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
 

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March 22, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 13

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

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

  News Items…
Illinois Takes Another Big Step Toward Bullet Train Network
Local Rail ‘Summit’ Lobbies For High-Speed Line On Amtrak Route
Southeast Region Picks Up Momentum For High-Speed Rail
  Political Lines…
Congress Passes, Obama Signs Jobs Bill; Public Transit Funding
   Extended Through Year End 
  Expansion Lines…
Construction To Start For Downeaster Extension To Brunswick
  Freight Lines…
Rail Traffic: 2010 Is Looking A Lot Like 2009
AAR Report: Outside Of Coal, Carload Trends Favorable In February
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  News From Amtrak…
Special Employee Advisory
National Train Day Site Built For Amtrak Employees
National Train Day Promotion Begins Next Month
  Commentary…
Sunny South Florida is Under a Cloud With Respect to Transit
  Editorial…
Illinois Takes A Giant Step Toward the Future
  We Get Letters…
  Webmaster Notes…
NCI Goes Green
  Publication Notes …


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

State Senate Votes To Move Forward With 220-Mph Service

 

Illinois Takes Another Big Step
Toward Bullet Train Network

By DF Staff and Internet Sources

SPRINGFIELD - The State of Illinois this week became the third state in the nation to formally commit to the construction of a true, Asian and Euro-style high-speed rail bullet train network.

It joins California and Florida in making a statewide commitment to high-speed rail. Other states are expected to follow as the $8 billion Obama High-Speed Rail Stimulus bill begins to take hold across the nation.

“With this historic bill, Illinois would become only the third U.S. state officially planning for world-class bullet trains,” said Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero), chair of the transportation committee and the bill’s author. “Illinois has always been a national leader for the economy and transportation system, and bullet trains will make our state a 21st Century powerhouse in both.”

More and more state legislatures have taken up the issue of rail transportation, both in response to the $ 8 billion Obama Stimulus program and another $2.5 billion voted by Congress for high-speed rail projects earlier this year

The Senate approved SB 2571on a 51-2, overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. It now goes to the Illinois House, where passage is expected in April; Sen. Martin A. Sandoval, sponsor in the Senate, and Rep. Daniel J. Burke, sponsor of the House version, have worked in collaboration on the bill, which is now before the Illinois House Rules Committee

Specifically, the Senate Bill creates an “Illinois and Midwest High-Speed Rail Commission” to help build. “…High-speed rail” mean[ing] a system of new electrified tracks designed primarily for trains capable of traveling at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour.

The commission will have 15 members, 12 appointed by the Governor from the public, three ex-officio: 1) the Illinois Secretary of Transportation; 2) the state’s Director of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; and the Executive Director of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

The Act further requires that anyone “… appointed as a public member of the Commission must be a resident of this State, and “…must include the following: (i) local elected officials who have expressed interest in high-speed rail; (ii) former elected officials with transportation policy expertise; (iii) individuals with professional expertise in long-term financing of infrastructure; and (iv) individuals with expertise in transportation or railroad infrastructure projects.

The Commission’s chair will be named from among the 12 public Commissioners by the Governor. The public members will be unpaid except for out-of-pocket expenses “…incurred by the member while transacting Commission business.”

The High-Speed Rail Commission’s duties are to:

  1. “Prepare and issue a report to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the public recommending the best governmental structure for a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance a high-speed rail system for Illinois and the Midwest. The report must include specific recommendations for legislation, if statutory change is required, or specific administrative regulations, if regulatory change is required, to implement the recommended high-speed rail system. The report must include recommended sources for the funding of a high-speed rail system including private sources of capital and revenue bonds. The report must contain recommendations for integrating the high-speed rail system into existing and planned Amtrak expansions, airports, and public transportation systems. The report must include recommendations for federal, State, and local actions for the development and implementation of a high-speed rail system. The report must be issued by March 20, 2011.

