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I'm a big Amtrak fan despite the horrific management it has had over the last 30 plus years.


It seems that a guy that actually might have helped things has resigned for reasons I am not aware of. If I had t guess it is because he thought some of the recommendation made 6 years ago by the Amtrak council were actually worth implementing. He is gone now and Amtrak is still running a power grid from the early 1900s.




Joe Biden has promised a first class railroad for Amtrak. This is certainly something I am hoping for but who knows if he can deliver. Every time someone tries to help they railroad them (pun intended). I wonder if he will use the recommendations of the council.


Any thoughts?

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=av.iLjHtoRwE&refer=home
 

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I wonder if this ties in somehow to that proposal that was floating around the oil boards a few months back about double tracking and electrifying most of the US mainline railway trackage? The claim was the impetus for the study originated on the political end of things...McCain never really seemed what you would call 'pro' railroad, so maybe it was something the Obama camp put forward.
 

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Posted By East Broad Top on 11/16/2008 1:07 AM
where's the money going to come from?
That answer is easy, and you don't need to look any further than you rear pocket!
 

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Probably more like your childs rear pocket.... We sure do love debt :)

But yeah, not only where the money is coming from but where is it going. The problems of Amtrak are obvious as the council pointed out and in my opinion the union Amtrak has is probably closer towards the top. I doubt an Obama administration will get rid of that wreck. Let's hope Biden just agrees with the council and tries to force Amtrak to become a properly run business.

I mean France can get a train to go well over 225mph yet we can't get our Acela's to go much over 110mph. http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,533345,00.html
 

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a first class railroad for Amtrak


Amtrak is actually in good shape today, in theory. The CA accident prompted the passage of H.R. 2095 in Congress, which mandates "Positive Train Control" (automatically applying the brakes if the train passes a red signal - Europe has had that for years.)

Attached to the bill is $13B in funding for Amtrak for the next 5 years, about twice the current funding. Mr Bush (I'll be polite on this occasion) signed it Oct 17th.

NARP link:
"On Wednesday, the Senate passed H.R. 2095, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 including the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.."
Some of the things they want to spend the money on include repairing the current fleet (there's a load of coaches sitting idle because they can't afford to fix them,) fixing more of the NEC to allow faster service (The Acela's do reach 150 mph - for about 5 miles in CT!) There are stiffer penalties for freight railroads who delay Amtrak passenger trains, and money for the states to expand their passenger services, many of which are operated by Amtrak. I think there is a desire to push the NEC south beyond Richmond to Atlanta. And then there's the CA high speed rail initiative.

A little googling will bring you lots of details...
 

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So Sen. Biden promises a better Amtrak.   OK, that's what politicians do.    Would a politician promise a worse Amtrak? 

No offense to the Senator, but I am still waiting for that 150 m.p.h. bullet train their spokesmen were promising us . . . 30 years ago.  


Cheers 
 

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While you're passing blame around, save some for the airlines. They certainly don't want a speedy train service. And no law opposed by the airlines has ever been passed by Congress. Which matches up with its correlary, no law favored by the airlines has ever failed to be enacted by Congress.
 

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There are many distinct differences between high-speed rail travel in Europe and Asia, and what we have in the US. First and foremost, there's the issue of a dedicated right of way. The only place we have that in the US is the Northeast Corridor. Anywhere else, it will have to be built from the ground up. Not impractical, but just from what roadblocks we're hitting out here from landowners for light rail, you can bet it won't be easy or cheap--especially not in southern California. You also have to survey the line such that it can support the high speeds. That's the major issue with the Acela north of NY. The track is such that the higher speeds can't be safely reached.

Tom--would a politician promise a worse Amtrak? Absolutely! Every time Amtrak's funding comes up and they want to cut it back to ridiculous levels. Its budget is constantly under siege from politicians who believe we don't need passenger trains, or simply don't understand the realities of rail travel in the US. Routes have been pared way back and schedules cut because of these attacks. How can you expect to build something up and make it more self-supporting when you keep hacking away at the legs?

Later,

K
 

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a dedicated right of way

I read that UP refuses to allow the California high-speed train to run alongside their rails, even with a 'crash wall' built between them, for fear of a lawsuit if there ever was a crash. (Sounds to me we need a better wall!)


cut it back to ridiculous levels

If you doubt the ridiculousness, go back about a year and look at Congress dictating to Amtrak (as if they had nothing better to do,) that the money-losing food service should be made profitable. It doesn't seem to occur to them that food service is what you provide, as part of the ticket cost, on a train trip of more than 4 hours. Even Southwest Airlines, which famously provides few cabin amenities, started a snack-pack service on their long-haul routes.


the realities of rail travel in the US

As I have said before, I am constantly amazed and frustrated that there is no top-down analysis published (by Amtrak) of the subsidies to the airlines (the State of Maryland just expanded the parking garage at BWI airport, using my tax dollars, for example,) and the roads.

I also want to see a bumper sticker that says
MORE TRAINS = FEWER CARS.
Support your local passenger trains!
 

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Posted By Pete Thornton on 11/16/2008 3:21 PM

(snip)

I also want to see a bumper sticker that says
MORE TRAINS = FEWER CARS.
Support your local passenger trains!



Go to Makestickers.com and design your own... I think the prices are reasonable... $5 for one, $8 for 2, and the price/sticker keeps going down for larger quantities. They have hundreds of design options for layout, text style/color, background color, graphics and such.

I have done several and I think the web site is real EASY (a little TOO easy, I ordered more than I intended when I found how easy it was!) and they delivered very quickly... a little too quickly... I think you should let them dry for a week or two before you put one on your car.

I had two made that say "I
Live Steam" and the red heart smeared a wee bit on the first one when I rubbed it to smooth it on the car, but the second one was fine, and neither are the worse for wear after about 4 or 5 years on my car.
 

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Posted By East Broad Top on 11/16/2008 1:07 AM
Having a pro-rail-travel administration certainly can't hurt. The billion dollar question is regardless of what anyone would like to do, where's the money going to come from?

Later,

K


Without meaning to sound facitious maybe they could use a "small" portion of the money spent for propping up the airlines (private enterprise) every year. Just 10 or 20% of it would do wonders for Amtrak. Give the airlines some meaningful competition and maybe they'll have to go back to treating their passengers with respect again.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
No doubt a little money thrown towards Amtrak could do wonders but you have to remember the management and lack of vision by Amtrak has been a bg contributor to the failures you see today. The airlines work the same way. You do not see Jet Blue or Southwest or Airtran getting any bailouts. They are actually run well. You see Delta and AA getting the bailouts. The airports should get government support just as the rails should with Amtrak not being responsible for them...it should work just like highways do. Infrastructure is a government job not a company job...at least on this level. This was proposed to Amtrak who quickly shot it down. In fact, Amtrak has been defending against any ways to fix them that involves actually creating a good business.

I love Amtrak but the government is not fully to blame...Amtrak has created much of its own problem and simply throwing a few billion won't help without actually addressing the problems that caused them to need the money in the first place.
 

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Steeeve,

David Dunn, the CEO before this latest guy, was actually a railroader. It seems like politicians use Amtrak as a stepping stone to somewhere else in Washington. One of the originals, Graham Claytor, was also a railroader. He had managed to keep his Southern Crescent out of Amtrak until what? 1979? Wasn't he also involved with the origial Auto Train? That's the kind of person who should be in charge of a national passenger rail program.

I thought the Acelas couldn't go more than 100 in CT because of the curvy trackage. The times I have ridden the NEC, it seems like south of Wilmington is where the highest speed tracks are. Try not to blink while looking for those milepost markers that whizz by every 29 seconds. The line to Atlanta doesn't go through Richmond. Are they talking about extending the high speed electric system from Washington to Richmond and Washington to Atlanta?

Here's a pie in the sky. Why couldn't there be a non-stop, dedicated r-o-w for a East Coast hub to West Coast hub high speed train? Pick two major cities, like New York and San Francisco or Washington to San Francisco. (I think SF is a good WC hob spot. Roughly half way between LA and Seattle. There would likely be a dedicated West Coast Corridor, like the NEC, which'd link SD-LA-SB-SF-(Insert Orgeonian city here)-Seattle- Vancouver.) Chicago might have to have its own west coast and east coast lines. Too many people get stuck in Chicago at O'Hare for this to get any kind of public support.

Think about it, 300 MPH for 10 hours. Almost as fast as flying. Maybe a little faster if there were airport connections. It'd have to be electric, so, in theory, we'd be reducing our dependance on oil. The electricity still has to be generated somewhere, and that will mean either coal, nuclear or 'other'. BUT, it means MORE domestic job opportunities, at all levels. Likely more European and Asian jobs as well, since we'll be using components built by global companies like Siemens, Alstom, etc.. Coal and Uranium mining are domestic plus all of the transportation to and from those power plants, etc.. Then, there is the technology. Think about this, we develop some new technologies that come out of necessity, like getting a 10 car passenger train up and over the Rocky Mountains at 300 mph- no small feat, especially when you need to cosider that at elevation, cooling of motors becomes critical. HP draw will have to be drawn back, so that overheating does not occur), and we'll be able to turn those ideas in to export PRODUCTS. And, for people like my wife who hate to fly, this will be a good alternative to the airplane.

How much railroad could we build for $700 billion? Maybe a few miles of ultra high speed. But, that might be enough to get the rest of the population behind it.
 

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Amtrak has created much of its own problem and simply throwing a few billion won't help without actually addressing the problems

Steeeve,
While there is some truth in that, you're not taking into account the strong unions - Detroit's automakers are continually thwarted in their attempts to downsize and/or rationalize for the same reason. Then there's the problem that Amtrak was cobbled together from bankrupt railroad's obsolete passenger operations, so they didn't even have a decent base to start with.

The UK manages to operate private trains on publicly owned tracks, but it's not as efficient as say the French or Japanese system of government ownership. A lot less expensive though.

Don't forget that Amtrak only owns the Northeast Corridor - all other trains run on freight railroads which have an average speed of 50-60mph. Tricky to mix a passenger train at 90mph into that mix.



the Acelas couldn't go more than 100 in CT because of the curvy trackage

Mark,
They spent a fortune straightening bits - there is one portion that allows 150mph now, and they regularly run south of NYC at over 100mph - not much over though!



It'd have to be electric

All modern high-speed trains are electric. The "Modern Marvels" segment on Discovery channel highlighted that, pointing out that it makes the trains lighter so not as much energy is needed to propel them. They didn't point out the other big advantage - it's easier to control noxious emissions and it's more efficient to gernerate energy at one big stationary plant than onboard a moving diesel loco.
 

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Posted By astrayelmgod on 11/16/2008 8:24 PM
Richard -

See my post about the airlines, above. I'm afraid your suggestion hasn't got a snowball's chance.


I agree. I didn't really believe anyone in government would take from the airlines and give to Amtrak even if it is taxpayer's money. The post was meant to flag the inequities and favoritism by Congress towards the airlines and the "poor relative" stance towards Amtrak.

As for poor Amtrak management; that is also true but I don't think very many of those placed in charge of Amtrak were intended to be of any great help to it. I know that sounds cynical but it sure looks to be true.
 

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All modern high-speed trains are electric. The "Modern Marvels" segment on Discovery channel highlighted that, pointing out that it makes the trains lighter so not as much energy is needed to propel them. They didn't point out the other big advantage - it's easier to control noxious emissions and it's more efficient to gernerate energy at one big stationary plant than onboard a moving diesel loco.

I think this is offset by the cost of maintaining the device that conveys the power to the train, be it overhead wire, third rail or mag-lev. It would ultimately be better to have the system you describe, but the reality is that on board electric generation with a diesel engine is a lot less expensive from start up through maintenance.
 

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Given his history of commuting between DE and DC and his close personal relationships with various Amtrak employees, I suspect Biden's commitment to Amtrak is genuine. I also agree with Richard that past Amtrak directors were oftentimes brought in to oversee the railroad's demise, not its success.
On the other hand, any attempt to divert funds generated under the Airport Improvement Program or similar is almost certainly a political loser. If the airlines were generating record profits, as opposed to teetering on the verge of Chapter 11, there might be some political will to spread the wealth. Nevertheless, diverting airport funding to rail would still require substantial legislation to amend the current statutory structure, as most airport infrastructure funds are generated by airport user fees (for instance, by Passenger Facility Charges).
There's more political will to fund Amtrak in an appropriate manner than people might imagine. Some reps and senators will, of course, oppose increased - or any - funding for Amtrak on ideological grounds. But the new administration has already signaled its support for a renewed U.S. passenger rail system, increased gas prices and environmental concerns have generated public support for rail, and the Dems in both houses will almost certainly follow Obama's lead.
Frame the issue as railroads versus airlines, though, and you'll be in for a huge and unnecessary fight.
 
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