Image via WikipediaThis Week at Amtrak; September 9, 2009
A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from
United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute
1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA
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Volume 6, Number 36
Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at http://www.unitedrail.org.
URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.
1) Do you choose greatness, or mediocrity? Do you choose a healthy, robust passenger rail system, or a continuation of the shame of Amtrak as we know it today?
At the beginning of the 1950s, America still had the greatest passenger rail system in the world. By the end of the 1950s, that system, through the introduction of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system and the Boeing 707, had started sliding first into depressing mediocrity, and then, by Amtrak Day in 1971, an abysmal black hole.
Yet, we, as the greatest nation on earth, have accepted Amtrak because we’ve been told time and again it’s the best we can expect. Falsely, we’ve been lectured to that it was a matter of money. So many people have blindly believed that annoying canard.
Falsely, we’ve been indoctrinated that passenger rail is rightly a child of government, because no one is smart enough to understand how to run passenger rail without the financial strength of government.
Sadly, as a nation we’ve bought into all of this degenerate rhetoric because the glamour and glitz of passenger rail was snuffed out with the last runs of the Twentieth Century Limited, Broadway Limited, Super Chief, North Coast Limited, and Florida Special.
We looked to the skies filled with jets from Pan Am, Eastern, National, TWA, and Braniff for our glamour and glitz. The Hunt Breakfast which used to be served in first class between Phoenix and the West Coast on Western Airlines replaced the spotless linen of the dining car on the Golden State of the Rock Island and Southern Pacific railroads.
The siren of the complete freedom of the automobile tugged at the restlessness in our breasts and souls, ever seeking to explore new places and stay along the way in always dependable Holiday Inns and Howard Johnson’s motels instead of the slightly swaying bed of a Pullman sleeping car. In every Holiday Inn or Howard Johnson’s room you had a private bath and a shower. On a Pullman sleeping car, you had a lavatory sink for bathing.
Instead of creating the next generation of long distance trains, we created child of government, Amtrak. Yes, Amtrak gave us Amfleet, but, really, is an Amfleet coach seat any more comfortable than a coach set on any previous Budd built or Pullman Standard coach? And, yes, Amtrak gave us Superliners and Viewliners, but, if left up to private innovation without the heavy hand of government regulation, what would we have had today instead from the private marketplace?
We already had the Metroliner on Pennsylvania Railroad’s Northeast Corridor. That was a huge step forward; what else would we have had? Perhaps, a still functioning Pullman Standard passenger car manufacturing company in Chicago? American ingenuity instead of Canadian, European, and Korean ingenuity? Would we have had the disappointment of Acela trainsets without them being created by a company that was a child of government? Perhaps, if complete accountability had come into the picture, would the many trials and tribulations of Acela never have occurred?
As a nation, we are on the cusp of perhaps the next golden age of railroading on many levels. Public and private partnerships are being forged where everyone is a winner. Private freight railroads are weathering the recession, and seemed poised to come back strong as business revives. In the meantime, more and more managers have come to understand there is money to be made in the passenger business. Most people have no clue how much activity there is currently in the private marketplace for new and innovative passenger plans. But, it’s there, all working in the glory of the free market system.
If we’re fortunate, we as peoples of North America will continue to come to rediscover the many advantages of passenger rail on every level. Those with vision will rise to the top, leaving shuffling bureaucrats and negative attitudes of “no, we can’t” back in the dust.
The day is coming. Are you ready?
3) Words, names, labels – they all matter when it comes to how we think about things. William Lindley of Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Scottsdale has a few words on the subject.
By William Lindley
There has been much hand-wringing about the terms "high speed rail" and "commuter rail" in the United States. This has occurred because most of the new "high speed" systems aren't really all that fast compared to Spain's, France's or Japan's, and because many of the new "commuter rail" systems have broken from the 1950s-think "inbound mornings, outbound evenings" schedules.