  2. Prepare a follow-up report that details the status of recommendations issued by the Commission and any revised and updated recommendations based on further public and stakeholder input. The follow-up report must be issued by February 1, 2012.
  3. Develop a process to receive public and stakeholder input on opinions and proposals for building, designing, maintaining, operating, and financing a high-speed rail system for Illinois and the Midwest. The process must include the solicitation and receipt of formal expressions of interest and other testimony from global high-speed rail operators including without limitation Amtrak
  4. Solicit and receive formal testimony, both written and oral, from representatives of the other states in the Midwest including without limitation representatives from units of local government.
  5. Work collaboratively with the Department of Transportation on any planning projects for high-speed rail administered by the Department to comply with federal high-speed rail requirements including without limitation the solicitation of public input and comment.

In implementing the five specific tasks in the Act, the Commission is also instructed to “consult with and receive testimony from global high-speed rail operators including without limitation Amtrak. “It also notes that “Nothing in this Act shall preclude the Department of Transportation from planning for high-speed rail,” an important factor as Illinois is already the recipient of $1,102 million in Stimulus funds to begin work on a St. Louis-Chicago higher-speed rail corridor. The first phase of that project will have speeds topping out at 110-mph, but will lay the basis for faster rail when additional funding for “bullet-train” speeds becomes available, by improving existing service in the relatively near term. The final alignment for “bullet-train” service St. Louis-Chicago has not yet been determined.


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Local Rail ‘Summit’ Lobbies For
High-Speed Line On Amtrak Route

From Lacrossetribune.Com
By Staff Writer Richarad Mial

LA CROSSE, WI, MARCH 19 – High-speed rail advocates in the Midwest are aggressively working to get interstate connectivity, a requirement emphasized by the federal government to receive funding, but the leaders are stuck in some disagreements over routes.

The most recent meeting dubbed a rail ‘summit’ and held at the Train Station BBQ in La Crosse, Wisconsin, concerned the preferred route for the Chicago-to-Twin Cities passenger train. There are three options to choose from:

The two keynote speakers at this rail “summit,” Wisconsin Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel, were both non-committal about their preference even though a hundred people showed up to advocate for the Amtrak river route.

Winona, Minn., Mayor Jerry Miller was outspoken about the best choice being the Amtrak river route. “I really feel that this route will come out on top; it’s the only shovel-ready route,” he told the group.

Miller heads the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission of officials from communities on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line.

Wisconsin has received $8 million in federal stimulus to upgrade the Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago, and to begin planning an extension to the Twin Cities from Madison, which will have passenger rail service from Milwaukee.

If the Eau Claire route is selected, the train would follow an existing freight line from Camp Douglas and into Minnesota. But that would bypass all Minnesota communities south of the Twin Cities.

The two state transportation departments will recommend a choice to the Federal Rail Administration in late 2010 or early 2011.


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Southeast Region Picks Up Momentum
For High-Speed Rail

From Internet Sources:
WTVM.Com And WTVM News Leader 9

ATLANTA, MARCH 17 – A newly-formed coalition, the Southeastern High-Speed Rail Coalition, is moving at what one member describes as a “voracious pace” to take advantage of opportunities to push forward quickly their goal of developing high-speed rail from Charlotte to Atlanta.

The Coalition consists of transportation leaders from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Consultant States for Passenger Rail Coalition; and recently added, transportation leaders from Louisiana and Mississippi.

At a recent meeting they set forth an ambitious work plan that sounds like (this editor’s observation) it could move things forward a lot faster than the typical bureaucratic grind of doing studies, and then more studies, and then even more studies, eating up decades before anything happens.

Tasks assigned:

The funding application is of particular importance because, during a competitive process on March 30, Federal funding for planning and NEPA will be available.  After a discussion about individual state’s pursuits, the Southeast High-Speed Rail Coalition also discussed joint application opportunities. 

“Two items that emerged from the discussions were NEPA for the Atlanta to Charlotte Corridor and an overlay Southeast Regional Rail Plan,” the article reported.  “The second is looking at coordinating the state rail plans in the region to ensure consistency of items for freight and passenger perspective.”

Georgia Department of Transportation Intermodal Director, Erik Steavens said, “We are working at a voracious pace. This group is committed to establishing high-speed rail connectivity in the Southeast and with so many partners supporting us, the timing is perfect for achieving our goal.”

