In this edition...
WASHINGTON---Norman Y. Mineta, who came to the office of Secretary of Transportation with the support of the rail advocacy community and then earned their enmity by supporting the Bush Administrations repeated attempts to kill off Amtrak, has resigned effective July 7.
Mineta, 74, who entered the Secretary of Transportations office as a beloved figure to many in the transportation world, has suffered from cancer and other problems for much of his term, although his resignation was reportedly not due to health issues.
Hes moving at a mile a minute, as usual, one bemused long-time staffer told Destination: Freedom, cheerfully.
Mineta is famous for being the first mayor in America in modern times to bring back street-car service, reversing the destructive anti-rail trend of some 30 years duration, and instituting what has become a wildly successful light rail system in San Jose. More than 80 American cities have re-introduced light rail or street car service since Mineta set the precedent in the earl 1970s, and he is likely to be best remembered for that achievement, and for his warmth as a person.
Rail advocates had expressed dismay at Minetas support of Bush Administration Amtrak reform plans, which was run from the Office of Management and Budget. While producing some positive ideas, it also spawned a series of ill-informed attacks on Amtrak, often by Congressmen who knew little about Amtrak or its history, but used the propaganda generated by the Cato Institute and others to distort Amtraks struggle to provide service while being starved for funds. The ideological struggle over Amtrak has been ugly, and has tarnished Minetas time in office, despite his significant personal appeal and his leadership in the rail movement.
Secretary Mineta was the first Asian Pacific American to serve in a Presidential Cabinet. Appointed Commerce Secretary by President Clinton, he was named Secretary of Transportation by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Secretary Mineta, a native of San Jose, CA, was first elected to Congress in 1974 to represent Silicon Valley. In 1993, Mineta became Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Minetas legislative and policy agenda included major projects in the areas of economic development, science and technology policy, trade, transportation, the environment, intelligence, the budget and civil rights.
Secretary Mineta and his family were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced into internment camps by the United States Government during the Second World War. They were uprooted from their home in San Jose and brought to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, near Cody, Wyoming. During the 100th Congress, Mineta fought for passage of H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the injustices endured by Japanese Americans during the War. In 1995, George Washington University awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Medal to Mineta for his contributions to the field of civil rights.
WASHINGTONThe cause of Amtraks massive NY-Baltimore power failure May 25 that stranded thousands may not be known for months, an Amtrak executive told a New Jersey State Senate committee this past week.
But William Crosbie, Amtraks senior vice president for operations, told the New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee, that We feel the events of May 25 are not directly related to the infrastructure being in a state of disrepair, Crosbie told the Senate Transportation Committee. We didnt have a piece of equipment fail. Nothing burnt; nothing blew up.
Crosbies comments were reported in an article by Robert Schwaneberg of the Newark Star-Ledger June 23.
Amtraks Northeast Corridor infrastructure ranges in age from virtually brand new (New Haven-Boston) to 75 years old (New York-DC) to more than 100 (New York state line to New Haven, which is owned not by Amtrak but by the State of Connecticut). The Government Accounting Office and other officials have estimated that the New York-DC portion of the Corridor, about 250 miles long, has been short-funded by about $6 billion below what is needed to renew it and make it reliable.
The corridor is electrified its entire distance from Washington to DC, a process which itself took nearly 100 years to complete. The New York Central Railroad and The New Haven Railroad, both now defunct, electrified the section from Grand Central Station to New Haven between 1906 and 1912; the Pennsylvania Railroad electrified from New Yorks Pennsylvania Station to Union Station in Washington between 1931 and 1938; Amtrak electrified the stretch from New Haven to Boston between 1991 and 1999.
One of the criticisms leveled at the Bush Administration has been its failure to fund needed infrastructure improvements except on a piece-meal basis, which makes capital planning impossible for Amtrak. As a consequence, Amtrak has often had to patch up what it has, and hope for the best. This has made service less reliable than it is in some third-world countries, although in the three years of former Amtrak President David Gunns term he was able to extract about $350 million each year for capital improvements on the Corridor.
Crosbie told the New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee that while the exact cause of the blackout is unknown, it appears to have been a very technical problem involving our most modern electrical substation, reported the Star-Ledger. Crosbie did not comment on why the cascading circuit-breaker problem triggered by a single apparent failure was not itself prevented.
