The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

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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May 31, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 21

Copyright © 2011
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 12th Newsletter Year

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

  News Items…
T&I And Rail Sub Chairs Mica, Shuster Call For
   Privatization Of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor
AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Unit Blasts
   Proposed Amtrak Privatization
  Funding Lines…
Rhode Island Gets $28 Million From Ex-Florida Rail Money
Illinois & The Midwest Seek Lead Role In
   U.S. High-Speed Rail Future
  Service Lines…
MBTA Subway Modernization Continues In Boston
  Selected Rail Stocks…
Petersburg, Roanoke River And DC
We CAN Connect New England By Rail,
   But It Won’t Be Easy
  Across The Pond…
You’re Gonna Have To Face It, You’re (still) Addicted To Oil
   – Amtrak 40th Anniversary Edition
Where There’s A Will, There’s a Rail System
  Publication Notes …

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

T&I And Rail Sub Chairs Mica, Shuster Call For
Privatization Of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

WASHINGTON--- Two of Washington’s most powerful elected officials, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and his Rail Subcommittee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) have called for splitting off the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak’s control, and seeking bids from others, including possible private sector or public-private partnerships, to own/operate/manage it.

The 437-mile Northeast Corridor runs from Washington, DC through New York City and Providence, and on up to Boston. It is mostly owned by Amtrak, and is a capital-investment-challenged legacy from the collapse of the Penn Central Railroad in the 1970’s. Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 and began operating 40 years ago this month; the decrepit Corridor was transferred to Amtrak after Penn Central went broke.

Ironically the worst-maintained and least reliable segment of the Corridor, from the New York State Line to New Haven, is not owned by Amtrak. It is owned by the state of Connecticut, and maintained and dispatched by New York City’s Metro North Railroad, part of the city’s MTA, whose commuter trains far outnumber Amtrak’s intercity, long-haul trains. It has a 100-year-old catenary (overhead wire) system that provides power, and a series of ancient bridges, which make operations slow and unreliable, and force the 150-mph flagship Amtrak Acela trains down under 70 miles per hour (if that). The catenary and bridges are being replaced in a 30-year state project ending in 2021, under the supervision of Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, a snail’s paced schedule that no one has been able to accelerate, despite the millions of the greater New York City residents directly or indirectly inconvenienced by it.

Massachusetts owns its segment of track, from the state line of Rhode Island to Boston, but Amtrak dispatches all trains on it and controls and maintains the line, and since electrification 1991-1999 by Amtrak (New Haven-Providence-Boston) it has been the most reliable segment of the corridor, despite problems with faulty concrete ties and a bankrupt tie vendor now being remedied.

Chairmen Mica and Shuster say they will introduce legislation to transfer the corridor to a separate entity and begin a competitive bidding process to operate it, they said in statement issued last week in conjunction with hearings in Washington on the subject.

Mica has been a consistent critic of Amtrak, but is a serious High-Speed Rail advocate who wants to see a “true” High-Speed Rail system built somewhere in the United States, probably in the Northeast; he has also been a critic of President Obama’s High-Speed Rail program, which has been spread among many states and smaller projects that will be only110-mph, at least initially.

Amtrak has developed its own proposed $117-billion+ new Northeast Corridor HSR project that would run inland from the present Northeast Corridor, once North of New York City, and pass through an enlarged 4th New York City airport on the Hudson River, then Danbury, Waterbury, Middletown, and Putnam CT, and finally Woonsocket RI to Boston, along the old “Air Line” route of the 1890’s, now largely unused except by freight rail, and then only on parts of its remaining operational segments. In 1955 floods during the hurricane season wiped out the rail bridge at Putnam, CT and it was never replaced; likewise, a fire on the Poughkeepsie, NY rail bridge crossing of the Hudson toward Connecticut in 1974 made that bridge unusable, and it has never been repaired except as a tourist walkway.

Some rail historians say the bridge was not repaired because the decline of manufacturing in New England after the Second World War in 1945, and competition from trucks for what was left of it in the1950’s and 1960’s obviated the need for that rail bridge; others say the closure of the bridge helped ensure New England’s decline.

Now largely forgotten, the New York-Boston “Air Line” route was in the 1890’s the home of the “White Train” also called the “Ghost Train”, literally painted white, and other special first class name-trains, and provided fast (six-hours, good for those days), first-class one-stop service between New York City and Boston. It was superseded by the Shoreline route because its numerous grades impacted any trains longer than a few cars (the Shoreline route, while curvy, is relatively flat).

But while Mica wants a new route, as Amtrak has proposed, he dislikes Amtrak’s 30-year timetable to achieve it; he wants to build whatever gets built in 10 years or less, and is pushing to bring in the private sector to do it, and for less money than what Amtrak has budgeted.

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“Efforts To Privatize Amtrak Must Be Rejected”


AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Unit
Blasts Proposed Amtrak Privatization

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

WASHINGTON, DC --- “Amtrak is doing better today than ever and has well-positioned itself to be the leader in delivering high-speed rail service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and throughout its system. Now is the time to boost funding for Amtrak and support its long-term vision for growth, which includes targeted private investment. It is not the time to allow private companies to provide rail services that are profitable only by exploiting past taxpayer investments, by relying on continued government support and cherry-picking the most lucrative routes.”

So stated the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind, testifying this past week today before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure regarding the opening of the Northeast Corridor to private competition for the development of high-speed rail.

While acknowledging that the private sector has a role to play in developing American high-speed rail, Wytkind warned that both safety and effectiveness are at stake.

Below are excerpts from his oral testimony:

“Wishful thinking won’t build and sustain a 21st century transportation system. A vision, backed by policies and real dollars, will. There’s no high-speed system in the world that operates without robust government support. So let’s stop all the tired privatization rhetoric and have a conversation about how to get this done in the real world.

“And that is the inherent problem with the topic of this hearing. Are there private companies that could offer NEC service that Amtrak provides today? Many claim there are. But as history has taught us those entities will want to offer the services that are the most profitable and let the rest of the system wither… Besides skimming a profit for their shareholders and CEOs, I simply don’t see what we are getting in return for bidding out one of the world’s most prized and complicated transportation corridors… When you strip Amtrak of its most lucrative route, you doom the national system. And for some, that is their plan,” warned Wytkind.

