Amtrak

Sunday Train: Is Cuomo Dragging His Feet on the Empire Rapid Rail Corridor?

It's been two and a half years since I started working full time for my University here in Beijing, and in that time, the frequency of the Sunday Train dropped from once a week a week with only the occasional missed week, to a few scattered runs during Semester breaks.

Back in January 2014, more than half a year before I started my job in Beijing, the Draft Tier I Environmental Impact Statement for the New York State Empire Corridor High Speed Rail study was signed off on by Joseph Szabo, then Administrator of the Federal Rail Authority. It was released with a comment period through to March 24, 2014.

So, let's catch up to the current state of play. As Albany's Times Union reported on 8 Oct, 2016:

Although the public comment period on the draft of the study ended April 30, 2014, the final environmental impact statement has yet to be released.

Now, the state Department of Transportation, which led the study, says it hopes to have the final document completed by the end of March, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Post said. The Federal Railroad Administration, at the state DOT's request, has extended the deadline to Sept. 30, 2017.

Well, then, haven't missed much. Join me for a look at what is up with the Empire Corrior, and why the NY DOT has been slow-walking the completion of this report, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: An Ohio Universities Rail System, Part 1 (Southern & Central Ohio)

Well, the 2016 High Speed Rail unlock has been postponed to 2018 or 2020.

When transportation policy at the Federal level is grabbed with both hands by the Oil and Gas death lobby, we have to turn to the state level. Now, in Ohio, it might not look like that offers a prospect any better ... but unlike 2010 and 2014, in 2018 the Gubernatorial cycle will be in an election cycle with a President in the Republican party ... which leads to a predictable midterm backlash.

That midterm backlash tends to be strongest in the first midterm ... and it seems likely to be even stronger, given the character of the Republican who happens to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And so bringing the focus of sustainable transportation policy from the Federal level to the State and Local level was in my head when I read: Oxford commits to funds, support for Amtrak stop. The City of Oxford, Ohio, the college town that hosts Miami University (not, of course, "the University of Miami") has committed $350,000 toward the construction of an Amtrak station for the Cardinal that runs through town three times a week to Chicago and DC/NYC. This matches the $350,000 committed by Miami University.

More about building up The Cardinal as a Knowledge Corridor, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: Sleeping On A Trip, In Transit

Well, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay ... and so when you consider the posting plans for The Sunday Train, which quite often fail to qualify among the best laid plans, disruptions should not be a surprise.

Last y'all heard from me, I was posting from Northeast Ohio, with plans to continue posting from Eastern Tennessee and then Northeast Ohio again before arriving back in China for the new Fall Semester. But computer facilities in my son's rented house in Knoxville, Tennessee were much less than in my previous summer trip to see my young grandson ... as in, no computer and the only internet was WiFi borrowed by my wife from the neighbors next door ... so that put the kabosh on that.

And the return leg to Northeast Ohio before flying off to China was originally planned to be fairly tight ... and it got even tighter (as will be described below as part of this week's topic), leaving no time to post once I returned to the much better blogging infrastructure up there.

This week's topic is Sleeping on a Trip. Americans once took for granted that a long cross country trip might involve sleeping in a Pullman car or in a sleeping cabin. Then we took to the air, and allowed our rail transport corridors to devolve into slow trains hauling bulk cargo as we subsidized truck freight while taxing rail freight.

And I was planning on writing on this topic before leaving for China, but after my Greyhound trip from Knoxville to northeast Ohio, and then my 13 hours flight from Detroit to Beijing, I've got even more to write about now, as I see whether I can hit the fortnightly posting target I've set for the Sunday Train while in China. Since I was here in China (but still jet-lagged) last Sunday, it's this Sunday or Bust.

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Sunday Train: The New Gulf Wind, NOLA to Orlando

In this September's Trains magazine{+}, Bob Johnston looks at the history and current state of play of the eastern section of the Sunset Limited route, running from New Orleans through to, most of the time, Orlando Florida. This is a live topic since both houses have passed Amtrak funding bills, which are currently awaiting reconciliation, and both include language setting up a group to study re-establishing intercity rail service on the Gulf Coast.

This also ties into three issues previously examined on the Sunday Train. The Orlando terminus offers the possibility of connecting rail services, which include the Carolina services, some of which extend through to Florida, and also the planned Rapid Rail All Aboard Florida hourly daytime passenger services between Orlando and Miami. And the western connection ties this into the previous Congress-mandated study of upgrades to the existing Sunset Limited, which proposed to replace the current route by extending the Texas Eagle through to Los Angeles, connecting to a New Orleans corridor service at San Antonio.

{+: Note that online access to Trains! magazine is mostly paywalled for subscribers to the print edition.}

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Tough Times in the Hate Business

I guess when you run a hate organization, you have to keep the perceived horrors involving what you hate in the news in order to keep those donations rolling in. I mean, the hate down't pay for itself!

It must be really painful when this sort of stuff backfires.

Case in point. People have noticed the recent stories about the Girl Scouts' policy on transgender girls. That's not really news. The policy goes back to 2011 when Colorado trans kid Bobby Montoya wanted to join. After Bobby was first humiliated by he local troop leader, the Girl Scouts of Colorado announced,

Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members.

If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.

--Girl Scouts

As I reported back then, girls all over the country expressed their support.

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Sunday Train: A Steel Interstate for the Keystone West Corridor


In the last Sunday Train, I talked about the study on Keystone West improvements commissioned by the PennDOT. This study finds that upgrades are expensive, and benefits are modest, in terms of allowing for one or two additional services per day, but at a substantially higher subsidy per passenger mile.