In conclusion: “The goal of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Coalition is to become an advocacy group for joint policy to advance high-speed rail corridors of significance throughout the Southeast.”

To learn more about the Southeast High-Speed Rail Coalition visit http://www.dot.ga.gov/localgovernment/intermodalprograms/ presentations and photos from the meeting are posted.


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Congress Passes, Obama Signs Jobs Bill; Public Transit Funding
Extended Through Year End

From APTA, The American Public Transportation Association
(Reprinted with permission)

President Barack Obama on March 18 signed into law the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act (http://www.mmsend54.com/ls.cfm?r=70087742&sid=8987474&m=962040&u=APTA&s=http://www.apta.com/gap/legupdatealert/2010/Pages/2010March18.aspx) --also known as the jobs bill--which contains a provision to extend the authorization of public transit and highway programs through December 31. The Senate had passed the bill the previous day after an extended series of amendments between the two chambers of Congress.

APTA President William Millar commended this long-overdue legislation. “When President Obama signed the HIRE Act into law today, he sent a strong signal that public transportation investment is a valuable tool in America’s recovery and future economic health,” said Millar. He also called on Congress to pass further jobs legislation and a robust multi-year surface transportation bill.

Another key provision in the HIRE Act is the transfer of $19.5 billion of general funds from the Treasury into the Highway Trust Fund, including $4.8 billion into the Mass Transit Account. These payments are expected to enable stalled capital projects.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, heralded the bill’s passage, saying “Today, a million workers ... know their jobs are more secure because we have renewed the transportation bill through the end of the year.”


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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

Construction To Start For Downeaster
ExtensionTo Brunswick

DF Staff And Internet Sources

BRUNSWICK, MAINE, MARCH 19 - Construction is expected to start this summer on a project to upgrade 30 miles of railroad between Portland and Brunswick. This will bring to reality the long-awaited expansion of Amtrak’s Downeaster passenger train from Portland to Brunswick.

A huge infill development project was hanging in the balance while town officials and the developers weren’t certain about the train service. Construction did start, however, in this period of uncertainty.

Downeaster

Photo: WikiMedia via Wikipedia

Cab-End unit 90213 takes up the rear of the Amtrak Downeaster at Wells, Maine. Rebuilt from a retired F40PH class engine, the diesel locomotive has been removed and the shell converted into a cab-end baggage unit, referred to by those in the industry as a “cabbage.” Departing Boston, the Downeaster is pulled by a P42 class locomotive and on the return trip the cabbage takes the lead with the P42 pushing in reverse.

Last summer there was a hive of activity in Brunswick’s downtown as work was in progress to rehabilitate the Maine Street Station site. Two of the six planned buildings were under construction, an inn was planned, and major improvements to the train station.

DOWNEASTER Logo Governor Baldacci had expressed his support for the Downeaster, but the funding had yet to be committed. Members of the City Council, at a meeting in June of 2009, sought the governor’s assurance that the train would come. A few days later Hilary Rockett of JHR Development, the company that is building the infill project, sent a letter to the governor telling him that “the success of Maine Street Station will depend” upon the Amtrak service.

“Maine Street Station has shovels in the ground,” Rockett wrote. “But our future hangs in the balance while we await the news of (the Downeaster’s) arrival.”

Now that the money is assured, the Portland Press Herald says officials in Brunswick feel the arrival of the train will be a boost to the community because it will follow the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.
They are counting on the train to attract tenants to the new downtown development, “especially Bostonians,” said Rockett. By linking Brunswick to Boston with train service, town officials are confident about the marketing ability of their downtown and plan to make their Brunswick the gateway to the Mid-Coast region.

When the stimulus grants under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) were awarded last month, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the Downeaster, won a $35 million award for the track upgrade.

Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn says construction would create 200 jobs.


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

John B. Lounsbury

John B. Lounsbury Ph.D., CFP is a financial planner and investment advisor in Clayton, NC.

Rail Traffic: 2010 Is Looking A Lot Like 2009

By John B. Lounsbury Ph.D., CFP

The AAR (American Association of Railroads) report through February was recently released.

So far 2010 is starting the same way that 2009 did.

The following graphs have been selected from the report.

