In this edition...
Washington - Amtrak, challenged by severe weather conditions and serious mechanical issues with its new Acela trainsets, still managed to set ridership records in the fiscal year just concluded, Amtrak announced this week, with 25.4 million riders.
Ridership increased by over 300,000 in the period October 1 September 30, 2005, even though 2004 ridership was itself a record year. Amtrak CEO David Gunn has now led his company to record growth every year of his stewardship of the national passenger rail system, even as he reduced personnel levels by 20 per cent.
Gunn was recruited out of retirement to head Amtrak in 2002 by former Amtrak Chair John Robert Smith (who chairs the National Corridors Initiative) and by former Vice Chair Michael Dukakis. Gunn worked for Dukakis as head of operations in Massachusetts extensive commuter rail system, created by Dukakis and by former Massachusetts Governor Frank Sargent in the 1970s.
The greatest ridership gains came in long distance service, which jumped in nearly every route served. The long distance routes, which have been targeted by the Bush administration for closure as unneeded, are frequently targeted by critics of Amtrak as luxury cruises for the wealthy, when the majority of the ridership in fact is working class people and families traveling Western, Midwestern, and Southern routes where airline service is prohibitively expensive or, increasingly for the smaller towns of those regions, absent altogether.
This is a respectable achievement given the suspension of Acela Express in April and through most of the summer, said David L. Gunn, Amtrak President & CEO. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita also meant a loss of ridership for us. We have recovered well from the Acela troubles (its on-time performance for September was 89 percent), the hurricanes that suspended our service to the Gulf Coast and many other challenges, Gunn noted, in a letter to Amtrak co-workers.
Despite hurricanes and Acela mechanical problems, we still managed to increase ridership over last year, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black told Destination:Freedom, which was in itself a record year.
Black noted that weather problems were not limited to recent hurricanes, but also included severe weather in California for much of the year, which slowed service and disrupted it altogether several times
The recent spike in gasoline prices is not reflected in ridership figures, Black noted, since most of that increase came at the end of the fiscal year.
Amtraks Acela is now back in full service, but was out of commission for much of the fiscal year with design and/or wear problems that forced replacement of brake rotors (similar to but much larger than disc brakes found in automobiles). The Acela, which is based upon a European design, is far heavier than its European forebears due to more stringent American safety standards. Some observers have attributed the trains problems to its great weight, despite its being a sleek, fast, and quiet train --- and wildly popular with riders when it runs on time.
Black attributed the gains in part to a much-improved advertising and marketing program, which is largely route-specific and print-based, and gives information about schedules and special promotions. In the past, Amtrak marketing was largely focused on the magic of railroading. By giving potential riders specific information, Black indicated, it has made it easier to attract new riders.
We still have a way to go with on-time performance, Black noted. There is no telling what we can do when we get that problem solved.
A significant cause of delays on the Northeast Corridor is the result of aging infrastructure, such as 100-year-old bridges for which Amtrak has for 30 years unsuccessfully sought Congressional funding, and a stretch of the Corridor from New Haven to New York that is not owned by Amtrak but rather by the state of Connecticut. This segment has overhead wires --- catenary --- that are also 100 years old, and are being replaced very slowly by the state of Connecticut.
Here are the statistics, as released by Amtrak this past week:
Following the August re-launch of new, enhanced service aboard the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder to improve the trains financial performance, ridership jumped 14 percent in September against September a year ago (40,269 v. 35,391). The Empire Builder upgrades including refurbished rail equipment and a higher level of customer service will serve as a model for improving the financial performance of other trains in the national network. For the year, the Empire Builder carried 476,531 passengers, the most of any of Amtraks 15 long-distance trains.
The daily Auto Train, which operates between the Washington, D.C. and Orlando areas, posted a 3.7 percent increase in ridership and received new auto carriers during the fiscal year, boosting the trains capacity to carry passengers and their personal vehicles.
Other long-distance trains with notable hikes in ridership include the New York-Chicago Lake Shore Limited (up 11.8 percent), the Washington-Chicago Capitol Limited (up 7.9 percent) and the Chicago-Oakland California Zephyr (up 3.6 percent).