One reason, some experts have noted, is that the aged Northeast Corridor infrastructure lacks such systemic protection, and that what is there, usually as a part of newly-installed equipment, can not by itself overcome the obsolete design of the rest of the system. The proof of that, one person close to the scene stated, is that the failure was not prevented. Whether the trigger was in a modern piece of equipment or not is irrelevant to the poor condition of the Northeast Corridor overall.
Amtrak has had several power failures since the black-out of May 25, although none so widespread.
Here is its statement on the power failure of last week:
WASHINGTON -- At approximately 8:04 a.m. June 21, power was lost on one of the four Amtrak 138 kV transmission lines between Philadelphia and New York City. At the same time, a power substation at Kearny, NJ experienced multiple tripped circuit breakers, which isolated New York City from the rest of the electric power system.
After safely removing all trains from the Penn Station tunnels under their own power, Amtrak held trains in the Newark-New York City area for about ten minutes. Amtrak load and power directors were able to connect New York City to the rest of the system, restore full power, and return the railroad back to normal operations at 8:33 a.m.
Although the power problem lasted less than a half-hour, delays of up to one hour occurred in approximately 75 Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains resulting from train congestion associated with the peak rush-hour period.
The cause for loss of 138kV transmission line power and the circuit breaker trippings at Kearny are under investigation. The power fluctuations today had causes unrelated to similar events earlier in June. The cause of the major outage May 25 is also still under investigation, and Amtrak has engaged the independent National Electrical Reliability Council to assist in determining the source of that outage.
Amtrak is thoroughly investigating the causes of these incidents so that we may take action to reduce the chances they recur, the statement concluded. Amtrak apologizes for the inconvenience todays (June 21) incident caused passengers.
NEW YORK - Amtrak hosted a Community Security & Emergency Preparedness Expo on Thursday, June 22, 2006, at New York Penn Station. The public expo was presented in partnership with area law enforcement and emergency response agencies and was open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the station, which is located at 7th Avenue and West 32nd Street in New York City.
Participating agencies that provided crime prevention and emergency response materials include the Amtrak Police & Security Department and other railroad police departments; Operation Lifesaver; Federal Railroad Administration; New York City Police and Fire Departments; New York and New Jersey State Police; New York Port Authority; U.S. Customs; Transportation Security Administration; FEMA, Postal Inspectors; Drug Enforcement Agency; Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms; Coast Guard; Navy; Air Force; Marine Corps; Army; National Guard; Secret Service; FBI; and many others.
Agencies displayed special units, such as Mobile Command Centers, illustrations and live demonstrations throughout the day.
Amtrak is proud of this opportunity to display the broad range of our local community partnerships and the ongoing commitment to the security of our passengers, said Al Broadbent, Amtrak Vice President Security.
The overwhelming response we received from local law enforcement and emergency response teams, and federal agencies, to participate in this expo demonstrates the strength of our partnerships and the shared desire to provide this type of information with our traveling public, said Amtrak Police Chief Sonya Proctor.
A similar expo is planned by Amtrak at Washington Union Station later this year.
CHICAGO, -- JUNE 20 -- Heritage names for Illinois trains thats the suggestion of passenger-rail advocates for the new state-supported Amtrak trains which will start running later this year.
The two new state-assisted trains traveling the Chicago- St. Louis corridor, which includes stops in Normal, Springfield and Lincoln, would be called the Lincoln Express, or something similar, to honor the nations 16th president, who lived in the state capital.
The additional state-supported train expected to chug through western Illinois and Galesburg would be named after that citys famous son, Carl Sandburg.
Saluki, the canine mascot for Southern Illinois University, would be the name for the train serving the students.
The Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak are in the process of finalizing details of a $12 million expansion of intercity rail service linking Chicago with downstate. Joe Szabo, state legislative director for the United Transportation Union, said his union and other organizations have made the heritage-oriented suggestions as these details are being worked out.
Szabo would like the existing State House train service to assume the Lincoln name, as well, to develop a brand for the busy corridor, but the current Illinois Zephyr service - a daily round-trip train from Chicago to Quincy - should retain its name, he said.
Savings of more than a quarter of a million dollars a year in damage claims is just one way that Amtrak is yielding big benefits from last summers introduction of new bilevel auto carriers on the Auto Train. Lower fuel costs, reduced maintenance costs and an easier and quicker vehicle loading process also distinguish the new auto racks.
