Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

More pressure for Sunset Limited restoration

Unsurprisingly, local governments along the route of the former Eastern portion of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, from New Orleans to Florida, are clamoring for the service to return. Now of course, fuss created by city councils and whatnot generally doesn’t add up to much, but last year’s Amtrak Reauthorization bill requires the company to study reopening the route, which closed after Hurricane Katrina damaged the tracks back in 2005. The report is due this summer. Yet this article mentions the uncertainty of an actual comeback for the Sunset:

Sunset Limited, particularly the eastern portion, has long ranked as one of Amtrak’s most problematic trains.

In fiscal 2004, the last full year before Hurricane Katrina, the Sunset carried just 96,000 riders, including 37,000 east of New Orleans. The remaining, western portion carried 72,000 passengers in fiscal 2008, making it Amtrak’s least popular long-distance train.

The most popular long-distance route, the Empire Builder that links Chicago with the Pacific Northwest, had 554,000 riders.

The railroad already was discussing whether to discontinue the eastern portion of the Sunset Limited when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, The Associated Press reported.

Of course, Amtrak ridership has been surging since the closure. I think a well- managed return for the service might very well be a success. What do you all think? Should it be brought back?

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Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

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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