All posts by Grow Trains

Who should Grow Trains support?

Grow Trains is looking for candidates who support passenger rail.

It’s important to have strong supporters of passenger rail at all levels of government. So we’re looking for candidates running for election at any level, and they may be affiliated with any party.

Are you such a candidate, or do you know someone who is? Please tell us by completing the linked form.

We hope to publish a list of candidates we like soon. Thanks for your help!

Passenger rail and the party platforms

Support for passenger rail has always been bipartisan. But in 2016, it is not possible to pretend that “the parties are all alike.” Let’s give credit to conservatives like Senator Wicker (R-MS) who recognize the importance of passenger rail.

But such officials are working against the 2016 Republican platform, which seems to be more about restating conservative talking points than in providing sustainable passenger rail service.

America on the Move

Our country’s investments in transportation and other public construction have traditionally been non-partisan. Everyone agrees on the need for clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports. President Eisenhower established a tradition of Republican leadership in this regard by championing the creation of the interstate highway system. In recent years, bipartisan cooperation led to major legislation improving the nation’s ports and waterways….

The transportation section of the platform starts well, although anyone who has read the history of the Interstate Highway system knows that while President Eisenhower supported the concept of a national highway network, but was concerned about the details of the proposal.

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to “coerce people out of their cars.” …

We could argue that there were decades of policy that supported highways to the exclusion of all other modes. Was that “social engineering” meant to “coerce people out of trains?” As late as the 1950s, passenger rail was the most efficient way to get many places, and that only changed because governments decided they preferred cars over trains. That’s social engineering.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities….We propose to phase out the federal transit program…

Many in the Republican party seems to have a distaste for cities. That’s beyond the issues we focus on here, but it should be noted that many Republican lawmakers, especially those representing suburban areas, have been consistent supporters of rail and transit, if only because they feel that the more other people use rail, there will be more room for their own cars on the highways.

[We propose to] reform provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act which can delay and drive up costs for transportation projects.

This is an area where bipartisan support could definitely be found.

We renew our call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon law, which limits employment and drives up construction and maintenance costs for the benefit of unions.

Again, this is beyond the scope of this post, but what about benefits to the workers that unions represent?

Recognizing that, over time, additional revenue will be needed to expand the carrying capacity of roads and bridges, we will remove legal roadblocks to public-private partnership agreements that can save the taxpayers’ money and bring outside investment to meet a community’s needs….

Passenger rail supporters recognize and support the usefulness of public-private partnerships. But history shows us that some sort of subsidy will continue to be needed to maintain and grow the passenger rail network.

Amtrak is an extremely expensive railroad for the American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket.

All forms of transportation are subsidized. Taxpayers pay much more for highways than what comes from the Highway Trust Fund. We pay for the air-traffic control system, and we subsidize some very expensive flights through the Essential Air Service program. Why should roads and air service be given preferential treatment over passenger rail?

Amtrak was created in 1970 because the private railroads were no longer willing or able to provide passenger service, and President Nixon recognized that without rail, highways (especially in the Northeast) would be unable to take the additional traffic.

Passenger rail advocates recognize the limitations of Amtrak. But given its chronic underfunding, it’s little short of amazing that it’s done as well as it has for 45+ years. And the level of subsidy it receives has been shrinking steadily.

The federal government should allow private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country.

Provisions for such ventures are already in place, as part of the PRIIA Act. But it should be noted that no private entity will want to operate the Northeast Corridor before a century’s worth of deferred maintenance (like the Hudson River tunnels, the Baltimore tunnels, and many more) have been completed, and even then, some sort of operating subsidy will be needed.

We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere.

This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of the California high-speed rail project. Many of us believe that “higher-speed rail,” that is, improvements to existing rail services, would be useful. But it is far from clear that the California project is a boondoggle. The small chunks of Missouri and Kansas interstate that opened in 1956 probably looked like highways to nowhere at the time.

So again, it is unpleasantly clear that the Republican platform is not supportive of passenger rail. Please check with your local candidates, and vote for folks that are more willing to support rail than the national platform is.

-CH

Trains bring people together

In the lounge car, travelers who might not ordinarily come together due to economic, geographic or social stratification suddenly find themselves sharing tables. They are “people you’d never put together, but on a train you can, and it works,” [59-year-old Chicagoan Vivian Lonak, our sleeping-car attendant, who has worked for Amtrak for seven years,] said.

Chugging west on Amtrak, family-style

Why do I work for better trains? Because I believe that bringing people together improves understanding, and understanding makes it easier for all of us to live together on this world we share.

We can no longer accept a world where people travel in their own little bubble cars, ignoring the humans around them. We can no longer accept a world where everyone gets “news” that reinforces pre-existing beliefs.

Haven’t been on a train in a while? Join me and my friends from the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Now is the time!

–CH

Let’s get our priorities straight

I am so tired of people bitching about Amtrak’s accounting. None of us really know what their figures really look like. And you know why? Because Amtrak inherited accounting that led to such scandals as Credit Mobilier 150 years ago. Because Congress, including those on both sides of the aisle who would normally be screaming for independent audits, don’t want to know! They don’t want to know how they’ve let our infrastructure go to hell for a century.
 

They don’t want to know how much it’s really going to cost to rebuild when the Hudson River tunnels and the Baltimore tunnels collapse. They don’t want to know what it’s going to cost to rebuild when the tens of thousands of deficient bridges collapse. They don’t want to know what it’s going to cost when the air traffic control system’s ancient computers die. They don’t want to know what it’s going to cost to rebuild the Washington Metrorail system. They don’t want to know what it’s going to cost when we have no American manufacturers who can rebuild SEPTA’s broken cars, and Amtrak’s dying fleet.