The Auto Train operates daily between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., and utilizes special auto carriers that enable passengers to take their vehicles aboard the train.
Photo: Amtrak InkAuto Trains new auto carriers in service since last summer, has resulted in significant savings for the company.
After 30-40 years of service, the trains 64 antiquated auto carriers that ranged in size were replaced with 80 new, one-size carriers. The standardized sizing means that the equipment accommodates a wider variety of vehicles. Consequently, the loading and unloading process is simpler and faster because vehicles no longer need to wait to be loaded on carriers that can accommodate only a certain size car.
Made of aluminum, the 90-foot-long carriers also weigh considerably less than the old equipment. Larry Beddis, senior director Procurement campaigned for the use of aluminum equipment, which was previously viewed as an unacceptable option because of fire safety concerns. However, Amtrak consulted a metallurgist who provided a written opinion that the concern was unfounded. As a result of the lighter weight, aluminum equipment yields significant fuel savings per month, translating to a monthly cost savings.
In addition, the lighter weight of the auto carriers results in less wear and tear on the equipment. A tear-down and inspection of one of the auto carriers after approximately seven months of operation and over 192,000 miles of service revealed minimum wear to the trucks and wheels, because the lighter-weight of the new auto carriers makes them less vulnerable to stress.
While the new carriers come with a warranty contract that covers the cost of maintenance, the old equipment was plagued by frequent maintenance needs that cost the company approximately $33,000 per month. In addition to the maintenance costs, spare equipment and parts, such as additional truck assemblies and components, were included in the overall purchase price.
These new carriers have been a real help in keeping costs down for us, said Southern Division Master Mechanic Tommy Farr. And the time saved not having to perform defect maintenance on these new car carriers is being put to good use and helping us stay ahead in other areas.
The reduced weight also has a direct impact on the ride quality of the unit. Less stress to the suspension system, combined with a new wheel chocking system, results in an environment less jarring to passengers automobiles. This and better protection inside the equipment, results in less damage to the automobiles and fewer claims filed by passengers. Claims for the first six months of the fiscal year was $136,819 less than budgeted 64 percent better than expected.
The success of this procurement is the result of a considerable amount of coordination and effort among a number of departments and the cooperation of Johnstown America Corporation, stated Dan Boogay, senior contract manager responsible for the procurement and contract administration of the auto carrier project.
The Mechanical departments Engineering group played a significant role in redesigning a standard freight car auto carrier and retro-fitting it to meet the strict compliance of passenger car regulatory requirements.
Amtrak acquired the car carriers from Johnstown America Corporation in February 2005, and delivery was completed last June.
Dan Boogay contributed to this story.
Party nominates Simmons for fourth term
Connecticut Congressman Rob Simmons was recently nominated to a fourth term to the House of Representatives by Republican delegates, to the Second District Congressional Convention, reports staff writer Corey Sipe. The vote was unanimous.
Attorney Robert Poliner of Durham, who served as Republican State Party Chairman, nominated Simmons stating, If there ever was a time and a person who deserves to be re-elected, the time is now and the person is Rob Simmons.
Simmons said he deserves to continue representing the people of his district, citing his record on taxes, jobs and the environment. One of his major accomplishments was his help in saving the Groton Submarine Base from closure, which would have cost Connecticut 31,000 jobs.
In the military, the story continues, he helped get better protective gear for our soldiers in Iraq. As chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee, Simmons says he is determined to improve American intelligence. At the same time, we will preserve civil liberties from unreasonable surveillance.
Simmons touts his pro-Amtrak efforts in helping to put back the funding for the railroad when the Bush administration eliminated it. When the administration eliminated funds for Amtrak, we put the money back in and are currently replacing five old Amtrak bridges in Eastern Connecticut, Simmons said.
He has brought in over $60 million for highway projects in Southeastern Connecticut, including the controversial Route 11 extension.
He has helped increase federal funding to education, and, on environmental issues, one of his achievements was a study for the Eight-Mile River to be designated as wild and scenic.
[ Editors note: Congressman Simmons is strongly pushing his pro-Amtrak work as part of his re-election bid. ]
With a focus on transit oriented development (TOD)
[ Editors note: DF will be running a series on TOD in areas nationwide as it plays an integral part in promoting successful transit initiatives, curbing sprawl, and providing housing across the spectrum of economic levels. ]
Near rail stops, transit villages begin to sprout
DELAWARE & PENNSYLVANIA -- JUNE 21 --Vibrant places to live and work near transit and rail stations - this could be the catalyst to revitalization of quasi-empty town centers and to increasing ridership on transit.