The U.S. Is Struggling to Show Improvement

The first graph appears to indicate that the first two months of 2010 are almost a repeat of 2009.

However, when coal is excluded, carloads of all other commodities are clearly more than 2009.

Also, intermodal traffic (containers and trailers transported by rail) are also clearly greater in the first two months of 2010 than for 2009.

When all rail traffic is added together, it appears that February may indicate an improvement for 2010 over 2009, after January was almost identical.

Canada Is Doing Better

North of the border, Canada has a better story to tell. The following graph shows 2010 beginning with rail traffic almost at the levels of 2006, 2007 and 2008 and clearly better than 2009.

Intermodal traffic is showing the smaller impact of the recession on Canada compared to the U.S. Intermodal traffic was not significantly lower in early 2009
compared to the average of the three prior years. In 2010, intermodal traffic for January and February is right in the middle of the levels for 2006, 2007 and 2008.

However, intermodal traffic is a much smaller portion of total rail traffic in Canada than in the U.S. As a result the combined traffic looks much more like
the carload data than the intermodal traffic and the beginning of 2010 is close to the level of the pre-crash years (and much above 2009).

It may be argued that improved intermodal traffic is a harbinger of improvement in the economy since intermodal traffic is largely composed of assemblies
and finished products which should be increasing in a growing economy. However, we need more improvement than seen in January and February
to reflect any significant increased economic strength.

Disclosure: No stocks mentioned.

About the author:

John B. Lounsbury Ph.D., CFP is a financial planner and investment advisor in Clayton, NC.


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AAR Report: Outside Of Coal, Carload Trends Favorable In February

From an AAR Press Release

In February, U.S. railroads’ car loadings declined 1.5 percent compared with February 2009’s volume, according to the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) (www.aar.org) “Rail Time Indicators” report for March.

However, 14 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR registered gains and, excluding coal volume that tumbled 9.9 percent, carloads rose 7.2 percent year over year.

“Rail traffic trends over the past few months, especially when you take out coal, are consistent with a slowly recovering economy,” said John Gray, AAR senior vice president of policy and economics, in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. railroads’ intermodal traffic rose 10.1 percent compared with February 2009’s volume. On a seasonally adjusted basis, U.S. carloads decreased 0.1 percent and intermodal loads dropped 3.6 percent vs. January levels.

“Over the past six months, the upward trend in seasonally adjusted rail traffic indicates an increase in underlying demand,” said Gray.

Demand is increasing in several sectors — notably agricultural products, automotive, chemicals and domestic intermodal — to the point that consensus volume-growth expectations in the 4 percent to 5 percent range are too modest, according to a Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.

“Transportation/Logistics” report issued today.

“Normal seasonal progression suggests that Street volume expectations are too low based on year-to-date and fourth-quarter 2009 volumes compared with the eight-year average sequential progression,” Baird analysts said in the report. “In general, rail volume growth could exceed 10 percent in 2010.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNI)

**

**

Canadian National (CNI)58.8857.14
Canadian Pacific (CP) 54.2455.13
CSX (CSX)51.5150.98
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)34.1833.92
Kansas City Southern (KSU)35.7535.75
Norfolk Southern (NSC)55.3354.45
Providence & Worcester(PWX)11.8112.00
Union Pacific (UNP)73.2473.00
** - 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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NEWS FROM AMTRAK... News From Amtrak...  

Special Employee Advisory
March 19, 2010

Message From Joe Boardman

Dear Co-workers,

To support our corporate growth strategy and our goal of remaining the premier operator of high-speed passenger service in the United States, I am creating a new High-Speed Rail department at Amtrak, which will be led by a vice president reporting directly to me.

The board of directors approved this change yesterday at its monthly meeting and we plan to move quickly to fill the new vice president position so he or she can build a department that will focus on pursuing opportunities to expand our high-speed rail operation.

Specifically, this department will work on the planning and development activities that will allow us to significantly increase operating speeds above 150 mph (240 kph) on the Northeast Corridor. It will also pursue partnerships with states and others in the passenger rail industry to develop federally-designated high-speed rail corridors such as the new projects moving forward in California and Florida.

Amtrak’s leadership in this area is reaffirmed in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and we must make every effort to remain in that position.