Ridership on all trains in the Northeast Corridor was 8 percent higher in September 2005 than it was in September 2004, excluding Clocker service, which is reverting to operation by New Jersey Transit this month. While Acela Express service began to return in the last few months of the fiscal year, Regional ridership continued to rise, with double-digit increases in the last three months of the fiscal year. More than 7 million passengers rode Regional trains in FY 2005, an increase of 9.7 percent.
For FY2005, the combination of the major Northeast Corridor services Acela Express, Metroliner and Regional serving Boston, New York, Washington and other destinations carried 9,476,923 passengers, showing an increase of one percent over the 9,371,630 passengers in FY2004.
Among state-supported services in the Northeast, the New York-Harrisburg, Penn., Keystone Service topped one million passengers (up 18.6 percent) and the Boston-Portland, Maine, Downeaster Service was up 10 percent.
The Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains topped the half-million mark by carrying 525,239, an increase of 14.1 percent in ridership on the trains supported by the states of Wisconsin and Illinois.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, all three routes in Michigan showed strong increases, including the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Wolverines (up 11 percent) and the state-supported
Chicago-East Lansing/Port Huron Blue Water (up 18.3 percent) in its first full year of service and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette (up 9.9 percent) in its 21st year of service.
Other state-supported trains in the Midwest showing double-digit increases are the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth Heartland Flyer (up 23.1 percent) and the Chicago-Carbondale Illini in Illinois (up 10.3 percent).
In the California Corridors, the San Diego-Santa Barbara Pacific Surfliner service carried more than 2.5 million passengers, an increase of 7.5 percent. The Oakland/San Jose Capitol Corridor service had more than 1.2 million passengers, a gain of 8.1 percent, while the San Joaquins service had more than three-quarter-million passengers, a 2.3 percent increase.
The states of Washington and Oregon support the Cascades service, which was up 4.4 percent.
Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers call 800-USA-RAIL or visit www.Amtrak.com.
|Short-Distance Routes||FY 2005||FY 2004||% change|
|Acela Express Service*||1,772,868||2,568,935||- 31.0|
|Chicago-St. Louis service||242,144||212,999||+13.7|
|Short Distance Routes||FY 2005||FY 2004||% change|
|Pacific Surfliner service||2,520,444||2,344,665||+7.5|
|Capitol Corridor service||1,260,249||1,165,334||+8.1|
|San Joaquins service||755,851||738,540||+2.3|
|Kansas City-St. Louis service||136,701||128,084||+6.7|
|Short Distance Total||21,593,946||21,312,243||+1.3|
|Long-Distance Routes||FY 2005||FY 2004||% change|
|City of New Orleans||183,237||190,017||-3.6|
|Lake Shore Limited||312,779||279,662||+11.8|
|Long Distance Total||3,781,052||3,741,321||+1.1|
October 21 --- On Thursday night the Senate approved the $1.45 billion FY2006 appropriation for Amtrak as part of the H.R.3058 Transportation/Treasury/HUD bill.
An amendment was unanimously approved that struck the harmful language that would have unreasonably imposed a profitability standard on Amtrak diner and sleeper services. NARP and its members played no small role in getting this amendment passed, and we thank NARP members!
The bill will now move to House-Senate conference to reconcile the Senate funding level with the $1.17 billion passed by the House in June.
It is also not out of the question that the conference could produce more problematic language for Amtrak (though we have yet to hear of any
Possibly as early as next week, the Senate may consider S.1516, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (Lott-Lautenberg Amtrak reauthorization).
Sao Paulo, Brazil - - - MRS Logística, Brazils biggest railroad operator, and other rail companies are planning to invest at least 8.3 billion reais ($3.7 billion) over the next five years to double capacity.
MRS plans to invest 2.5 billion reais during the next five years, President Julio Fontana said in an interview in Sao Paulo. Brasil Ferrovias, the countrys third-biggest rail company, plans to invest 1.3 billion reais through 2009 to add locomotives and wagons to double capacity.
