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Amtrak & Federal: Passenger Rail News

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All,

 

The following letter, dated, Jan. 12, was mailed by Youngstown Ward 4 Councilwoman Carol Rimideo-Righetti, who chairs council's Public Utilities Committee (see directions to City Hall below the letter):

__________________________

 

Dear Ohio Rail Customer:

 

This correspondence is to officially notify you that the Public Utilities Committee of Youngstown City Council has called a Public Hearing to discuss the pending elimination of Amtrak rail service to Youngstown, OH. The hearing will be held Tuesday, February 22, 2005, at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers, City Hall, 6th Floor.

 

I as well as my City Council colleagues would like to get feedback from the individuals most affected. You are welcome to attend and voice any opinions, questions or issues regarding this subject. Each speaker will be alloted up to 10 minutes to address the committee. Additionally, if you are unable to attend and would like to submit a written statement you may do so using the following address.

 

ARLENE D. THOMPSON, CITY CLERK

CITY OF YOUNGSTOWN

ATTN: AMT05

26 S. PHELPS ST. 6th FL

YOUNGSTOWN, OH  44505-1329

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Carol Rimideo-Righetti

Fourth Ward Councilmember

______________________

 

City Hall's address is 26 Phelps Street, at the corner of Boardman Street.

 

DIRECTIONS:  If you're coming from the north or west, exit I-680 at Market Street, go across the big bridge into downtown. Two blocks after the bridge, turn left on Boardman Street and go one block to Phelps.

 

If you're coming from the south or east, exit I-680 at South Avenue, turn right and go across the big bridge. After the bridge, veer soft right and go one block to Boardman Street, then turn left. Take Boardman four blocks to Phelps.

 

END


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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Don't forget that, from 1985 to 1992, presidents Reagan and Bush1 also zero-budgeted Amtrak each year, but Congress reinstated funding. Not sure about this Congress, though....

 

If W wants to make Amtrak more like the highway and aviation systems, does that mean he's going give $2+ billion a year for railroad traffic controller salaries and maintenance (ala the air traffic control system, funded out of the federal treasury BTW), set up a user-financed, multi-billion-dollar infrastructure trust fund for railroads, remove the property tax liability railroads pay ($500 million per year paid by railroads nationwide) and provide a tax-exempt, federally backed bond-issue program for railroad capital improvements?

 

Will W propose federal funding support for rail technology research (ala NASA and defense contracts that give technology transfer benefits for aerospace firms), and support BTU efficiency credits for rail (instead of subsidizing oil exploration, defense of oil-producing regions and maintaining the strategic petroleum reserve that would amount to an added $2 per gallon gas tax if we didn't pay for these every April 15th)?

 

Oh, well, we didn't mean making Amtrak "exactly" like highways and aviation. We just figured that the "free market" would provide passenger rail service if there really was a demand for it....

 

That's my version of sarcasm.

 

More and more, I'm really disliking this country's direction.

 

KJP

 


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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WHY CAN’T MY COUNTRY WAKE UP?  Amtrak has never made any money they say?  Hmm, how much money has the interstate system and the billion upon billions dumped into road construction ever made the government.  It is a mute point.  It is our ONLY, rail service and this administration thinks it is OK that we cut funding?  This President is obviously in bed with the oil companies.  Maybe I will be in my 90’s by the time our country catches up to Europe and Asia with high speed rail and an extensive public transportation system.  So sad…

 

There is no FREEDOM in America without the automobile…

 

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If Amtrack loses its funding, can they stop servicing the sparsely populated areas of the South and West.  Isn't that what is losing them the most money?  Or would they have to cut back to just the Acela line?  Isn't that one actually profitable?

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Maybe they should just concentrate on corridor or regional services with states that want to partner w. the Feds to do this.

 

I really don't see any sense in long distance passenger trains, particularly cross-continent ones... when flying is quicker...

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Problem is, you're thinking of a passenger train in airplane terms -- endpoint to endpoint. True, the Empire Builder (and other western transcontinentals) travel 2000+ miles from Chicago to Seattle and Portland. But it also stops in 40 or so cities and towns along the way, some of which have no air or even bus service (especially since Greyhound is pulling out of most small towns, especially in the west). A single run of the Empire Builder may carry 400-500 people on its 50-hour journey, but only one-fourth typically ride the entire length of the route. Some ride Chicago to Fargo. Some ride Grand Forks to Minot. Others ride Cut Bank to Whitefish. And, in the winter time, the train is only link to the outside world for many town, so much so that emergency supplies of medicine are often brought to them on the Empire Builder.