The increasing demand for passenger rail service means we will face new competition from companies all over the world, but we have several strategic advantages that we must not waste. We have assets, partnerships and knowledge that others do not. And most importantly we have an extremely skilled team of employees that is unmatched. In short, we are uniquely qualified to meet the goals laid out by President Obama and the administration’s Vision of High-Speed Rail in America.

Our new High-Speed Rail department will capitalize on these assets to ensure that we keep our position as the most effective, most professional high-speed rail operator in the nation.

We will continue to keep you informed as we develop this new department. In the meantime, please keep up the great work and continue to work safely.

Sincerely,
Joe Boardman
President and CEO


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National Train Day Poster 2010

 

National Train Day Site Built
For Amtrak Employees

This month, Amtrak will launch a special National Train Day Web site exclusively for employees at www.TrainDay411.com.

The site will serve as a resource for employees to find news, information, event details and materials related to the third annual National Train Day, which is slated for May 8.

Employees will be able to sign up on the site to volunteer at one of the four major National Train Day events being held in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. A series of employee trivia contests will also be hosted at TrainDay411.com, providing employees the opportunity to win gift packages and be featured on the site.

Additionally, marketing materials will be available for those who wish to create their own event at a local station or facility.

“National Train Day is as much a celebration for employees as it is for our passengers,” said Michele White, director, Sports and Entertainment Marketing. “This year, we wanted to provide employees with a one-stop resource to get involved, have fun and help us spread the word.”

The site is scheduled to launch on March 10. News and information will be updated continuously, and a trivia contest will begin every two weeks, so employees are encouraged to check back often.


 

National Train Day Promotion
Begins Next Month

To support the upcoming National Train Day events and stimulate repeat business in the off-peak fall travel season, Amtrak is offering a “Buy One Full Fare, Get One at 50 Percent Off” promotion for coach travel between Sept. 7 and Dec. 10.

Valid for all routes except the Acela Express, the reservation period for this promotion is April 12 through Sept. 30. A three-day advance purchase is required. “A key objective of this promotion is to grow rail travel awareness and provide future incremental traffic via the companion offer,” said Director, Entertainment Marketing Michele White.

The promotion is being advanced via print advertising in national newspapers with a coupon inset or attachment and coupon distribution at National Train Day events. National Train Day is scheduled for May 8.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Sunny South Florida is Under a Cloud
With Respect to Transit

By David Peter Alan

This report comes to you from the Land of Sunshine, South Florida. Tourists still flock here and Spring Break is in full swing, although local residents report that the recent winter was one of the coldest in memory. These tourists had better take their automobiles and join the “locals” in clogging up the streets, because the transit scene leaves a great deal to be desired.

Florida has been in the rail news lately, mainly because of the recent announcement of a $1.25 billion High-Speed Rail grant from the Federal Railroad Administration. This grant is earmarked for construction of an 84-mile line between Tampa and Orlando, and will have nothing to do with the populated South Florida region. South Florida (consisting essentially of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties) is five hours away form the line to be developed, and the transit picture for the region is not promising.

All is not grim, however. Miami-area rail advocate Charles Dunn reports that Miami-Dade Transit has added some express bus lines and Tri-Rail, the region’s commuter rail line, now has the funding it needs to continue operating. Dunn, a physician and lifelong resident of Coral Gables, has seen transit come and go. His town, an esthetically-pleasing planned community built in the 1920s, is home to the University of Miami and is geographically surrounded by the City of Miami. A streetcar line once ran on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, the town’s main street, but it was removed decades ago. A shuttle bus now provides local service.

Collins Avenue, the main street of Miami Beach (a narrow town located on a barrier island east of the City of Miami), has an urban flavor and several bus lines, providing frequent service. The street is lined with high-rise hotels and apartment buildings, and it goes through trendy South Beach. South Beach experienced a revival in the 1990s, and its Spanish-style buildings from the 1920s and art-deco hotels from the 1930s now provide the backdrop for the liveliest neighborhood in the region.