This is evident in the August 2009 Railway Age magazine. Railway Age writes more about expansion of passenger rail across the country – with the sometimes supportive, sometimes grudging approval of the Class I railroads – than would have even been seriously considered as a guest editorial in a "fan" magazine like Trains magazine 20 years ago.
Before we as a nation consider new services, let's look at how terminology and "old-think" have stifled the growth of passenger trains and transit for years.
In my college years at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, I grew to be friends with the late George Sanborn, the "puckish" – the Boston Globe's word, not mine – librarian of the State Transportation Library. George, who started with Boston’s transit service, the MBTA, when it was still the Boston Elevated Railway, seemingly knew everything about the history and future of transit in the Bay State. He got me not just understanding the past, but thinking about shaping that future – he turned me from a "railfan" into an "advocate."
Two things stand out which were gleaned from Mr. Sanborn – one, a 1904 map illustrating the "Steam Railroads and Street Railways of Massachusetts," and the other, the opening of the Alewife extension of the Red Line in 1984-1985. The latter made George laugh as he showed me the original plans to extend the Cambridge Subway – as the Red Line was originally known – very much along the 1980s alignment, to Arlington, and even as far as Lexington, and they were dated 1912! Clearly, the wheels of progress grind slowly. And as to that 1904 map – compare it to the modern MBTA "commuter rail" lines and the bus lines, and there are few differences. This despite that streetcars were in high competition with railroads for local passengers.
Indeed, even today, local and express buses in Boston exist in almost complete denial of commuter trains. In my old hometown of Bedford, Massachusetts, there is no attempt by transit to connect the town with train lines which operate in Concord – just a few miles west – or to the Burlington Mall, three miles to the east, or either to Mishawum station in Woburn, 10 miles to the east.
I then lived in Woodbridge, Virginia, where the onetime "Prince William [County] Commuteride" buses have been replaced by "PRTC" – which still runs express buses to the Pentagon, flying in the face of the fact Virginia Railway Express trains have existed since 1992. True, the Pentagon employs tens of thousands, but why is a public bus company designed to serve a single building, instead of the whole city? There are a couple local loop shuttles in Woodbridge, but they make paltry connections to the VRE station there... clearly, there is no thought of a transportation “system” – just a variety of disconnected bits.
Countless examples surely abound across the country. So long as our transit modes, even ones operated by the same agency, refuse to co-operate and work as a local matrix, they will never fulfill their proper roles, and will waste billions of taxpayer dollars on inefficiency.
Part of the problem is not just "we have always done it that way," but the terminology itself. Words are powerful.
In my current hometown of Phoenix, Arizona – since 1991 – the transit system has improved much in 20 years, but still has far to go. I fought for years to get a "drop-off only" sign at the Valley Metro Route 532 express bus stop at Scottsdale and McKellips Roads removed... because even though the Bus Book said the bus stopped there, the drivers wouldn't let passengers – who had departed the morning bus there from Mesa to go to Arizona State University in Tempe or to work in Scottsdale – back on in the evening! The bus was designed only to carry people downtown, and the drivers were told not to let paying passengers on who wish to make the return trip. Amazing.
This sort of foolishness persists today in newer "Rapid" buses, designed again as "commuter" routes. These Rapid buses run in from the west from 79th Avenue along Interstate10, about nine miles to the State Capitol at 19th Avenue, making local drop-offs downtown – and then turn around and run back to 79th Avenue empty... despite other Rapid buses from east Phoenix are arriving off I-10, making local stops downtown and running back empty to the east from the Capitol! Apparently, nobody is permitted to desire to wish to travel from west to east through downtown – as if there are no jobs in the west valley which attract east valley workers, or vice versa. Better to run empty buses in the mindset of transit managers!