 

Because of this ridership turnover, few seats are left empty. The Empire Builder covers more of its costs through train revenues than do the short-haul corridors out of Chicago to Milwaukee, St. Louis and two Michigan routes. The only reason why those corridors look better on Amtrak's books is that the states which predominantly benefit from them provide an additional subsidy to Amtrak to keep them running. Getting all the states on the Empire Builder route to agree on a fair sharing of state subsidy would be difficult, if not impossible. Multi-state transportation projects, regardless of mode, rarely work without a strong federal role, which is why the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution gives it the responsibility of overseeing interstate commerce (except, I guess, when it comes to Amtrak).

 

Construction of an interstate highway system never went anywhere until the federal government took the lead on it and provided 90 percent of the funding (now it's down to 80%). Bush has proposed the last few years that no Amtrak route should keep running unless the states agree to help keep them running, but Bush proposes only a 50 percent federal funding share. It has to be equal to the interstate highway share. Why should states pay 50 cents on the dollar for rail when they only have to pay 20 cents on the dollar for a highway project? Fact is, they won't.

 

Does the Acela make money? Yes and no. Yes, because it covers the direct costs of operating those specific trains. No, because it doesn't begin to cover its costs of using the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor tracks, power systems and stations. Amtrak uses the Northeast Corridor the least among all the commuter rail operators like Maryland Rail Commuter, South East Pennsylvania Transit Authority, New Jersey Transit, MetroNorth, Shore Line East, and the Metropolitan Boston Transportation Authority. Altogether, these commuter rail operations run more than 1,000 trains daily on the Northeast Corridor, to Amtrak's 120. Yet, the commuter rail operations pay only about one-third of the actual costs of using the corridor. Amtrak subsidies make up the difference -- subsidies you and I pay (there's the donor state BS again).

 

The only reasons why airlines make money (or at least, used to!) is because decisions were made decades ago about what costs the private carriers would be responsible for paying and which ones the government would fund. Amtrak (or a private railroad like Norfolk Southern or Union Pacific) could make money on passenger trains if they didn't have to pay certain costs either, like railway traffic control dispatchers' salaries, property taxes, plus financing interest or depreciation on their rights of way. Our nation's rail system would look totally different if these kinds of policies were enacted.

 

Imagine a freight railroad building a 180-mph passenger rail route between Cleveland and Chicago. Or, operating a cross-country passenger train that is a "land-cruise" for some and an essential service to others, mainly in small towns. Or, building overpasses and underpasses for streets to avoid a sudden doubling of freight train traffic (that railroads have been turning away for lack of capacity) on expanded three- and four-track-wide rights of way. These things can happen, but only if there is a consensus among railroads, policymakers and the public to proceed.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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I've actually ridden the empire builder from Seattle to Chicago.  Very scenic, OK ridership, but not as busy as the Chicago to Cleveland leg was by a long shot.  They may get more revenue on the Empire Buider because of sleeper car sales, dinners, lunches, bar sales, etc. that they don't get on the short lines.  I think I payed way more than I would have to have flown, because even though the ticket was on special (although still about as much as a plane ticket) I spent another hundred or so on food and beverages over the few days.  Sleeper cars are also very expensive- several hundred dollars.  Not that any of that changes your fundamental arguement about revenue.

 

I agree with you that it would be only fair if Amtrack got the same deal as the airlines.

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Amtrak, airlines and public radio need to make it on their own.

 

Why? Who makes it on their own? If Amtrak and the airlines (and highways) were fully privatized systems, how much more are you willing to pay to travel?

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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The expectation that railroads can make a profit on their own is antiquated... They did make a profit before the invention of the automobile and the airplane, but these days, they need and deserve a subsidy just like the automobile and airplane do.

 

I don't think trains are good for long hauls (although, the Empire Builder does serve a lot of intermediate-length trips), because the airplane has been invented and is better for that sort of thing. And the auto is good for many short hops.  But I can say from personal experience that once the trip gets much above 150 miles, trains are an enjoyable, comfortable alternative, provided they run on time and are frequently scheduled.

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After two planes were flown into the World Trade towers in NYC, Congress bailed out airlines with a $15 billion subsidy. We then went to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, but sits on the world's second largest oil reserve (we've got to fuel those Hummers somehow). That costs us over $5 billion per MONTH. Amtrak asks for a billion or two per year, and the Administration and its defenders scream about fiscal responsibility.

 

Trains emit far less global warming emissions than planes or cars, can't be flown into nuclear power plants, don't jeopardize all of us with 16 year old drunk drivers, and don't require oil wars or endless paving and parking projects to sustain them. Not to mention that you can actually talk with other people and take a moment to read or think on a train.

 

Just like the Reagan Administration, W and co. have buried us in red ink to give their buddies and campaign contributors huge tax cuts and handouts. Then they ask the rest of us to "tighten our belts" and send our sons and daughters off to fight their wars to keep the money flowing to Halliburton and Bechtel.

