Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fall membership meeting in Cleveland on October 20

We hope you can make it.

MHSRA Fall Meeting

Saturday, October 20, 2007
9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Greater Cleveland RTA
1240 West 6th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113

Registration: $35

Link to online registration at:
www.midwesthsr. org/events

Or call 614-228-6005

Breakfast and Lunch are provided!

9:30 a.m. Meeting Registration

10:00 a.m. Welcome to Cleveland!
Joe Calabrese, GCRTA CEO

10:05 a.m. All Aboard Ohio business meeting
Member ratification of election reform package

10:45 a.m. Break

11:00 a.m. Ohio...a look at the current situation and the Ohio Hub, Midwest
Developments, and other updates

12:00 p.m. Luncheon
Tower City Presentation

1:00 p.m. Rail Leadership Conference and Issues
Lake Shore a focus and possible initiatives and discussion

2:00 p.m. Roundtable Breakouts

2:45 p.m. Roundtable Reports and Discussion on Plan of Action

3:30 p.m. Agreement on Plan of Action and Follow Up

4:00 p.m. Adjourn

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bad Policy 101

Ah, Heritage Foundation, what would we do without thee? You're always so, er, "involved" with the country.

A few days ago they presented this thoughtful meme, "Congress Should Link Amtrak's Generous Subsidy to Improved Performance," which of course is another chapter in a long and misguided novel being written by detractors of rail transit. Translated: "Congress should use a rather unoriginal idea to try to destroy an important government program."

I couldn't help writing about it because, in these times, it is so maddening to see a call for "performance metrics" to protect taxpayers. Current government subsidies of the petroleum industry through tax breaks and related global security are doled out with almost criminal negligence, helping keep cars cheap and railroads in financial straights.

These folks at Heritage live and work around DC. Surely they must understand that forcing people off trains would result in more fossil fuel use and impassible traffic. Just last week the metro area was ranked second worst in the nation (behind LA) for traffic congestion. For regional transportation leaders, the report was particularly scary because, as the Washington Post noted:

Perhaps most discouragingly for the area, many of the solutions suggested in the report -- using mass transit and HOV lanes, telecommuting, building new roads and relieving choke points -- are already being done.

In other words, road traffic is so bad there's naught to be done. In its report Heritage of course suggests people in the name of energy efficiency be moved from trains to car/van pools, HOV lanes and Toyota Priuses.

At the same time, it was announced today that the MARC commuter rail in and out of Baltimore will dramatically increase capacity over the next few decades:

The MARC service has been growing steadily in popularity in recent years as long-distance commuters have sought alternatives to congested highways and relief from high gasoline prices. Daily boardings, which were fewer than 20,000 in the mid-1990s, now exceed 30,000.

That growth is good news for the MTA and the environment, but not for riders' comfort. The system has only 27,000 seats, and many trains run with passengers standing.

"There are certain trains that are so crowded the conductors can't get through the trains anymore," said Christopher Field, a regular rider of the Penn Line. "Extra seats are more than welcome, and weekend service would be an absolute thrill."

Wiedefeld said the number of riders has been increasing at a rate of 6 percent a year, which he attributed largely to highway congestion.

"We expect this demand to grow," he said.

If the Heritage Foundation had its way, we would eliminate rail transit all together and put more people on the roads. What a great idea. To bad it has no practical application in the real world. In the heavily congested northeast corridor, considering population growth and the rising cost of fossil fuel, rail transit has a very bright future.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Amtrak CEO calls for dedicated passenger line from Chicago to Porter, Indiana with a "bold" vision

This is refreshing.

Alexander Kummant, Amtrak's CEO, wrote a letter to Amtrak employees on his one-year anniversary. It's here.

He calls for growth as a company strategy (not just surviving Bush Administration proposals for bankruptcy) and specifically mentions the bottleneck in Chicago going east as a problem to solve with bold leadership.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the future of our
business is in expanding and developing corridor service. We need to strengthen our partnerships with states and host railroads to make that happen. We can take a leadership role in advancing corridor service with bold infrastructure projects that would break apart some of the key bottlenecks across the country. By dedicating some capital and working with our state and freight partners, we could open up segments of routes that would transform rail service.

Imagine what a dedicated line from Chicago to Porter, Ind., would do for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited services, as well as our Michigan trains. Imagine what an additional line between Richmond and Washington could do to improve and expand service there, or another route developed to link Los Angeles and the Bay area. What I’m suggesting is that we have to be bold.

That's inspiring words.

To translate, once a train pulls out of Union Station, it should be cooking at 60 miles per hour through the City and into Indiana.

Right now, because of extreme freight congestion and old tracks that are not set up properly, the trains poke around at 20 or 30 miles per hour.

That's why it's a 5 hour trip between Chicago and Indianapolis. I mean, come on. That's also why it takes 17 hours to get between Chicago and New York. Come on!

Building new track that is just for passenger trains between Chicago and northwest Indiana would solve that bottleneck and make a lot of train trips faster than driving.

It's great that the CEO has a bold vision. Now we need to make sure that all of our local, state and federal officials share that bold vision and are willing to invest in a modern passenger rail network.