Planners and developers are envisioning the growth of businesses within easy walking distance to housing and transit facilities. Creative thinkers picture large asphalt parking lots being transformed into condo and apartment buildings, or covered with a deck where businesses are located.
These ideas are being studied as transit villages around stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer by writer Edward Colimore.
In about a month, the Delaware River Port Authority is expected to produce a draft of a study that officials will use as the blueprint for development at the Lindenwold, Ashland, Woodcrest, Haddonfield, Westmont, Collingswood and Ferry Avenue PATCO stations.
Real transit villages are starting to formulate in the minds of town officials and developers. We see this as an opportunity for future development, said Jeffrey Swartz, executive director of the Camden County Improvement Authority. You might have a dry cleaner, a small bakery, things along those lines.
Impetus for transit village studies came when PATCOs ridership, though up 3 percent this year, showed steep yearly declines over the last decade. In response, tens of millions of dollars were earmarked to revamp the ticketing system, renovate stations, and pay for the transit-village study by Wallace Roberts & Todd of Philadelphia.
The study looks at the PATCO property and the property immediately adjacent, said Cheryl Spicer, assistant general manager of PATCO. It will show us what kind of development will be beneficial to us as the transit operator to increase ridership.
Other studies looked at stations that were surrounded by development but were not thriving. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission found that most of the regions 340 fixed-rail stations were surrounded by development that failed to promote ridership and the local economy.
Studies were commissioned to help officials and developers understand what types of development and design of the transit area attract business and street life and promotes ridership.
Collingswood, DE, was designated a transit village by the state and received a $200,000 grant for streetscaping, traffic-calming measures, road improvements, bicycle paths, and a station upgrade.
Maley said the transit village doesnt have the typical single-family housing and doesnt bring a lot of kids. There is more housing for empty-nesters, more for young folks. It also provides property-tax relief. You dont have to build new schools for this. You dont have to add more cops. It makes sense.
Transit villages tend to attract people with disposable income, Fox said. People are looking for a downtown living environment that they can walk to, and that means patronage of the local businesses and participation in civic and cultural activities. They add life to the downtown districts.
Emphasis on attractive design and close proximity of buildings is important. A sea of asphalt for parking does nothing for anyone, said Collingswood Mayor James Maley And theres no benefit to the town.
The signs of change have been slowly showing up around stations on the PATCO High-Speed Line the last few years.
In Collingswood, Delaware, a Lumber Yard development is going up: 119 condos and townhouses and 19 shops.
In Haddonfield, townhouses were built across from the station, and condos were built above stores about a block away. In Woodcrest, a former steel plant near the rail stop was converted into offices for hundreds of workers.
The same has been true in Pennsylvania, where businesses and housing have been proposed or built around SEPTA stations in Conshohocken, Ardmore, and Pennbrook in Lansdale.
While fully completed transit villages may be years away, local municipalities and government-financed studies have already spurred development near the rail stops.
And it is only the beginning, say local officials and developers who hope to transform sprawling asphalt parking lots at stations into compact transit-oriented developments.
Officials say the villages can also contribute to a towns economic health, creating vibrancy and a place where people want to live and work.
We have to go up and not out, he said. It has to be a vertical mode, multifaceted parking, retail and housing.
The transit village is the most logical way to go for developed towns to increase the ratable base, he added. It helps the trains, it helps the businesses, and helps the town overall with more vibrancy.
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas has announced the first-ever commuter rail coach equipped with 40 stationary bike racks. The coach has been renovated to accommodate the many bike enthusiasts who travel on the Boston-Gloucester commuter rail line throughout the summer. The new coach will debut July 2nd during the Ride To The Races 47th Annual Fitchburg Longsjo Classic.
Two Photos: MBTAA first-ever of its kind, the bike coach will have 40 bike racks and serve 42 passengers
MBTA General Manager Grabauskas directed his staff to schedule an extra passenger train after organizers of the Longsjo Classic approached the MBTA. The renovated bike coach accommodates 42 customers and 40 bicycles.
The timing is perfect. With the bike car ready to roll, it only makes sense to debut it for a cycling event, said MBTA General Manager Grabauskas. By giving people yet another reason to choose public transportation, we continue our efforts to attract more customers by making the system easier to use and a lot more convenient. This is what quality customer service is all about.