 

You do the math.

 

 

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After two planes were flown into the World Trade towers in NYC, Congress bailed out airlines with a $15 billion subsidy. We then went to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, but sits on the world's second largest oil reserve (we've got to fuel those Hummers somehow). That costs us over $5 billion per MONTH. Amtrak asks for a billion or two per year, and the Administration and its defenders scream about fiscal responsibility.

 

Trains emit far less global warming emissions than planes or cars, can't be flown into nuclear power plants, don't jeopardize all of us with 16 year old drunk drivers, and don't require oil wars or endless paving and parking projects to sustain them. Not to mention that you can actually talk with other people and take a moment to read or think on a train.

 

Just like the Reagan Administration, W and co. have buried us in red ink to give their buddies and campaign contributors huge tax cuts and handouts. Then they ask the rest of us to "tighten our belts" and send our sons and daughters off to fight their wars to keep the money flowing to Halliburton and Bechtel.

 

You do the math.

 

 

So have we abandoned diesal for coal burning steam engines?

And that electric current used to run passenger service has to come from somewhere. So unless you're using nuclear power or some alternative turbine turning source, something has to be burned to produce the steam turning the turnbines at your local power generating plant.

 

As for 16 year old DUIs.  They can just as easily park their SUV in front of a train (just like in So Cal last month).

Or make sure someone is maintaining that track so trains just don't fall over for no reason.

 

While I don't care for Bush's budget proposals (Amtrak should get funding), I don't care for people advocating how infallable trains/mass transit is either.  If it was that damn good, it wouldn't been on life support for the last 40 years!

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So have we abandoned diesal for coal burning steam engines?

And that electric current used to run passenger service has to come from somewhere. So unless you're using nuclear power or some alternative turbine turning source, something has to be burned to produce the steam turning the turnbines at your local power generating plant.

 

The thing is, power generated to run the trains causes pollution in a fixed area, which can be controlled.  The same cannot be said about automobile pollution.

 

As for your last comment, I guess the same could be said about roads for cars or airplanes, right?

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My concern is having government policies which have allowed the highway system to account for 85-90 percent of all intercity travel and, in most cities, intracity travel. If the highways were privately owned, the government would have declared them an illegal monopoly and forced their break-up into multiple competing modes to promote more balance in the transportation marketplace. But I've never heard of a government taking itself to court.

 

And that's where my issue is with rail/transit vs. highways -- the public policies which govern them. We've put 90 percent of our transportation eggs in one basket. Ask Youngstowners about the wisdom of putting all their eggs in one basket, or any political jurisdiction that depended on any one thing for its continued prosperity. Companies diversify to protect their stockholders. So should our government to protect its constituents, especially when rail and transit, based on average passenger loads, offer four to seven times greater energy efficiencies than cars, also with average passenger loads. In the early 1980s, when Ohio was considering an $11 billion bullet train system, the electric utility companies weren't interested in lobbying for it because the trains wouldn't use ENOUGH energy to make a difference to their bottom line!

 

I don't hate cars. I love driving my sports car for joy rides in the country or for a cruise through the Metroparks. But I hate having to drive it everywhere just to live a productive life. No other nation on this planet is so heavily dependent on cars. Why? Because Americans were born differently than everyone else? Because our population densities are lower than in Europe, even though Ohio has the same population density as France? Or that our travel densities between cities in the Great Lakes-East Coast region are higher than those in all of Europe?

 

The difference is public policy. Ours favors highway domination. Japan's favors rail domination. Europe's favors balance. Being balanced is being smart, for sustained economic development, energy security, smarter land use, and mobility for all.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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I heard a stat this morning that, since the 70's, the federal government has given Amtrak $19 billion in subsidies.  That seemed like an astonishing amount of money, until grasscat updated the Great Brent Spence Bridge thread today and I hit me that we're talking about $750 million for that project.  That's one bridge for one highway (technically two highways) for one city...it's a mix of sources, yes, but it's still just one small link in the interstate highway chain.

 

According to this site, there are 11,621 bridges on interstate and state highways in Ohio alone (a bridge being defined as 20 feet or greater), 286,019 in the country.  Obviously few of those are as long or as traveled as the Brent Spence, but good lord, that's an astonishing investment - 30 years of Amtrak pales in comparison.

 

Of course, we spent $30 billion federal dollars on highways in 2003, and $14 billion on airlines.  Personal automobiles accounted for 54.6% of all passenger miles on trips of 100 miles or more (in 1995), airplanes for 43.0%, bus for 1.6%, and rail for 0.5%...it's the easiest argument to make that if non-commuter rail service were funded proportional to its use, it should receive $220 million in subsidies, and thus last year's $1.2 billion made it more than five times as expensive as other transportation alternatives...