“Many criticize Amtrak and liken it to an old-school Soviet passenger rail system. Those critics aren’t paying attention. Today’s Russia is planning for the future by developing 250-m.p.h service between St. Petersburg and Moscow. They are investing 3 times what the U.S. invests in rail as a percentage of its economy. More to the point, the Amtrak they disparage simply does not exist today and, unlike some of its predecessors, current management has a vision for the future.

“Some have criticized all passenger rail funding. Clearly they are unaware that trillions are spent in America and around the world building, expanding and maintaining transportation infrastructure. The purpose of the world’s transportation system isn’t about the profit of the system itself, it is about the goods and people it moves, and the jobs, productivity and wealth it creates across the economy.

“The private sector has a vital role to play for sure. But an experimental free-for-all that puts jobs or the economy at risk is a bad idea. We stand ready to be participants in a true public-private partnership on the NEC, one that recognizes our members’ contributions to operating, maintaining and building the rail system and one that maintains Amtrak’s role as the centerpiece of that system.,” concluded Wytkind.

[The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, represents 32 member unions in the aviation, rail, transit, trucking, highway, longshore, maritime and related industries. For more information, visit]

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FUNDINGLINES... Funding Lines...  

Rhode Island Gets $28 Million
From Ex-Florida Rail Money

By DF Staff And From Internet Sources

PROVIDENCE --- Rhode Island is a $28 million beneficiary of Florida’s halted rail project, killed by that state’s Tea Party Governor.

Of the $28 million, $25 million will go towards the design and construction of a 1.5 mile passing track in Kingston that will enable high-speed Amtrak Acela trains, traveling at speeds of up to 150 mph, to bypass regional trains as well as commuter rail trains as Rhode Island extends commuter service towards Westerly from Providence.

Station platforms also will be raised up to the level of the station so that passengers will no longer have to step up or down, which will make possible stops for the High-Speed Acela train at Kingston, home of the University of Rhode Island, although no plans for such a stop have yet been announced. This will give this station full ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility.

The remaining $3 million will go toward preliminary engineering and environmental work to renovate the Providence Station. Interior and exterior improvements will be made at this location.

Rhode Island received $28 million to improve the rail system. It is one of 15 states to split the $2 billion award. Florida’s governor turned down the money earlier this year.

“There was a two week deadline, from the announcement to getting the applications in. We submitted three applications, two of which were successful, which is great,” station WPRI quoted Michael Lewis, head of Rhode Island’s DOT, as saying. “It allows not only great performance of Amtrak’s intercity service by providing opportunity for the fast Acela trains to pass the intercity trains. That enables Amtrak to reduce its travel times from Boston to New York.”

The project will not only create jobs, but will help make Rhode Island more competitive regionally, the DOT noted.

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HSR... HSR...  

Illinois & The Midwest Seek Lead
Role In U.S. High-Speed Rail Future

By DF Staff

CHICAGO --- Illinois and others in the Midwest are letting it be known that when High-Speed Rail comes to America, it is going to happen in the Midwest first ---- if they have anything to say about it.

“Everything happens first in California” used to be the saying. But that was back in the day of the Surfer Sound, Psychedelics and Superhighways, and before Proposition 13 and the California anti-tax ideologues of the 1970’s decimated the state’s ability to fund its own way, taking with it what once was the nation’s best system of public higher education --- once ranked in the top ten, now 46th.

The California voters did this while leaving in place the proposition-based direct-democracy system that mandates spending on whatever special interest group’s demagoguery has driven the polls that year. It was and is a formula for bankruptcy.

Nevertheless, when President Barack Obama’s High-Speed Rail Program was officially launched in April 2009, just a few months after his taking office, just about everyone assumed that California, a trans-Oceanic virtual mirror image of Japan with one of the world’s, not to mention America’s, largest economies, would be the first region to actually build and operate a true High-Speed Rail* System.

That may still happen; California has been working on its High-Speed Rail Plan since the 1980’s, long before any hope of the required Federal funding for such a large infrastructure project was even on the horizon. Visionary California political leaders like Rod Diridon, former head of HSR in the state and still active in the cause, was tireless in developing and pushing forward a modern vision of California High-Speed Rail that would challenge the Asians and Europeans who had surpassed America as the home of the world’s best ground transportation system.

But not if Illinois has anything to say about it.

On June 2, in a major announcement to be made at the annual meeting of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn will set out a goal for the Midwest of building, and putting into service the nation’s first true High-Speed Rail line, to be identified by Illinois and neighboring cooperating states of the Midwest from among a series of lines, radiating from Chicago, that will ultimately form the basis of a Midwest High-Speed Rail Network.

While the Governor’s remarks will not be released until the date of the keynote address at Chicago, NCI has confirmed that Governor Quinn will seek to make the Midwest first, because of Illinois’ and the Midwest’s success not only in Round 1 of HSR funding, $2.6 billion, but also its success in landing a big chunk, $454 million, of the Federal money Florida left lying on the table when its Governor killed that state’s HSR corridor program.

The Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville), as it was identified by the Federal Railroad Administration and the White House as one of 10 major initial Federal corridors at the $8 billion program’s 2009 unveiling, has therefore received more than $3 billion allocated in the original Federal program; state matches and private sector investment will swell that amount. Although one significant sector of the Chicago Hub Network, Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati, was killed by newly elected Republican Gov. John Kasich earlier this year, that money too has been re-allocated to other states, boosting rail projects where Governors --- the vast majority of states --- are in synch with the Federal program.

The betting is that one or more of the major Midwest routes already undergoing improvements will reach a critical mass sufficient to justify stretches of 200-mph capable -running, if not with the first round of new train equipment delivered, then with the second or third, and starting into actual service before California can get any of its HSR segments up and running.

In the meantime, Illinois officials, working with other states (Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa) are “focused like a laser light”, in the words of one source close to the Governor, in achieving 110 mph passenger rail speeds as soon as possible, in as many places as possible, significantly reducing rail travel time in the Midwest.

Corridors in the Midwest Hub which are already undergoing or which will soon see significant operational improvements are Chicago-Bloomington-Springfield-St. Louis-Kansas City; Chicago-Milwaukee; Pontiac-Detroit-Dearborn-Chicago; Chicago-Champaign/Urbana, and Chicago-Galesburg-Iowa.

Illinois noted that with work barely begun Chicago-St. Louis corridor rail traffic was up 53% over the last five years.