Passengers will secure in their bikes in the rack and sit nearby.
On Sunday, July 2nd, an extra train to accommodate cyclists participating in the South Acton to Fitchburg race will depart from Bostons North Station at 10:50 a.m. arriving in South Acton at 11:45 a.m. The train will make all stops between North Station and South Acton. The train will then continue express to Fitchburg arriving at 12:20 p.m. For customers returning to North Station, a train will depart Fitchburg at 7:15 p.m., make all stops and arrive North Station at 8:40 p.m.
On Saturday, July 8th, the bike coach will be introduced on the Gloucester commuter rail line as a part of regular daily service.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||77.22||77.25|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||50.11||52.03|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||32.68||30.25|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||25.48||25.96|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||17.90||16.68|
Union Pacific uses training, gravity
and rewards to conserve fuel
OMAHA, JUNE 18 Learning to conserve fuel when running a train is a key goal of railroads these days. A story by Josh Funk for Associated Press relates how the railroads are coping with rising fuel prices.
Union Pacific, one of the largest freight railroads in North America, has 8,000 locomotives which burn about 3.25 million gallons of diesel a day. The high cost of fuel will eat into profits if engineers arent trained to conserve by their driving methods.
UP engineers Brad West and Jay Canaday teach their fellow engineers some techniques that sound familiar to motorists facing gasoline price spikes. Training takes place in a simulator which gives the new engineer the virtual experience of operating a locomotive. The simulator is very effective for experienced engineers as well. Its hard to teach a seasoned engineer just by telling him the techniques to conserve but when hes in the simulator and feels the results, he becomes a believer, said West.
Strategies such as accelerating slowly, limiting time spent idling and trying to anticipate conditions ahead are just as useful on rails as on highways.
But the most important lesson for engineers is also one of the simplest:
You let gravity do a lot of work for your train, West said.
The rolling hills give engineers a chance to use gravity to their advantage by building speed on the downhill side of a hill, but theres not much engineers can do about long grades. Those still require full power, Canaday said.
Speed is another key factor in conserving fuel. West said the locomotives, like cars, generally get better fuel efficiency at lower speeds.
If I know theres a bottleneck ahead on the way to the mine, I might run 50 mph instead of 60, West said.
The decision to start training engineers started in 2003, said Wayne Kennedy, Union Pacifics general director of fuel conservation, when the railroad installed monitors along the tracks to collect and examine run-by-run data. When Kennedy analyzed fuel-consumption from thousands of runs on coal lines, he found certain engineers were using 50 to 60 percent less fuel than others making the same run with similar loads.
We found that the engineer controlled most of the variability, Kennedy said. We learned from the engineers who used less fuel what their driving techniques were.
Once the training program was on-going, they adopted an incentive program for the engineers. The railroad offers $100 gasoline cards to the engineers who do the best job conserving fuel. In May of this year, it handed out about 700 of them. The top 15 percent to 35 percent of the engineers get the gas cards.
The techniques are working. Last year, Union Pacifics program helped the railroad save 16 million gallons of diesel and $30 million. And thats with only about half the engineers participating. During the first quarter of 2006, the railroad hauled about 2 percent more freight than during the same period in 2005, using 345 million gallons of fuel, only a slight increase over the 344 million gallons used in the first quarter last year.
The railroad also invested in about 1,900 fuel-efficient locomotives since 2000 and overhauled another 1,300 of its older units to be more efficient.
Still, fuel is a significant expense in running the railroad. In 2005, Union Pacific spent nearly $2.6 billion on fuel, and utilities used about 1.35 billion gallons of diesel in 2005. They now have surcharges on most of their contracts which recover about 90 percent of the railroads costs above 75 cents per gallon.
The nations second-largest railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., also teaches its engineers techniques to help conserve diesel, spokesman Steve Forsberg said. And they have bought over 2500 new locomotives, which are more efficient than the old ones.
BNSF does not have an incentive program, however.
One analyst, Rick Paterson, said all railroads are taking similar measures because fuel costs can erode profits.
Clearly every railroad in America is trying to save fuel, Paterson said.
Union Pacifics goal is to save 4 percent to 5 percent annually through the fuel masters program.
They also are training dispatchers so the engineers can know as much as possible about the terrain and traffic. Then they will know better how to react.
