Saturday, February 24, 2007

Good article on Michigan Amtrak ridership rising fast

The Detroit News put together a good article with a great interactive section that celebrates Michigan's spike in ridership.

The article is here.

And the interactive section is here.

Some of the choice parts:

Buoyed by passengers like Williams -- who endure frequent delays for the train's comfort and typically competitive fares -- Amtrak's popularity in Michigan is soaring. State ridership, which hit a record last year of nearly 665,000, has jumped 47 percent since 2002 -- far outpacing the nationwide increase of 12 percent.
With ridership going up that much, it's time to expand service in Michigan. The State of Michigan should pay more money to buy more round-trips, and the Congress should buy a ton of new trainsets and upgrade tracks.

Friday, February 23, 2007

If you are anti-Amtrak, you are pro-oil

This column by Arthur Frommer in the Houston Chronicle lays out the Amtrak opponents (including, unfortunately, the Bush Administration) as pro-oil.

That's a great epithet.

I'll start using it.

The President's Amtrak budget is pro-oil. Congress, by contrast, supports a pro-Amtrak budget.

I love it. Nice work Arthur Frommer.

Monday, February 19, 2007

An airport executive understands that high speed rail is great for airports

From the High Speed Rail Now blog comes a copy of a San Francisco Examiner interview with John Martin, the head of San Francisco International Airport, on how airports do much better with a healthy high speed rail network.

Why? Because airports make more money with big planes filled with lots of people instead of little planes filled with a few people. So the best way to run an airport and pay off the massive municipal bonds with per-passenger fees is to keep the runways filled with big planes with lots of passengers in them flying between big cities. Little planes don't make that much money, and little planes from from little cities.

Trains, on the other hand, are good for collecting all the people from the smaller cities around the big city and taking them to the airport where they can then get on a big plane and fly to another big city.

Or, as the airport executive puts it:

Q: How do airport managers feel about establishing high-speed rail for California? Do you support the high-speed rail initiative?

A: The airport commission has come on record in support of high-speed rail. We think it would reduce the number of flights here, and we would see a 5 to 8 percent drop in passenger traffic if high-speed rail is introduced. The markets it would help us with — markets like Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego — are markets that are primarily served by smaller aircraft. So we might see an even bigger percentage reduction in the number of flights.

This is considered a good thing, since the airport is at capacity, and getting rid of these little planes to replace them with big planes, means that the airport can make more money.

We should take that strategy and apply it to O'Hare and Midway. O'Hare is at capacity and Midway is close to it. We should not have flights from O'Hare to Milwaukee (which we do) or Champaign (which we do) or Bloomington (which we do). Instead, we should have fast trains from those cities to O'Hare. That's the best way to put O'Hare and Midway in a better financial position: dump the low-margin small planes by building better rail connections. See for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association's idea on this point.

Illinois Amtrak ridership explodes with new service; leading legislator calls for additional expansion

If you run them, they will come.

The Illinois General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich doubled Amtrak service in Illinois last year and the new trains started rolling October 1st.

Ridership exploded.

On the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis line, ridership went up more than 90% in the first three months of service.

Can you say: unmet demand?

That's a great investment in our economy, as we're buying mobility for our state. With affordable and reliable trains connecting the state, our quality of life and our economy are both improved. The more we're connected as a region, the more economically competitive we become, because instead of sending our money to fund the other side of the War on Terror by driving all over the place, we're sharing the oil on a train. Plus, with the money riders save with affordable transportation, they can spend on other things.

Mike Ramsey of Copley Newspaper, again, has the best piece out of many on the ridership numbers. It's here in the Springfield Journal-Register.

The legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed last year to double the state's Amtrak budget to $24 million as part of a plan to grow intercity passenger rail in Illinois and promote tourism and commerce. The amount covered only eight months of service through June 30, 2007, and funding for a complete fiscal year is expected to cost about $30 million.

Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat who pushed for the rail expansion, said continuing state support is warranted, based on the ridership numbers IDOT has reported. In fact, he said, the results justify additional rail expansion.

Additional rail expansion. Fantastic! Hello, Decatur, Peoria, Rockford and Quad Cities. Would you like train service? All you have to do is ask. Wouldn't that be a better investment in economic development than another interchange or a 10 miles of a four-lane highway?

And with that sort of explosive growth on the Chicago-Bloomington-Springfield-St. Louis corridor, we should be moving up from 5 trains a day to 7 trains a day. I really would like a 3:00 pm northbound train out of Springfield for those Thursdays or Fridays when session gets out at 1:30 or 2:00. Wouldn't it be great to catch a 2:30 pm train back up to Chicago and be home in time for dinner? A late dinner, but still. How cool would that be?

The other corridors had fantastic growth as well in their first three months of service. From the Ramsey article again:

Ridership on the Carbondale line increased an average of 68 percent from November through January, compared to the same period a year before, according to the IDOT numbers. The "Illini" and "Saluki" trains carried 19,406 riders in November, 20,314 riders in December and 15,996 in January.

The ridership increase on the Quincy route averaged about 40 percent during the last three months, compared with the same period the previous year. The "Illinois Zephyr" and "Carl Sandburg" trains carried 14,103 riders in November, 14,650 riders in December and 11,126 riders last month.

