Category Archives: Commentary

Poll: WI residents support passenger rail

Time to badger Congress for Amtrak expansion

In Wisconsin, 85% of residents say they want Amtrak funding increased or maintained at current levels, according to a new survey.

It’s been more than 150 years since railroad fever first brought rail service to the Badger State. And while just about everything else has changed in the last century and a half, one thing hasn’t: Wisconsinites still love trains and in particular are fans of our national passenger railroad, Amtrak.

new survey of Wisconsin residents sends a clear message that expanding Amtrak service must be a part of the state’s transportation future….

And those views transcend party politics and labels. Indeed, one of the only places where Amtrak is not in demand is in Congress, where some lawmakers are still peddling unpopular budgets for Amtrak that would bankrupt the railroad.

With Congress preparing to rewrite the law that governs Amtrak, now is the time for elected officials to listen to their constituents.

In Wisconsin, 85% of residents say they want Amtrak funding increased or maintained at current levels, according to the survey. Very few want to see its funding eliminated. Nearly three out of four Wisconsin residents want the option of additional service to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago. There is overwhelming support for expanded service across all demographic groups, all of whom have no problem with the $1 billion yearly federal investment in Amtrak, and many who would like to see it expanded.

Interestingly, the strong support for Amtrak in Wisconsin comes despite the fact that residents currently have limited rail service options. Nearly 80% said they have not been a passenger on Amtrak in the past two years; no surprise here given that the carrier provides only one long-distance train and one corridor service. These views also contrast with Wisconsin’s governor, who, in 2011, sent $850 million in already approved passenger rail funds back to the federal government.

The popularity of Amtrak transcends blue state/red state divisions, offering a striking example of nonpartisan pragmatism that elected leaders would do well to emulate. In fact, Amtrak’s favorable/unfavorable rating was 66%-18% among Republicans and 67%-21% among conservatives. After all, providing passenger rail service is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s a public interest issue.

Baltimore Sun editorial: Our view: Century-old infrastructure can’t continue to support passenger rail

Amtrak’s vulnerability [Editorial]
Our view: Century-old infrastructure can’t continue to support passenger rail service in Baltimore and the rest of the populous Northeast corridor

No doubt there were some lumps in throats at Amtrak headquarters last month when they heard the words “collapse” and “rail line” in Baltimore. As it happens, it was a CSX freight line that was affected by the loss of a 120-year-old retaining wall in Charles Village that sent tons of dirt, pavement and cars spilling onto the tracks below.

But it might have been the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, Amtrak’s only passage through West Baltimore. It’s 140 years old and can’t accommodate more than two tracks, double-stacked trains or speeds above 30 miles per hour. The renovation of B&P, as it’s commonly known, is overdue, a $1.5 billion project that’s on the drawing board but not yet funded.

And that’s not even the biggest headache along Amtrak’s vital Northeast Corridor. Last week, Amtrak’s CEO reminded an audience in New York that the century-old rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River have less than 20 years of service left. That’s particularly worrisome, considering it would take “seven to nine years” to build new ones, Amtrak’s Joseph Boardman said, “if we all decided today that we could do it.”…

Amtrak has a new proposal with a 2030 completion date but currently doesn’t have the financing to move forward with it.

Congress and the Northeastern states can’t continue to ignore the region’s aging rail infrastructure, particularly tunnels and bridges that date back a century or more. …

Yet last week, House Republicans unveiled a budget for next year that would cut Amtrak’s capital construction allowance below this year’s amount. As current spending levels have already contributed to long-term neglect, it’s easy to see the proverbial track ahead — more landslide-like events and other catastrophes involving rail lines followed by finger-pointing and “you should have warned us” pronouncements.

Of course, Congress can always allow Amtrak to gradually shrivel up and die (indeed, conservatives have already called for it to be zero funded), but as the Northeast from Richmond, Va. to Boston, Mass. remains the nation’s economic powerhouse, that strategy could prove costly. Home to 50 million people and a $2.6 trillion economy, the Northeast is this country’s most densely populated region and the most dependent on rail service to keep going….

The bottom line is that there’s really not much choice. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor must be sustained if only because the region lacks alternatives. And the sooner Washington replaces rail infrastructure that dates back a century or more, the sooner commuters can rest easy that a landslide isn’t waiting around the next bend….

We certainly don’t expect the B&P Tunnel to come crashing down any time soon, and perhaps the Hudson River tunnels have many years left — as might the aging bridges over the Susquehanna, Bush and Gunpower rivers in Maryland that are also slated for repairs. But it just seems foolish to risk so much by continuing a strategy of neglect along the Northeast Corridor, financing small projects like new signals here or catenary there, when so many major challenges are ignored at the public’s eventual peril.

May Day means Amtrak Day #1: May 1st, 2014

Commentary from Railpac.org

Once again, for the 43rd time, here we are on May Day, the anniversary of the official day of Amtrak operations beginning on May 1, 1971. It was the day most of the still-operating passenger trains in the country disappeared, and the freight railroads breathed a sigh of relief because the heavy hand of the ICC was no longer upon them forcing them to run trains they didn’t want to run “in the public interest.”

The almost exclusively all-male railroad management cadre of the day, many of them struggling to save their own freight operations from bankruptcy in a heavy regulatory environment, were happy to be rid of the cost of passenger stations, a fleet of cars and locomotives which were reaching what everybody thought was the end of their useful life (sadly, this was especially true of equipment built by Pullman Standard, which used a different assembly process and materials than its wiser competitor, Budd), and all of the expensive employees it took to run passenger trains. They could cascade many of their unwanted employees onto Amtrak’s employee roster (of particular note, the former Pennsylvania Railroad employees in Philadelphia who were sure they could run passenger trains better than anyone else), and, allegedly, finally do what they thought railroads should only do, turn themselves into corporate conglomerates (remember the various “Industries” titles tacked onto the end of railroad names?) focusing on moving products, not people, and buying and managing other businesses they didn’t know how to run.