Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Pre-election train jitters

It’s a big night for rail, and well, maybe even the rest of the country. Here’s some the primary train related issues to keep your eye on if you can tear yourself away from the television. And of course we’ll be providing some analysis here at TFA when all the beans are counted.

1. The presidential election. Well, obivously. But really, this is as much about who gets put in office as who they appoint to key transportation-related posts. Are we going to have a Department of Transportation that continues to be focused singularly on highways and airports? Will the Federal Transit Administration continue to tighten its purse strings with regard to new transit spending? Will next year’s transportation bill be favorable to rail travel? I don’t think I need to articulate again the positions the candiates have taken on these issues. However, Streetsblog has a good analysis of the possible DOT picks for each canidate.

2. California High-Speed rail. If California’s Proposition 1A passes, it will be a huge shot in the arm to HSR in America. California needs to be the state leading the way when it comes to providing clean, convenient, efficient, stimulating, and future-proof transportation in these tough economic times. As always, Robert Cruickshank is the last word and best resource on all things CAHSR.

Today we’re gonna show them that a new force is here in California. A force that demands sustainable and secure prosperity for future generations, built not on imported oil and global warming but on renewable energy and mass transportation.

I will be dropping in at various times during the day, and will update with the latest vote totals as we get them from the Secretary of State. Given the high number of absentee ballots we may not know the outcome tonight. But there is one thing we do know:

We’re gonna win this thing.

3. And considering that transit and trains go hand in hand, it’s worth keeping an eye on various transit proposals that may be in your area. For instance, Seattle’s Proposition 1 would authorize a much needed build-out to a growing and progressive city (I also get the impression that they’re tired of being shown up by their smaller neighbor, Portland, in the transit space race). The Seattle Transit Blog has been pushing hard for a number of months now, and they’re always worth checking out.

So get out there!

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

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, , , ,

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, , , , , ,

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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