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Those are just the federal trust fund numbers for highways and aviation. Governments at all levels, from 1971-2001, provided an average of more than $63 billion per year for highways, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times. Nor does it include the $108 billion to $235 billion per year that the federal government provides to the oil industry for exploration and research subsidies, funding of the Strategic Petroluem Reserve and defense of political unstable oil-producting regions. Why am I including these? Because two-thirds of our nation's oil is used by cars and sport-utility vehicles, with a much smaller proportion burned by planes, trucks, buses and trains (in descending order of oil usage). If we paid these oil-related subsidies through gas taxes rather than every April 15th, the cost of a gallon of gas would rise anywhere from 72 cents to $1.57 over existing prices. That's why we're asked to pay those costs every April 15th, because if we paid them at the pump, we'd probably drive less, burn less oil and demand alternative ways of getting around.

 

Also, the aviation cost data you listed doesn't include the $2 billion per year in federal general revenue funds to operate and maintain the air traffic control system, nor the $15 billion bailout of the airline industry following Sept. 11 (even though the industry was in financial trouble before the attacks). If we paid those costs as a surcharge to our air fares, the cost would double for short flights and rise less (but still be a significant rise) for longer ones. By not paying those costs every April 15th (whether we fly or not), fewer people would fly and more would demand other ways to get from city to city, especially over shorter distances.

 

The whole point of highway and aviation subsidies is to reduce the cost of traveling by either of those modes, but those aren't even the causative reasons why highways and, to a lesser extent, aviation are the dominant modes of travel.

 

The keys are the federal capital improvement trust funds set up for each of those modes (and for navigable waterways, too!). In 1956, when the federal government started the Interstate highway program, it created an interest-bearing trust fund in which highways would pay a new federal gasoline tax into the fund. Congress appropriated $500 million ($7.5 billion in 2005 dollars) to kick-start the fund. Thus, when motorists bought a gallon of gas, they paid to help build, maintain and expand the Interstate highway system. It fostered the exponential growth in revenues to the trust fund, the exponential growth of the highway system, and the exponential growth in driving.

 

Same thing happened when Congress created the Airport & Airways Trust Fund in 1970. They similarly approved a new federal ticket tax airline travelers would pay into the interest-bearing fund, which also was given a kick-start of federal funding (I don't recall the figure but it was at least $100 million). Plus, the federal government had been funding the construction of airports and the traffic control system since 1950, none of which was paid for by federal user fees.

 

The result of these trust funds is they allow the infrastructures of highways and aviation to grow and improve, attracting more travelers and more user taxes, which allows the two infrastructures to further grow and improve, and so on.

 

When Congress created Amtrak in 1971, it was supposed to last for only two years. That was a compromise for those who didn't want to see an Amtrak at all. Congress foolishly thought it could pump less than $30 million in capital funding into Amtrak in each of those two years and wash their hands of it. But the rail system was in such decay that it needed many times the funding than what was given. Worse, Congress never instituted a ticket tax on rail travel to pump back into a trust fund, nor created a kick-start for a federal trust fund for railroads...because they never established a federal capital trust fund for Amtrak...period.

 

Instead, Congress gave annual handouts to Amtrak that were budgeted only to keep the railroad running until the next year. In some years, it was barely enough money to keep everything running. Sometimes it wasn't. And to the next year, and the next.... That's how it's been ever since -- Amtrak living year to year, 34 times over.

 

It's why Amtrak's route network has been stuck at about 22,000 route miles for the last 34 years, although ridership has grown from 16 million in 1971 to 25 million in 2004. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, it got enough operating subsidies to survive and less than $100 million for capital improvements over 20 years. Amtrak's infrastructure and rolling stock started falling apart five years ago, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars a year just repair what it has, with no funding for growth. All attempts to create a capital improvement trust fund in the last few years have failed in Congress. There will be another attempt this year.

 

Can Amtrak, or any passenger rail carrier, make a profit in the U.S.? Perhaps, if Amtrak/other didn't have to account for things on its balance sheet that airlines don't (traffic controllers and system maintenance workers; terminal operations, maintenance, depreciation, plus debt-financed repairs & improvements of terminals; rights of way operations, maintenance, depreciation, plus debt-financed repairs & improvements of rights of way; a police department; use of privately owned rights of way that pay property taxes and profit margins; and other costs).

