Friday, March 30, 2007

London's Heathrow airport gets a new terminal with a great train station link

According to this article in Fodor's,

[The new terminal has] Its own dedicated railway station with 6 platforms, two for the Heathrow Express, two for LU Piccadilly Line and two which are built and safeguarded in advance of a scheme to link Heathrow by rail to the outerlying areas.

That's what we should be doing with every new terminal built in the United States at our airports.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Missouri House moving the wrong way on Amtrak investment

When Illinois is about to double ridership on Amtrak service because of a broad, deep, bipartisan understanding that running trains between cities makes great economic sense, the Missouri House is going the wrong way by reducing their Amtrak investment.

article in Missourinet explains that the Missouri House decided to cut back their state partnership with Amtrak. Fortunately, the Missouri Senate has traditionally corrected that policy mistake by the House, but that's a bad decision by the House.

With 5 trains a day between St. Louis and Chicago, Missouri should be figuring out how to run more Amtrak trains into St. Louis to draw passengers deeper into Missouri (particularly Branson and Kansas City), and improve the economic climate of the rest of the state by drawing tighter connections with Chicago.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

House votes for full national Amtrak network, defeats anti-overnight route bill

A nice victory yesterday on the Hill: the House voted 299-130 to include the national (aka long-distance) routes in funding for security enhancement.

The strength of the vote shows that the consensus on the Hill for an investment in a national passenger rail service network is growing and solidifying. That's very good news.

To see how legislators voted, click here. Be sure to either thank or admonish your Representative.

Thanks to NARP for pointing out the vote both before and after. If you're not a member of NARP, sign up here and get on their email list.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Some lessons from the annual meeting today

I just came back from our annual meeting. Here are some of the things I've learned. Forgive my lack of attribution for these ideas, but they came from speakers like George Chilson, Marc Magliari, Anne Canby, Bob Bauman, James Coston, and Rick Harnish.

The Illinois Amtrak expansion has proven to be an unprecedented success. For most rail expansions, it takes a few years to generate ridership. Not here. Sometime this summer, ridership in Illinois is going to double from where it was a year ago. From now on, it's conventional wisdom in passenger rail policy that if you increase frequencies on existing routes, you will increase ridership dramatically. And even better, you will decrease the per capita cost, because which service will double, costs will not (some of the infrastructure like stations, tracks, trainsets and some labor) stays constant.

Here are some more statistics: since the new service started, we've sold 150,000 more tickets (and thus 150,000 more passengers) in the four and a half months of the new service than the tickets sold during the same period last year. That's a lot of people. People want trains.

The National Highway Trust Fund is out of money and out of ideas.

We ought to rename the National Highway Trust Fund the National Transportation Fund and allow any mode of travel -- highways, local roads, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, airports, waterways, bike lanes -- to access the same pot of money based on their ability to deliver mobility. We should also tie transportation investments into reducing emissions and not into either vehicle miles traveled (current policy) or simply enriching the road builders (sometimes current policy). I wonder how much we subsidize business, particularly Wal-Mart, by making just-in-time delivery possible. It would be nice to know. I don't think that's a bad thing, as that's another way of saying we're investing in infrastructure to make our nation more economically competitive (low prices are a very good thing), but it would help to rationalize who should get taxed in order to finance the infrastructure investment.

I'd like to apply the concept of dynamic scoring for tax policy (if we cut this type of tax , it will generate more income and thus more tax revenue, so the theory goes), long a crusade of the high incomes (best articulated by the Wall Street Journal editorial page) to transportation policy. For example: if we invest one dollar into a transit system or Amtrak, most of that money goes to labor costs to pay for the bus driver or train conductor or ticket agent. And those wages get taxed, which goes back to the government, and keeping that person employed means he or she buys things, which sends tax money back to the government. So the government 'spends' a dollar on transit or Amtrak and 'receives' back 30 cents or whatever in taxes.

For every dollar we spend on a road or highway maintenance, we hire the contractor to do the work, which sends some money back, and then we encourage a lot of driving, which basically means drivers spend a lot of money on oil and cars. And any money we spend on oil gets sent overseas to enrich the other wide of the War on Terror, certainly not back to the government. You'd have to think that the government gets a better return on spending dollars on transit or Amtrak instead of roads or highways, since the latter causes so much more money to get spent on foreign oil than the former, but I'd like data on the question.

There are more tham 40,000 people who die on the highways every year. That's a huge cost, financially and emotionally. Apparently, the policy goal in Europe is zero highway fatalities. Our federal policy goal on highway facilities is unclear, but probably something like a 10% reduction. I'd have to bet the benefits to reducing highway fatalities by spending more on transit and Amtrak would outweigh the costs of that extra spending. I'd like our transportation policy to include that calculation somehow.