The politicians think that infrastructure is not sexy. And it isn’t, unless they can put their names on a nifty bridge or building…but even those little plaques are awfully ugly when they’ve rusted away.
 
How much infrastructure could we rebuild if we killed even one of the Pentagon’s shiny new aircraft? We’ll never know, unless we elect people who have their priorities straight!
 
4876 laying in Union Station
4876 laying in Union Station. From http://hubpages.com/education/PRR_GG1_locomotive

Last week, we lost Eric “GG-1” Minton, a great friend and rail enthusiast. He, like many others, recognized that while no one person can turn around decades of neglect, but all of us together can make a difference. So stop complaining, and start advocating…and most of all, start voting!

–CH

Header image:  Collapsed Kinzua Bridge

Help support passenger rail in the party platforms, and at the conventions

It will be important to make sure that support for passenger rail is included in the party platforms.

If you’re considering submitting testimony to the DNC for their 2016 Platform but haven’t gotten around to writing anything, the NFA is doing a last minute marketing blast to encourage people to submit pro-passenger rail testimony. Please feel free to submit our file or use it to create your own: http://arr.as/1rtLr9q
Deadline is 6/18/2016!
And feel free to share!
Thanks. ~ Deborah Fischer Stout on behalf of the Northern Flyer Alliance
So please, submit your comments to the DNC Platform Committee by June 18, and contact us and let us know if you’ll be in Cleveland or Philadelphia. Thanks!

May Day, A-Day, Yea Day!

May 1, 1971: Amtrak begins operations. Its creation was an unprecedented taxpayer-funded lifeline to the freight railroads. They were given the authority to get out of the passenger rail business, in return for allowing Amtrak trains priority on their tracks.

Amtrak was not expected to last very long, since most people believed that passenger trains would be completely replaced by the publicly-funded highway and air traffic control systems. But forty-five years later, passenger trains are more popular than ever, despite chronic underfunding.

So let’s celebrate Amtrak’s anniversary by reminding our elected representatives that passenger rail is still an amazingly good value. The “Mayday” from the freight railroads that we answered in 1971 was the right thing to do. Tell elected officials in Congress, state capitols, and city halls to say “Yea!” to rebuilding a robust and reliable national system.

Next stop: the ballot box

Rail advocates, especially after yesterday’s results, must not fall victim to the temptation to “take the ball and go home.”

At least on the Democratic side, the party’s platform is still very much in play. Sanders has opened a debate, and we need to make sure that pro-passenger-rail voices are heard.

Meanwhile, the threat to the Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma shows us that we must fight to elect rail-friendly candidates at every level of the ballot, from city and county governments, to state legislatures, to the US House and Senate.

It’s going to be a continuing struggle to maintain and grow the national network until we can change or eliminate PRIIA 209. And that can happen, but only with strong support from both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

Broken rails and broken infrastructure

Authorities say they’re investigating whether an unreported vehicle crash may have damaged the railroad tracks before an Amtrak train derailed in southwest Kansas. Gray County sheriff’s Deputy J.G. Sharp says there was a separate vehicle accident that may have damaged the rails before the passenger train derailed early Monday outside Cimarron. A few people remain hospitalized.

https://www.facebook.com/ColoRail/posts/1007475709297985

Residents in Washington, D.C., were reeling Tuesday afternoon from the news that the region’s entire Metrorail system will close for at least 24 straight hours starting at midnight tonight in order to perform a safety check of hundreds of electric cables. The decision, made by the transit agency’s board of directors and newly minted General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, came after an electrical fire broke out in a tunnel near the McPherson Square station Monday morning, which led to a major service disruption. It also comes in the context of a fatal smoke incident caused by a similar electrical failure inside one of the system’s tunnels a little over a year ago.

http://www.citylab.com/commute/2016/03/metro-wmata-dc-shutdown/473910/

Our rails are broken. So is our infrastructure. When you vote for the candidate of your choice, make sure that they are committed to fixing our passenger rail system.

Support candidates who will get things done. We need all the sane people we can get.

Sometimes, it seems as though passenger rail supporters — for all our foibles — are the only people who aren’t going crazy in this campaign season. But think about our neighbors and friends — the bird-watchers, knitters, rockhounds, hikers, and even the science-fiction fans and cat people. They’re not any crazier than they ever were.

If we all get together to vote for candidates who haven’t gone off the deep end — and there are some! — we can go back to the business of improving our infrastructure. But we need to ensure that the White House, the Capitol, our state legislatures and our city councils represent us, not the kooks who seem to be out-shouting everyone else these days.

So please, support the sane people. Don’t give up and not vote. That’s what the crazies want us to do.

Your chance to advocate for passenger rail

These are some very exciting times for the National Association of Railroad Passengers. NARP will have an excellent opportunity to make the cause of improved passenger rail more visible in this year’s elections, on the national, state and local levels.

If you are a NARP member, and would be interested in representing the organization on its Council, we’re looking for representatives for the following states. Check the position description, and contact the NARP office if you would be interested in serving. The original deadline has passed, so please respond soon!

  • Alabama
  • Arizona (2 positions)
  • California (5 positions)
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts (2 positions)
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

We recognize that some folks won’t have the resources to contribute financially–in fact, we’re working on ways to provide support for those who need it. And you can certainly support the organization by providing your time and skills. So please consider helping out! Thanks.

–CH