* There are about as many definitions of High-Speed Rail as there are stars in the sky. Here is the one that the National Corridors Initiative will use: true High-Speed Rail is any passenger rail system with an average speed between in excess of 110 mph, and capable of reaching and operating for sustained period speeds above 200 mph

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SERVICE LINES... Service Lines...  

MBTA Subway Modernization
Continues In Boston

By DF Staff And MBTA Press Release

BOSTON – In keeping with the Patrick-Murray Administration’s commitment to providing accessible transportation service, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) General Manager Richard Davey has announced the opening of the $68.3 million dollar State Street Station modernization project. The new station access now has two new fully accessible entrances and provides a seamless connection between the Blue and Orange Line subway systems in downtown Boston.

“With the support and direction from Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray the MBTA continues to prioritize the needs of our customers,” said Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan. “Accessibility is a major priority and our investments will continue to enhance customer mobility.”

In the 1990s, the MBTA initiated several extensive modernization efforts, including the Blue Line Modernization Project. To bring the station into ADA compliance, two new elevator-equipped entrances connected to the lobbies of #53 and #60 State Street were constructed. The entrances include new stairs, elevators, and station support spaces with underground access, and automated fare collection equipment. A new accessible corridor connects the inbound platform of the Blue Line to the outbound platform of the Orange Line providing access to the newly installed elevator system that connects all levels of the station.

The current and continuing entrance to the State Street station is located under the Massachusetts “Old State House,” a national historic landmark. The entrance is actually within the basement of the structure. Due to limitations of the surrounding building foundations, utilities, and other insurmountable obstructions, and the historical nature of the Old State House, it was necessary to locate new station entrances elsewhere in order to accommodate the need. The station, a connecting hub of the system’s Orange and Blue lines is spread out over two city blocks with numerous entrances that access either line and on different platforms. Access to other platforms is via a long underground pedestrian passageway.

“Modernization to State Street Station represents our continued commitment to provide people of all abilities access to public transportation that is direct and user-friendly,” said MBTA General Manager Rich Davey. “Customers now have a seamless connection between the Blue and Orange Line.”

Additional work already completed included the lengthening of platforms to accommodate six-car trains. The work required relocation of existing street utilities, and demolition of abandoned city foundations.

“One of Mayor Menino’s biggest priorities is to ensure that the City of Boston is accessible and welcoming to all of its residents and visitors, including those with disabilities,” said City of Boston’s Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities Kristen McCosh. “The MBTA has followed through on its commitment to system-wide accessibility, and State Street station is now fully accessible to everyone.”

In order to comply with the American Disabilities Act (ADA), in 1989 the MBTA initiated the Light Rail Accessibility Project to make the transit system accessible to all persons with disabilities. ADA requires that certain key stations be made accessible. The MBTA Key Station Plan, which was approved by the Federal Transit Administration, includes 80 key stations that must be in compliance with ADA guidelines. Today, 78 MBTA key stations are in compliance including State Street.

One of the next stations to undergo modernization will be the Government Center station adjacent to Boston’s City Hall, which connects the MBTA’s Blue and Green lines. However, unlike State Street Station that was built out while in use, and with some inaccessibility on weekends in order to accommodate construction, Government Center station is being considered for a complete closure for three years. If the station were to remain open and in use during construction, a temporary head house would have to be created and construction could last six or more years. The closure plan would significantly reduce both construction time and costs. While an inconvenience, nearby State Street station connecting the Blue and Orange lines, and Haymarket Station connecting the Green and Orange lines are just a block away.

Approximately 12,500 customers travel through State Street station each weekday. Reconstruction and beautification improvements to the streetscape continue with completion slated for November 2011.

For transportation news and updates, visit the MassDOT website at, the MassDOT blog at or follow MassDOT on twitter at

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Canadian National (CNI)77.3177.02
Canadian Pacific (CP) 62.5761.70
CSX (CSX)77.9377.40
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)58.3658.24
Kansas City Southern (KSU)58.4856.80
Norfolk Southern (NSC)72.5772.26
Providence & Worcester(PWX)13.8514.71
Union Pacific (UNP)103.53101.99

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Petersburg, Roanoke River And DC

From Virginia Rail Observations & Commentary
Volume III, No. 10
By Richard L. Beadles

Question: What connects the Roanoke River and Washington, D.C. with Petersburg?

Rail, of course. So, what’s the point? In 1830, business leaders in Petersburg, with financial support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, organized and built the State’s first steam railroad, a bold strategic move to intercept and redirect to Petersburg the flow of commerce, primarily tobacco and cotton, then moving down the Roanoke River, of Southside VA and NC, to Albemarle Sound and up the Dismal Swamp Canal to Hampton Roads. Arguably, that initiative, coupled with other subsequent Petersburg-sponsored rail development – to City Point and Lynchburg -- contributed significantly to the economic prosperity enjoyed by Petersburg for almost a century.

In more recent times, Petersburg has been in decline, but the Region, now known as the Crater Planning District, includes rapidly-developing Dinwiddie and Prince George counties. The huge federal commitment to the expansion of Fort Lee, currently underway, bodes well for the Region, including Petersburg itself. Although locally-initiated and privately-sponsored economic development is rightfully credited with much recent growth, the fact remains that central Virginia is not by any means an autonomous island of free-enterprise prosperity; it is an integral part of an urban corridor anchored on either end by the Washington Metro region and Hampton Roads, both of which are highly-dependent upon the federal government to fuel and sustain their economic vitality.

The remainder of this decade will undoubtedly hold many opportunities for central Virginia and the Crater Region, some of which will depend, for their attainment, upon improved transportation connectivity with both DC and Hampton Roads. Once again, rail promises to play an important role in Petersburg’s future. Ultimately, the Region will be on the spine of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, but that is years away. Much sooner, Petersburg will benefit from the establishment of through Amtrak rail passenger service linking Norfolk and DC. That could occur within two to three years, and when it starts, the Crater Region will have access to dependable same-day, round-trip rail service to and from the Washington area. Eventually, the service will inevitably expand in terms of frequencies, and we should also see some reduction in trip times. Currently described as the new “Norfolk train”, the proposed State-sponsored service will actually be even more convenient to business travelers boarding and alighting at Petersburg. This should be viewed as a high-priority economic development tool for the Crater Region, a new option deserving of support and active promotion.

