passenger rail

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: Adventures on the Beijing Subway

I have ridden the Beijing Subway and lived to tell the tale!

Of course, the youtube clips you might be able to find about incredible overcrowding on the Beijing subway is just part of the story. Indeed, when riding on my "home" subway line, I often not only find plenty of standing room on the train ... I often get a seat.

So follow me as I wander through the Beijing Subway System, below the fold.

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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: 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: West Virginia River Runner Rail and the Steel Interstates (from 1 May 2011)

Tonight's Sunday Train is a repeat of the 1 May, 2011 Sunday Train, from before the Sunday Train came to Voices On The Square

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The flashy rail projects are the very HSR projects to build bullet trains serving urban areas with millions of people.

But the role of rail in supporting sustainable extends beyond the bullet train system alone. It may not be critical to the financial success of these bullet trains to provide service to people living in urban areas of 50,000 to 200,000 ~ but its critical to these people to have access to some form of sustainable intercity transport.

Indeed, if we are going to be harvesting wind power, solar power, sustainably coppiced biocoal, geothermal, run of river hydro, and other sustainable resources ... we are going to be creating incomes in areas away from the 1m+ cities. We best look after the needs of the people who come to those areas looking for work.

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Sunday Train: Reflections on a visit to the East Coast

Your intrepid sustainable energy and transport reporter was recently required to engage in some official business with an overseas consulate located in New York city, and in order to be able to afford to sit and wait as the wheels of bureaucracy as long as might have been required, obtained lodgings in a relatively cheap motel in New Brunswick and took the NJ Transit Northeast Corridor train back and forth. This week's Sunday Train is a collection of scattered observations made along the way.

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Sunday Train: The Ends of Amtrak

At the beginning of last month, Paul Druce of "Reason & Rail" discussed the possible impact of the pending upgrade of the Amtrak Acela route in Acela II is the path towards Amtrak operational self-sustainability:

The forthcoming Acela II isn’t just supposed to be significantly faster than the current Acela service, cutting 24 minutes from the scheduled time between Washington and New York and 38 minutes between Washington and Boston, but it will also represent a significant boost in capacity. ...

With an increase in seating capacity, Amtrak will be able to garner significantly more revenue, even if it lowers the price of Acela seating somewhat. This added revenue comes with no significant increase in operational cost and quite possibly a lowered cost, as there should be a higher rate of availability and lowered mechanical costs for what is essentially an off the shelf train, along with significantly lower energy consumption. With current averages for occupancy and passenger revenue unchanged, an Acela II train service could see $742 million in revenue, with $447 million in operational profit.

This will have an even larger effect upon Amtrak’s financial deficit than initially appears because starting in FY2014, the states bear a greater responsibility for the short distance train corridors. This had the affect of reducing Amtrak’s FY2014 budget request to only $373 million for the operating grant; 2013’s appropriation, by contrast, was $442 million.

Note that what Paul Druce refers to as "operational profit" is what I have been calling "operating surplus" in the Sunday Train, the surplus of revenues from operations over operating costs. This is nothing like an operational profit, at present, since a profit is a financial benefit from a difference between revenue and costs, and there is nothing in the current organization of the Acela services that make a surplus on their operations into a distinctive financial asset for any purpose ... whether public or private.

Whether or not all or part of this operating surplus should be made into an operational profit is a question that goes to the heart of what is the purpose of Amtrak. The way that this surplus is spent can be the means to service a range of ends ... but what are the ends that are a legitimate use of these means?

Since Amtrak was established, and exists, as a political compromise, this is not a question about what is the proper "End" for Amtrak activities, but what are the proper "Ends" for Amtrak activities.

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Sunday Train: 'the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail.'

In covering the upcoming vote on the planned North Metro Rail line in Denver, the Denver Post writes:

People and circumstances over the years have tried to change the gritty image of Commerce City. There have been high-end homes on its eastern border and a world-class soccer and concert stadium not far from the city's oil refineries, and even an attempt to wipe the city's industrial name off of the map and replace it with the more low-key moniker of Derby. But it may be a stop on the Regional Transportation District's North Metro Rail Line that brings some shine to the center of the city.

They quote the Commerce City Mayor:

"I'm very optimistic about the commercial opportunities that come with transit-oriented development," said Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford. "Once rail comes, we can develop around it, and I think it will be highly beneficial."

... as well as the Adams County Commissioner and Chairman of the North Area Transportation Alliance:

"In our world, the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail," said Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen

And on Tuesday night, the Metro North line was approved, for a 2014 start and 2018 completion, when it had been previously set back to 2044 (an oddly exact date that clearly meant, "not now, but maybe later"):

A spontaneous offer from Graham Contracting in February stepped up the plans for the North Metro line after the company teamed with three other private developers and gave the Regional Transportation District's board of directors a viable, ambitious construction plan, said RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas.

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Sunday Train: Rapid Rail and Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy (pt 2)

Last week, I considered the concept of Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policies: the kind of policies that we will now have to pursue if we become serious about Climate Change, because of the 16+ years we will have wasted since 2000 that would have given us the opportunity to pursue a more gradualist approach. At that time, there was a debate that could be characterized as an argument between "incrementalism" and "purism". However, at present, and therefore by the time the current administration will be completed, we have passed the point of asking "how fast should we go", and have passed into "how fast can we go" territory. Hence the Pedal to the Metal approach.

Last week, I did not rehash Micheal Hoexter's overview of a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy, but rather looked at the leading edge of that policy package, what I dubbed "front-runner" policies, and looked the Steel Interstate as one example of a front-runner policy for a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy package. This week, I am going to turn from Rapid Freight Rail and consider what kind of Rapid Passenger Rail policy would qualify as a front-runner policy for a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy.

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