTA’s commuter rail ridership increased 7.86 percent, heavy rail (subway and elevated trains) increased 1.55 percent, bus ridership increased 0.45 percent, purchased bus services increased 20.17 percent and light rail, considered to be modern streetcars, trolleys and heritage trolleys by APTA, was up 7.86 percent. Overall, ridership is up 3.93 percent for the quarter and 6.56 percent year-to date.

Ridership on Amtrak’s Keystone Line, which provides 90-minute service between Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia and a direct connection to New York City, also rose by 21.65 percent for the quarter and has experienced an increase of 18.88 percent year-to date.

Hopefully, as more figures like this start to come in, lawmakers will begin to see that these increases are no fluke. People are discovering the benefits of traveling by rail, regardless of the cost of oil at the moment. It’s an exciting time to be an advocate for these issues, let’s just hope we can put enough pressure on our politicians to encourage investment in our increasingly popular rail systems.

Update: On a similar note, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a piece about how increased Amtrak ridership is growing support for a faster rail line between the Twin Cities and Chicago. This is exactly the sort of logic that can get the Midwest HSR plan built, and that we need to be seeing more of across the country.

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Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

The Dan Patch Corridor: More commuter rail in the Twin Cities?

I have to apologize for my absence the last few days, but I just finished up with exams up here at college, including a journalism piece I wrote about the Dan Patch Commuter rail line, running from Northfield, MN (where my school, Carleton College, is located) to Minneapolis. It’s a good example of just how freaking hard it is to make commuter rail projects happen in auto-dependent areas like the Twin Cities. It’s going up on a local blog and the Twin Cities Daily Planet, but I made sure I could put it up here as well (click through for the full story):
In the Obama-Era, Plans Revive for a Northfield-Twin Cities Rail Line

In the Obama-Era, Plans Revive for a Northfield-Twin Cities Rail Line

By Logan Nash

With the national economy still a giant question mark, Northfield community leaders are pushing ahead to revive a long-delayed project to build a commuter rail line that would link the town to the Twin Cities metropolitan region.

The national economic downturn is precisely why a serious reconsideration of the commuter line, called the Dan Patch Corridor, is especially warranted right now, the line’s advocates say.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

Tragic news from Los Angeles

Our hearts certainly go out to the victims of yesterday afternoon’s Metrolink commuter train crash in Los Angeles. The passenger train crashed into a Union Pacific freight hauler due to the Metrolink conductor’s disregard for a red signal. While a tragedy is a tragedy, and no amount of preperation can really prevent all accidents (especially when human negligence comes into play), it’s worth looking a little deeper into the crash and what it says about passenger rail.

Human error is a hard factor to account for, but many rail systems across the world (including places in the United States) have technology implemented to prevent trains from passing through red signals. Those opposed to these fail safes (including many freight companies) tend to say that conductors are responsible enough to pay heed to signals on their own. Unfortunately, this tends to not always be the case. Humans err, and to not notice the signal is just as dangerous as to purposefully ignore it.

Of course, it’s not like rail companies or municipalities always have the money to implement technology like this. The tracks this accident occurred on belonged to LA County. The amount of coordination and money involved in putting fail safes into place might not always seem to be the best use of money to cash-strapped local governments.

And what of the publicity? Metrolink might see a slight decline in ridership in the coming months.. this sort of incident and the following media attention certainly perpetuates the idea that train travel is dangerous. But would a car crash this deadly make anything more than local headlines?

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, , ,

Dallas-Ft. Worth ready to move ahead with commuter rail

Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas’s largest metropolitan area, is getting ready to put a 250 mile commuter rail plan to voters. In an interesting move, lawmakers are proposing that each of the metroplex’s counties choose its own method of paying for the plan from a pre-determined list.

Officials from cities, counties and transit agencies spent about an hour explaining the need for rail, as well as the work done in the past six months with Texas Instruments and other powerful companies that had opposed the plan.

In a nod to those businesses, planners have abandoned a proposal to raise the state’s 8.25 percent sales-tax cap and are instead proposing that Metroplex counties be given a “menu” of taxes and fees to choose from — possibly including vehicle registration fees more than double today’s rate.

Texas might seem like an unlikely place to see progressive transportation policies, but the state has a history with rail transit. The original Texas TGV high-speed rail system was squashed by Southwest Airlines in the mid-90’s (ironically, American and Continental are now members of the new HSR corporation there) and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has been rapdily growing its modern light-rail system (currently operating at capacity, according to the article).

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, , , ,

Amtrak in talks with Florida about expansion. What does this mean for commuter rail?

Despite the state’s past troubles with planning a modern rail system, Florida legislators are in discussions with Amtrak about expanding and improving its rail service. However, some local commentators have seen the move as an alternative to Orlando’s Central Florida Commuter Rail plan, and question Amtrak’s ability to provide commuter services. From the Orlando Sentinel:

[Sen. Paula Dockery’s] attempts to pass off intercity rail as a credible substitute for the Central Florida commuter-rail project she helped stall, and as the best thing going for lovers of mass transit throughout Florida, don’t wash.

And what would it provide? Service a few times a day to each of the four cities served. A few more cities in between them, like Lakeland, also potentially could be added. But there’d be nothing that gets folks to their jobs or anywhere else nearby. “We’re not the commuter answer,” an Amtrak official told the senator. Intercity rail’s not, as Ms. Dockery represented it, an option for the entire state.

This really just shows how politicians can misunderstand rail development. One train is as good as another, right? But the fact is that commuter rail and intercity rail serve complementary, but differing purposes. Amtrak does provide commuter services in states such as Massachusetts, but these stand in addition to the usual inter-city routes. Adding a commuter element to inter-city trains only serves to slow them down and make them less competitive with planes and cars. Ideally, Florida would invest in both commuter and inter-city networks, sharing connections at regional stations. Whether both can happen at once is yet to be seen, but at least passenger rail improvements are back on the bargaining table in the state.

Hat tip to Tom Palmer in his local politics blog.

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

Florida still struggling for rail options

A recent article in the Herald Tribune discusses Florida’s troubled history with high speed rail. The article is a good example of how DOT’s are wont to continue down the usual path of highways, highways, highways, which inevitably leads to more traffic, and how shortsighted politicians are unwilling to take the initiative to break this vicious cycle. What got my blood boiling is how former Gov. Jeb Bush effectively ignored a popular mandate to institute high speed rail in the state:

For more than 30 years, lawmakers and state officials have ordered studies proposing a passenger system to connect cities, including a 1984 report that said it was a necessity for the 21st century. Not one shovel has hit the dirt.

In 2000, voters approved a constitutional amendment mandating a high-speed rail system in the state. But Gov. Jeb Bush led a charge to veto the amendment in 2004, which effectively killed the high-speed rail authority as well.

The public desire for HSR is there. The challenge for politicians is to listen to and take a far sighted estimate of our transportation system rather than blindly obeying the dictates of the air and auto industries. Florida in particular could benefit from commuter and intercity rail, with its large elderly population who can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be driving, as well as its multitude of tourist destinations. Fortunately for the state, the article indicates that many seem to be gravitating again towards rail due to today’s usual impetus of sky high fuel prices.

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

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