The freight railroads, by the way, should help finance a dedicated passenger track, because taking Amtrak trains off of their freight rails is good for their business. There are lots of win-win scenarios. We just need all the stakeholders to urgently demand bold solutions and spend the time and energy to figure them out.

By the way, I found this great new blog out of Arkansas by Pat Lynch called Trains for America. It's going on the link list. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Spread the word about Amtrak Illinois service: Catch An Illinois Train

How can you help build a high-speed rail network in the United States?

Get more riders on Amtrak.

The better we do with Amtrak (and the more trains we sell out), the more it makes sense to invest in a better network with more frequencies, faster trips and new trains.

And the best way to sell more Amtrak tickets?


Emanuel Rosen (who is speaking tonight at 5 pm in Racine, right off the Sturtevant stop on the Hiawatha) wrote a fantastic book called The Anatomy of Buzz. His central point is that the most effective way to reach a potential customer is not with a television ad or a newspaper story, but with word-of-mouth. That penetrates all the noise and marketing clutter, because we trust our friends and colleagues more than we trust an ad or a billboard.

That's an opportunity for all of us to use this powerful weapon -- word-of-mouth -- and tell our friends and colleagues about Amtrak service.

The Association is working on a word-of-mouth marketing project for the State of Illinois right now called Catch An Illinois Train. The site is, as you might imagine, and it includes a page for every one of Amtrak Illinois' 29 communities (as well as St. Louis and a few Wisconsin communities too).

The campaign is designed to give all of us -- passionate advocates of better trains -- the tools to spread the word about Amtrak service.

You can direct people to the page about their community with community-specific timetables to download. You can ask your library or city council or community college to include a link on their home page to the community page on Catch, or you can bring the flyers with the timetable to the lobbies of these organizations and ask if they will distribute them.

Let's spread the word. Once people try Amtrak, they tend to stick with it, especially with these convenient schedules.

Your thoughts on how to spread the word are welcome. (For more on the marketing side of the project, see

Monday, September 10, 2007

Let The Airlines Go Begging

Things seem to be going well for Amtrak these days. Train ridership is up all around, as recent press notes, in part because high gas prices are motivating people to hop on board. However, let us not forget that a horribly managed US industry is also driving people onto the trains this summer. Google news search “airline delays” and you can get the idea fairly quickly…

Fixing the Air Traffic Mess
U.S. News & World Report, DC - 23 hours ago
By Chris Wilson The first half of 2007 was the worst year on record for airline delays—21 percent of all departing flights were late—and the news in July ...

US airline delays top 1 million so far in 2007, UK - Sep 4, 2007
By John Crawley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US airline delays for 2007 surpassed the 1 million mark in July, the same month major carriers scheduled a record ...

Airlines try to beat delays, MA - 5 hours ago
Several US carriers are making some big changes to cut passenger delays. According to The Wall Street Journal, a number of the major airlines have realized ...

US airline delays worst ever in July
Arizona Republic, AZ - Sep 4, 2007
US airlines had the worst July for flight delays on record, as only 69.8 percent of flights arrived on time amid bad weather and a surge in traffic. ...

Airlines get a glimpse of future
Charlotte Observer, NC - 7 hours ago
In this most miserable year ever for airline passengers -- a year of record flight delays and baggage mishandling -- hope is near. One solution: an airport ...
Industry officials explore ways to speed air travel Kansas City Star
all 5 news articles »

Personally I like the Charlotte take, “In this most miserable year ever for airline passengers...”

For some reason, airlines seem to escape most of the “mismanagement” brand which is always attributed to Amtrak. The federal government has historically spent a lot of money keeping these poorly managed businesses afloat. With a better option out there for regional travelers, how about after this summer the next time a bankrupt US carrier comes asking the government for a bailout, we say no and hand the money to Amtrak.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A pair of great AP stories on high-speed rail, featuring our very own Rick Harnish

The Associated Press just put out two excellent stories by Jan Dennis and Jim Suhr on Amtrak and high-speed rail, with the foresight to quote Rick Harnish and link back to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. Well done.

The Suhr report has one of the neatest byline's I've seen:
That's pretty cool.

Our success in Illinois is now one of the national symbols of how to expand passenger rail.

Some of the highlights of insight:

The service also continues to be nagged by travel delays, mostly because it must share the tracks with freight haulers that own the rails and charge Amtrak a modest fee - $90 million in the last fiscal year - for using them. With freight traffic soaring in recent years, Amtrak's on-time performance slid to an average of 68 percent last year, its worst showing since the 1970s.

"There's room for improvement, and we're looking for it," said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman.

If it takes spending much more than $90 million annually to the owners and operators of the railroads to get Amtrak on time, I'm all for it. We need Amtrak to be the most valuable train that the railroads run, so they run them on time. And a lot more of them.

And then the glory of Illinois' explosion in ridership is detailed:

Between last October and March, Amtrak's riders numbered 14.3 million, up 5 percent over the previous year and sailing toward another record.

At least some of that growth might be tied to the investment by Illinois and 13 other states in short-distance corridors Amtrak otherwise wouldn't offer, essentially paying for service where they see a need.