Brazils economy, the largest in South America, is expanding at a pace of about 4 percent a year, led by record exports of commodities such as soybeans and steel. Rail companies, which transport nearly all of the countrys coal and iron ore, are investing to take advantage of the increased shipments.
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While Americans are turning to mass transit for relief from traffic gridlock and higher gas prices, now the much needed alternative will strain their wallets and offer less service.
The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that mass transit systems nationwide are considering cutting service, laying off staff, raising fares, and delaying capital spending to meet rising diesel fuel prices. The spike at the pumps could cost public transportation systems as much as $750 million more a year.
While most public transit authorities are not raising fares yet, they have explored ways to cut costs and save money. Some have eliminated routes or run them less often and have ended overtime, said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.
In Boston, the MBTA is now projecting a $20 million surge in fuel costs this fiscal year, double what it had projected last month. Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said yesterday that his agency budgeted $32 million for gasoline, compressed natural gas, and heating oil but now expects to spend $52 million based on current prices.
The T has not proposed any fare hikes or service cuts, though Grabauskas said thats always a possibility if we cant continue to manage the spiraling costs of fuel. He hopes that as more commuters switch to transit, the higher revenues will help compensate for the increased fuel costs.
The Denver Regional Transportation Authority is considering a fare increase of 25 cents on local routes. In Salt Lake City, the Utah Transit Authority is proposing a 25-cent-per-ride fuel surcharge. UTA spokesman Justin Jones
said that, because fuel prices have more than doubled, they are anticipating a $6 million shortfall in the 2006 budget year.
New York City Transit Authority, reported spokesman Charles Seaton, was paying about $1.81 per gallon of ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel last summer. Now its paying about $2.44. The authority, with 4,600 buses, burns through 900,000 gallons a week.
They labor by night to keep trains running;
Amtrak replacing old railroad ties
Del Mar, CA Ive been working on the railroad all the livelong day.
Those opening lines of a traditional American folk song come to mind as crews work in this case, not all the livelong day but all night long to replace decades-old ties on the railroad tracks here.
The work is being done by Amtrak under contract with the North County Transit District, which owns the rail line.
It must be undertaken at night because 50 trains a day Amtraks intercity service, NCTDs Coasters running between Oceanside and San Diego, and Burlington Northern Santa Fes freights use the tracks the rest of the time.
The $200,000 project got under way early yesterday morning at the Coast Boulevard intersection with the tracks in Del Mar.
Sy Morales, a senior Amtrak engineer for track and structures, and his crew of ten workers arrived around 10 p.m. to get everything ready, laying out the new ties and putting splotches of orange paint on the ties to be removed.
Photo: Sean Masterson & Union TribuneWorkers drove spikes into new railroad ties and shoveled ballast rock into place early yesterday as part of a tie-replacement project. The work is being done overnight so trains can use the tracks during the day.
Theyre taking out the 8-foot-long wooden ties, which date to 1947, and replacing them with new 9-foot wooden ties for more stability.
Its a big job, Morales said.
When the project is finished, the trains will be allowed to travel 65 miles an hour instead of the 30 mph they are slowed to during construction, he said.
Ron Hyatt, assistant general manager for Amtrak, said the rail line was upgraded during World War II and afterward because of defense needs. Otherwise, he said, San Diego would have had an old spur line.
They had less than five hours to work counting getting everything put back together before the first Coaster would need the tracks at 5:30 a.m. yesterday.
Morales said that he wants to average 100 ties a night.
Only about one tie in three is removed at any one time. A different set of ties will be replaced whenever a new project is scheduled.
Richard Walker, maintenance-of-way manager for the transit district, said the last time ties were replaced on the two-mile stretch through Del Mar, from Coast Boulevard to Torrey Pines Road, was in 1990.
The periodic replacement is necessary to conform with requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration, Walker said.
Unlike when ties were replaced in the 1940s, most of the hard work today is done by machine rather than manual labor.
Some of the old ties broke apart or splintered in the process yesterday morning, but most remained intact demonstrating that the 1947 ties last pretty good (even) on the ocean, Hyatt said as waves lapped 50 yards to the west.
