Sunday, June 24, 2007

Airports get more federal money than Amtrak

Guess who gets more federal money? Amtrak? Or the 'private' airlines?

Well, turns out, it's the airlines. They gets more than twice as much federal money as Amtrak.

So much for 'subsidized' Amtrak versus 'free-market' airlines.

Here's just the latest evidence from the Federal Times.

House subcommittee approves Amtrak funding for ’08
June 11, 2007
Funding for Amtrak and several federal housing grants would remain intact as part of a proposed fiscal 2008 spending bill, despite a request from President Bush to cut funding for the programs.


The president’s request included significant cuts to Amtrak subsidies. The bill as passed by the subcommittee includes $1.4 billion for the agency — the president requested $800 million.


The bill also contains $3.6 billion for the airport improvement program for upgrades at airports across the country, $850 million more than the president’s request; and $40.2 billion for highways, $600 million for than requested.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Transit Riders Alliance meeting 6/23

Note: Updated start time to 10:00

Dear rail and transit supporter:

We all know that intercity trains, commuter trains and local transit are joined at the hip: They exchange many of their riders, they share many of the same supporters, and some of them—commuter trains and Amtrak—share the same tracks. Most important, they all drive economic growth.

But they also share the same troubles, including political neglect, which has risen to a crescendo in Illinois. The largest transit network in the Midwest is in deep trouble because of a logjam in the Illinois General Assembly and a standoff between the legislature and the governor. Current operating budgets cannot maintain service levels and new funding is not forthcoming, forcing CTA, Metra and PACE to contemplate September service cuts that will delay needed capital projects, alienate loyal customers and roll back the spectacular ridership gains of the last decade.

Much of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association' s recent success in promoting a bigger Downstate passenger rail program is attributable to our decision to fight for a comprehensive local transit buildup at the same time. Intercity rail and transit thus are linked not only at the ridership level, but at the policy level as well. To make sure the two
prongs of our advocacy agenda mutually reinforce each other, we have launched the Transit Riders' Alliance, a campaign designed to give transit users and business leaders throughout the state a forum and a program to lead the fight for healthy and growing transit systems.

TRA already has had an impact. Nearly 3,000 people have used our web site,, to send their state legislators faxes demanding prompt and adequate transit funding.

You can learn more about TRA's work and learn what you can do to help by joining us Saturday, June 23, in a workshop that will bring you up-to-date on the action (or inaction) in Springfield and give you some tools to push for better service.

Please join us and please invite your friends.

Transit Rider's Alliance meeting
Date & Time: Saturday, June 23, 10:00 – Noon
Place: DePaul University, Chaddick Institute, 243 S. Wabash Ave., 9th Floor, Chicago, IL

There is no charge for this event but there is a suggested donation $10.00 at the door.

Overview of Transit Riders' Alliance campaign
Update legislative actions (or inaction)
What you can do to help

To RSVP by phone leave a message at 312-409-2029 or by email to midwesthsr@aol. com.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Exceptionally enlightening piece from airline pilot Patrick Smith

This is a great piece by airline pilot Patrick Smith in Salon.

Over the past quarter-century, remarkably low ticket prices have encouraged an ever-increasing number of fliers, to the point where twice as many people now travel by air than did in 1980. Meeting that demand, you're tempted to think, would have been an easy matter of increasing capacity: Instead of flying a 200-seat 767 from New York to Los Angeles, make it a 747 instead, with 450 seats. But that's not how it happened. Indeed capacity has grown, but the trend has been toward smaller planes, not bigger ones -- and more of them, departing more often to more cities. As the number of fliers has doubled, so has the number of planes carrying them.

That means gridlock in airports.

Since most airlines are better off with lots of small planes serving a frequent schedule instead of fewer large planes serving a decent schedule, the result in inefficient gridlock in airports.

The solution? Not at all clear.

Other things of note from Mr. Smith's article:

Did you know that Chicago - New York is the nation's biggest domestic market for air travel? That probably means we need much better overnight rail service between the two cities to fix the gridlock problem at O'Hare and Midway and in LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark.

Frequency of flights sells tickets. Our Amtrak Illinois experience shows that applies to rail as well. If you run more service with a plane or a train, people will buy tickets from you more often.

Great article. Read the whole thing.

Baltimore Sun editorial: Amtrak, the most energy-efficient way to travel, deserves investment

The Baltimore Sun picks up on a recent report that Amtrak is the most energy-efficient way to travel, beating out airplanes, commuter rail and (of course) automobiles in an editorial today.

The editorial calls for a capital investment to build high-speed rail:

What passenger rail really needs is billions of dollars in additional capital investment - to replace aging equipment and upgrade track in order to provide faster, more efficient service that would allow Amtrak to better compete with no-frills airlines.

From China to Germany, other countries are making that kind of investment in the future while the U.S. sits on the sidelines. High-speed rail has enormous potential, but it first requires government support.