Meanwhile, we hear that the VA Department of Rail and Public Transportation is going to assist the Crater Region with a review and assessment of potential station locations. This is timely and appropriate, as the current Amtrak station in Ettrick is hardly the optimal location to serve the growth areas of the Region. Someday, we will probably need a stop south of the Appomattox and another around Chester, but many rail operating issues enter into such calculations, requiring the balancing of market access against extra stops, dwell times, and line fluidity. Nevertheless it’s all good news.

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We CAN Connect New England By Rail,
But It Won’t Be Easy
Better Rail Connections for New England Soon
Last in a Series

By David Peter Alan

On April 29th, rail advocates and community representatives from New England, New York and New Jersey met in New Haven and agreed that We CAN Connect New England by Rail. The conference produced a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea of better rail connectivity within the region, as well as between New England and other places. It also produced a great deal of concern about funding for any of the proposed improvements in rail infrastructure and operations.

The first three articles in this series focused on the conference and proposals to improve regional rail connectivity. This article will focus on some relatively inexpensive steps that can be taken in the near term to improve travel on New England’s rail and transit network.

Some of these improvements may be coming soon. When Florida rejected a $2.4 billion grant for a high-speed rail project that would link the Tampa and Orlando areas, the funds in question were redistributed to other applicants. One of the grants, for $20.8 million, will be used for double-tracking a line between Wilmington and Andover, Massachusetts, known as the Wildcat. Downeaster trains use the line as a connector between the MBTA’s Lowell Line and their line to Haverhill, the gateway for New Hampshire and Maine points. Besides the Downeaster trains to Portland, only a few commuter trains on the “T” use the line and there are some freight movements there, so the proposed double-tracking has the potential to improve Downeaster scheduling considerably. NCI Webmaster Dennis Kirkpatrick notes that the Wildcat is a longer route to Haverhill than the one which the MBTA normally uses for commuter service.  However, the longer route serves the Anderson Regional Transportation Center, a major park-and-ride and bus transfer facility just off of Interstate Rt 93 in Woburn, MA.  It is highly unlikely that the Downeaster trains would be re-routed, which would save travel time but sacrifice a major interchange point.

MBTA Comuter train at Anderson RTC

Photo: Arnold Reinhold via Wikipedia

An outbound MBTA commuter train arrives at Anderson RTC. The station serves MBTA commuters to and from Boston as well as Amtrak service between Boston and Maine.

The scheduling of these trains could use some improvement. There are currently five trains operating in each direction. Even on week-ends, two of the trains leave their origins 105 minutes apart, leaving only three trains for the rest of the day. On weekdays, trains leave Boston at 5:00 and 5:40, making a commuter schedule. The level of service today is similar to that in 1965, when passenger trains on the line were discontinued; three daily trains at that time. Still, today’s schedule is very sparse for a line that should become a busy rail corridor.

Richard Rulolph, Chair of the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) and a resident of the Portland area, has complained that connections between Northeast Corridor (NEC) trains and Downeaster trains in Boston are often inconvenient and not well-coordinated. The schedule from Portland to Boston and back allows a long day in Boston. Travelers in the other direction, especially from south of Boston, have no such convenience. The only evening train from Portland misconnects with Amtrak Train #66, the last train going south from Boston. To make any Amtrak connection south of Boston, the last feasible train leaves Portland by 3:00 in the afternoon.

In short, there is an unmet need for more service on the Downeaster line. A train every two hours from early morning until late at night should give riders the travel flexibility they should have. With careful scheduling and wise equipment usage, it should be possible to run such a schedule. Double-tracking the Wildcat line should help. So should a commitment by the Northeastern New England Rail Authority, which oversees the service, to provide full-time service that travelers can use conveniently.

Another step to improving rider convenience would be the addition of shuttle buses to the schedule on both ends of the trip; from the South Portland terminal to a suitable location in Downtown Portland, and between North and South Stations in Boston. There are local buses in Portland, but they do not necessarily connect with the trains. A timed shuttle bus could bring riders between Downtown Portland and the train station with a minimum of inconvenience and lost time. On the Boston end, dedicated shuttle buses would take riders to connections at South Station shortly after arrival of Portland trains at North Station. Similarly, buses would leave South Station in time to connect with trains to New Hampshire and Maine. Travel time should be ten to twenty minutes, depending on traffic; less time than it would require to take the “T” between stations. Today, riders must walk or depend on local transit for their connections. This presents an obstacle to increasing ridership, although the situation can be remedied relatively easily and inexpensively with connecting buses. There may be a north-south rail link in Boston someday, but buses can make the trip more efficient in the meantime.

The FRA has also re-allocated $30 for double-tracking of the line between New Haven and Springfield, through Hartford. After the job is completed, the line should also offer far more service than the few trains operating today. Double-tracking will improve the current Amtrak operation, and designation of the line as a commuter rail line would also allow for potential additional funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program or Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding. In any event, it should not be difficult to deliver more rail service to the communities on the line and integrate them more effectively into the New England rail map.

In addition, the line between Boston and Springfield should become a full-service corridor, rather than offering only one daily train between Boston and Chicago. If this requires double-tracking of the segment between Worcester and Springfield, that idea deserves consideration. Until recently, there was some service between New York and Boston via the “Springfield Line” (also known and the “inland route”). That route took longer than the Shore Line through New London and Providence, but it gave Hartford, Springfield and Worcester passengers a one-seat ride from New York and points south. It also linked the two state capitals of Hartford and Boston. This additional connectivity between several population centers in New England will help to connect the entire region.

Improved Boston-Springfield and New Haven-Springfield services would also combine well with other initiatives north of Springfield on the Connecticut River Line. Last week, we reported that Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont has called for the restoration of service through Vermont to Montreal. If is proposal is implemented, it would restore rail service between New England and Canada. The train on that route was known as the Montrealer when it ran in the 1970s and 80s, but today it is merely the Vermonter and terminates at St. Albans, on the Vermont-Quebec border. There is also a proposal for local service north of Springfield, an area which is host to several colleges and universities. Until the mid-1960s, “college trains” ran to Springfield, where riders could connect with trains to New York or Boston. If the track north of Springfield is upgraded to support passenger service once again, this initiative would become feasible. In any event, a strong corridor running north from New Haven to Springfield and then east to Boston would provide a trunk, onto which branches throughout New England can be added.

