The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

Contribute To NCI

March 1, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 10

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

This E-Zine is best viewed at
1024 X 768 screen resolution

IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
Transit And Highway Programs To Lapse On Monday;
   Congressional Leaders Hope To Complete A Long-Term
   Extension Next Week
Federal Transit Administration Launches New Livable
   And Sustainable Communities Website
  Station Lines…
A High-Speed Rail Station Proposal For Chicago: Not Perfect,
   But It Gets The Civic Debate On The Right Track
New Jersey Rail Advocates Say: “Moynihan Station
   Would Be Good for Us, Too!”
  Safety Lines…
Two Teenage Girls Killed By Amtrak Train In Pa.
   Could Be Suicide, Police Say
 
  Events…
RUN to Toledo
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
Freight Railroads Weather Recession But Face
   New Challenges From Feds
  Commentary…
High-Speed Rail Grants Are A Political Balancing Act
   Part 5 Of A Series
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

Transit And Highway Programs To Lapse On Monday;
Congressional Leaders Hope To Complete
A Long-Term Extension Next Week

From APTA
(American Public Transportation Association)

WASHINGTON, DC, FEBRUARY 26 -- The House and Senate have adjourned for the weekend without passing a further extension of authorizing law for federal surface transportation programs, and the current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires on Sunday. As a result, most Federal Transit Administration (FTA) programs, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) programs, and other programs funded by the Federal Highway Trust Fund will lapse beginning Monday. FTA employees will be able to continue working next week because they are paid out of the General Fund, but FTA will be unable to process most grant applications. However, FTA should be able to continue processing grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). All FHWA employees are expected to face a temporary furlough.

The House and Senate attempted to pass a short-term extension of transportation programs by today, but that attempt failed when Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) blocked efforts on the Senate floor by threatening a filibuster. Congressional staff has advised APTA that House and Senate leaders have reached agreement on all issues related to the yearlong extension of programs contained in the Senate-passed jobs bill, the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE Act), which delayed a House vote this week.

Both chambers are expected to work next week to enact the extension of transportation programs through December 31, 2010.


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Federal Transit Administration Launches New
Livable And Sustainable Communities Website

[ Editor’s note: This “Dear Colleague” letter was forwarded to us by one of our state representatives in Connecticut, David McCluskey.
I know it will be of interest to our readers.
]

Dear Colleague:

I write you today to announce that FTA recently launched a new Livable and Sustainable Communities Website -- an important step in FTA’s efforts to advance the Department of Transportation’s Livability Initiative and the Interagency Sustainable Communities Partnership. This website can be viewed at: www.fta.dot.gov/livability.

The website provides information about the Department of Transportation’s role in livability and sustainable communities, the interagency partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development, and how FTA is supporting these exciting new initiatives. Specifically, we have reworked our transit-oriented and joint development web page, included information on transit and environmental sustainability, highlighted our efforts on affordable housing near transit, and provided case studies that can be used by transit agencies and communities around the nation as they plan to make their cities and towns livable.

FTA is uniquely positioned to contribute to these initiatives as many of our programs inherently support livability and sustainable communities. Transit provides critical services that connect all members of the community, rural and urban, with employment, health, educational, and other important opportunities and services. On the website, we have provided a key web page that lists FTA’s grant programs as they relate to livability. This list includes major grant programs, such the Urbanized Area Formula Program, as well as programs that focus on specialized services, such as those serving seniors and people with disabilities.

FTA will continue to expand on the assistance we provide the transportation industry to build the principles of livability and sustainability into communities around our Nation. I look forward to working with you on this effort now and in the years to come.

The electronic version of the Dear Colleague letter can be found at http://www.fta.dot.gov/news/news_events_10009.html

Sincerely,
Therese McMillan


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STATION LINES... Station Lines...  

A High-Speed Rail Station Proposal For Chicago: Not Perfect,
But It Gets The Civic Debate On The Right Track

Artist Rendition CHICAGO, FERUARY 25 -- A commentary in the Chicago Tribune weighs in on an interesting design for a High Speed Rail Station in the city.

“Chicago architect Helmut Jahn has a promising but imperfect plan for a high-speed rail station in Chicago. It’s not much more than a sketch, certainly not a finished blueprint. Yet it deserves to be taken seriously, if only because it should kick-start a much-needed debate over the right place for the hub of the Midwest’s just-funded high-speed rail network.”

