Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Obama, now as president, speaks up for high-speed rail

The latest hot gossip in the smart transportation blogs today: Obama’s comments yesterday in Ft. Myers, FL about sprawl, smart growth, and, critically, high-speed rail. Here’s the key quote from Transportation for America, which has the transcript:

It’s imagining new transportation systems. I’d like to see high speed rail where it can be constructed. I would like for us to invest in mass transit because potentially that’s energy efficient. And I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally…

The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody… recognizes that’s not a smart way to design communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this sort of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation.

That will make a big difference.

It’s nothing we didn’t hear quite often during the election[1, 2, 3], but it means something more when he’s actually in power. Also, his tying together of intercity rail, transit, and smart growth shows that he’s got someone on his team who has the right idea about 21st century transportation. The comments are reassuring after a lack of administration action making rail a priority in the stimulus, but we’ve still yet to see him take any real action in favor of Amtrak or HSR as president. This year should give him plenty of opportunities, however, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on each one.

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

Obama: Bla bla, energy, cars, bla bla (not rail)

So we keep hearing bad news about the stimulus and its lack of rail provisions. And worse, the Overhead Wire has a good piece about why the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership seem to be squelching attempts to make any progress in the matter. Apparently it has to do with current Obama adviser, former energy secretary, and infrastructure-hater Larry Summers.

Amidst all this, Obama released a new statement on energy today. It actually might come across as nuanced and well-thought out, except for the glaring lack of anything rail or even transit related.

Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve chosen delay over decisive action.  Rigid ideology has overruled sound science.  Special interests have overshadowed common sense.  Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results.  Our leaders raise their voices each time there’s a spike in gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.

I haven’t seen any definitive proof here that special interests still aren’t overshadowing common sense, but okay. Oh, there’s more.

Finally, we will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead.  To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition.  I’ve made it clear that we will act, but so too must the world.  That’s how we will deny leverage to dictators and dollars to terrorists.  And that’s how we will ensure that nations like China and India are doing their part, just as we are now willing to do ours.

Not sure we need to be patronizing China about climate change when we’re going to be building loads of new highways while they invest billions in high-speed rail (via the NY Times).

I certainly haven’t lost hope in the idea that Obama will be bringing “change” to transportation in this country, but we haven’t seen much delivered yet. Even if the stimulus is all highways and tax cuts, we can still look forward (and keep on working) towards change in the “highway bill” coming up this year.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Politics, , , ,

Who’s afraid of rail investment? National politicians, apparently

Earlier today, Pat pointed out that Obama’s address about infrastructure and investment didn’t contain anything about rail or transit. It’s just the usual “roads and bridges.” It’s something we’ve often wondered about over the past few weeks: where’s the beef?

We here at TFA, along with practically every other blog about non-auto transportation, have been holding our breaths waiting for anything at all substantive about how the Obama administration is going to take advantage of this unique time to refocus attention on our overcrowded and underfunded transit systems. We latch onto the same non-committal comments from leaders. What’s the difference between Obama’s praise for a Midwest HSR network back in July and Biden’s comments at the National Governors Convention a few days ago? Only a few months and an election, really.

And we’ve seen all sorts of editorials recently about how excited people are about new rail investments. States and municipalities, hungry for transit dollars, have queued up in the breadlines with “ready to go” projects, but who’s to say everyone’s not getting all riled up about nothing? Do these local officials know something we don’t? My fear is that this new infrastructure investment opportunity will only benefit rail in the form of money trickling down from “highways and bridges.”

It seems to me that national politicians are afraid of proposing something so ambitious as a nationwide rail/transit investment. We’ve heard remarkably little about John Kerry’s HSR bill, and we’ve got our ears affixed firmly to the ground on these matters. The general public probably knows nothing about it. The problem is, in a country where everyone is forced to drive by necessity, that sort of spending can probably be easily characterized as liberal idealism, or just pork.

But in talking to people in both Tennessee and Minnesota, I’ve come to believe that people are fundamentally interested in passenger rail. They’d like to be able to get out of their cars every once in a while, but they just don’t think it’s convenient as it stands now. They’re also concerned about the massive monetary investment rail requires. But of course, we’re already spending $700 billion, why not put some of that towards a system that can improve quality of life, spur commercial development, and help our environment?

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are exactly the people who could raise these points, who can make a case for investing in HSR, Amtrak, and transit. And they seem to want to. You can feel it bubbling under their well-practiced political veneer. Maybe that’s enough. A more well rounded Secretary of Transportation and even a neutral administration would be a vast improvement. And if some of that “infrastructure” money is tagged for rail improvements, that’s good news even if it’s kept quiet. But much more progress could be made if our newly elected leaders would be bold enough to bring this topic to the foreground.

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

From the Times: Detroit bailout should make automakers “transport makers”

Robert Goodman, a professor at Hampshire college in Massachussets, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times about steeting any potential automaker bailout towards a more transport friendly economy. That is, attaching strings so that they’ll start building things like train stock for HSR in addition to fuel efficient automobiles.

The Obama administration should ask the companies, as a condition of financial assistance, to begin shifting from being just automakers to becoming innovative “transportmakers.” As Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, recently said: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do important things you would otherwise avoid.”

As transportmakers, the companies could produce vehicles for high-speed train and bus systems that would improve our travel options, reduce global warming, conserve energy, minimize accidents and generally improve the way we live.

This sounds all well and good, but unless we want to lead these companies into more trouble, we can’t ask them to make these products without creating a market for them. Which would, ideally, mean creating that first-class rail system Biden mentioned on the campaign trail.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

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!

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, , , ,

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