Last year, a few Boston commuter trains, which formerly terminated at Providence, were extended to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick. The current service is minimal and does not always provide a Boston connection, so it is not currently a useful travel option. There are plans to extend that line further, and it should be extended to New London. It should also operate a full-service schedule between Boston and New London. Shore Line East (SLE) should also operate a connecting schedule between New London and New Haven. These trains should connect with each other, and the SLE trains should connect with Metro-North trains from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal in New York. This arrangement would provide regular service between New York and Boston at affordable fares, and with access to the communities along the line that Amtrak does not serve. Such a service would not compete directly with Amtrak trains, which would offer a shorter running time at considerably higher fares, but would serve a budget-conscious market or travelers who are going to a place that Amtrak does not serve.

The transit providers, or the states which oversee them, would fund the service, and there should be enough equipment available, especially outside of peak commuting hours. Rhode Island could help fund this operation. There is precedent for such an arrangement; Metro-North contracts with New Jersey Transit to operate trains the run on lines that are partly in New Jersey and partly under Metro-North’s jurisdiction in New York State. Commuter rail providers could also offer certain amenities to riders, such as guaranteed connections at New London and New Haven, and through fares between all points.

It should not be overly expensive to implement the suggestions presented in this article, but it still will not be easy. It will require cooperation between rail service providers and political leaders in the region. It will take creative thinking to produce that cooperation and run smooth operations. It will take a strong and unified rider advocacy community to push for these changes. There are intelligent, innovative and dedicated advocates in New England; some of them appeared at the New Haven conference. Still, cooperation and vigorous effort by well-informed people are the keys to improving rail connections in New England.

It has been more than half a century since New England was well-connected by rail, either internally or in any outward direction, except toward New York City. Today, only senior citizens remember many of those trains, but a younger generation of advocates is beginning to call for the restoration of trains that once brought New England together, both internally and through connections with other places. It is now up to this new generation of advocates and their political leaders to make improved connectivity a reality for their region.

To return to the theme of last month’s conference, we CAN connect New England by rail. To return to the theme of this series of articles, it won’t be easy.

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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...
Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor


View from Europe


You’re Gonna Have To Face It,
You’re (still) Addicted To Oil
– Amtrak 40th Anniversary Edition

As Amtrak reaches a significant milestone what does the future hold for the USA’s
long dependency on oil and for energy efficient passenger rail transit?

The author wishes to thank Jim Lashmer – British and US rail historian
– for historical information provided for this editorial

Hannover, Germany – 40 years ago in May 1971 Amtrak came in to existence on the broken remains of the USA’s once proud and powerful passenger railroad system. Three years ago this week I wrote about the USA’s never-ending addiction to oil (D:F Vol. 9, No. 21) So – how have things changed since 1971 . . . or 2008?

In 1971 the US was in the middle of a very controversial foreign war which was dragging on – not Iraq nor Afghanistan, but Vietnam. Gasoline was about as expensive as milk by the gallon or liter, if not slightly cheaper than milk. Baby Boomers, who are now hitting the retirement age range of 60 – 67 by the thousands every week, were then filling the nation’s colleges, universities and high schools to incredibly crowded conditions. The nation’s passenger rail system was nearly ready to collapse due to lack of customers and poor service – a victim of new government subsidized interstate highways, decades of railroad company management incompetence and rail company arrogance dating back as far as the era just after the end of the American Civil War, as well as cheap gasoline and jet fuel.

At the time Republican US President Richard Nixon and the US Congress under the leadership of the Democrats believed that the USA still had a vital interest in keeping passenger rail service alive. And thus Amtrak was born – to make a long story short. But little else changed. Gasoline prices would remain low for several more years (until the Arab Oil embargo of 1973), fuel taxes remained likewise relatively low compared to the USA’s post-World War 2 economic rivals of Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Italy and France. And the government (federal, state and local) multi billion-dollar spending spree on freeways and highways remained in high-gear, as it had been for most of the 1950s and 60s.

Birth In The Height of The Dark Ages of American Rail Transit

As Amtrak came to life in 1971, the few still remaining street-car and interurban railways in the USA were being dismantled and being replaced with buses or simply eliminated with no replacement service. The only active all-new mass transit construction projects in the 50 states were BART in San Francisco and the Washington MTA in the nation’s capitol – in 1971 the national capitols of nearly all of the USA’s rivals – London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, and Moscow – already had fully operational rail transit networks. Even the small university city of Bonn, Germany – the capitol of West Germany since 1949 – had a street car / light rail network – but The Metro in Washington was just beginning to break ground for a six year long project. In the rapidly growing cities of Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, Tampa and Miami and countless other areas of the suddenly booming “Sun Belt” urban or suburban passenger rail transit of any kind was a far off dream while all of these cities and regions poured hundreds of billions of tax dollars into massive highway and road networks.

The shotgun marriage a few years earlier of the New York Central, New Haven Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad into Penn Central had become a failure, and the bankruptcy of Penn Central the year before threatened to end essential commuter rail transit in no less than seven Northeast states including the busiest commuter rail networks in the nation centered on New York City. Amtrak itself started life in May 1971 with aging and broken rolling stock and a shoe-string budget. It was perhaps the midnight hour for passenger rail transit in the USA.

As Rail Transit Stood Still In America, America’s Rivals Moved Forward

In 1971 the USA’s main economic rivals were going in a rather different direction with passenger rail transit, with the possible exception of Great Britain. Japan was extending its new “bullet train” high-speed rail system, and much of western Europe, including Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Holland and France, were upgrading numerous cross-country lines for 160 – 200 km/h (100 – 125 mph) speeds and extending electrification of rail lines by leaps and bounds.

Both Germany and France began research into much faster passenger trains in order to counter Japan’s then sole position in the high-speed train club, which would eventually lead to the introduction of TGV high-speed trains in France and the ICE series of high-speed trains in Germany. Just a few weeks after Amtrak’s 20th anniversary in June 1991, Germany officially started high-speed rail service with ICE-1 trains running between Hamburg and Frankfurt via the newly constructed Hannover – Fulda – Würzburg high-speed rail corridor. Across many western European countries a building boom of subway, commuter rail and urban light rail systems was underway. Even Great Britain, which was under-funding its own rail network during the 1960s and 70s - government-owned British Rail – and falling behind its neighbors in Europe, nonetheless found the resources and commitment to electrify several heavily used main lines of the largely non-electrified British Rail network.