A civic-minded lawyer, Reuben Hedlund, who requested the drawing, calls it “the Daniel Burnham Central Station in honor of the great turn-of-the-century Chicago planner.” Hedlund was head of the Chicago Plan Commission from 1991 to 1997 and does not appear to be in a position to profit from the project, so the “proposal can be considered clean,” states the Tribune. But they expect it will send values of nearby properties skyrocketing.

If the plan is accepted, the U.S. Postal Service building in the 300 block of West Harrison Street, which stands just southeast of the old Chicago Main Post Office astride the Congress Expressway, would be demolished. It remains to be seen if the Postal Service would sell the building or join private developers in a partnership to rebuild the site.

High-speed rail is expected to “make its debut in Chicago by 2014, in the wake of President Barack Obama’s decision to award $8 billion to the concept nationwide,” the article continues. “That means Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley have a choice: Are they going to get on board and create a railroad gateway worthy of the city--or are they going to let a golden opportunity pass, cramming new passengers into an already-jammed Union Station?

The stakes are high - a signature station is part of the allure for travelers who are accustomed to choosing between driving or flying. And the location and architecture of a well-designed building could have an influence on future downtown development.

“Whatever explains the city’s recalcitrance, this much is clear: Union Station is a poor candidate to serve as a high-speed rail hub, states the newspaper.

“Going forward, Union Station lacks adequate space to marshal more passengers and handle more trains. Nor does it connect to the Chicago Transit Authority’s express service to O’Hare. Its fundamental problem, though, is that it isn’t really a station. It’s a terminal. Almost all of Union Station’s tracks, whether northbound or southbound, stop at the station instead of running straight through.” That won’t work for high-speed rail. Changing trains in Chicago is not an acceptable option.

Jahn’s plans do have flaws -- for one thing they are too oriented to the automobile and do not offer good pedestrian access – but the station would be situated in a way for new tracks and platforms to be added making it possible for high-speed trains to run more frequently and flow straight through.

There are still major hurdles and unanswered questions about timing and cost. “Even so, Hedlund and Jahn deserve credit for giving the debate about Chicago’s high-speed rail station a significant shove forward.”


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New Jersey Rail Advocates Say:
“Moynihan Station Would Be Good for Us, Too!”

By David Peter Alan

Last week, this publication reported an $83.3 million TIGER (Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery) grant for initial work on Phase I of the Moynihan Station Project. The purpose of the project is to convert part of the historic Farley Post Office building into a train station that would resemble the original Penn Station. The building is located on the west side of Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, between 31st and 33d Streets. The historic post office would not be altered, but the train station below would be extended westward across Eighth Avenue.

Amtrak and New York State are considered the primary partners for the project, and both sides issued enthusiastic statements. “This is a tremendous step forward for New York” said Gov. David Paterson. Amtrak President Joseph Boardman said: “The Moynihan station project will benefit Amtrak’s passengers by creating a new and improved entrance to New York City. Nobody disputes Boardman’s contention; the original 1910 Penn Station was considered an architectural masterpiece and the “Penn Station” in use for the past fifty years is essentially the basement of Madison Square Garden.

Rail advocates in New Jersey say that riders who take New Jersey Transit from the Garden State to the new station would benefit, as well. They specifically point to the prospect of a station that could serve all of the region’s railroads: NJT, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), Amtrak and the Hudson and New Haven Lines of Metro-North. Under NJT’s current plans to build a separate deep-cavern terminal far below 34th Street, trains on the Northeast Corridor Line from Trenton, New Brunswick or Rahway would still go into the existing Penn Station, along with North Jersey Coast Line trains that originate in Long Branch or South Amboy. All other trains would be sent to the proposed deep-cavern terminal.

Beyond connectivity alone, they believe that the proposed Moynihan Station contributes to the viability of their “Penn Station First” plan, by reducing any benefit from building NJT’s current “deep cavern” proposal. Joseph M. Clift, a former Director of Planning for the LIRR who is now active as an advocate for New Jersey rail riders, said that Phase I of the Moynihan plan will balance the existing pedestrian concourse on the Seventh Avenue side of the station with a counterpart west of Eighth Avenue. James T. Raleigh, who heads the Political Committee of the Lackawanna Coalition, noted that Amtrak had previously expressed its concern that the “Penn Station First” plan would be unworkable without capacity improvements at the existing Penn Station. The Moynihan Station plan would deliver many of the needed improvements in capacity, both for trains and for riders on those trains. The plan calls for more access between the concourse level and the platforms at track level. Raleigh also noted that the Moynihan plan would build a station that could be evacuated far more easily and safely than the proposed deep-cavern terminal, in case of an emergency.