The machine doubles back on the track after it has pulled out 50 ties and replaces them in reverse, its claw picking up new ties and shoving them under the rails.
A smaller machine runs behind it to reinsert metal plates on which the rails sit at each tie to keep them in place. The plates are about 12 inches long, with grooves for the rails.
The rails fit snugly like in a Tupperware container, Hyatt said.
Another machine usually pounds the spikes into the metal plates, but it was temporarily out of service, so crews used an air compressor to insert the spikes.
In this high-tech world, theres still room, however, for a man with a shovel to return and smooth some of the ballast rock under the rails.
The work on the ties will continue today, Friday and Saturday.
Morales expects to finish replacing the targeted 1,500 ties by Nov. 7.
In a community where an entire town had to be evacuated three years ago because of a tanker train derailment, fire and hazmat teams are being given hands-on practice in how to handle a train disaster involving hazardous materials. In Potterville, Michigan, where the evacuation took place, it was a near miss. But officials are saying its not a question of if its going to happen, its a question of when.
A valve is where tanker trains can be vulnerable. In the event of an accident, everything inside could seep out, so area fire departments and hazmat teams are learning how to cap it off.
Emergency responders from Lansing, Ingham County and Meridian Township are getting ready. Training drills and in class exercises are part of a day-long session. CSX Railroad reps are doing the teaching. Practice cars make it hands on.
Joe Tupa from CSX Railroad emphasized the need for the real life training: Its always good if you open up a book and say, okay, this is what this can do, this is what it looks like, but until you actually get up on top of one of these cars and see the valves and that theres limited room, you dont really get a feel for it.
After the three cars leave Michigan, theyll go to St Louis and Atlanta to train other emergency responders just what to do in case of an accident.
Jarales - - - Emergency response vehicles being delayed at the Jarales Road railroad crossings is an issue that the Valencia County administration will begin addressing with a rail traffic impact study.
After two meetings with BNSF and State Department of Transportation officials, County Manager Mike Trujillo will ask the county commission at its Friday meeting to approve a request for a railroad traffic impact study.
Rather than having a railroad corridor study that determines if a crossing is safe or if it needs to be closed, we want to learn what impact the rail traffic has on the ability of our residents to travel on our roads, including Jarales Road, Trujillo said Tuesday.
During recent a quality assurance review of the Jarales-Pueblitos Fire Department, it was discovered that there is an average delay of 14 minutes in response time to calls in the Jarales area within the two rail crossings.
This type of delay could be critical in a cardiac case where there is a golden window of time that, if you go beyond it, you may not be effective, said Deputy Fire Marshal Charles Eaton.
Response times of our emergency personnel from the station to the incident averages seven to 12 minutes county-wide. But, for Jarales, it is 10 to 17 minutes. When we investigated why, we discovered it was the delay at rail crossings.
While it takes the trains four to five minutes to clear a crossing, on Jarales Road, trains overlap and extend the delay. So the total time the road is blocked may be less, but trains overlapping lengthens the time our emergency response personnel have to wait.
When rail traffic interferes with road traffic, there are two avenues to resolve the issue close the crossing to road traffic or build an overpass or underpass, which is known as a grade separation by railroad and highway project engineers.
Instead, the county is beginning the process to document the need for a grade separation crossing with the rail traffic impact study.
Railroad officials say the process of doing a grade separation is lengthy and can take years to complete the environmental impact study, obtain federal or state funding, acquire private land if need be and to design and build the structure.
Photo: Sound TransitWorkers at the Kinkisharyo plant in Osaka, Japan prepare the first Sound Transit Central Link light rail car number 101 for initial painting)
Four new light rail cars proposed for
The Sound Transit Finance Committee today recommended the purchase of four additional light rail cars for service to Sea-Tac International Airport. The committee, in a unanimous vote, forwarded the recommendation to the full Sound Transit Board.
Airport Link is on a fast track to be completed by December 2009.
Anyone who doubts light rail is heading for Sea-Tac should check out the concrete support columns going up along Highway 518 from I-5 to the airport, said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle are working on a very aggressive schedule to get construction of the airport extension underway and completed by the end of 2009.