The same "commuter only" mentality has been turned on its head now that the same Valley Metro has surveyed the riders of its new trolley system. Not only did a near majority of train riders rarely, if ever, use buses previously, but most trips were not "commuter oriented," but trips to lunch, to visit friends, or just for fun. These trips were utterly missed by all the traditional projection models in the original design.
Meanwhile, despite all indications these trains are used not for commuting, but for everyday, all-day travel – 35% of METRO riders surveyed are new to transit, and 40% use light rail to travel between home and a destination other than work – Valley Metro is forging ahead with an ill-conceived extension west in the median of I-10, which will have just two or three stops, each located unwalkably over a quarter of a mile from anything, with platforms surrounded by screaming, diesel-belching, tire-dust shredding-18-wheelers... stations sunken in the depressing concrete canyon which is a modern superhighway.
This scenario, despite that "commuter rail" surely will run on the parallel Union Pacific tracks a mile or so away within a few years, and despite that Thomas Road, parallel to, and a mile and a half to the north of I-10, has the highest bus ridership of any in the system – Thomas being fronted by apartments, shopping, and offices along its entire length. Valley Metro refuses to give up the misguided highway routing and put the trolley where it would actually serve real people, instead of the imaginary commuter traffic models projected.
Even more baffling, Valley Metro never gave its train stations any names – just intersection addresses. Instead of "Sun Devil Stadium," which is a landmark at Arizona State University, the adjacent station is called "Veterans Avenue and College Way" – a place even Congressman Harry Mitchell, formerly mayor of Tempe for years, had no clue where it was after he said he was off to ride the train. Is it any wonder the common man can't figure out how to talk about the stations? One magazine apparently gave up on such unwieldy names, and prints a map of the confusingly long names and then says, "This delightful restaurant is located at Station 7."
All this shows why "old think" and the associated buzzwords "commuter rail" – even modern buzzwords like "regional rail" and "high speed rail" – need to be discarded. They encourage "wrong-think." (Please excuse my temporary lapse into Orwell's Newspeak.) The old ways and ill-chosen words lead not just in unease in the public's mind, but in the planner's mind, as well.
Instead, let us take a cue from what worked before. Instead of "commuter rail" and "regional rail," consider Local Trains. Some of these, yes, serve commuters – but the emphasis is local, all day, every day, cross-town connectivity.
Instead of "high speed corridor" trains, let us have Express Trains. And overlaid on this, instead of thinking "intercity train," which locks us into the early 1970s mindset – Limited Trains.
Both historically in the United States and across modern-day Europe, it is the network – the matrix – of a variety of trains, which make a viable system. Europe's fast TGV, Thalys, or AVE trains depend on connections with local trains, streetcars, and buses to feed and distribute passengers to endpoints. In France, SCNF trains code-share with numerous airlines, permitting through-booking to a variety of French cities.
Most important, high-speed operators like Thalys and AVE run both types of trains which make just a few stops between their endpoints, as well as some serving a few suburban stops and intermediate cities.
Amtrak has attempted on several occasions to run non-stop endpoint-to-endpoint trains, such as Metroliners in the Northeast Corridor and in the Pacific Surfliner corridor. All these attempts suffered low ridership, partly because few passengers wanted to go only from downtown to downtown, but also because of missing, or poorly coordinated local train service.
Perhaps today, with proper integration with Pacific Surfliner partner train services of Coaster, Metrolink, and Los Angeles subways, an express Surfliner might make more sense than a decade ago, but unless major intermediate stops like Oceanside are added, the matrix effect is so greatly diminished, such a service only would be reasonable as a supplement when the regular trains become over crowded.
The Matrix effect – not just among trains of equal class but among all trains and local transit, is the driving force behind a successful national transportation system. Ideally, at major gateway cities – spaced across the country in a grid, each no less than 150 miles apart – limited trains from multiple directions would converge several times a day to permit transfers to all points... not unlike what airlines do with hubs. At these gateway cities, local trains would provide the links to the surrounding suburbs and smaller cities, while Express trains would give fast links for connecting passengers to nearby metropolitan areas.