A further improvement is coming for transit in Miami. Construction is underway for the Miami Central Station, near Miami Airport. Tri-Rail trains terminate there, and Metro Rail (a heavy-rail elevated line) will be extended to the location. There will be an airport monorail (similar to the “Metro Mover” monorails downtown) and a bus terminal, and Amtrak plans to move its station there from its present location in Hialeah.

Dunn also reports that it is now possible to go from Miami to Key West using local bus service. At the north end of the region, West Palm Beach is becoming a major intermodal transportation center, with commuter buses now extending the region northward. Between those two points, the transit picture is far less promising.

Tri-Rail is named for the three counties through which it runs. It operates on the historic Seaboard Air Line route, which Amtrak also uses. It began in the early 1990s, as a temporary alternative to Interstate Route 95 during highway construction. When the highway returned to full operation, the rail service survived. Today, the line is double-tracked and Tri-Rail dispatches trains within its territory. Weekday service runs hourly, with a mini-peak. Week-end service runs every two hours, but service ends early in the evening. The last train leaves each end about 8:30 every night. The line is also located far to the west of the densely-populated strip near the water, so most riders must take a bus or two at each end of their rail segment.

Broward (the county containing Fort Lauderdale) and Palm Beach Counties are crammed with senior citizens, but many of them cling to their automobiles because the transit is so weak. For the most part, they do not think of transit as a viable mode of transportation. Broward County Transit runs seven days a week, but not late at night. PalmTran buses now run on Sundays, but Sunday service is limited and only started a few years ago. Bus riders seem to fall into two categories: seniors who can use the bus to get to their destinations, and immigrants, mostly from Central America or the Caribbean. Broward County buses feature automated announcements in English and Creole (Haitian French), but not Spanish. Service is skeletal, and Broward Central Terminal in downtown Fort Lauderdale is not a particularly pleasant place.

There are a few places north of Miami and Miami Beach that are pleasantly walkable, but not many. The wealthy still walk to trendy shops amid the Spanish-style elegance of Palm Beach, designed by famed architect Addison Mizner in the 1920s. In all likelihood, their wealth would prevent them from stepping onto a bus, even to get to the Tri-Rail station across the canal in West Palm Beach. Boca Raton, at the south end of Palm Beach County, is similar and also features some of Mizner’s gems, but it is not quite as upscale.

These places are exceptions. Even downtown Fort Lauderdale, loaded with new high-rise office buildings, is not pedestrian-friendly. Streets in much of Broward County resemble four-lane and six-lane highways, with automobiles traveling at suitable speeds. For pedestrians, crossing the street can mean a long wait through several vehicular turn cycles. Major shopping streets like Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale do not have sidewalks all the way. In many places, walking is difficult even for the able-bodied. For many seniors and persons with disabilities, it is impossible.

There has been talk of improved transit in South Florida for years, including a companion Tri-Rail line on the Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC), east of the existing Tri-Rail line. There is also talk of light rail in Fort Lauderdale, and of a streetcar line between downtown Miami and South Beach. There was talk of an extensive light rail system in the Miami area a few years ago, but that has stopped. The only improvement that is definitely coming is the new intermodal station at Miami Airport.

Getting to South Florida by rail is also more difficult than it used to be. Until about five years ago, there were three daily trains between New York and Miami, with a choice of three different departure times and two different routes. The choice of routes survives, but the two remaining trains are now scheduled to arrive in South Florida only 45 minutes apart. Ten years ago, John Robert Smith, then Chair of the Amtrak Board, pushed for a restoration of service on the FEC, which served many popular tourist destinations but has not seen a scheduled passenger train since 1968. There is still talk, and there are still no trains.

When Amtrak abruptly discontinued Gulf Coast service in 2005 and refused to restore it, the connection between Florida (at Jacksonville) and New Orleans was broken. Today’s Florida trains run on what is, for riders, an isolated branch line. The southernmost connection point on the Silver Star is Raleigh, North Carolina, for service to Charlotte. The southernmost connection point on the Silver Meteor is Alexandria, Virginia. To paraphrase the old Cunard Line slogan, Getting There is Half the Difficulty.