The additional cars will enable Sound Transit to provide peak-hour service every six minutes in each direction when Airport Link opens just a few months after the Initial Segments mid-2009 opening. The airport segment will extend Central Links length from 14 to 16 miles.
|Central Link will initially operate with two-car trains that can carry 400 people. As demand grows in the decades ahead, the systems capacity can be increased dramatically by doubling train lengths and increasing train frequencies to every two to four minutes. Every Central Link station platform stretches one-third longer than a football field, long enough to accommodate a four-car train that can carry 800 people. More light rail cars will be purchased as the length of the system expands and as the train lengths and frequencies grow along with service demand.|
The proposed $13.9 million purchase of the additional light rail cars, to be reviewed by the full Sound Transit Board next week, would increase Sound Transits initial fleet from 31 to 35 cars. The cars are being built by a joint venture of Kinkisharyo International LLC and Mitsui & Co. (USA) Inc. Car frames and shells are being built in Osaka, Japan, with final assembly to occur locally. Kinkisharyo has supplied light rail vehicles to four other transit agencies in the United States: New Jersey Transit, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Valley Transit Authority in San Jose, CA.
Each 95-foot-long light rail car will feature air conditioning, cloth seats, and a low-floor design enabling level boarding for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles. Link light rail will provide quick and reliable travel times that are immune from growing congestion on the regions roadways. The trip from Westlake Center in downtown Seattle to the airport will take an estimated 36 minutes.
Construction of the Central Link light rail system began in November 2003 and is moving forward rapidly. Construction bids came in 6 percent below estimates, and construction of the initial segment is now approximately 32 percent complete.
Recent construction milestones include the installation of rail in the SODO area and pouring the platforms for the SODO and Stadium light rail stations. A massive tunnel-boring machine is being assembled and will begin tunneling through Beacon Hill this winter. Miners are busy digging the Beacon Hill subway station, and crews have begun retrofitting the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for use by both light rail trains and buses.
By 2020 the system is projected to carry more than 45,000 riders daily. Free shuttle buses will carry passengers between Tukwila and the airport during the short time preceding the completion of the airport light rail station, which will be located adjacent to the airport parking garage.
Help name THE tunnel
NJ Transit plans to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Penn Station. The vital project would double west of the Hudson transit capacity into Midtown Manhattan.
Unfortunately, this highly important project has a history of bad names.
The tunnel was originally named ARC, or Access to the Regions Core, which was replaced more recently with THE, or Trans-Hudson Express, Tunnel.
Help this important project find a name it deserves! Send your ideas to email@example.com. They will print ideas in the MTR newsletter and forward them to NJ Transit.
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Federal billions at stake in NY Bond Act
October 19 - - - A letter to the editor of the NY Post by MTA Chair Peter Kalikow warns that failure of the 2005 NY Transportation Bond Act will lead to cuts in key infrastructure investments, with serious economic consequences: What will deter companies from coming to New York is a transportation system that cannot move their employees are the tri-state region. Kalikow points out that the proceeds from the Bond Act will provide the local match for billions in federal aid ready to flow into the LIRR link to Grand Central Terminal and the Second Avenue subway. If the Bond Act fails, that $4 billion in federal funds will be sent to some other state whose residents are far-sighted enough to see that long-term benefits of major capital projects far outweigh the local costs, he wrote.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||57.89||57.43|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||41.51||42.89|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||30.63||30.40|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||21.32||21.55|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||12.70||12.53|
Mobilizing the Region
a Weekly Bulletin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Hope for sprawling Connecticut
October 19 - - - The problem of sprawl development is getting more attention in Connecticut.
All Aboard!, the Hartford pro-transit group, and the Center-Edge Coalition have joined into one group, 1000 Friends of Connecticut, with the mission of promoting smart growth and transportation reform at the state level.
In a recent Hartford Courant op-ed, Project for Public Spaces (and 1000 Friends board member) Toni Gold called on Connecticut to question the new car dependent Utopia development, a proposed theme park and hotel complex in casino-ridden eastern Connecticut, and start channeling growth into existing towns and cities. She cites numerous recent reports, including one co-authored by the Tri-State Campaign, highlighting Connecticuts high rates of land use consumption, declining cities, disinvestment in mass transit and the overall lack of planning. Gold concludes that Connecticut is going down the wrong path, and its starting to hurt everyone.