A pair of ICE-2 train sets from the Ruhr region in western Germany

Photo: David Beale

It’s an Anniversary! - In June 2011 the ICE high-speed train network in Germany will have its 20th anniversary of revenue service, just four weeks after Amtrak celebrates its 40th anniversary. Back in 2007 NCI missed reporting the 40th anniversary of the electrification of the Hannover – Wunstorf – Minden – Osnabrück main line. Seen here are a pair of ICE-2 train sets from the Ruhr region in western Germany hammering along at 160 km/h (100 mph) on the Minden – Wunstorf section of this rail line in Lindhorst Township towards Hannover and Berlin back in April 2011.

As numerous personalities from the American radical right, including Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Governors Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, House Speaker John Boehner, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and many others heap on criticism of Obama’s high-speed rail proposals as being wasteful and not practical, the USA’s rivals and competitors are coming to exactly the opposite conclusion on high-speed passenger trains: build it, built it now. The range of countries which have committed to building high-speed rail ranges from the well-known such as France, Germany, Spain and Japan, to surprises such as China, Korea, Russia, Great Britain, Australia and oil rich Saudi Arabia. Should we trust half-term Governor Palin, or should we pay more attention to what our allies, rivals and competitors in the rest of the world are doing?

Amtrak – A Survival Story

Forty years later Amtrak has managed to come a long way in several aspects, but it also had to surrender on several other fronts. During the public-transit-friendly Carter Administration Amtrak was able to secure funding to replace many hundreds of 20 to 40 year old locomotives and cars inherited from various commercial railroads, which had pulled the plug on their passenger rail operations and from bankrupt Penn Central, with all new rolling stock including the venerable Amfleet series of passenger cars. In the late 1970s Amtrak began upgrading the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington with continuously welded rail and concrete ties. It was ready to start building and installing overhead electrification infrastructure on the Boston – New Haven section of the route by late 1980 and early 1981, but the incoming Reagan Administration shut-down the remaining NEC upgrade projects, including Boston – New Haven electrification, before construction even could start, as one of its first actions in the early days of the now famous or infamous Reagan White House era. It was the first taste from political conservatives in Washington DC of an increasingly hard-line position to either dramatically shrink or eliminate altogether Amtrak, and thus interstate passenger rail, from the national transportation network.

From 1981 through 2008 Amtrak ran into various headwinds and crosswinds in Washington regarding its funding and role in the American transportation network, but it managed to survive. Amtrak was placed on a strict budgetary diet for most of its four decades of services, but it was also required to serve various long-distance routes with relatively few passengers at the whim and behest of various members of Congress, although its limited cash and financial resources could have been used better on other routes. It continued to operate during the national air space shut-down, which resulted from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. After the 2010 mid term elections the headwinds in Washington blowing against Amtrak began to pick-up force again.

The source of Amtrak’s opposition comes from several political positions. One of these is the position that government should be limited to simply protecting the population from crime and foreign enemies and enforcing existing laws. The people who advocate this position, including most of the current GOP membership and probably all of the TEA Party movement argue that, providing either capital funding or operational subsidies for a passenger railroad is simply not something that government should be involved in. This targets not only Amtrak but a whole wide range of government provided services ranging from public schools, parks, libraries, public clinics and hospitals, government owned or operated airports, sanitation systems and domestic water supply systems – and perennial right-wing target and punching bag, the National Public Radio network (NPR).

Surprisingly one area of government services which conservative “limited government” advocates rarely attack or call into question is the government owed and subsidized road and highway network – a long existing feature of American landscape. While most western countries, such as much of Europe, Japan and several other Asian countries including Singapore have fuel taxes and user fee systems in-place to recover most of the capital and operational costs of their highways, the USA, through federal, state and local government spending, continues to directly subsidize roads and highways far beyond what is collected in terms of gasoline taxes, vehicle registration fees and highway tolls. Additional government subsidies for automobiles and highways come in indirect forms via billions of dollars in corporate welfare payments made to Big Oil companies every year, as well as huge tax loopholes for Big Oil, tax rebates and tax abatements handed out generously by various state governments to automobile assembly plants in places ranging from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio to Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee. I have personally heard little or no criticism of these wasteful subsides by the present-day American Conservative Right-wing.

The commercial air system in the USA has become “mass transit” in many markets. Numerous cities in the USA, which could be linked with energy efficient high-speed rail, are instead linked with airliners. Examples are numerous: Los Angeles – Las Vegas, Houston. - Dallas, Chicago – Minneapolis, Atlanta – Charlotte, Boston – Albany, Nashville – Louisville, Philadelphia – Pittsburgh, Orlando – Tampa, etc. Although the recovery rate of government expenditures on the nation’s air network including public money spent on airports, the FAA, the TSA and related infrastructure via user fees, taxes on airline tickets, landing fees etc. is far higher than for the nation’s road and highway network, there is still a significant amount of taxpayer money spent to support air travel beyond the taxes and fees paid by passengers and airlines – multiple times what the federal government spends of subsidies for Amtrak. Despite dramatic improvements made in fuel efficiency of the airline industry – the jetliners currently coming from the assembly lines of Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer and Airbus use 30 to 40 percent less fuel per passenger than the jetliners of the 1970s – a modern airliner on a 300 mile trip between cities uses on the order of four times as much energy per passenger as a modern high-speed train, according to numerous studies made by governments and industry in Great Britain, Germany and France.

America, You Wanted In 2008 To Kick Your Oil Addiction –
How’s That Working Out For Ya?

There is no doubt that improved and expanded rail transit will greatly help in decreasing the appetite for oil in the long term, including foreign oil, of the US transportation system. And there is no doubt that less oil consumption, and especially less reliance on imported oil, is a boost to the nation’s economy. The costs of two, and perhaps three wars which the USA has taken on in the past 20 years – Gulf War 1, Gulf War 2, and the current military operations in Libya, can be at least partially charged to the nation’s foreign oil addiction. The nation’s addiction to domestically produced oil also has some significant hidden costs for taxpayers and the general population – the final bill for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster is still not yet known, estimates range from $2 billion to $9 billion. The damage to that part of Alaska remains. The infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 will certainly cost American taxpayers and Gulf Coast residents and small businesses billions of dollars for years to come. BP has so far paid for a small fraction of what the potential damages will likely amount to. The long term cost of the oil spill can not even be calculated, they may well reach into the 100 billion-dollar range.