The Lackawanna Coalition has been especially concerned about NJT’s plan to build a separate terminal below 34th Street, since trains on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines (the lines represented by the Coalition) would be evicted from the existing Penn Station and re-routed into the proposed deep-cavern terminal. Rail advocates believe that the proposed stub-end terminal would be unsafe, overly costly and inconvenient, compared to bringing new tunnels and tracks into the existing Penn Station. Continued use of the existing Penn Station would preserve connectivity for riders on the lines represented by the Coalition.

Alfred P. Doblin, editorial columnist for The Record, a daily newspaper that serves Bergen County and other North Jersey communities, does not share Paterson’s or Boardman’s level of enthusiasm for the Moynihan plan, but he continues to advise against the proposed deep-cavern terminal project (see D:F, January 4, 2010). In his February 26th column, Doblin said “The existing Penn Station needs revision longer platforms, better concourses and ventilation and more exits. NJ Transit, the LIRR and Amtrak all use Penn Station. It should be a higher regional transportation priority than a deep-tunnel station under 34th Street.” Doblin’s suggestion: “Build the ARC tunnel, expand Penn Station into Moynihan Station, complete the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, but do not build a new station under 34th Street.” Many rail advocates in New Jersey and New York agree.

Albert L. Papp, a Director of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) and Vice-Chair for Legislative Policy and Strategy for the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), said that he does not understand why NJT still pushes for the deep-cavern plan, when the Moynihan plan would deliver the needed capacity at far less cost, and with far more convenience for riders. “It should be obvious to any competent rail manager” Papp said, adding “I just can’t understand why they don’t get it, unless they don’t want to get it.”

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, which supports the “Penn Station First” plan and opposes the NJT plan to build the deep-cavern terminal under 34th Street. Doblin’s column can be found on the newspaper’s web site, www.northjersey.com.under “opinion and letters” and then “op-ed.”


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SAFETYLINES... Safety Lines...  

Two Teenage Girls Killed By Amtrak Train In Pa.
Could Be Suicide, Police Say

From Fox News and Philadelphia News on the Internet and Associated Press

NORWOOD, PA. FEBRUARY 26 — An Acela train traveling from Boston to Washington, D.C., hit two 10th-graders about 10:30 a.m. last Thursday in Norwood, about 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia.

Police are investigating to determine if the two girls had a suicide pact.

It was the second tragedy this winter for the people in this small town. Gina Gentile, 16, and her friend, Vanessa Dorwart, 15, were upset about the death of Gentile’s boyfriend. Seventeen-year-old William Bradley was killed by a car while riding his bicycle last month.

Interboro School District Superintendent Nancy Hacker says the 10th-graders had been in school earlier in the day, but left at some point. She doesn’t know what they were doing on the tracks, which aren’t far from the school. A third girl was with them and reported the accident.

Train traffic had to be stopped after the accident. Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said service had returned to normal by 1:00 PM.


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EVENTS... Events...  

Save the date!

 

RUN to Toledo on Friday, April 23d!

The Rail Users‘ Network (RUN) will sponsor a meeting for rail advocates in and near Northwestern Ohio on Friday, April 23d. The meeting will be held in cooperation with the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) and will focus on rail and transit issues that concern northwestern Ohio and neighboring Michigan.

Rail advocates and anyone else interested in rail and transit in the Toledo and Detroit areas are invited. The meeting is scheduled to start at 1:00 and will be held at Central Union Terminal (the train station) in Toledo.

There may also be some evening activities, so watch for further announcements.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)****
Canadian National (CNI)52.6653.19
Canadian Pacific (CP)48.1849.77
CSX (CSX)47.4646.77
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)31.8531.90
Kansas City Southern (KSU)34.3033.92
Norfolk Southern (NSC)51.4351.01
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.0712.48
Union Pacific (UNP)67.3766.57
** - Burlington Northern Sante Fe has been purchased by the Berkshire Hathaway Corporation.
       BNI closed in final sale at 100.21 and will no longer be reported here.


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

Freight Railroads Weather Recession But Face
New Challenges From Feds

Proposed Federal Regulatory Mandates Could Hurt Freight Rail Industry’s Recovery

The Trucker News Services, AAR website and DF Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, FEBRUARY 19 — Freight railroads are at a critical point in their history as they face the challenges from “over-burdensome” federal regulations said the Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger.