40% growth is great. And that's only going up as more people start to realize that Amtrak in Illinois is a reliable service and shed their memories from the late 90s when Amtrak was a lot worse. These state trains also have a much better on-time-performance record than the national trains that come from San Antonio or New Orleans.

The more we invest in our trackwork to improve average speeds and decrease congestion choke points where there's only one track so one train has to wait on the side, the better these trains will be and the more economically competitive and viable all of our Downstate Amtrak cities will be -- not to mention how Chicago will grow stronger as well.

It's like an airport is right downtown for every Amtrak city.

Hopefully Congress will catch up with the General Assembly. I was going to say hopefully President Bush will catch up with Governor Blagojevich, but Bush is so tone-deaf on this (and so many other issues) since he's listening to his ideologues, that he'll never catch up to Blagojevich (who, in his statement, rightly called out Bush for releasing another dumb budget that cuts Amtrak. No wonder he's a 30% approval President).

Anyway, this is great news for Illinois. If you want to see the schedules for the new service, check them out here. Or call 800-USA-RAIL. If you haven't taken Amtrak in a while, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sherrod Brown signs on to the bill -- let's get more co-sponsors!

Good work Ohio! Yesterday, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) signed on to S. 294 as a co-sponsor. That's now 3 co-sponsors from the Midwest, as he joins Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Carl Levin (D-MI).

Keep working to get some more.

And if you'd like to thanks Senator Brown, that would be a good idea.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Senator Carl Levin is now a co-sponsor of S 294 -- we need more!

Good news: Michigan Senator Carl Levin has signed up as a co-sponsor of S. 294, the best pro-Amtrak legislation in the Congress in a decade.

The main improvement the bill makes is that it puts passenger rail on the same footing as every other transportation investment: multi-year funding. It also invests some capital dollars into the passenger rail network that state governments can match, like every other transportation investment.

That makes 2 Midwestern Senators that have signed up for the bill.

Let's get some more! Call your Senators this week and ask them to co-sponsor S. 294.

Ohio transit/legislative summit in March with All Aboard Ohio

Check out for a March 7th day in Columbus.

From their Interim Executive Director, here's an explanation of the day:

The Third Annual Rail/Transit Legislative Summit is an event that will be attended by those people interested in affecting change in state transportation policy. The Summit gives you, the private citizen, a chance to act for the improvement of public transit and improved passenger rail transportation for the state and the region. Last year’s summit was attended by nearly 100 concerned citizens and resulted in the Ohio Senate unanimously approving a resolution of support for the Ohio Hub Plan. My sincere thanks go to those who attended the summit last year.

It is important to attend this event because legislators listen and act accordingly when a large number of private citizens from their own districts come together for a common cause. The year 2006 was an important election year for our new governor, state and federal legislators. These new representatives of Ohio must be made aware of the benefits that increased investment in rail development and transit operations bring to our communities. In order to be effective in our message, citizens who want improved transportation options must act with a unified voice. All Aboard Ohio is hosting this event to provide support for that voice.

Through advocacy impact and increased membership, All Aboard Ohio is the fastest growing non-profit transportation advocacy organization in Ohio. We advocate for the improvement of all forms of transportation, especially rail transportation as it is the most effective and efficient means to move people and goods across the state and the region.

I look forward to seeing you at the Summit on Wednesday, March 7th.


Andrew M. Bremer
Interim Executive Director

If you live in Ohio, make sure to attend!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Amtrak's goal is to double riders by 2020 -- does that mean double the number of trains?

Dick Durbin is kicking ass for passenger rail. He held another (his third in the last year or so) rally for an Amtrak expansion, this one in the Quad Cities. And at the public meeting, Ray Lang, the senior government affairs director for Amtrak, had this to say in the Quad-City Times (thanks to United Rail Passenger Alliance for catching it on their blog):

Amtrak’s goal is to double the number of riders nationwide by 2020, he said, adding that Amtrak is not looking at long-distance rail service. The company’s future is servicing corridors 300 to 500 miles.
That's something to think about.

If we are going to double ridership on Amtrak, how could that happen?

First off, Amtrak carries about 25 million people a year. Doubling ridership would mean 50 million riders a year. In Illinois, there are 3.3 million riders (with 2.5 million in Chicago). If we doubled ridership, Chicago's Union Station would see 5 million annual boardings and the rest of the state would see 1.6 million boardings.

That's a big expansion in the next 13 years. It's basically an 8% growth rate every year for the next 12 years. Fortunately, we've been hitting that rate on our corridor trains, and some of our long-distance trains.

How can we maintain that growth? We need more frequencies. We need the trains to get more reliable and we need the average speed to rise. That means we need capital investment in tracks, signals and trainsets. And we can't do it with single-track in the system. We need to figure out a way to work in partnership with the freight railroads to get more tracks built and maintained so we can run more trains without having to pull over (or slowing down freight traffic).

It's time to buy new trainsets. And it's time to expand into new markets, like Peoria, Decatur, Rockford and the Quad Cities.

Amtrak's set out a very exciting goal of doubling ridership. Illinois, and Senator Durbin, are national leaders in improving Amtrak. This is a good time for trains.