Category Archives: Commentary

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

What the new Siemens Chargers mean for riders

From Railway Age:

The first two Siemens SC-44 Charger diesel passenger locomotives have arrived in Colorado for the start of testing at TTCI’s Pueblo, Colo., facility.

Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) awarded Siemens a $228 million contract in 2014 to supply 32 of the 125-mph diesel-electric locomotives for use on Amtrak services in the states of Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. The locomotives are being assembled at the Siemens plant in Sacramento, Calif., and the first units are due to be accepted by IDOT in December.

The first options for additional units were exercised in November 2015, when the states of California, Illinois and Maryland ordered a total of 34 locomotives.

In September 2014, Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary All Aboard Florida ordered 10 Charger locomotives to operate its Brightline higher-speed passenger service from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, which is due to be launched next year. Assembly of these locomotives is now under way at Sacramento.

The four-axle, AC-traction Charger is the first locomotive to be equipped with the Cummins QSK95 prime-mover. The 95-litre, 16 cylinder engine is rated at 4,400 hp (3.28 MW) and is equipped with Cummins’ Modular Common Rail Fuel System (MCRS) with quad-turbocharging. The QSK95 is also equipped with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) exhaust aftertreatment, enabling it to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 4 emissions standards.

For the last few years, Amtrak’s diesel fleet has been pretty static, excluding the rebuilt stimulus P40DC locomotives. However, weather extremes have not been kind to the fleet, and on numerous occasions a host railroad’s locomotive is leading an Amtrak train. I can only imagine the frustration a host railroad has when an Amtrak locomotive has failed on a section of their track, no less the passengers.

The new SC-44’s, as the Chargers are being called, will free up in the Midwest upwards of about 20 locomotives that Amtrak should have overhauled immediately. When Amtrak’s fleet is at peak performance, passenger satisfaction improves. Coming home from the 2014 NARP Spring Council of Representatives meeting, the locomotive I was on (all but certain it was an AEM-7) experienced technical issues a little north of the Metropark station. Eventually the issue was fixed enough so that we could continue on our way, but we were an hour late into New York City.  I have read that the ACS-64 have very good reliability.

Furthermore, as locomotives are being retired, Amtrak should encourage transit agencies across the country to purchase them and even save them in the interim should a state out of the blue decide to start an intercity service or a commuter rail service. Equipment should see as much re-purposing as possible.

Hopefully in the next few years we will see much more reliable and comfortable equipment coming for Amtrak. But that means all of us in the public bring to light that Amtrak and all passenger rail operators in the United States need proper funding and regulation that allows for innovation and growth.

 

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

Elect train supporters in 2016, starting today

The 2016 elections are a year away. It’s time to start advocating for improved passenger trains now.

Many candidates don’t have this issue on their radar. Others argue that would cost too much. Malcolm Kenton at Trains magazine argues that infrastructure spending is a matter of priorities.

Past mega-projects eventually succeeded because enough leaders decided that they were important enough priorities that they found a way to pay for them, committing the necessary resources to them each year for as long as it took. The same could be said about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like it or not, two successive presidents and majorities in Congress have decided that these war efforts were important enough to spend trillions of dollars, much of it borrowed money, for which nearly everyone could think of other (perhaps better) uses.
“For conversations to end with “we don’t have the money” represents defeatist thinking. Instead, we should all be making the case that achieving the improved mobility and connectivity.

Decisions on these sorts of projects will be made not only in Washington, DC, but also in state capitols and city halls around the country. So it’s up to us to make sure that our favorite candidates support passenger rail. The time is now.

-CH