 

Until the public policy structures under which Amtrak or its replacement(s) operate change, the U.S. passenger rail industry will see more stagnation, more battles for survival and more opportunities lost.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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Those are just the federal trust fund numbers for highways and aviation. Governments at all levels, from 1971-2001, provided an average of more than $63 billion per year for highways, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times. Nor does it include the $108 billion to $235 billion per year that the federal government provides to the oil industry for exploration and research subsidies, funding of the Strategic Petroluem Reserve and defense of political unstable oil-producting regions. Why am I including these? Because two-thirds of our nation's oil is used by cars and sport-utility vehicles, with a much smaller proportion burned by planes, trucks, buses and trains (in descending order of oil usage). If we paid these oil-related subsidies through gas taxes rather than every April 15th, the cost of a gallon of gas would rise anywhere from 72 cents to $1.57 over existing prices. That's why we're asked to pay those costs every April 15th, because if we paid them at the pump, we'd probably drive less, burn less oil and demand alternative ways of getting around.

 

 

KJP

 

Of course you don't mention all the non transportation uses for petro. Oil was used in the production of your computer, your clothes, your trains, probally cigarettes too, anything plastic has oil in it.

Now we can debate convience/better living through better chemistry vs. the environment (since plastics are almost non-biodegradable sitting in landfills), but there is a good reason why there are subsidies for petroluem instead of paying at the pump for our entire(!) lifestyle (of course if that would happen, then our economic house-of-cards would fall down and a solid recession (at least) would follow).

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The reason why I don't mention them is because they're small in comparison to what we use for keeping highway vehicles moving. I'll repeat: highway modes use two-thirds of all oil burned in this country. The gas tax calculation was based on the oil used for highway purposes. Read what I wrote again.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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KJP,

 

thanks for the comprehensive analysis. Bush said in his state of the union address that it's time to get serious about "reducing our dependence on foreign oil". your statistics make it abundantly clear that defunding Amtrak will do exactly the opposite. do you have an estimate of how many additional gallons of gas would be required to move people if the 25 million annual Amtrak passengers have to turn to autos and/or planes? and what about the additional CO2 and other global warming emissions that will be created by this spike in reliance on more polluting forms of travel?

 

Also -- what percentage of the $63 billion per year subsidy to highways from governments at all levels is currently paid for by gas tax/trust fund dollars? also, what about the costs of environmental contamination -- air pollution, runoff, deposition to water bodies and highway patrol and emergency services?

 

thanks again for all your info

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The best way to answer your first question is to look at where Amtrak travelers come from when Amtrak starts a new service, in order to figure out what modes they will likely select if the trains are no longer there. Amtrak says about 60 percent switch from driving their cars, 20 percent from flying, 15 percent from buses and about 5 percent is induced demand (ie: the passenger wouldn't have traveled if the train wasn't there).

 

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, based on average load factors per vehicle type and expressed in British Thermal Units per passenger-mile, passenger trains use 11 percent of the energy that sport-utility vehicles use, 13 percent of what cars use, 22 percent of an commercial airplane and 80 percent of an intercity bus.

 

The typical car on the road averages 27.5 mpg, while the typical light passenger truck (SUVs, pickups, minivans) average 20.7 mpg. Half of the passenger vehicles on the road are cars, the other half light trucks. Every gallon of gas burned releases 20-28 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. Amtrak has averaged 5.6 billion passenger miles of ridership over the last five years. So....

 

Each year, Amtrak trains use about 26.5 million gallons of fuel (or BTU-source equivalent) burned per year, releasing 280-530 million pounds of CO2 (the range is due to the different types of motive power Amtrak uses--diesel fueled or electricity-powered from coal and nuclear sources). If Amtrak trains stopped running, it would result in 61.1 million gallons of fuel burned by cars, 81.2 million gallon burned by light trucks, 24.1 million gallons by airplanes, 5 million gallons by buses and 1.33 million gallons no longer used because the trains stopped running.

 

The sum total is that fuel usage would rise from 26.5 million gallons to 170.07 million gallons burned each year. The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere would rise from 280-530 million pounds per year, to anywhere from 3.4 billion to 4.8 billion pounds per year.

 

As to your second question, the Highway Users Alliance used to issue pie charts showing that that 60-65 percent of highway funding came from user taxes, with the remaining 35-40 percent from local, state and federal subsidies. Amtrak's operating budget gets 70-80 percent of its revenues from passenger fares and other business sources (leases, track usage fees, and still some package express etc.), with the remaining 20-30 percent from state and federal subsidies.