Economist Fred V. Carstensen proclaimed in the Courant that economic incentives force people to live far away from the city, often against their individual choices.
A forum on Connecticut Public Television in Hartford discussed the causes of sprawl, especially municipalities need to generate more and more tax revenue by building houses, retail, and commercial development farther and farther away from traditional urban centers.
Slashing away at Amtrak
October 19 - - - The Bush administration, like so many before it, has not been successful in its effort to kill Amtrak, the nations passenger railway.
So the latest plan is to dismember it. Its clever, and if it worked, the railroad would indeed die, limb by limb.
But Congress has a role, and Congress must stop this latest attempt to destroy Amtrak.
The plan is to make the Northeast corridor portion, from Washington to Boston, a separate entity with costs shared by the states and the federal government. You can guess where this is going. First, we share, then the federal government bows out.
The Northeast route is the most heavily traveled. But that does not mean that, standing alone, it could be profitable. More important, the states cannot afford to assume the burden of running interstate trains.
Nor should they.
How ludicrous, that an administration which wants to shoot again for the moon continues to throttle Amtrak as though it were a luxury this government cannot afford.
No national railway can operate on its own. Thats a simple fact. The idea that somehow a railroad is draining the federal treasury and should be expected to operate without subsidies doesnt add up.
Take a gander at the privately-owned airlines, which the federal government has provided all kinds of support for - including billions in direct subsidies after Sept. 11.
Or highways and bridges, which the government is happy to promote, and not with gasoline tax receipts alone.
Because the wide-open states dont generate much train traffic, Amtraks friends in Congress continue to dwindle. But theres a new wrinkle in this old battle: the truly frightening spiral in the cost of gasoline in the last month.
It is not inconceivable that trains could become more popular at some time in the future, though they will never replace automobiles as the favored mode of inter-city or interstate travel.
The Amtrak board that voted to amputate the Northeast corridor and hand it to a federal-state consortium knows full well that states cannot assume that responsibility. The Amtrak board didnt even bother to announce its intention publicly. This is just another example of flogging Amtrak under the pretense of saving federal dollars.
With the red ink thats flowing in Washington these days, no one is likely to swallow that line.
The country needs a passenger rail line, and can afford one.
The Bush administration speaks out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to Amtrak. While publicly claiming to support interstate rail service, the White House has repeatedly tried to starve Amtrak of federal funding and dismantle it piece by piece.
That double-talk reached a low point recently amid reports that the Amtrak board had taken an official vote last month that wasnt disclosed for weeks, and then only in an obscure newsletter. The four board members --- all appointed by the president --- quietly decided to divide Amtrak in two, splitting the railways popular service between Washington and Boston from its long-distance operations in the rest of the country.
Under the proposal, Amtrak would continue to own and control its rail cars, tracks, bridges and other equipment along the 456-mile Northeast Corridor, which it now shares with numerous freight and commuter rail lines. However, states and cities outside that corridor that wished to continue Amtrak service would be required to pick up more of the operating and maintenance costs.
Breaking Amtrak into its component parts is a bad idea that would needlessly jeopardize the national rail service. How do we know that? Because the board basically reached the same conclusion itself in April.
In a document titled Strategic Reform Initiatives the Amtrak board found that the costs, complexities and risks of such a split within Amtrak outweigh the benefits.
Those risks and costs are obvious. Residents in parts of the country that arent served by a major airport rely heavily on Amtrak. Even with federal grants to subsidize Amtrak service promised by the Bush administration, its unlikely local governments could afford to keep it running.
While the Bush administration zeroed out funding for Amtrak, Congress has prudently appropriated $1.17 billion to keep the struggling rail service on track, at least for now.
That support must continue. With commercial airlines failing and gasoline prices rising, the American public deserves some straight talk from the White House about how to create the kind of first-rate rail service that our nation so desperately needs.
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