As the matrix of different trains and transit increases, and the number of daily trains increases, the need for Clever Scheduling decreases. Amtrak, traditionally having just one train a day on most routes, needs Clever Scheduling to operate its skeleton system. Yet, when each route sees two to four daily trains, there is always a train in a few hours... which solves many problems, from minor delays causing major inconveniences, to crew rest times and expensive overnight hotel stays at Amtrak's expense. When stations are staffed full-time, they cost less per passenger to run – even with a larger staff – than a station open just a few hours a day.
The single factor hobbling rail ridership today is that you simply can't get there from here, with the exception of a few places depending where "here" is. If you live in Dallas, you can get to Oklahoma City, St. Louis or Chicago, El Paso or Los Angeles – and basically nowhere else. Let's see how that changes with a matrix.
I've placed a sample "timetable" of sorts at http://unitedrail.org/images/20090908.html which shows just some of the places you can get to, with a single connection from a train in Texas, under the late Dr. Adrian Herzog's updated plan, as featured in this space in August.
Indeed, in this snapshot chart, there are far more transfer points and far more intermediate destinations than can be shown on a single chart – but, if you compare this to today's connections (shown in red), there are many more x's in Dr. Herzog’s proposed matrix.
As the number of destinations increases dramatically, and convenience increases when there is more than a single train a day to most places, the train becomes a serious transportation option for more and more travelers.
Dr. Herzog wrote in 2000, "...interconnecting a network into a complex matrix of origin-destination pairs even at constant levels of market penetration drives increases in transaction volume (ridership) exponentially."
Serious growth is unprecedented on trains in America since the advent of subsidized highways, but across Europe, ridership in many places is at or above historic highs, even as highway and air travel continue to be strong and grow.
True, air ridership has dropped dramatically in places where high-speed trains now run; and indeed, Air France may bid to operate trains on SNCF's lines; but realistically, operating jetliners for distances of much less than 500 miles makes little economic sense. Once a plane and crew has spent the time and fuel to climb to altitude, it costs relatively little to fly a few more hours. This doesn't even count the maintenance expense and ground charges incurred with each takeoff and landing. Airplanes do what they do very well, and so do trains; but there is little overlap.
In each metropolitan area, then, we begin with a base matrix of pedestrian access, bicycles, city buses, streetcars, and subways. Overlaid on this is a matrix of local trains, serving a greater metropolitan area with all-day, in addition to peak period, service. Overlaid on that are express trains which start on one side of a city, call at the downtown station and again on the other side, and make a few more stops into one or more cities down the line... calling at airports and selected city or suburban transit hubs, passing through the final downtown, and terminating on the far side of the destination city.
The final layer is our limited trains – somewhat like today's intercity services – which connect the country from west to east, south to north, in a matrix, a grid so you can get there from here. Often these Limiteds may call only at one or two stations in each city besides the main downtown terminal, but they almost never make a single stop, except for major intermediate cities or destinations.
The Limiteds must connect with the Express and Local trains, and directly with the airports, where possible. And, almost every Limited train, because there will be two to four of them each day on each route, will continue to serve small town America – places like Deming, New Mexico; Whitefish, Montana; and Alpine, Texas. In the wide open spaces of America, these trains become a mix of long-distance and local.
You can already see this on today's Amtrak trains... sit in the lounge car and chat with a German tourist on one side and the college kid from Green River, Utah going to Lincoln, Nebraska on the other. The Limiteds are not endpoint-to-endpoint services – that's the oldthink – rather, they are the interconnection which make the whole underlying matrix work.
3) The latest from Ken Orski, at Innovation NewsBriefs. This is Volume 20, Number 17. For more information, visit www.innobriefs.com.