 

It's very difficult to evaluate the financial impact of auto use on air and water pollution, runoff and costs of emergency services attributable to the automobile. But a study was done by UCLA in 1986 of Pasadena's city budget and how much it spent due to automobile-related costs. I cannot find the study in my file drawers, but I recall the study found that about one-third of the budget was related to the automobile, and something like 10 percent of that was funded through user taxes (via intergovernmental transfers of gas taxes, license plate fees, etc.). The costs included police and fire responses to car crashes, sewer maintenance and construction due to water runoff from the city having 40 percent of its land use devoted to the automobile (parking and streets), legal costs for prosecution and administration of traffic violations, and so on. It was quite a compelling study. I'll keep looking for it.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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FYI... KJP

___________________

 

NEWS                                         

 

OHIO RAIL DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

50 W. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215

(614) 644-0306 telephone or fax (614) 728-4520

http://www.dot.state.oh.us/ohiorail/

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                              Contact: Stu Nicholson

Date: August 2, 2005                                                                                  (614) 644-0513 

 

 

On The Right Track:

Congress Takes Steps To Invest In U.S. Rails

(An op-ed by ORDC Executive Director James Seney)

 

 

"What part of what I'm saying do you not understand?"  That's a question many of us who advocate for improved passenger and freight rail transportation have been asking our leaders of both parties in Washington for decades.  But 2005 may be the beginning of the end of seeking answers to that frustrating query that would usually elicit blank stares or half-baked solutions.  At last, there is significant movement underway in Congress to meet what I believe is America's most pressing transportation challenge.

 

Legislation is now working its way through both Houses of Congress that would finally establish a national railroad development and funding policy toward both passenger and freight movement: something this most industrialized of nations has hasn't had since President Abraham Lincoln commissioned the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.  This legislation also aims to finally deal with the nagging and endless debate over reforming and funding Amtrak.

 

Within the past two months, Congressman Steve Latourette (R-Ohio) has introduced two bills: HR-1630 and HR 1631 in the House.  Just this past Wednesday, Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) introduced the Rail Passenger Investment and Improvement Act.  There are some differences between the Latourette and Lott bills, but none would seem to be beyond resolution.  And though details of all three bills are yet to be worked out fully in Committee, allow me to say that they are the most encouraging and promising developments on this issue many of us can remember.  We believe both Latourette and Lott are (you'll forgive the pun) "on the right track."

 

Long story made short: both bills would establish a first-ever national funding mechanism for what are a growing number of state and regional rail projects that would establish passenger rail service in short-haul corridors.  These projects would also greatly expand existing rail corridors to provide greater capacity for moving the crush of increasing freight traffic that threatens to overwhelm our highway and air freight systems.

 

The Ohio Rail Development Commission has been advancing such a project for almost three years, despite an almost total absence of a federal funding formula.  The Ohio & Lake Erie Regional Rail / Ohio Hub Plan would establish an 860-mile network of high-speed passenger trains serving high-density, short-haul travel corridors in Ohio and several adjoining states and the Canadian province of Ontario.  Additionally, it would greatly expand capacity for the freight railroads by adding more tracks, relieving rail and highway bottlenecks and improving signal and dispatching systems.  Ohio is not alone in this effort.  At least 24 other states are either working on similar plans or are actually funding and facilitating the operation of passenger and freight trains.

 

What these plans have historically lacked is the same kind of federal support that has been directed traditionally at highways and commercial aviation.  While we are not in a position to endorse specific legislation, we nonetheless have an historic opportunity to make significant change and avert what is a growing transportation crisis that will deeply impact our national and state economies.  We have a choice to move forward and make that impact a positive one, or do nothing and ensure that a bad situation gets much worse.

 

With the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials predicting a better than doubling of overall freight traffic over the next twenty years, it doesn't take a PhD to see what that means for the traffic we drive in, the air we breathe and ultimately our jobs, income and personal mobility.  Now, pour that troubling news into a barrel of oil that is increasing beyond $60 dollars a barrel and gasoline that drains better than $2.25 a gallon from our wallets.  By doing nothing, at the very least, we can stop calling them gas pumps and renaming them "wallet vacuums". Clearly, we need a better answer.

 

The Latourette and Lott bills both address maintaining a national passenger rail system as well as long-term and needed reform of and funding for Amtrak.  We applaud the recognition of this need, but saving and reforming Amtrak is not the only issue here. Thankfully, both Cong. Latourette and Sen. Lott have recognized the larger issue of redeveloping our overall national rail system for moving both people and freight.

 

The Latourette and Lott bills may help guide us to a better solution.  We urge the members of Congress and the Bush Administration to take this opportunity to take significant and positive action.  Congressman Latourette and Senator Lott are reportedly already talking over each other's bills and seem willing to work together toward a common goal.  The rest of official Washington needs to join the discussion and put this issue on the fast track to a sensible solution.