Canada apologizes for Chinese head tax
TORONTO JUNE 22 -- Over a hundred years ago, writes AP staffer Beth Duff-Brown, the Canadian government inflicted a crushing tax on tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants who had migrated to Canada in the mid 1800s and helped build the nations transcontinental railroad. They had migrated in response to the gold rush but found work in the construction of the railroad. Once the railroad was finished, the story continues, the Canadian government forced them to pay a head tax if they wished to remain in the country. They were then taxed again to bring in their families.
The head tax, which started in 1885 at $50 and grew to $500 by 1903 a staggering sum that equaled two years wages for Chinese laborers was collected from some 81,000 Chinese immigrants. Collections ended in 1923, when immigration from China was banned. Canada only began admitting Chinese again in 1947.
In a ceremony of atonement in Ottawa, the Canadian announced its apology and its plan for redress of the victims.
This transcontinental link was the ribbon of steel that bound our fledgling country together, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It was an engineering feat one for which the backbreaking toil of Chinese laborers was largely responsible that was instrumental to the settlement of the West and the subsequent development of the Canadian economy.
This was a grave injustice and one that we are morally obligated to acknowledge, Harper told the House of Commons. Our deep sorrow over the racist actions of our past will nourish our unwavering commitment to build a better future for all Canadians.
Harper noted that approximately 1000 workers died on the construction job.
Descendents of the railroad workers, many of them very elderly, listened to the prime ministers live broadcast at a downtown Toronto hotel. They spoke of severe hardships which forced some fathers to leave their families for more than a decade to earn enough to pay off the head tax.
Canadian Heritage, the federal ministry overseeing the redress program, said head-tax survivors and their widows would receive $20,000 each. While pleased that the government is finally acknowledging the wrong and offering compensation, many are disappointed that first-generation children will not be compensated.
It is disappointing for them that the government did not include anything specifically for the first-general children, who are direct victims themselves, said Colleen Hua, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council. This is a first step in the right direction and we are willing to work with the government to continue to support our community for redress of the victims, and that includes first-generation children.
The government also announced it would contribute $22 million to establish a historical recognition program that gives grants to all ethnic communities for commemorative projects dealing with past immigration restrictions and war measures.
The Amtrak funding scandal
Why does the government willingly give billions of dollars to the airlines, but begrudge every penny that Amtrak needs? How can a country five times smaller than us spend $15 billion to improve its already great railroad network when we are unwilling to spend one tenth of that on Amtrak?
Truly, the US governments neglect of Amtrak is a scandal!
Rail travel should be encouraged. Rail travel is inherently safer than air travel. Rail travel is more energy efficient than air travel. Rail travel is, in many cases (short routes under ~300 miles) quicker than air travel. Rail travel is less vulnerable to terrorist mass-destruction attack.
Most important of all (!) rail travel is vastly more comfortable and enjoyable than air or bus travel. Passengers can enjoy much more personal space, open areas to move around in, buffet/dining facilities, and not worry about getting stuck in a middle seat!
Rail travel is good, no matter what measuring stick you apply. Rail travel deserves to be encouraged. Rail travel deserves government support in at least equal measure to that given to air and road transportation.
Amtrak Is - and Can Be- Successful.
In the Northeastern Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Amtrak carries more passengers between New York and Washington than both airline shuttles combined!
Amtrak needs to build on this success; it needs to invest in additional short distance major city-pair services where it can duplicate its success: San Diego-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Sacramento, for example. Vancouver-Seattle-Portland. Minneapolis-Chicago-Detroit. Dallas-Houston-San Antonio.
Amtrak is currently vastly under-developed. Each day, only 64,000 passengers take Amtrak services. On the same day, 15 times more people (984,000) use intercity buses, and a massive 1.8 million are forced to endure airplane flights. Amtrak needs to grow and grow and grow so as to reach critical mass and to be able to survive and trade more efficiently.
BUT -- much of Amtrak is inefficient and inappropriate. New investment in Amtrak needs to be carefully and directly allocated only to the sweet spot of short haul train service. Long-haul (i.e. 12+ hour journeys) trains have no part of an effective, efficient, mass-transit service in the US today.
Why Do Airlines Get Cash but Not Amtrak?