Last fall, Amtrak added two state-financed roundtrips between St. Louis and Chicago and one apiece between from Quincy and Carbondale to the Windy City. Ridership spiked by 189,823 for the first two-thirds of this fiscal year, bringing the total passenger count in the state to 670,605.

Amtrak chalks it up to convenience.

Before adding the trains between St. Louis and Chicago, for example, the day's first Amtrak reached St. Louis about 2:30 p.m., just 45 minutes before the last train out, commonly forcing riders to spend the night.

But since last year's expansion, Amtrak's first arrival in St. Louis from Chicago is about noon, and the last train leaves for Chicago five hours later, enabling Chicagoans to attend a St. Louis Rams or Cardinals game or visit the cultural sites for an afternoon and head back the same day.

Before the expansion, the only departure times out of Carbondale for Chicago were 3 a.m. and 4 p.m. The state added a breakfast-time departure, and ridership blossomed.

It's nice. Ridership just keeps growing.

We need to do this with every long-distance route: find the convenient schedules by running a second daily round-trip.

I mean: one daily round-trip between New York and Chicago? Come on. My only option is to fly. And those New York airports are disastrous. Get me to New York on a train! I'll pay $200. Just get me there in 12 hours and give me four or five trains to choose from!

Every state in the country should be financing additional expansion of existing routes. Buy more frequencies! People will ride.

Finally, the kicker from our fearless leader:

To the Midwest High Speed Rail Association's Rick Harnish, Amtrak's time is now.

"The era of cheap oil is over, and we have to find ways to take costs out of the system. There should be a lot more trains running, and they should be faster," he said. "If ridership is growing this strongly with the kind of delays they get, just think of what kind of response they'd get if they ran on time.

"It's not rocket science," he said. "It's just about providing a good product."

Great quote. The era of cheap oil is over. You know, we should invest all of our government pension funds in shorting oil prices or buying oil futures that bet on the price of a barrel of oil staying above $50 per barrel. It's about $70 today.

Thanks to the AP for the link back to our site.

The Dennis report is more on high-speed rail.

While sleek new passenger trains streak through Europe, Japan and other corners of the world at speeds nearing 200 mph, most U.S. passenger trains chug along at little more than highway speeds - slowed by a half-century of federal preference for spending on roads and airports.
The feds are behind the times. We should be spending in the neighborhood of $5 billion annually on high speed rail in order to get off our oil addiction, address job-killing road (and increasingly air) congestion and slow down climate change. Instead, we're lucky if we get $100 million out of the feds.

But, as the article mentions...
States across the country have gambled on increased interest in rail travel, investing millions of their own dollars in studies and construction for high-speed projects that helped launch about a half-dozen routes that now run above 90 mph.
So every state should be spending tens of millions on particular projects to speed up trip times. Pennsylvania has a success story:
Ridership was up nearly 18 percent through May on a Pennsylvania line that bumped speeds from 90 mph to 110 mph last October, cutting 15 to 30 minutes off the two-hour ride from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.
And just think about what we could have if we made the investments that most of the rest of the world is making:
A new European rail line that hits speeds up to 199 mph has cut the 292-mile ride between Paris and Frankfurt from 6 hours and 15 minutes to 3 1/2 hours. At those speeds, the 260-mile ride between Chicago and St. Louis would drop from 5 1/2 hours to just over 3 hours.


"To think this state (Illinois) has known for 10 years how to get Chicago-to-St. Louis to three hours and 45 minutes, and we kind of languish at five and a half to six hours," Harnish said. "Imagine what difference that would make to the St. Louis economy if you could get to Chicago by train (that much quicker)."

It's all about investment priorities. We'd be wise to invest much more in rail and less in roads (or tax cuts for millionaires).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New York State invests $22M in Albany-NYC route for faster trip times

Good news out of Albany. The New York State legislature is investing $22 million to reduce trip times between Albany and New York City.

The Business Review of the Capital Region has the story here.

The man who once called Amtrak's intercity passenger rail service "embarrassing as hell" was delighted on Wednesday to unveil the first initiatives toward bringing high-speed rail to the state.

Joseph Bruno, the state Senate's Majority Leader, announced $22 million in projects that bring the state closer to that goal. Half of that money will go to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station to add a fourth train track, extend platforms and demolish an existing building.


The remaining $10 million will be spent in New York City. An Amtrak station in Hudson, N.Y., will get $6 million in track improvements, and $4 million will be spent stabilizing a rocky slope into Penn Station to improve safety and prevent trains from having to slow down in that stretch.

This is the model for high speed rail: project-specific funds that solve particular problems in the existing Amtrak service. The faster the trip times, the more frequencies we can squeeze out of existing equipment and labor crews.

We should be investing in the neighborhood of $10 billion annually in rail projects in the country.

Congratulations to the New York State legislature, particularly Senator Majority Leader Bruno, for prioritizing these projects.

Since the ultimate corridor for better service is Chicago-New York (that's where most of the intercity travel is in the country, so I've been told), this investment is good news for the Midwest as well as New York State.

It's absurd that it takes 17 hours to get between Chicago and New York. It should take 10.