 

(The Ohio Rail Development Commission is an independent agency operating within the Ohio Department of Transportation.  ORDC is responsible for economic development through the improvement and expansion of passenger and freight rail service, railroad grade crossing safety and rail travel & tourism issues. For more information about what ORDC does for Ohio, visit our website at http://www.dot.state.oh.us/ohiorail/)

 

 


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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I've always wondered is the high-speed rail plan for Ohio include building dedicated track just for high-speed rail? That's the problem with the high-speed network in Germany. Except from Cologne-Frankfurt and a few areas you can't achieve top speed. Would it be electrified as well? It'd be nice if they can put the fastest possible technology in the plan. I think the one in California had plans of going 200+ MPH or something like that which beats the German ICE 3.

 

I would kill for a rail system like the Germans have. They hate it for different reasons, but man is it easy to get around.

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Considering that high-speed rail on dedicated right of way costs upwards of $25 million per mile (or up to $75 million per mile for "mountainous" territory -- like the Alleghenies), we're a long way from ever building anything like that. What Europe did in the 1960s was upgrade their existing rail infrastructure for a faster passenger train service called the Trans-Europe Express, that operated at 100-125 mph. They then went the next step, building dedicated rail lines offering speeds in excess of 150 mph on many routes. Though many of those are just on trunk portions, from which high-speed trains branch off onto older railways where train speeds in excess of 100 mph are common.

 

We are so far behind in this country, most Americans have no idea what a Banana Republic this is when it comes to transportation (and a few other things). For rail service, we first have to emerge from the Third World by building the infrastructure just to offer reliable train services at 80 mph. Then we will have what Europe had in the 1950s and early 1960s. Then, we upgrade to 110 mph, to catch up to Europe of the 1970s. After that, dreams of achieving 200 mph might seem realistic.

 

Let's fix what we have first.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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Considering that high-speed rail on dedicated right of way costs upwards of $25 million per mile (or up to $75 million per mile for "mountainous" territory -- like the Alleghenies), we're a long way from ever building anything like that. What Europe did in the 1960s was upgrade their existing rail infrastructure for a faster passenger train service called the Trans-Europe Express, that operated at 100-125 mph. They then went the next step, building dedicated rail lines offering speeds in excess of 150 mph on many routes. Though many of those are just on trunk portions, from which high-speed trains branch off onto older railways where train speeds in excess of 100 mph are common.

 

We are so far behind in this country, most Americans have no idea what a Banana Republic this is when it comes to transportation (and a few other things). For rail service, we first have to emerge from the Third World by building the infrastructure just to offer reliable train services at 80 mph. Then we will have what Europe had in the 1950s and early 1960s. Then, we upgrade to 110 mph, to catch up to Europe of the 1970s. After that, dreams of achieving 200 mph might seem realistic.

 

Let's fix what we have first.

 

KJP

 

Thanks for clearing that up. I wasn't sure if it was to our advantage since we were so far behind to take the giant leap to dedicated line. $25 million sure isn't worth it.

 

So the current infrastructure can handle 80 mph with little or no upgrade? What's the price point for 110?

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Most mainline rail infrastructure can handle 80 mph, though federal regulations limit the speed to 79 mph unless a more interactive signaling system is provided to exceed 79 (that already exists between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, for example). But, to exceed 90 mph, FRA rules (sought by freight railroads) require a separate, passenger-only track whose centerline is at least 25 feet from the centerline of the nearest active freight track. That's where things start to get expensive. On some railroad lines, like the former New York Central line through Toledo, Cleveland and Buffalo, four tracks once existed where now there are two. There is enough room to add the third, passenger-only track for speeds in the 90-125 mph range without major regrading work. However, many railroad bridges still feature bridge decks in which the ties are bolted to the steel. To exceed 90 mph, these decks need to be replaced so the tracks set in ballast. Road crossings should feature full-closure features (like four-quadrant gates), while others may be closed and still more should be grade-separated.

 

When speeds approach 125 mph (or higher), there should be no at-grade road or rail-to-rail crossings, signal systems need to feature in-cab displays with automatic train-stop (in case an engineer misses a stop signal), passenger tracks should be separated from freight, all railroad bridge decks should be ballasted, and tracks should be laid with concrete ties. And that's why it costs $25 million (or higher) per mile to approach the train speeds in France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, United Kingdon, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and probably a few others I'm inadvertently excluding.

 

KJP


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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I've laways hated the term "subsidy".  Up until maybe the mid-1950s, that would have been considered an "infrastructure investment".

 

Great post.

 

They still call it "infrastructure investment" whey they're talking about highways and airports. It's only "subsidy" when they're talking about mass transit and passenger rail.

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We are so far behind in this country, most Americans have no idea what a Banana Republic this is when it comes to transportation (and a few other things).

KJP

 

No, a Banana Republic would have wooden shacks for train stations, runway tarmacks for boarding planes, and dirt and gravel for the roads you drive on.