September 8, 2009
Congress Will Most Likely Extend the Existing Transportation Authorization
Among the pressing legislative priorities facing Congress this autumn – besides the highly visible health care and climate change bills – is an extension of the federal surface transportation program. The program authority expires on September 30 and its renewal is essential to keep the federal transportation money flowing. As we reported in our NewsBrief of August 8 on the eve of the congressional adjournment, the House and the Senate have been on divergent paths in their approach toward renewing the program. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under the leadership of Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), has been intent on passing a six-year $500 billion surface transportation measure ($450 billion for highways and transit, $50 billion for high-speed rail) during this session of Congress. In late July, a bill to this effect was reported out by the House Highways and Transit subcommittee. Chairman Oberstar announced at the time that he would hold a full committee mark-up soon after the House returns from its summer recess.
The Senate, on the other hand, has been working toward an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation program. Its rationale for doing so was succinctly stated by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) ranking minority member. There simply is no way, the two senate transportation leaders concluded, that Congress could pass a multi-year authorization of the surface transportation program before the program’s expiration at the end of September. "There are just too many big questions left unanswered, not the least of which is a lack of a consensus on how to pay for it," Boxer and Inhofe stated. A better approach, they said, would be to pass an 18-month extension as recommended by the Obama Administration. Left unsaid were probably two other motives for wanting to postpone enactment of a long-term legislation: (A) an 18-month extension would allow the Senate to take a more active role in shaping the legislation and influence the nation’s future transportation policy; and (B) by early 2011, a more favorable economic climate might allow a significant boost in federal fuel taxes – a boost that both the Senate and the House leaders have ruled out during the current economic recession.
Three Senate committees having jurisdiction over the surface transportation program (the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee; the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee) completed action on their bills to extend the existing program before the recess. Also approved was a measure that would effectively ensure adequate funding for the 18-month extension. The bill in question (S. 1474), sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), would replenish the Highway Trust Fund through a transfer of $26.8 billion from the General Fund. The funds were said to represent reimbursements for lost interest payments owed to the Fund since 1998 and for past disaster emergency expenditures.
This briefly summarizes the situation as it appeared when Congress adjourned for the summer recess. What follows is an attempt to assess the likely course of events in the days ahead. Our analysis is based on conversations with sources on Capitol Hill and members of the Washington transportation community. The report presents a snapshot view of the situation as we see it at the time of publication in early September. Nothing can be asserted with certainty, however, until the Senate and House leaders have sat down and hammered out a negotiated compromise sometime during the month of September.
Where the Matter Stands in the House
Chairman Oberstar says he has a commitment from the House leadership to bring the bill to the House floor by the third week of September if the Ways and Means Committee can come up with the revenue title to the bill. That's a big "if". So far, the W&M Committee has given no indication where the money might come from. According to press reports, a majority of the members of that committee are opposed to any tax increases as a means of funding the proposed $500 billion bill. Significantly, only 15 of the 41 committee members went on record in a July letter to committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) supporting "prompt action" (i.e. in September) on a revenue package for the bill.
In the opinion of many observers, hope for the enactment of a long term transportation bill this year all but vanished when Rep. Oberstar himself acknowledged that he does not favor raising the fuel tax at this time to pay for the $500 billion transportation program. He made this admission in testimony before a hearing of a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on July 23. "Although increasing and indexing the gasoline and diesel user fee is a viable financing mechanism, ... I do not believe that the user fee should be increased during the current recession," Oberstar stated in his opening statement, echoing the posture previously taken by the White House and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Although he suggested other potential sources of supplementary funding, Oberstar deferred to the Ways and Means Committee. "The Committee on Ways and Means," he said in concluding his testimony, "must undertake the difficult task of identifying the revenue to finance this bill...We’ll take any dollar you can scare up for us for the trust fund."