However, this study had a quite peculiar "hole" in the range of options: even though the Keystone East is a Rapid Passenger Rail corridor, electrified and upgraded to 110mph to allow the successful upgrade in frequency and transit speed of the Keystone service between Harrisburg and NYC via Philadelphia ... Rapid Passenger Rail was completely ignored as an option.

This meant that the only speed upgrade that was considered was an Express HSR corridor that was "designed to fail" under the designated criteria, since it would be on a different alignment, and so not pass through the communities between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh currently served by the Keystone West.

While "back of the envelope" calculations suggested that filling in this hole would offer some advantages, it would still give an intercity service requiring operating subsidized for a decade or more.

However, this was all under "status quo" assumptions. What I look at this week is what changes for the Keystone West if we were able to start building out a Steel Interstate system for this country, to shift some of the petroleum-dependent, carbon-emitting pavement-destroying heavy diesel truck long-hail freight onto sustainable powered electrified Rapid Rail Freight. Join me for this much more promising future ... below the fold.

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Sunday Train: The Hole in the PA Keystone West Feasibility Study

One of the things I was waiting on last year was delivery of Pennsylvania's feasibility study for improvements on the "Keystone West" corridor. The "Keystone East" corridor connecting Harrisburg and Philadelphia was upgraded in 2006, with an electrified corridor with speeds of up to 110mph providing travel times competitive with driving, especially in the suburban Philadelphia area. So when a "Keystone West" feasibility study was announced, there were high hopes in some quarters that some substantial improvements might be made on the "Keystone West" corridor, connecting Pittsburgh with Harrisburg, currently hosting only the Pennsylvanian between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

The feasibility study is was originally promised for substantially earlier, with a final draft completed in May 2013 but the trip from final draft to final report took more than a year, being finally published in August of last year (pdf).

A quick review of the Executive Summary reveals that a range of things can be done to improve the Keystone West, which could trim something less than an hour from the current five and a half hour trip to Harrisburg (with a further hour and a half to Philadelphia). It also takes a look at, and quickly dismisses an Express HSR corridor.

But for some reason ... while it considers an option to add a third passenger-only track on the Keystone West, it completely ignores the option of a Rapid Rail speed upgrade on that track ... despite the fact that a Rapid Rail speed upgrade was part of what made the Keystone East project successful. So I'll take a look at this curious hole in the feasibility study, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: Five Levels of US Intercity Rail Policy

In Sunday Train last week, I referred to the Bipartisan Majority to Authorize the funding of Amtrak as "Good News". One commentator in the discussion in one of the crossposts pointed out that the news wasn't all that particularly good, since continued funding on this basis over the indefinite future will spell serious trouble for the system as a whole.

Now, as I suggested more than once, the "good news" last week certainly was not unqualified good news ... that is, to say it was "qualified" good news was already taking on board the bad electoral news for Amtrak in the continued Republican House Majority combined with a new Republican Senate Majority, which opened the door to some of the deep, slashing cuts to Amtrak that some on the Republican side have long hoped to make. So the "qualified good news" was that in going for a total defunding of Amtrak, the radical reactionary wing of the Republican party overplayed its hand, opening the way for a majority of House Republicans, along with basically the entire Democratic caucus, to authorize the continued funding of Amtrak at just about the levels that have been in place over the past four years.

But that was set against the bad news of the INDOT refusing to continue the Hoosier State service on the ground of basically not being allowed to have its cake and eat it too ... insisting on acting like the organization putting together a passenger rail service, without being treated as a passenger railway. And so I started thinking about the Hoosier State / Cardinal corridor in the context of, on one hand, the very low bar for "good news" in transport funding with this Congress, versus the tremendous need we have for a massive wave of investment in transport that can be powered by sustainable, renewable energy. And to organize my thinking, I started to sort it out into five levels:

  • Level 0: "Very Much Worse";
  • Level 1: "Barely Scraping By";
  • Level 2: "A Basic Skeleton Service Done Right"
  • Level 3: "Incremental Growth"
  • Level 4: "Aggressive Growth"

More about the five levels ... below the fold.

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Sunday Train: On Amtrak, I've got some good news, and some bad news.

This last week, there was the surprising start to a headline in the Washington Post that began, "GOP House and White House agree on something" ... and that something was: Amtrak funding (and pets on a train).

From NPR:

The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act passed on a vote of 316-101 (132 Republicans joined 184 Democrats in voting for the bill; 101 Republicans voted against). It keeps spending for Amtrak at nearly current levels — about $1.4 billion a year — for the next four years, and includes other reforms aimed at improving the railroad's fiscal performance.

... so that is a majority of the Republican majority voting for a bill that both Heritage Action and Club for Growth were scoring, looking for a "No" vote to gain their approval, and which the White House gave qualified approval to (though perhaps it helped some of those Republicans that they can point to parts of the bill that the White House did not approve of). And so the Northeast Corridor trains and long haul trains, alongside most of the state approved corridor services under 750 miles in length, can continue running.

But this was not an entirely "good news" week, since we also heard that Indiana DOT scuttles Amtrak Hoosier State. The Hoosier State is the "companion" train to the three-times-a-week Cardinal, and together the two provide for a daily connection from Indianapolis in the early hours of the morning, scheduled to arrive in Chicago in mid-morning. The Indiana DOT has declared its refusal to continue the service unless it gets to put the service together on its own terms, only using Amtrak for the elements of the service where Amtrak gets a better price than a private operator. And so customers of the Hoosier State service will be getting a special "April Fool's" gift in the form of a drop down from daily to three times a week rail access to Chicago.

More about the qualified good news and unqualified bad news, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: NEC High Speed Rail for Under $20b (from 15Jul2012)

Sunday Train this week is a re-run from 15 July, 2012

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations . Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I'd like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper
...
In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.

This sounds like an intriguing possibility ... but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let's discuss it.

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