 

Now when was the last time you got to try any of those situations?

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But what about Cleveland's beautiful rail station?  Certainly it redeems our rail standing, right?

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We are so far behind in this country, most Americans have no idea what a Banana Republic this is when it comes to transportation (and a few other things).

KJP

 

No, a Banana Republic would have wooden shacks for train stations, runway tarmacks for boarding planes, and dirt and gravel for the roads you drive on.

 

Now when was the last time you got to try any of those situations?

 

Every time I go to visit my brother, about 30 miles from where I live, I drive on gravel roads.

 

The last time I flew to Chicago from Fort Wayne, I walked across the tarmac to climb the roll-away steps into a rain-and-dirt-streaked twin-engine turbo prop plane that had frayed carpets and upholstery, mechanics' dirty handprints on misaligned interior plastic panels, and no restroom and stunk of jet fuel. It vibrated and rattled from the time they first revved the engines until they shut them down after landing. Same deal with the outside boarding and roll-away steps at ORD, too. The lettering on the plane read TWE, which I took to mean Third World Express.

 

As for the rail stations, KJP pretty well covered that.

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NEWS

 

OHIO RAIL DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

50 W. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215

(614) 644-0306 telephone or fax (614) 728-4520

http://www.dot.state.oh.us/ohiorail/

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                          Contact: Stu Nicholson

Date: August 24, 2005                                                                                           (614) 644-0513   

 

 

Ohio Senator Co-Sponsors Major Rail Bill

ORDC Praises Senator Mike DeWine For His Support of

Bill to Improve & Invest in Passenger Rail

 

(Columbus) – The nation’s first comprehensive federal legislation to develop and grow high quality passenger rail service has gained an important co-sponsor.  Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) has officially signed on in support of Senate Bill 1516, the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act of 2005: a bill introduced just weeks ago by Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).

 

“This legislation can be a huge help in getting our Ohio Hub Plan rolling”, says ORDC Executive Director James Seney, “and Senator DeWine’s co-sponsorship will ensure that Ohio’s interest in developing both passenger rail and increased capacity for freight rail traffic is considered.”  Senator DeWine’s staff says ORDC’s input was key in their decision to join Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Kay Bailer Hutchison (R-Texas) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in support of this bill, which has already been passed by the Senate Transportation Committee.

 

In joining as a co-sponsor, Senator DeWine says, ““I am proud to co-sponsor the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2005.  The legislation would improve rail safety and security, increase rail capacity and strengthen Ohio’s transportation infrastructure promoting economic growth.  If enacted, it would reduce congestion on our roads, making them safer for families.  This safe and reliable transportation plan directly addresses transportation needs in Ohio and across the country.”

       

ORDC is about to release it’s final report on the results of 10 month series of public meetings on it’s own high speed rail plan: The Ohio & Lake Erie Regional Rail / Ohio Hub Plan. SB-1516 will create the very federal funding mechanism that has been the missing link in advancing the Ohio Hub Plan, as well as plans now being developed in at least 24 other states.  The bill also calls for both significant reform and first-ever long-term funding to stabilize our national passenger rail system currently operated by Amtrak.

 

“The response we have gotten from the public, community and business leaders to the Ohio Hub Plan has not only been overwhelmingly positive, “ says Seney, “ but their comments carry a clear sense of urgency that this plan needs to be funded and put into operation now. But one nagging gap in this and other regional rail plans has been the absence of a federal funding system dedicated to rail.  Senate Bill 1516 literally lays the tracks to close that gap.”

 

Similar legislation in the U.S. House has been introduced by Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette in HR 1630 and HR 1631.  ORDC has also provided input to the Congressman’s staff on these bills as well.  Says Seney: “We’re encouraged to see this issue being dealt with in both houses of Congress and in a comprehensive way.  We will continue to communicate with both Senator DeWine and Congressman LaTourette as these bills move forward.”

 

Seney says one feature of both bills he particularly likes is that they call for a system of matching spending between federal and state dollars at the same 80-20% funding split as is done for highway and aviation modes.  Balancing the funding, he says, helps balance the overall transportation system and helps our economy flow and grow.

 

Links to the Ohio & Lake Erie Regional Rail / Ohio Hub Plan can be found at the ORDC website: www.dot.state.oh.us/ohiorail/

 

(The Ohio Rail Development Commission is an independent agency operating within the Ohio Department of Transportation.  ORDC is responsible for economic development through the improvement and expansion of passenger and freight rail service, railroad grade crossing safety and rail travel & tourism issues. For more information about what ORDC does for Ohio, visit our website at http://www.dot.state.oh.us/ohiorail/ )

 


"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond." -- Coach Lou Holtz

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