Illinois has proven that if you run trains more frequently, the riders will come.

Now we need capital investment so these trains run faster with better on-time performance.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Does driving = freedom?

From my friend Fritz:

Please take a look at this blog:

The writer comes very close to making a point that I’ve been wanting to make for about a month since it first started cooking in my brain, to wit:

Advocates of automobiles robotically tout the “freedom” of the private automobile. They define this freedom as a) being able to leave and return whenever you prefer, rather than adapting your preferences to the fixed schedule required by passenger rail; and b) being able to go wherever the road system goes, i.e., everywhere, as opposed to the much smaller number of destinations served by rail.

But is this freedom as big a deal as the auto advocates represent it to be? True, driving your own car enables you to come and go whenever you please, but once you’re behind the wheel, that’s the last increment of freedom you’re going to enjoy. As soon as you’re seated in your car you surrender a number of other freedoms, such as the freedom to go to the bathroom whenever you want, the freedom to work at a laptop, the freedom to read a magazine, newspaper or book; and the freedom to eat. Technically, you can eat while driving, but not without endangering yourself and others, and not at any level of genuine pleasure or satisfaction. Thanks to personal electronics, you can listen to music or radio broadcasts in either environment, but you cannot safely watch TV or movies in a car, as people do on trains.

You also can’t strike up a conversation with a stranger while driving, as you can on a train. Many people would like to, as evidenced by the way curious lone drivers discretely inspect other lone drivers without making eye contact while stopped at a traffic light.

And speaking of traffic lights, that’s another thing you’re free from when you ride a train. The engineer has to watch for the signal change, but the passengers don’t. They can keep reading, writing, talking, listening to their iPods or watching videos while the train sits without worrying whether somebody behind them will honk if they don’t move fast enough when the light changes.

Assuming a railroad offers enough frequencies to meet my needs for flexibility, I find far more real personal freedom in riding a train than in driving my car, which increasingly feels like a prison. A prison is a place where you spend most of your time sitting and where you’re not allowed to do what you want. I think that’s a pretty good definition of driving.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

California moves forward for $50 million for high speed rail this year

Sometimes having a state authority of high speed rail makes sense. In California, it might pay off. They've got an authority (website here) and this year they are making a move to avoid Governor Schwarzenegger's short-sighted cuts.

The Fresno Bee has the report here:

Two-thirds of California's congressional delegation has signed a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger supporting much more funding for the state's proposed high-speed rail system than the governor's budget proposed.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said the 36 signatures include four other San Joaquin Valley representatives -- Reps. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced; Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield; Devin Nunes, R-Visalia; and George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

He called the letter "a strong signal from Washington that California is serious about high-speed rail" and said the goal is to get $50 million in funding, about 10 times what the governor proposed.

This is great news. It's good to get federal legislators involved in the state budget process. Senator Dick Durbin was helpful in Illinois last year during the successful campaign to double the state appropriation for Amtrak to double service.

The Authority is clearly defining the ask. That's helpful to have an independent verification -- a professional agency and not just advocates -- of the ask and the benefits that flow from the ask.

In the Midwest, we have largely not advocated for the creation of a separate Authority for either improved Amtrak service or laying separated track for high speed rail, instead we've been working with state DOTs (who largely operate Amtrak service) for additional frequencies and capital investments to improve average speeds and reliability.

I suspect that if we ever want to make a multi-billion investment in laying new tracks, we'll need to create an Authority with separate bonding and taxing authority. That isn't in the cards for the forseeable future, at least as I see it.

Very good to see progress in California.

Monday, June 04, 2007

High oil prices are here to say....Amtrak offers relief

This post is for Rick who is motivated mostly by peak oil.

Business Week has an interview with the chief economist of a gas distributor who sees nothing but high gas prices ahead.

It's here.

There are two main reasons why gas prices are high and will likely remain high. One: crude oil is in demand and not in supply, especially as China and India consume more and more. Two: refineries are at full capacity and they are so expensive to build it isn't likely we'll get any more.

Here's part of the interview.

What's been behind the recent runup in gas prices?
First of all, you have to remember that 60% to 70% of the cost of gasoline is the cost of crude. When that doubles from $30 a barrel to $70, prices go up. This spring we had a number of refineries not running well. In the past, the industry had spare capacity. If a refinery was down we'd run the rest at a higher utilization. Gasoline demand has grown at a rate of 2.5 refineries every couple of years. We can't expand existing capacity at that rate. The industry is running at full capacity.

Sounds like someone should build a new plant. Hint, hint.
You're looking at seven to eight years and costs in the billions. Kuwait was looking at building a refinery. It was originally projected to cost $6 billion. Last November the price had run up to $10 billion. By February, it was $16 billion and the project was canceled. In the U.S. we're looking at twice the cost because of pollution controls. Now are you going to go to your board of directors and argue for an investment like that?