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).


Blogger plaws said...

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

Not to take anything away from IDOT's investment or MHSRA's shepherding of the project ... but California's been doing this for years! Odd that the press focuses on Illinois.

But hey, whatever works. :-)

2:51 PM  

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