Immediately after 9/11, the airlines rushed to ask for up to $15 billion in cash gifts and loan guarantees from the Federal Government. The airlines - perhaps the most successful lobbying group in all history - encountered a generally positive response, and within eleven days, had secured commitments for a first tranche of $5 billion in grants, with no strings attached. Even airlines that made a profit got cash, and in the case of Southwest Airlines, they showed an accounting charge of $58 million arising from the terrorist attacks, but received a $169 million gift from the government.
A cynical observer of the political process might also note that a strengthened Amtrak would be a potential major competitor to the airlines - Amtraks success might mean less profit for the airlines. Is it any wonder that our politicians, so amenable to anything that can help the airlines, are proving strangely resistant to helping Amtrak?
Trains - such a wonderful way of traveling! Truly, the US governments neglect of Amtrak is a scandal!
Whatever the reason might be, the generous funding to the airlines at a time when Amtrak is being denied any money at all is truly a scandal.
A Lesson from Britain
Anyone that has ever enjoyed an intercity train on the British rail network knows that British trains are close to excellent. Fast, comfortable trains, traveling at up to 140 mph take you wherever you want to go in a very short time, and with many trains per day, you have a convenient choice of times and trains such that you dont even need to reserve seats.
The British rail system must seem like an impossible dream to Amtraks management. But, as good as it is, the British government is committed to making it better. Describing a rail system that is vastly superior to the US system as dilapidated, British Transport Secretary Alistair Darling this week confirmed the governments investment of $14.5 billion in improvements, and added another $30 billion as a contingency facility as a provision for any horrible eventuality! A small country with a population of 60 million people can afford to invest $14.5 billion extra into its already good rail system. But the US - with an affluent population nearly five times larger - is currently unwilling to even loan $200 million!
The unwillingness of the US government to fund Amtrak even to a level that is four hundred times lower than in Britain (per capita) is truly a scandal.
Lets face facts. Amtrak, like every other public transportation and railroad system in the world, is and always will be chronically unprofitable. It now appears that an emergency financial package - a $100 million loan now, and another $100 million later, perhaps as a loan, perhaps as a grant, was agreed on Wednesday. But what does this mean? A $200 million loan makes things worse, not better!
It allows Amtrak to continue to lose more money for a few more months and increases its total indebtedness
It increases Amtraks costs - Amtrak has to pay interest on the loan - by perhaps another $10 million a year!
Lending Amtrak money does not help Amtrak; it harms it. Amtrak needs a loan like an alcoholic needs a bottle of booze - the more money it borrows, the harder it is to ever become profitable.
What Amtrak Needs and Must Receive
Amtrak needs cash. Not loans that increase its operating costs each year, but cash (equity or otherwise). The government is able to give billions to the airlines. Why can it not be similarly generous to Amtrak?
Most of Amtraks current problems relate to lack of capital. Amtrak has been forced to run itself into the ground over the last several decades. It has over fifty carriages that have been damaged which it can not afford to repair. It has a laughably small number of carriages and locomotives, and can not operate enough trains to become convenient enough as to provide a viable service to potential passengers.
Amtrak needs a massive investment of capital to enable it to get closer to a critical mass that can become, if not profitable, at least less of a current chronic loss maker. Amtrak needs this capital so that it truly can provide beneficial services to a much larger percentage of the population than currently benefits from Amtrak.
What is Congress Doing?
Congress is going on holiday, that is what Congress is doing! In other words, Congress is doing nothing.
However, the Senate Transportation Committee did pass a bill on to the Senate Floor that would greatly increase Amtraks annual funding. It isnt enough, but it is a lot better than nothing. This should be supported.
What Should You Be Doing
Write some letters or make some phone calls. In terms of persuasive power, letters and phone calls are much more persuasive than emails.
Make your letter or phone call simple and short, and phrase your ideas positively; trying not to be critical of anyone or anything in the past. Talk about the positive aspects of rail (as discussed at the top of this article) and if there is a regional issue as to how improved short-distance rail would be helpful to your area, be sure to mention that to your own representatives, too.
Write or phone to your congressman, your two senators, to the President, and also to these people: Chairman, and Ranking Member, of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation; Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads. You can find the specific Senators and Congressmen you want at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.
For all their undoubted faults, our politicians are still sensitive to the opinions of the people that elect them! Help them to understand the issues that are important to you, and make these same issues important to them, too.
And hopefully, we will all get to enjoy the type of train service we need and deserve.
David M Rowell can be reached at: David@TheTravelInsider.Info
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