What's the point of diner cars, sleeper cars and other unique attributes of overnight trains? The point is to sell tickets on trains, because the ability to buy a drink while you're traveling 100 miles or to leave a city at night and arrive in another city in the morning, well-rested and ready for work or fun, is a unique benefit that trains have over driving or flying. (Well, I guess you can buy a drink on a plane, but strapped into that coach seat isn't the same as strolling around on a train). So, we shouldn't try to strip out those benefits of a train -- we should include the cost of those benefits in a train ticket. Not every part of a train or a plane or a highway should be a profit center. Saying that a diner car should be a profit center is like saying that a toilet should be a profit center. Or air conditioning. The service should be provided as efficiently as possible, but it doesn't make sense to eliminate the unique benefit of train travel because it isn't by itself a profit center. We should just sell more tickets.

How many Americans just will not fly? It's probably something like a third to a half of the population. It's at least a quarter. That's at least 75 million people who have to subsidize our aviation system that will never use it. We should make a bigger deal about that. And we should find out what that number actually is.

This debate is getting more and more interesting, especially as SAFETY-LU (current federal transportation policy) expires in 2009. Oil prices will probably be over $100 a barrel by then. It's time for new voices and new policies.

Friday, March 23, 2007

We need more tracks

That's one of the bottom lines of rail policy -- there are too many trains on too few tracks. And so too many Amtrak trains have to sit on the equivalent of the side of the road waiting for another train to pass by.

We passenger rail advocates need to find a way to get more tracks built (either sidings or, ultimately, double- and triple-tracking routes with heavy train traffic).

And since the rail companies that own most of the track in the nation also would like more tracks built, we need a new partnership with the rail companies that make both Amtrak and the freight companies better off.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

States need to invest in Amtrak and follow California and Illinois' lead

Edward Sivoy found the following information -- very insightful.

And by the way, Governor Blagojevich's new budget submitted to the General Assembly three days ago fully funds Amtrak service in Illinois, so congratulations to him. It shows that Amtrak is a political winner for state legislators and governors and that more legislators and governors should embrace a state-funded Amtrak expansion as good public policy and good politics.



These 14 states will pay Amtrak a total of $172.6 million next
year for expanded intercity passenger rail service. The federal government
would add to this in the future under proposals from the administration and

California, $79.7 million

Illinois, $26.9 million

Washington, $13.1 million

Missouri, $7.6 million

Pennsylvania, $7.2 million

Wisconsin, $5.9 million

Michigan, $5.8 million

North Carolina, $4.9 million

Oregon, $4.7 million

Maine, $4.3 million

New York, $4.3 million

Vermont, $4.2 million

Oklahoma, $2 million

Texas, $2 million

Source: Amtrak

------------ --------- --------- --------- -------

It's a good time for other Midwestern states like Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Minnesota to start partnering with Amtrak to start buying more service. Ohio, in particular, doesn't have any real daytime Amtrak service. And the Minneapolis-Chicago market is among the most underserved in the Amtrak system with only one daily round-trip but with a trip length of 409 miles, it's perfect for rail. Minnesota should just start paying for another daily round-trip.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Philadelphia business leaders lobby for Amtrak -- Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia expansion next?

Good news from Philadelphia. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and an affiliated CEO group have been lobbying for the Lautenberg-Lott Amtrak investment, according to this report from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia-area business leaders also have launched a campaign in Washington to advocate for dedicated Amtrak money to boost the regional economy.

"We have gone too long without real progress," the chief executives of more than 50 area firms said in a letter to six senators and 13 representatives from Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware. "The future of the Northeast Corridor is so critical to our region's economic future that we have resolved to work with you and the region's governors to ensure that the federal government makes a funding commitment..."

That's great progress.

S. 294 now has 28 co-sponsors, after picking up Senators Tester (D-MT), Mikulski (D-MD) and Smith (R-OR). We need more Midwest co-sponsors! Keep on calling.

I've come to believe that the best medium-distance route for rail would be connecting Chicago to the Northeast Corridor more quickly and more reliably than we currently do. We should also expand the frequencies of service, as at most, there's one daily train on each route between Chicago -- and the entire Midwestern network that emanates from Chicago -- and the Northeast Corridor.

The Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia route seems to make the most sense to me, especially since the Harrisburg-Philadelphia Keystone service just got a significant upgrade.

This should be a 10 hour trip on a train to travel about 750 miles. Now it's between 16 and 24 hours (!) on the published Amtrak schedule. That's too slow.

We need to invest in the infrastructure -- more tracks, better signaling, eliminating choke points -- to get a faster, more reliable trip. And that mobility between the Midwest and the Northeast will benefit both of our regional economies.

Philadelphia is a good natural gateway to the Northeast Corridor, between D.C. and New York, while Chicago is the Midwest hub. Building a stronger relationship between our two cities makes a lot of sense.

That would be a great project to work on.