South Florida has earned the dubious nickname “God’s Waiting Room” and to a great extent, it still is. The population of senior citizens, whether year-round residents or “snowbirds” who spend the winter there to get out of the cold, is mushrooming. The immigrant and other low-income workers who serve them can still get to their jobs by taking a bus or two, but the local transit has little to offer seniors who have enjoyed their automobiles since their teens and do not think of the bus as a viable alternative.

So they still take their autos to the Publix Market (a local chain of food stores) to buy food and hope they do not have an accident that might result in the loss of their driving privileges. It does not appear to this writer that they will live long enough for new transit to develop and give them a useful alternative.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Illinois Takes A Giant Step
Toward the Future

Hats off to the Illinois Senate, whose passage of an Act (S 2571) creating the nation’s third state-wide high-speed rail commission, with some teeth, continues to build the momentum for the creation of a true high-speed rail network for America (150 mph and above). Illinois House passage is expected in April.

The vote is significant because unlike California and Florida, Illinois will need to coordinate its plans with surrounding states from the very beginning; high-speed intercity rail in the nine-state Midwest region, centered on Chicago, will by definition be an interstate affair. While the bill doesn’t mention the word “interstate” by name, it does in fact recognize that Illinois will need to work with others, outside of Illinois, to make this rail system happen.

The vote follows more than two decades of work and advocacy by people like Rick Harnish, CEO of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association, www.midwesthsr.org; Kevin Brubaker and Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, www.elpc.org; Wisconsin DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi of States for Passenger Rail, www.s4prc.org; former Wisconsin Governor and Amtrak Board Chair Tommy Thompson, and Illinois rail policy activist Dan Johnson Weinberger (dan@progressivepublicaffairs.com) whose website www.fourbillion.com is organizing the push to get a solid $4 billion for high-speed rail from Congress in 2011; the amount this year was $2.5 billion; to begin to catch up with the Asian and European rail systems, we need to spend at least that much every year for the next 20-30 years, and probably more.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, to quote John Kennedy, who was quoting Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu (600-531 BC), the founder of Taoism. Illinois has taken that step, and now the real journey, and work, begins.

La Tzu also said something else: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” The rest of America would do well to heed that advice, too.

- Editor.


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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

David Peter Alan Responds To Rick Harnish
(DF Letters section, Vol. 11, No. 12, March 15, 2010)

I personally respect Rick Harnish as an advocate for better rail service, and I agree with some of the things he says. It appears we agree that the nation needs a new transportation policy, and that we need trains to link our cities and local transit within those cities and metropolitan areas.

Still, I cannot agree that high-speed bullet trains are the answer at this time, or in the current economic climate. The entire public sector, including transit nearly everywhere, is in trouble. States are not adding trains; several state-supported trains are in trouble. Our current network of conventional intercity trains is a skeleton and has been so for nearly four decades. It declined seriously for two decades before that.

While I respect President Obama for promoting rail at all, he needs to do much more to create a climate in which high-speed bullet trains can flourish. The nation must turn its attention away from more highways and airline infrastructure, and toward more rail, from long-distance trains to local transit. We also need Federal operating support for transit, which we had in the 1970s and lost in the 80s.

If President Obama were to lead the campaign to build a first-rate conventional rail system, this could constitute a major step in improving mobility for everyone, saving the environment and enhancing the liveability of our cities and towns. It could also eventually bring us the sort of comprehensive rail system that would move more Americans off the highways and onto rail. The more people ride conventional trains and like them, the more likely they will be to support the expenditures needed for bullet trains; both capital and operating.

Two projects that look like bullet-train projects and received approval for FRA grants, but they will not deliver much mobility improvement for the cost. If anything, they could discredit the idea of high-speed rail, rather than enhancing it.

Mr. Harnish is incorrect when he says I offer a “false choice” between high-speed rail and local transit. I know how scarce dollars are, and I am aware of the need to choose priorities. Mr. Harnish says that we need to advocate for both. He may be right in the long run and eventually, we might have both. For now, we need to concentrate on improving our conventional rail system to provide “higher-speed” trains, running more frequently and to more places than they do now. We also need more, not less, local transit.

When America builds a comprehensive rail system like the ones in Europe, China and Japan, the nation will be ready to run the bullet trains that would become the crown jewels of our rail system.

DPA


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