Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

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.

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Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, , , ,

Good Morning America to broadcast from Amtrak train

In what is certainly a nifty move, ABC News will become the first news outlet to broadcast live from a moving train. As part of the network’s plan (along with USA Today) to visit each of the 50 states in the run up to the November 4th election, shows like Good Morning America will be broadcasting from a specially equipped Amtrak train. Although the ABC News site hypes up the rail aspect of the voyage, Amtrak obviously doesn’t come anywhere close to serving all the states in the union. According to Reuters, the news train will only be rolling to the New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and DC broadcasts. It’s campy, absolutely, but it’s a cool idea and it’s great to see Amtrak get publicity like this.

Apparently our ABC News anchors failed to appreciate the spacious nature of train travel:

On Monday, “GMA” anchors checked out train that will become their home next week for and reacted predictably to the train’s tight quarters — with smiles and laughter.

“Five days and we’re going be this close?” Robin Roberts joked with Chris Cuomo. “Then I’ve got one word for you — ‘Scope.'”

They would rather be living out of a cramped airplane? I suppose they were disappointed that they haven’t figured out how to put 5th Avenue apartments on wheels yet.

The journey kicks off on September 15th. It’s probably worth watching if just to see what sort of setup they have on the train.

And a big thanks to my friend, the esteemed J. Michael Winston, for this scoop.

Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

NYTimes: Cars still status symbols?

Today’s Sunday Times has a piece on how fuel prices are affecting how Americans perceive their own cars. Are they a mode of transportation? Or are they an important statement about a person? It seems like the idea of the “dream car” is being sacrificed to save money:

Can you love your Prius the way you once gave your heart to a 4Runner or a luxury sedan?

Increasingly, for many, the question is moot.

“I’m willing to not love it,” said Justin McCarthy, 43, a public relations executive from Long Beach, Calif., who is considering replacing his 10-year-old Volvo with a hybrid.

Americans have long seen cars as a fashion statement.. a reflection on the driver.

For many drivers, their cars are an extension of themselves, displayed as fashion or an accessory.

“You wear your car like you wear a Ralph Lauren suit,” said Clotaire Rapaille, an anthropologist and psychiatrist known as the car shrink, whose company, Archetype Discoveries Worldwide, studies consumer preferences.

While it’s certainly possible to be proud of a train as well, it’s a very different kind of pride. Americans are used to viewing their transportation as a matter of personal pride, whereas an amazing train elicits more of a feeling of civic pride. It’s that last quality that’s lacking when our government fails to allocate the necessary resources to our intercity and metropolitan rail serivces.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Travel Woes, , , ,

A rail system on the Interstates

A big thanks to commenter A. Schrimer for pointing us in the direction of this piece.

J.H. Crawford, author of the book Carfree Cities, has a very interesting and well thought-out proposal on his website… the gutting of the Interstate highway system to support medium-speed trains (~100 MPH). And he’s clearly done his research. The proposal is filled with analysis of our current rail system, and it provides various ways in which design standards could be altered in order for trains to run on current Interstate highway right of ways.

The core of the idea is to remove traffic from the interior (fast) lanes of the Interstates and replace it with well-maintained rails at gauges as wide as 8 feet. He argues that the removal of Interstate lanes would be justified because of the decreased automobile usage due to rising fuel prices. The kicker? The copyright for this piece is from 2001, when gasoline prices weren’t nearly as high as they are now.

Now, this is a political blog, so naturally what came to my mind while reading this rather technically oriented piece was the insane opposition that would spring from all sides. Americans love their big roads, and they have the oil/auto/air industries reinforcing that destructive relationship every day. If this paradigm changed in a rather large way (think: social collapse) then we might have a real winner on our hands. For now, Americans aren’t going to quit driving altogether because of fuel prices, they’ll just complain more vocally about it. Most of our infrastructure leaves them no choice but to keep filling up their cars every week.

Nonetheless, it’s certainly an interesting idea, and it’s actually quite an educational article in terms of the technical limitations of automobiles and railroads.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, , , ,

Jamaica to reopen passenger railway lines

Jamaica has one of the oldest rail systems in the Western Hemisphere, although the network had been in slow decline since World War II, culminating in the end of passenger rail services in 1992. On Friday, however, the government announced that it was partnering with China to revitalize the railways and build 18 new stations.

According to Henry, arrangements have already been made with the Chinese government to facilitate the construction of 18 new railway stations across the country. These will accommodate new tracks of 105-pound standard to enable greater speed and load-carrying capacity.

He said the reintroduction of the passenger and freight railway service is intended to significantly impact on rising fuel costs. The Government is focused on getting much of the island’s freight transportation done by rail and increasing mass transit to ease traffic gridlocks in urban centres.

While it’s easy for us to focus our concern about fuel prisis and automobile dependency on the first world, it’s also important for developing countries to have an alternative to car travel (though I realize Jamaica is more developed than most “developing” nations). They shouldn’t have to make the same transportation mistakes we did. Considering Jamaica’s small size, reinvigorating the national rail system seems like a good choice.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , ,

Gas tax holiday reaction signals good news for rail transit

This past week has seen quite a political hubbub arise over proposals by presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton to suspend the federal gasoline tax during the summer period from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That such a short sighted idea could arise from a hotly contested election race shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but what is shocking (and refreshing) is the cool reception this vote-pandering policy is receiving from the public, politicians, and experts.

Hopefully this signals that the country as a whole is looking beyond cheap gas and endless pavement to a more varied transit future. People realize that one summer of tax breaks isn’t going to dampen the energy crunch in the long-term, and that the $30 they save may not be much to them, but the $10 billion it contributes to the federal budget could help build these more efficient alternatives. And fortunately, this has gotten people talking about passenger rail. This not only includes Barack Obama, the only major candidate not supporting the tax holiday, but also Delaware senator Thomas Carper. McCain has even had to awkwardly backpeddle on the issue, clarifying that this is not a permanent fix but only “a little bit of a break.”

Perhaps this will get lawmakers thinking about putting that money to a better use than simply building more highways. Just a sliver of that $10 billion could double Amtrak’s budget and, in doing so, provide a service to taxpayers that could actually help remedy the escalating cost of travel. Is that going to happen? Probably not, but anything that gets voters (and candidates) thinking about rail travel as a sustainble alternative is a step in the right direction.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, , , , , , , ,

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