In the past 40 years the USA has been subjected to several oil price shocks, the first one just two years after Amtrak came into existence. By the early 1980s things simmered down in the Middle East, despite a war between Iran and Iraq, and crude oil from northern Alaska via the Alaska Oil pipeline came on-line. Oil prices fell to the bargain levels of the late 1960s and early 70s pre-Arab Oil Embargo. Automobile use in the USA exploded as did oil consumption. America’s addiction was stronger than ever. The first Gulf War drove up crude oil prices temporarily, but after the USA kicked Iraq out of Kuwait and bombed Saddam Hussein into a small corner, oil prices soon fell back to bargain-basement pricing.

Meanwhile economies in China, Southeast Asia, India, and Eastern Europe began to grow ever faster. Their appetite for oil began to dramatically increase. Although consumption per person in those countries was (and is still) a small fraction of the per-person oil consumption in the USA, the overall demand for oil worldwide began to accelerate during the late 1990s and into the 2000s. The growing world wide demand for oil also facilitated a booming speculation market trading in oil futures. By early 2008 oil prices were jumping to new highs as the presidential campaign season in the USA was coming up to speed. Oil and gasoline prices quickly became a campaign issue. The battle lines were drawn at the 2008 Republican Party convention: “Drill, Baby, Drill” - the painless, risk-free, and easy solution to America’s latest energy crisis. Candidate Barack Obama promised more focus on alternative energy research and production as well as dramatically increased investment in and construction of rail transit. Amtrak was about to get a long awaited major boost, after eight years of multiple attempts by the Bush Administration and conservative members of Congress to kill Amtrak.

Have We Learned Anything Yet?

As Amtrak celebrates 40 years of service to the nation, oil prices are yet again a political issue in the USA. The Obama Administration’s attempt to bring true high-speed train services to the USA is barely off the launch pad and already Republican governors in three key states: Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, have opted out of the system for reasons that have little basis in reality, but rather have lots to do with current American conservative political dogma. In a recent internal e-mail exchange between myself and several other NCI contributors, D:F contributor David Peter Alan wondered if Florida Governor Rick Scott also declined all federal funding for highways and roads, the way he infamously rejected funding for Florida’s proposed high-speed rail lines. I suspect he took the federal money for highways.

Opinion polls continue to show wide spread support across the USA for improved rail transit, both intercity and regional / urban / suburban transit. These opinion polls are backed up with various successful local and state referendums all across the USA in recent years with approval by voters for increased taxes to pay for public transit projects in the majority of such election day referendums. My own personal experience here in Germany over the past 13 years when talking to visitors from the USA about the passenger train network here in Germany and the rest of Europe, is not criticism from these American visitors about how “socialist” or “wasteful” the rail networks here might be, instead their comments are nearly 100% on the order of “why can’t the USA build a similar system?”

A Siemens Avanto light rail train runs through downtown Houston back in January 2011

Photo: David Beale

Light Rail in the home of Big Oil – Houston’s light rail system started operations only a few years ago but has big plans for the future – unless politics as usual get in the way. A Siemens Avanto light rail train runs through downtown Houston back in January 2011.

However political opposition to increased investment in rail transit from conservatives in the US Congress remains strong, and seems to be getting stronger. The reason given in public for their opposition is most often deficit and debt reduction. But it is rather easy to see that it is politics as usual which is driving this hard-line against Amtrak in particular and rail transit in general. In many cases it simply boils down to personalities – since President Obama is for it, Washington DC conservatives feel obliged to be against it, who cares what the American people want or need? Clearly when it comes to the issue of investment in public transit, ideology and top-down political dogma win hands-down over grass roots support for world-class rail transit in the USA. There are some very powerful Washington DC special interest lobbies campaigning hard against public investment and support of rail transit, the question is why do these special interests trump the will of the American people? In whose interests is it to kill development of a proven highly energy efficient way of moving people to places they want to go?

Why is the USA still committed to foreign oil consumption as well as rolling the dice on the next Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster somewhere along the American coastline or in the pristine arctic wilderness of Alaska? Why do politicians want us to pretend that oil prices will one day go back down to $30 or $40 per barrel? Have we not learned anything since the first oil price shock of the early 1970s?

Amtrak: Orphan Child Of The Pro-Highway Spending Spree Lobby

As much as many conservative politicians hate spending money each year on Amtrak, little do they know that they and their anti-Amtrak predecessors helped perpetuate the need for Amtrak. Amtrak is a direct outcome of the bizarre way the USA funds its transportation infrastructure: taxpayer subsidies galore for roads and highways, moderate subsidization of airlines and airports, and little to no subsidies for private / commercial railroads attempting to run passenger trains. Amtrak was founded forty years ago on the wreck of private passenger rail, which simply could no longer compete with massively taxpayer subsidized highways, cheap tax-payer subsidized gasoline and automobile ownership (example: interest on automobile installment loans was deductible from personal federal income tax until the late 1980s).

The business equation that helped give birth to Amtrak forty years ago still exists with little changed today. Amtrak has no competitors in the passenger rail transportation market, not because evil socialist American liberals and moderates want it that way. Amtrak does not have any private competitors in the passenger train market, because no one can compete against government subsidized roads, highways and airports. Remove those subsidies, which would save the average American taxpayer a significant amount of taxes paid at the federal, state and local levels, and there is no question that private railroads and other companies would immediately see a huge potential to make money with passenger trains. The downside of killing off all the generous subsidies given to highways, roads and automobiles would naturally be a massive increase in the cost of buying and driving the car in the USA – possibly approaching the current cost levels of buying and driving a car in a place like Germany, Great Britain, Singapore or Norway. I, your humble D:F foreign editor, have been able to survive quite well in Germany with my car, despite those increased automobile costs.

Acela Express train set  passes a set of 1970s vintage Metro-North M-2 EMU trains

Photo: Amtrak

New meats Old on the Northeast Corridor– a relatively new (2000) Amtrak Acela Express train set passes a set of 1970s vintage Metro-North M-2 EMU trains on the century-plus old New Haven main line in Westchester County, NY back in April 2010. Four track mainlines such as this are a rare item in the USA, but are common in Germany, Austria, France, Britain, Italy, China and Japan.