By taking the gas tax increase off the table, Rep. Oberstar acknowledged a political reality but also removed from consideration the most logical source of additional revenue. Other funding options appear limited. One solution could be to use general tax revenue to fund a transportation-focused "Stimulus II" bill . Such a measure might conceivably be rationalized as helping to bring down the level of unemployment – should high joblessness persist. A second option could take the form of a major bond issue to be financed by additional revenue generated from indexing the gas tax at some future date. Both options have been hinted at by Rep. Oberstar and Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) in past interviews. But political analysts do not consider either option as plausible, since both lack congressional and Administration support. Neither Congress nor the White House are eager to add to the already sky-high budget deficit. Several other funding options suggested by the T&I Committee leaders — such as imposing a fee on imported and domestic crude oil; taxing crude oil futures transactions (the subject of a DeFazio-sponsored bill, HR3379); and a flat sales tax on the purchase of gasoline — stand even less chance of congressional approval.
The Senate is Poised to Take Action
According to Sen. Inhofe, he and Sen. Boxer have obtained a commitment from Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule the 18-month extension bill for early floor action, possibly as early as the week of September 7. The bill also will serve as a vehicle for repealing the $8.7 billion rescission of federal highway program contract authority required to take effect on September 30. Prompt action on the extension bill is necessary, say Senate sources, before states take irreversible steps to cancel existing contractual commitments to comply with the spending cutback. Pressure to repeal the scheduled rescission has been intense. In late July, AASHTO sent a letter to members of Congress noting that failure to promptly repeal the provision would lead to "devastating consequences" for the states. Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), author of an amendment to repeal the scheduled rescission, has been equally emphatic: All 50 states will face "drastic cuts" to their highway programs, he said, if the highway rescission is not promptly repealed. The cuts could lead to 250,000 jobs lost in the construction industry, Bond noted.
Given an almost certain approval of the extension/rescission measure by the full Senate, the transportation community is rife with speculation as to the ultimate resolution of the Senate-House conflict. Undoubtedly, an extension of the existing program authority would provide more time to develop a broad-based consensus among the stakeholders on the needed policy changes and program reform. Such a consensus hardly exists today as our survey of transportation stakeholders has shown (see, NewsBrief, July 11.) Postponing the enactment of a multiyear authorization would also offer the Senate and the Administration a chance to participate more fully in the overhaul of the nation's transportation policy. This argument, we suspect, while seldom expressed openly, is probably in the back of the minds of many Senators and senior Administration officials. The current House version of the authorization bill has been developed with virtually no substantive input from the Senate or the Administration, sources tell us.
Whether a full 18-month extension is needed or appropriate is a matter of judgment. It may be argued that a postponement until the spring of 2011 makes sense because passage of a gas tax increase will be politically more feasible in a post-recession economy. But others argue that getting a gas tax increase enacted in the spring or summer of 2011 is not going to be politically any easier. An 18-month extension would expire a mere three months after the start of a new Congress. With new faces and a possible political realignment in Congress, the extension could easily morph into a two-year or longer delay. This point of view has been emphasized by Rep. Oberstar: "An 18-month extension will just take us into the next presidential election cycle," he observed, "so it [the extension] will turn into four years."
Since both houses and both political parties are anxious to keep the transportation money flowing, the current conflict will be resolved through a compromise. The House will most likely drop its insistence on passing a multi-year transportation bill during this session of Congress; in return, the Senate will probably consent to a shorter extension of say, 8 or 12 months— especially as there already is some sentiment for a shorter extension among certain senators. The compromise will be sought in a Senate-House conference before the end of September in order to avoid any disruption in the federal transportation program.
Searching for a Consensus on a New Reform Agenda
Postponing the enactment of a long term transportation authorization does not have to mean a pause in searching for a broad consensus on a new vision for transportation policies and programs. Indeed, a National Transportation Policy Conference, to be held September 9-11 at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs in Charlottesville, may mark the beginning of such a search. Co-chaired by two former Secretaries of Transportation – Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner, and directed by former Undersecretary of Transportation Jeff Shane, the Conference will aim to develop "an informed, forward-looking, credible agenda to guide the legislative process." Panelists and invited participants include some of the best known and most highly regarded members of the transportation community.