At a press briefing marking the release of a report titled Great Expectations: Railroads and U.S. Economic Recovery, Hamberger spoke of the difficult times the freight railroads are facing despite their ability to weather the economic downturn.

“Freight rail is the only mode of transportation that is almost entirely self sustaining,” Hamberger said, noting that as the recession continued through 2009, freight railroads invested approximately $9 billion upgrading and modernizing the nation’s rail network. “We sustain a healthy national rail system with private capital and we also deliver tremendous public, economic and job benefits to American businesses and consumers.”

The country’s privately owned freight railroads own more than 90 percent of the track rights of way used by Amtrak. This vast 140,000 miles of coast-to-coast rail network will provide the literal foundation for the Obama Administration’s vision for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. The President’s plan envisions sharing most of this track with freight.

“Railroads face new policy initiatives that could hamper our ability to meet the great expectations America now has for rail to aid in our economic recovery,” Hamberger said. “Select legislative and regulatory proposals are creating an air of uncertainty at a time when there is already too much of that. When so much is riding on freight rail’s ability to sustain a healthy national rail network necessary to help America through to economic recovery, now is not the time to undermine our financial viability.”

Great Expectations: Railroads and U.S. Economic Recovery examines the freight railroad industry’s contribution to the U.S. economy, and includes statistical data on the industry’s progress throughout the economic downturn. It also provides an analysis of key policy initiatives in Washington, their potential impact on the industry, and possible solutions.

Economic and environmental benefits that freight rail brings to America

The report states that freight railroads generate nearly $265 billion in total annual economic activity, and directly or indirectly support more than 1.2 million U.S. jobs. Every one freight rail job supports another 4.5 jobs elsewhere in the economy, the report said.

Freight railroad employees are among America’s most highly compensated workers. In 2008, the 184,000 U.S. freight railroad employees, roughly 80 percent of which are union employees, earned average wages of $68,200 and fringe benefits of $27,100, for total compensation of $95,300. By contrast, the average wage per full-time employee in the U.S. in 2008 was $50,900 and average total compensation was $62,600. Rail employees are covered by the Railroad Retirement System, instead of Social Security. In fiscal year 2008, some 600,000 beneficiaries, including retired railroad employees and their survivors, received more than $10 billion in retirement and survivor benefits from the Railroad Retirement System.

“American industries and consumers have great expectations of our nation’s railroads: competitive shipping rates, fuel efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ease highway congestion, and provide the foundation for new high-speed and intercity passenger rail around the country.

“Since 1980, railroads have nearly doubled how much freight they move — while using virtually the same amount of fuel. In 2008, U.S. freight railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 457 miles per gallon of fuel – an increase of 94 percent in efficiency since1980. That means moving freight by rail instead of truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions by on average 75 percent. If just 10 percent of long-distance freight now moving by truck were shipped by rail instead, annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by more than 12 million tons. That’s equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road or planting 280 million trees.”

“Railroads’ fuel efficiency gains have meant sharp reductions in rail-related greenhouse gas emissions,” the report continues. “In 2008 alone, America’s freight railroads burned 3.7 billion fewer gallons of fuel and emitted 41 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide than they would have if their fuel efficiency had remained constant since 1980. From 1980 through 2008, U.S. freight railroads consumed nearly 52 billion fewer gallons of fuel and emitted 579 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide than they would have if their fuel efficiency had not improved.

Railroads also reduce the huge costs associated with highway gridlock. A typical freight train carries the load of more than 280 trucks, easing wear and tear on our nation’s highways.

But these public benefits are in danger if proposed regulatory and legislative action in Washington, D.C. comes to pass, Hamburger claims. Costly federal mandates and regulations could have a direct and negative impact on businesses and consumers in the form of higher costs for goods and services.

Some of the proposed regulations that concern the freight industry:

Positive Train Control mandate

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) requires Class I freight railroads by 2015 to install positive train control (PTC) systems on tracks that carry passengers or toxic materials.

PTC describes technologies designed to automatically stop or slow a train to avoid certain accidents. In general, PTC technology is intended to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, unauthorized incursions by trains onto sections of track where repairs are being made, and movement of a train through a track switch left in the wrong position.

Expanded mandate will result in expanded cost

According to the January 2010 FRA final rule on PTC implementation, freight railroads will have to spend more than $5 billion to install PTC systems, plus an additional $700 million each year thereafter for their maintenance. The FRA estimates that the net present value of the total costs of PTC to railroads over 20 years will be between $10 billion to $14 billion.