On Amtrak’s 40th anniversary the USA is confronted with the challenge of bringing its transportation infrastructure into the 21st century in order to stay competitive with its rivals in Europe, Asia and even in South America and the Middle East. America’s leaders are faced with a “you can pay me now, or you can pay me later, much, much more later” decision over the nation’s failing and outdated infrastructure. Since the 2010 mid term election campaign season, true leadership on this critical issue has been scarce. The Obama Administration has failed to follow through with major changes in the way the USA finances and builds sustainable energy efficient transportation infrastructure, and instead wastes valuable time on trying to placate the political opposition across the aisle. The newly embolden conservative right-wing has decided to spend its recently won political capital on trying to re-write modern American history by blaming the current recession and fiscal mess, which the federal and various state and local governments now find themselves in, on public school teachers, fire fighters, policemen and women and other front line government employees, while giving a free pass and large tax cuts to Wall Street big wigs and the leagues of incompetent bankers, insurance company executives and financial derivative brokers who foolishly and selfishly drove the American financial industry at full speed into a brick wall over the past ten years and triggered the worst economic downturn in the USA since the Great Depression.

As Amtrak begins its fifth decade of service, what can we expect? Much depends on how involved the American public stays engaged in the discussion about the USA’s rapidly deterioration transportation infrastructure. If right-wing political ideology and dogma and powerful Washington DC special interest lobbyists control this discussion, then the future for Amtrak and passenger rail transit in the USA looks cloudy at best, and bleak in the worst case scenario. However if grass roots America makes its voice heard, the situation for Amtrak looks far brighter. Amtrak ridership is still increasing and voter support for the extra degree of freedom, which public transit and improved intercity rail provide, is widespread. America’s oil addiction which is as bad in 2011 as it was in 2008 and 1971, may slowly but surely on the way out, if we dump the failed policies of subsidizing Big Oil,. highways, roads and automobiles and start looking to our allies and economic rivals in the rest of the world for transportation solutions and best practices, which they are implementing with success over there, and which certainly can be successful in the USA.

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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Where There’s A Will, There’s a Rail System


House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL) is a rail advocate who takes a back seat to nobody. It’s just that he hates Amtrak, or at least why things are The Way They Are with that railroad. The phrase “a Soviet-era” bureaucracy is among his kinder descriptions of Amtrak --- and people used to think Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was outspoken on the subject.

Amtrak’s defenders are equally passionate, if not more so, in the face of this latest battle in the 40-year tug-of-war over just how we should run a railroad in America. In particular the unions are alarmed, as Amtrak, like other on-the-ground services, cannot be outsourced overseas like so many other American industries have been since 1980.

Caught in the middle are Amtrak’s employees, who have to go to work and run a railroad every day that has never been provided the basic capital funding mechanism --- provided to highways, airlines, and shipping lines decades ago by government --- to enable any real forward planning. They also have to face the wrath of customers who blame them very personally when the train is late, or when their 40-year-old car is overheated (or freezing), or when snow blows in between the gaskets of the poorly-designed-in-the-first-place vestibules of the 1970’s AmFleet passenger cars still in service decades after they should have been replaced.

Take all of the above, mix in the reactionary anti-government rhetoric that has dominated the American political debate since 1980, and then add legislation --- sponsored by people who fundamentally do not understand that taxes are “the price we pay for civilization” (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.) --- and you have the transportation mess we are in.

From coast to coast myopic, selfish and well-financed corporate shills have eviscerated our nation’s infrastructure. Make no mistake about it: it is very, very hard to build a national transportation system of any kind without predictable financial support --- that’s why President Dwight David Eisenhower asked Congress to create the Highway Trust Fund in the 1950’s. Building a rail system without predictable financial support, especially while facing an army of enemies consisting of fake “Institutes” and “Foundations” bought and paid for by the petroleum lobby, whose loyalties are most certainly not to America, and who undermine anyone that appears to be a threat to their oligopolistic, obscene profits – is impossible. As we have seen.

Which is all the more reason why Congressman Mica and his Rails Subcommittee Chair Shuster are largely right.

We MUST have private sector investment in rail infrastructure if we are ever to bring our level of rail service up to, or even approach, that commonly found in Asia and Europe.

But there is a baby-with-the-bathwater element to their [justified] frustration with the state of High-Speed Rail in America. Yes, private sector investment is essential but, No, breaking up Amtrak to get there is the wrong thing to do. Amtrak, for all its flaws --- largely caused by the way in which it has been [poorly] funded by Congress --- has a tremendous institutional memory. They do indeed know how to run a railroad, safely and --- given the equipment and especially infrastructure they have been handed, remarkably efficiently. Those who have suffered with delayed trains, out-of-order PA systems, a sleepless surly conductor from the Extra Board, or broken equipment, will feel otherwise, but let me repeat: the people at Amtrak do in fact know what they are doing. It is just that they are the Hebrews of transportation: they have been told to make bricks without straw. Yet somehow, every day, they do it.

Keep Amtrak operationally intact. Strengthen it through predictable capital investment by the Federal government. But yes, bring in the private sector too. The railroad owns much land, adjacent to and around its Northeast Corridor, and it also has invaluable air rights over its tracks. We need to monetize all that.

There is a concept, known as Transit Oriented Development, which takes advantage of the proximity of transportation infrastructure (to land) to develop and serve the areas near train stations (or subway stops, or ports). The private sector is far and away the right vehicle to build out those assets, and Amtrak needs to cooperate in that effort.

Because the other part of the TOD equation is “Value Capture”. With Value Capture, a portion of the revenues derived from the taxes generated by the new Transit Oriented Development regions go back to the operating entity for maintenance and capital equipment replacement. We at the National Corridors Initiative call Transportation Infrastructure Investment Zones (“TIIZies”) rather than the more commonly used phrase “Tax Increment Financing (TIF)”, for what we see as obvious reasons.

That’s the way the Hong Kong subway system pays for itself, for example, using revenues from properties it owns or controls, or from which it in effect or fact derives tax revenues, to offset operating costs.

And therein lies the secret of transportation economics: the more tickets you sell (or the more miles you drive), the more money you (or the government) will need to invest; otherwise, bridges fall into the Mississippi, and trains break down, and aircraft have too many near misses. It is all part of the same picture, and John Mica is addressing it. Let’s go forward from here. Let Amtrak be Amtrak --- let Amtrak run the passenger trains --- but let’s monetize the rest. Then, and only then, will we stop wasting Congressional time, let alone everyone else’s, debating whether or not we need passenger trains. Of course we do. But let’s do it right.

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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