The Conference will begin by reviewing the current state of thinking about transportation policy reform by examining the recommendations of the two congressionally-chartered transportation commissions, and the reports of the Brookings Institution and the National Bipartisan Policy Center. It will then focus on four problem areas: funding, urban congestion, freight movement and multi-modalism. The Conference will conclude with a roundtable in which participants will develop a set of "clear, credible and achievable legislative and policy recommendations for a new transportation authorization." The Conference findings and recommendations will be presented to leaders in Congress and the Administration and to the editorial boards of major newspapers (they also will be featured in a special edition of the NewsBriefs).
We think the conference will mark an auspicious beginning to a dialogue that will reach across ideological lines and develop a true bipartisan consensus on a "transformative" national transportation policy and program.
4) Some of the old silliness and modal envy is still hanging around, particularly in organizations which allegedly claim to help Amtrak.
There is still whining about all of the horrible unfairness of it all; those mean, nasty, ugly highways are sucking up all of the money, and there is no money left to shovel into rail. After all, these ill-informed people say, no passenger system in the world makes money, right? So, why can’t passenger rail have more free government money?
Such unabashed hogwash.
The only people saying silly things like that are people who believe in the nanny state, and government is the cure-all for everything, and government can solve all problems by spending someone else’s money.
None of these people stop to have a rational thought or (Gasp!) come up with a real reason to support passenger rail. The real reason is not because highways get all sorts of money. The real reason is because a true case for passenger rail can be made through a rational business plan.
It’s all about having a solid business plan which provides the greatest return on investment. It’s not about forcing people involuntarily out of their private automobiles, and it’s not about taking money away from air traffic control. It’s about showing people investment in rail provides a desirable alternative which produces results.
The reality is, in this big, huge, endless horizon country of ours, automobiles are never going away. While smaller, more efficient cars may be suitable for city driving, big, brawny, oversized trucks and SUVs are best for rural driving and real work. Telling drivers of either to leave their vehicles at home and get on a train will only generate stares at you, with people wondering if you’re from another planet.
Making comparisons to small-space countries like those in Europe, or pint-sized spaces with big populations like Japan makes no sense, either. After the devastation of World War II and the subsequent rebuilding, those spaces were rebuilt based on existing rail and rail cultures.
After WW II here in North America, we, as a nation, chose to create the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system, and paired that with the Boeing 707 jetliner.
Those choices created our current culture of transportation, which will last for generations to come. Nothing is going to change overnight.
However, wise people such as former Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Gil Carmichael have come up with a plan, which he dubbed Interstate II.
Interstate II take the innovation and formulas of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system and applies it to rail for the twin benefits of freight and passengers.
It’s a plan which makes a lot of business sense. It combines many of the best features of free markets and capitalism with the strengths of government to create a fluid, practical system of moving freight and passengers.
Stop making the case for passenger rail based solely on what someone else receives in free federal monies. Make the case based on hard, cold, facts such as the overall lower cost of building rail infrastructure, better operations costs, and the automatic benefits which come with passenger rail development. Leave the whining to the other guys who have to work much harder to make their case.
It has been demonstrated time and time again, whether on a local, regional, or national level, when the traveling public is offered a reasonable choice through passenger rail, enough travelers willingly choose rail without provocation, but simply through free choice.
Free choice always make the most difference.
5) The always superb and informative Passenger Train Journal magazine has hit the news stands with its latest issue, 2009-3, Issue 240. Discerning readers may be interested in pages 30-33, “A fresh look at Amtrak’s map,” which is a condensed version, with a delightful map, of a previous This Week at Amtrak issue from earlier this year.
As always, the gentle hand of editor Mike Schafer has produced a most satisfying product.
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J. Bruce Richardson
United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203
Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA