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Jim,

I have been reading about Ohio's high speed rail plans for some time. Having traveled out there by crappy commuter plane, hopefully this will mean an actual alternative to the current rail offering. I find it interesting that there is a planned high speed rail from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh (where it will undoubtedly connect with the Ohio system). I wonder if the plan is to string catenary and extend the electrification from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, like how they extended service from New Haven to Boston for the Acela. I know that lots of folks that don't think we should spend money will not look at this from the following perspective, but whatever. If they do extend electrification, it will require new power generation stations be built. That will result in a lot of new jobs, both short and long term. It would be interesting if the plan resulted in the construction of dedicated, passenger only tracks. I believe that is the plan for the Ohio hub system. In any case, it seems to me that a lot of folks have not completely forgotten the $4.00 a gallon gas from last summer.

In the short term, anyway, hopefully Amtrak can fix their current out of service passenger car fleet to immediately extend service. It was noted in another thread that the Empire Builder frequently runs sold out. I found the same to be true for the trains we took South, and the amenities on board varied from tolerable (Cafe-car for a 12 hour ride) to comfortable (sleeper and dining car). I think improved speeds and better on time performance, will go a long way, but there is another part that needs to be considered. That is "what do you do when you get to the station". Long distance and medium distance trains will only work if the destinations have good transportation plans in effect as well.


In view of the recent TRAINS article on Amtrak, hopefully this paves the way for a fully supported passenger rail system in this country, not just a politician's whim for passenger service. After all, the other modes of passenger transport rely on heavy subisdy, why not trains?
 

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Mark, got my tickets for the Autotrain again this year. We use it two times a year to go to Florida. I hate airports and I use to drive this trip but 95 is bumper to bumper at 85 mph. Two times we were stranded in Florida because the airlines stop operations due to lack of funds. My company wants us to fly out of Baltimore due to the low air fairs, that is a two hour drive, then you need to be there two hours before your flight. I can drive to our main office in Louisville in the same amount of time to take air. Our fabricator is near Montreal, again you can drive there in the same amount of time as flying. We need to invest in rail passanger service like the rest of the world. We are so far behind. You may say $8 billion is not near enough but it is a start and you need to start to finish. By the way, one reason I like taking the train to Florida is I can take some G-scale stuff along and stop over to see Ed Headington and run some trains. I just throw it in the trunk of the car and load the car on the autotrain..............Jim
 

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While I'm completely pissed off by the contents of the Stimulous Bill (where's the money coming from???), at least I'm heartened by the money provided to Amtrak ($1.8B) to buy new or repair exisitng motive power and cars and the $8B planned for investing in high speed rail. From what I've read, the money to Amtrak and what it is to be spent on is well understood...and is executable in the near term. Not so for the high speed rail funding.

In the Northeast and here in the Southwest, where we already have high speed rail (trains that run faster than 79 mph), there are numerous UNFUNDED projects to expand the existing high speed rail network or speed it up. In the Northeast, there are bridges all along the Acela route that need replacing and curves that need widening to increase the speed of the train and shorten schedules. Same for the high speed line from San Diego to Los Angeles where bridge improvements and double tracking projects are construction ready...plans have been completed and clearances granted.

When you get beyond these areas, you begin to find less in terms of "construction ready" projects...then again, I'm not sure this entire bill was branded on that term as there are lots of out-there kind of projects being funded by it. I would think, from my reading, that the line from Seattle to Portland would be close to ready for expansion into real high speed service...especially if some new tunnels were built. There has been lots of talk about extending the Acela service south into the Carolinas on a new right of way...but I've read little about actual engineering being conducted or EIRs being generated for approval. Similarly, California has a planned high speed rail network in development, but nothing in the "shovel ready" mode.

I will be interested to see whether plans already generated by the BNSF and UP to triple track long stretches in the west will be "remodeled" into intiatives to provide "high speed rail trackage" for Amtrak. Apparently, the FRA wth the support of Congress is about to do a "get tough" number on these railroads regarding their "slowing" of Amtrak service for freight movements...so recrafting the expansion in terms of boosting passenger service might yeild some money to these big railroads that benefits both passenger and long haul freight service.

Recall also that there is "buy America" aspect for steel involved in any Stimulous Bill project...and last I heard the US steel mills don't make much rail anymore. This just compicates doing anything even more.

So my expectation is that we'll see the existing high speed lines improved with this money...and a whole ton of it being spent of plans and EIRs for proposed high speed lines...and little else done. Keep in mind that the administration has also promised an additional $1B per year for high speed rail projects...but that's just talk at this point.
 

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Why do we need to fund Amtrk. This is BS it looks like another Govt operation and most likely owned eventually buy them. How much can you folks bear funding all this stuff. One thing is you need a dedicated Right of way even tho you may only travel at a speed of 125. Also limited access means no grade crossings and protection form trespassers and not operating freight trains. Also states would be required to provide funds. Now that means more tax dollars from us . Ya right.

High speed is considered faster than 90. Some RRs do run 90 but this is not considered high speed. You have to get to class 6 and above to qualify for high speed. FRA has looked at the recommended routes and that is about it. It's up to the states to ya or na a system as here again they will be footing part of the bill. Thats one reason why you do not see extensions of Amtrak routes. One thing is money and the other is ridership. If you do not have both, guess what no train.


Later RJD
 

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RJ,

I disagree with you. We do need Amtrak, and it does need to be gov't funded, state and fed. Sorry buddy, but all the other transportation models are freezing up. And forget "it needs to make money". No passenger carrying system in the world makes money. The tax on my gas does not pay for the roads I drive on. I agree, 125 is too slow. I would like to see our national passenger system run at 300 MPH. Think of the jobs that would create. All the infrastructure, technology developed, new power plants across the country (since we're talking about all electric), plus new tunnels, etc.. It is my tax dollars too, and right now, they go to your state for bridges and roads that drive up the cost of my gas (since most of our transportation dollars are spent on roads and bridges). Now, where do you think you get the $$? I'd rather have dedicated passenger lines running electric trains if the gov is going to give away my money to bail out bad investments, as they did in Sept. before the new admin took over.


I love driving my car on a country road when I do not have to be anywhere in particular. But the majority of the interstate driving sucks. Bad traffic due to bad drivers taking lots of risks. I purposely bought a house within 5 miles of an Amtrak station. It so happens that PA put up a lot of cash, tax dollars that I paid, to reinvest in the aging PRR catenary. Now, we have 110 MPH trains again. And it is CHEAP!! $20 to Philadelphia? I can't even park in Philly for that much.


Sorry guy, I know a lot of you will disagree with me, but this is something I feel strongly about. Having taken trains here in the US and seeing what it could be, I think the time has come for Amtrak to get the funding it needs so that all of us will have better transportation options.
 

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I'll throw my 2 cents in.

Japan is the model of railroad efficiency, trains you can set your watch by, inexpensive in relation to driving, convenient, etc.

BUT!

1. It's an extremely densely populated country, like one large continuous city more crowded than new york, so much easier to get full trains.
2. The government taxes cars and fuel high enough to make rail travel make sense
3. The government condemns or takes ANY land necessary for the right of way.

In Japan, business is the government and the government is business.

If we ran the US that way, we would have more rail travel, although it would STILL be more difficult since we do not have the population density.

I've been to Japan 23 times. I don't want to live there or in that environment.

Thus, unless my costs to drive my car go completely nuts, I understand the trade off is government subsidy of passenger service. I'm fine with it.

Regards, Greg
 

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Mark your statement that your taxes you pay there do not go for your roads. I do believe you need to re read your comment. Your taxes comes here. Wrong. I sure do not support a system that has lost money from day one. I do not think you could afford to keep supporting something that looses money. Amtrak can make mony if you get rid of the interference from congressmen. In your part of the country trains work for ya further west and the folks just are not going to give up there cars. If and when this would happen then yes RRs could make money. I'm not against RR I just don't like throwing money away. Later RJD
 

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I'm willing to TRY to see if SOME funding of high-speed rail will work, and I know I'm paying for it with my taxes. I am willing to shell out my cash to try to help do this.

The key to me is that it is done intelligently and with an eye to make it as close to self-supporting as possible.

With all the other stupid stuff the gov. does with my money, I'm willing to try this... lord knows I've helped pay for enough $200 hammers!

Regards, Greg
 

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Posted By markoles on 02/20/2009 10:42 AM
{snip...} The tax on my gas does not pay for the roads I drive on. {snip...}
Mark

The biggest problem with the idea as I see it, was stated in the sixth sentence of your reply. While there are exceptions that can be pointed out, if history is any indicator I believe that the preponderance of evidence would support the fact that, in way too many instances funds raised via taxation don't ultimately go to pay for what they were raised for. Not to mention the pandemic problem of horrendous cost overruns.
 

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Posted By aceinspp on 02/19/2009 7:22 PM
Why do we need to fund Amtrk. This is BS it looks like another Govt operation and most likely owned eventually buy them. How much can you folks bear funding all this stuff. One thing is you need a dedicated Right of way even tho you may only travel at a speed of 125. Also limited access means no grade crossings and protection form trespassers and not operating freight trains. Also states would be required to provide funds. Now that means more tax dollars from us . Ya right.

High speed is considered faster than 90. Some RRs do run 90 but this is not considered high speed. You have to get to class 6 and above to qualify for high speed. FRA has looked at the recommended routes and that is about it. It's up to the states to ya or na a system as here again they will be footing part of the bill. Thats one reason why you do not see extensions of Amtrak routes. One thing is money and the other is ridership. If you do not have both, guess what no train.


Later RJD





TOTALLY concur EXCEPT when government investment spurs improved efficiency in our economic capabilities. Amtrak is such an investment. Clearly, the Acela is moving folks faster than any other means in the US..and speed IS money.

Another argument can be made when one form of transit is far more economical than another or is less poluting. High Speed trains MIGHT fall into this categoy. I think it is likely that the total carbon footprint of a high speed rail system is FAR lower than alternatives like driving cars, buses, or flying in airliners. I know that the California High Speed Rail authority is looking at ways to develop a NEGATIVE carbon foot print...meaning the "system" is made so carbon efficient that it can sell carbon credits...and possibly become profit making (meaning no government funding).

Dedicated right of way is here...they're called freeways in many areas of the country. Here in San Diego, the government just spent $1.2B (that's a B) widening I-15 to 14 lanes....for 9 miles. At $133M a mile, you can put in a lot of elevated track and be almost guaranteed no traffic jams compared to the 90 minutes it takes here to drive 30 miles at rush hour. Tunneling is the other technique being proposed for right of way. It sound expensive, but in reality moving mountains to perform curve widening or grade reduction...or buying up urban property... is NOT an inexpensive operation, and is fraught with all kinds of environmental and local political issues. Sometimes, it IS cheaper to just go through the mountain with a tunnel boring machine...and shorter...and straighter for high speed operations.

We DO need to see some analysis regarding "return on investment" regarding high speed rail. We aren't seeing that anywhere in the public transit arena EXCEPT from the airlines...and any airport that is seeking tax money to expand. I've NEVER seen a public explanation on why spending money on rail promotes the economy....in dollars and cents...meanwhile, I watch private railroad corporations invest HUGE sums in right of way expansion and that is certainly explained to their shareholders. Clearly a case can be made. If you followed the latest CSX flap, you know it was about a major investor ( a hedge fund) opposing CSX expenditures on route and track improvements...and it was an open fight within the stock holders regarding cost vs benefit. I've NEVER seen a similar argument posed when public transit is involved.

As for what constitutes high speed, I thought the US only had two OPERATING high speed rail corridors...Boston to DC and San Diego to LA. On these two routes the trains run at over 79 mph for parts of their run. In the rest of the US, as far as I know speed is restricted to 79 mph. Expanding the amount of trackage where passenger trains could operate in excess of 100 mph AVERAGE might do a great deal to help our economy...MIGHT. I'd love to see the analysis.

I gotta tell you, flying really sucks these days..and most folks I know that HAVE to fly for business hate it. Throwing more tax money into airports is NOT a solution. Widening freeways to rediculous levels (14 lanes) is NOT a solution. IF high speed rail could get you from LA to San Francisco in two hours....like similar trains in Japan do...you'd see a LOT of business people take the train. As I said first..speed IS money.

I disagree with Greg regarding us being too disbursed for high speed rail to benefit us. Certainly in Europe and Japan, the true high speed trains are used for INTERCITY movement at affordable costs...born by the government and the passenger. I think intercity high speed rail MIGHT work in the US...but, we need more consideration of the costs vs benefits than we recieved from this 11th hour jam-it-up-our-rear-end move by the Senate in the name of economic stimulous.
 

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Another argument can be made when one form of transit is far more economical than another or is less poluting


An excellent point. The reason for electric trains (and electric cars) is that you move the pollution control system to a large, static generation plant, instead of having on on each engine/car. And you can switch to solar, nuclear, or whatever you fancy without changing the trains/cars.

Expanding the amount of trackage where passenger trains could operate in excess of 100 mph AVERAGE might do a great deal to help our economy...MIGHT. I'd love to see the analysis.
I gotta tell you, flying really sucks these days..and most folks I know that HAVE to fly for business hate it. Throwing more tax money into airports is NOT a solution.


Mike,

You hit two good points there. The analysis is tricky - RJD seems to miss the point that additional tax dollars pay for airports and roads over and above the amounts paid by airlines for gate and takeoff slots or from gas taxes. Maryland thought it would be good for economic development to pour funds into expanding BWI - and it probably is. But you don't see that in your airline ticket price.

Fortunately, Maryland also sees the need for railroads to complement the roads, especially for commuters (as does VA.) RJD - of course we're not giving up cars, neither did Japan or Europe when they built high-speed rail. You can still drive on the channel tunnel trains for a quick trip across the water, just as you can put your car on the Autotrain for a quick trip to Florida. But owning or using a car doesn't make investment in trains a bad thing.

Anyone who wants a lot more details should join N.A.R.P. http://www.narprail.org/cms/index.php.

watch private railroad corporations invest HUGE sums in right of way expansion and that is certainly explained to their shareholders.


Right. And the freight railroads have said they don't want government money, as it comes with strings. What will get them moving is an investment tax credit, so the gov gets less taxes while they spend on improvements.

I want to see a bumper sticker that says "MORE TRAINS = FEWER CARS". If you pay more in gas tax to subsidize trains, there will be fewer cars blocking your roads - even in Georgia, RJD!
 

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Have we all forgotten how painful $4.00+ gasoline was? I still think high energy cost had more to do with the current economic conditions then any thing else. And now we will get high taxes will take the place of high gas prices, or maybe we'll get both. When do we start laying rail..... more trains, less planes.
 

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In the latter part of the 19th century, the North Pacific Coast Railroad was built from Sausalito to the Russian River by men with timber interests in the Russian River area who were looking for a cheap way to get their lumber to the San Francisco markets. While they may have achieved their narrow aims, the NPC was always one step ahead of bankruptcy, and was never really financially viable.


In the South Bay, otoh, the South Pacific Coast was VERY successful, probably one of (if not THE) most financially successful narrow gauge railroads outside of Colorado.


The difference between these two lines was the area they served. The NPC was built, for most of its route, through sparsely populated country along the Tomales Bay - an area with little industry and little agriculture. Tomales itself generated some dairy products, but most of the revenue came from timber and the passenger traffic in Marin County and between Marin and San Francisco.
The SPC, otoh, initially ran from Newark south to Los Gatos, and soon on to Santa Cruz, and eventually extended its northern terminus to Alameda. Travel time between San Francisco and Santa Cruz was a lot less than SP's route, and the SPC did a brisk passenger business. Additionally, it ran through San Jose, Santa Clara, and the entire Santa Clara Valley, an area booming with agricultural products and a good amount of industry. The SPC also tapped the vast logging industry of the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as the agriculture of that region. Consequently, revenues from both passenger and freight service was high.

What's all this have to do with the topic at hand? In the last couple of decades, Santa Clara County Transit Authority has spent huge sums of money to build a light rail and to establish a bus service. There aren't a lot of riders, primarily because we are one huge urban sprawl, with industry and residences all mixed up over a vast area. For the most part, the trains and buses just plain don't go to where people want to go, and if they get close, one still ends up miles from their ultimate destination. Like the NPC, the light rail has been built through an area which ultimately can't support it, so it loses money - lots of it. Same for the buses.

Public transportation and rail networks work well in true cities like New York and San Francisco. As has been mentioned, they may also work well for intercity travel, particularly if built in a densely traveled route like the Northeast Corridor. However, unlike the other countries mentioned that have viable intercity train service, the USA is geographically HUGE, with commensurate travel times. High speed track that would allow a train to come close to (but still not match) the speed of an airplane requires high maintenance - the sheer scope of maintaining such a rail network in such a large area as the USA also doesn't bode well for extensive train travel within the USA.

All just mho for whatever it's worth.
 

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Posted By Pete Thornton on 02/20/2009 1:00 PM

And the freight railroads have said they don't want government money, as it comes with strings. What will get them moving is an investment tax credit, so the gov gets less taxes while they spend on improvements.





Well, frankly, it's just too freakin' bad that they don't like strings. I mean, what business does? In the case of railroads, they are clearly NOT complying with the agreements made back when Amtrak was formed. I have a great deal of trouble understanding how the crack container trains can make it from LA to Chicago and arrive within an hour of the planned time over 90% of the time...and Amtrak can only achieve 60% on time percentages on essentially the same run. I'm not blaming the railroads for all of this difference, but I have read enough articles about Amtrak on the siding being passed by the container train.

High speed rail is just not MORE rail...so I'm not sure that investment tax credits (read as I pay more for taxes cause someone else gets a break) will help implement high speed rail. I can see how investment tax credits would improve freight opeations...and to some degree, today's Amtrak operations. But, if we talk about 200+ mph trains like Japan and Europe have, you're not putting 10,000 ton freight trains on the same tracks. If this were done right, I'd hope to see a near independent network of high speed track, like the freeways are to highways..the point being, I don't think we should be looking at this as an investment by freight railroads.
 
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