In addition, the FRA’s rules to implement the PTC mandate include several new provisions that are over and above the statutory requirements and add hundreds of millions of dollars to railroads’ costs, yet will not improve safety in any meaningful way.

Railroads are committed to complying with the Congressional PTC mandate, but this well-intended legislation will have negative unintended real-world consequences. The $5 billion initial railroad PTC installation costs is roughly equal to what railroads spend in a typical year on all infrastructure-related capital spending, and is about equal to what they’ve spent over the past five years combined on network capacity expansion.

FRA Safety User Fees

Safety in most U.S. industries is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor. Safety in the rail industry, however, is regulated mainly by the FRA. Funding for OSHA and the FRA typically comes from general appropriations. However, from 1991 until 1995 freight railroads paid fees to the FRA to cover many of the costs associated with the FRA’s rail safety program. Railroad payments during this period totaled approximately $159 million, equivalent to around $215 million in today’s dollars.

Recognizing that these fees were really nothing more than taxes, Congress eliminated them in 1995. Since then, there have been a number of legislative efforts to reintroduce the fees, but these measures have been rejected.

The Obama Administration has proposed reinstating the fees in the 2011 budget at a rate of $50 million per year, which they say would cover the costs associated with FRA rail safety inspectors, starting in 2011 and increasing in subsequent years.

Deregulation has helped the freight railroads to prosper

In 1980, Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act, largely deregulating the railroad Industry. At the time, the nation’s rail infrastructure was crumbling, with more than 47,000 miles of track operating at reduced speeds because of unsafe conditions. Railroads had billions of dollars in deferred maintenance, and the term “standing derailment,” when stationary railcars simply fell off poorly maintained track, was commonplace.

Rather than expand regulations or prescribe an industry bailout, by passing the Staggers Act Congress eliminated many regulations that were hindering efficient, cost-effective freight rail service.

Since then, railroad productivity has increased 144 percent, average rail rates have fallen 49 percent, rail accident rates are down 72 percent, rail freight traffic has nearly doubled, and railroads have reinvested some $460 billion back into their systems. Return on investment, which had been falling for decades, rose to 4.4 percent in the 1980s, 7.0 percent in the 1990s, and 8.0 percent from 2000 to 2008.

Now there is pressure from some shippers to reintroduce some of the government controls that existed before the Staggers Act. Rates to certain large shippers would have to be reduced and the government would have a larger role in the day-to-day running of railroads.

Climate Change Policy and Rail’s Coal Business: a conundrum for environmentalists and economists

According to the Great Expectations report, coal generates close to half of America’s electricity, and railroads haul more than 70 percent of it. In 2008, coal accounted for 45 percent of freight rail tonnage and 23 percent of revenue for Class I railroads. All told, railroads originated 7.7 million carloads of coal in 2008 — enough to meet the electricity needs of every home in America.

One in every five railroad jobs, and one in every four revenue dollars is related to the movement of coal.

Since the start of the present recession, demand for coal has dropped along with revenue decreases for the freight rail industry.

One can begin to see the bind we are in: we need to reduce the use of coal as an energy source since it is the most environmentally destructive source of energy not only in its emissions but the damage caused by its extraction, particularly the mountain-top removal method.

But a downtown in freight rail demand has its environmental impacts possibly more trucks back on the highways if there is a significant reduction of revenue for the freight railroads.

Today, there are tremendous stakes for railroads as they weigh the impacts of a significant reduction of coal business, the Report continues. With so many jobs and such a high percentage of revenue coming from hauling coal, the economic impacts could be severe. Some of the environmental benefits will also be compromised, such as reduced highway congestion and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Congress, the EPA, the business community and the freight rail industry must work together to find solutions. The financial viability of the railroads, both passenger and freight, and the sustainability of the earth are at stake.

For the full report, see http://www.aar.org/NewsAndEvents/PressReleases/2010/02/~/media/Files/GreatExpectationsReport_FINAL.ashx


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

High-Speed Rail Grants Are A Political Balancing Act,
But They Should Improve Our Rail Service

Part 5 Of A Series
By David Peter Alan

Where Do We Go From Here?

America is a nation of many superhighways and few trains. It became that way in the 1950s, when the Eisenhower Administration pushed for massive spending on highways to keep the economy going, while promoting the highways as necessary for defense. Almost as quickly, the rail system was dismantled, as was local transit. By the early 1970s, only a few long-distance trains were left, and there are just as few today.

There have been a few success stories. Rail corridors are growing, and the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program at the Federal Railroad Administration has allocated $8 billion this year to develop these corridors, along with high-speed rail projects in California and Florida. Commuter rail has come to the Pacific Coast, other places in the West, and even Nashville and Minneapolis. Light rail is the great transit success story, bringing rail transit to dozens of cities that had not enjoyed any for decades.

The commentators have weighed in with their opinions on the new FRA grants, and there seems to be general agreement that the the grants are far from enough to build the sort of rail system that the country should have, but they are a step in the right direction and should be encouraged. One of these commentators, New Jersey transit advocate Gary Johnson, sounded a note of caution. He said: “An expenditure of $8 billion for rail seems like a lot of money, but it’s a one-shot deal. The annual expenditure for highways is much greater, and we spend it every year.”

The big question is: “In the long run, how much impact will the current series of HSIPR grants have on our transportation future?” and the answer is “Not much.” At least, that will be the case if the Federal Government and the states continue to follow current policies.

Unfortunately, the current series of grants continues the Bush Administration’s reliance on the States to develop intercity rail service, although this clearly appears to be a Federal responsibility under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Current transportation policy promotes the development and subsidization of extensive nationwide highway and airline networks, while limiting rail development to projects that are contained entirely within a single state, or just happen to terminate across a state line. There is something drastically wrong with this picture.

The Obama Administration is the first in living memory to even endorse the concept of expanding the nation’s skeletal network of passenger trains. Like other commentators, this writer will give credit where credit is due. Still, the national rail network of long-distance trains is smaller than at any other time in history, and the passenger-carrying capacity of those trains is limited. Amtrak management seems disinclined to promote growth of the long-distance rail network. It is also unclear how much money Amtrak would have available to pay for enough new equipment to operate the current network, much less add more routes and more frequencies on existing routes.

If the states wish to pay for more trains, Amtrak appears willing to operate them, but only under that condition. It is highly unlikely that many states will be adding trains any time soon. California, the leader in corridor development, is having trouble just running the trains it has. Illinois is committed to upgrading the line between Chicago and St. Louis, but few other states have the money to invest in improving corridors, commuter rail or local rail transit. Nonetheless, all of these modes are necessary to provide an integrated and efficient non-automotive transportation network that people will use.

Even the “transit states” are having trouble keeping the transit they have. New Jersey is in financial trouble, but Gov. Christoper Christie has said that he will not raise gasoline taxes or highway tolls in the Garden State. In contrast, New Jersey Transit will raise fares by an average of 23.5% and service cuts are definitely coming soon. New York City, Chicago and other transit cities are also raising fares and cutting service. In short, transit is suffering everywhere.

Against this backdrop, the long-distance trains that connect our rail corridors, where they are operating today or are slated for development in the future, are dying. The few long-distance trains that Amtrak still operates are plagued by equipment problems, along with weather-related delays and cancellations. Old equipment becomes less reliable with every passing year, and it remains uncertain how much new equipment Amtrak can afford. Amtrak ridership is increasing, but capacity to carry these riders is not. If current policy continues, our long-distance train network could die by attrition.

If that happens, there will be nothing left of our intercity rail network, except a few groups of corridors, unconnected by other trains. This “nightmare” scenario can be prevented, but that would require a commitment on the part of the Federal Government to expand our intercity rail network, as well as our local transit systems. That means a nationwide and integrated network of long-distance trains, corridors, commuter rail and local transit. It would also require the active leadership of both Congress and the Administration, with opportunities for the States and local transit agencies to participate as much as possible.

The Federal Government did this for the automobile and the airlines in the past century, with the States as active partners. The same thing can be done for rail in the future. It would take a massive change in political will, but our economy, our environment and the liveability of our towns and cities are all at stake. The Obama Administration gave General Motors a sum that exceeds all of the requests for HSIPR and TIGER grants, even though only a small portion of those rail and transit requests were approved. If rail and transit had gotten $100 billion from Washington to develop rail corridors and transit instead, that would have constituted a true “down payment” on a national rail system. Of course, some money would have been needed to fund long-distance trains, too.

As for true high-speed rail, that would be running before the nation can walk. Whether high-speed rail that meets the European or Asian standards would even be desirable or affordable in this country in the foreseeable future, is highly controversial. This writer has an opinion, which will conclude this series.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2010 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

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