Transportation headlines, Thursday, Feb. 7: "America's one big pothole," Amtrak routes, Caltrain & bullet train

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Caltrain seeks new deal with California High-Speed Rail (San Mateo Journal)

Instead of building a completely separate set of grade-separated tracks on the San Francisco Peninsula, the new proposal seeks to share some tracks and build passing tracks for high-speed trains to get around commuter trains running between San Jose and San Francisco. It’s also far less expensive, an important consideration since the bullet train project still lacks most of the funds it will need.

Visualizing how poorly Amtrak’s routes serve most of the U.S. (The Atlantic Cities)

The post features maps showing that most of Amtrak’s ridership is in the Northeast Corridor and some other large cities — including those along the West Coast. Long cross-country routes, however, tend to attact far fewer riders. From this, the post concludes that Amtrak is missing some very opportunities to connect major cities that are in close proximity to one another — i.e. cities in Ohio and Texas, for example.

LaHood: America is one big pothole (The Hill)

In an NPR interview, the U.S. Transportation Secretary bemoaned the amount of the spending on infrastructure — and blamed his former Repubican colleagues in the House of Representatives. Excerpt:

“For all the talk within the Republican Party about helping small businesses, there are a lot of small businesses that are in the road construction business, the bridge construction business that would benefit from a bold infrastructure bill, a bold transportation bill, a five-year bill with some very bold ways to fund it,” LaHood said in an interview on “The Diane Rehm Show” on National Public Radio.

7 replies

  1. Yes, the myth that the Northeast corridor is some how the perfect example of train service. It doesn’t even come a million miles close to the efficiency of the Japanese network, and they have their problems too. We in the west seem to think the trains all run smoothly and without having to side-track and wait or have no delays and that there are no single tracks in all of the Northeast. Far from the reality. Our Pac Surfliners can run more reliably than some Northeast corridor Amtrak services, and even the LIRR or the MNRR which have their own issues of single tracks and sidings. Thanks NYExile for reminding us that “city myths” do endure.

  2. Most of the Amtrak routes exist for logistical, but mostly political reasons. The Northeast Corridor and Pac Surfliners are the only profitable trains in its entire network. Some years ago, after the never ending whining of Congress about how much tax money is spent on Amtrak and how it must plan for self-sufficiency because Congress is tired of funding Amtrak and its legendary inefficiency and those oh so many money losing trains. Well, that CEO presented his proposal that really would have left Amtrak self-sufficient and no longer dependant on Congressional funding: the plan kept the money making Northeast corridor services and Pacific Surfliners, and it also kept state funded trains, but it eliminated all but one national route that would be funded from the proceeds of the profitable lines, all the other routes were to be eliminated. I think fewer than 12 routes nationally. It was the first HONEST plan for Amtrak that would have finally weaned it away from Congressional funding. But, guess what? The same cost cutting Amtrak bashing Congress went into a massive treasure hunt to secure funding for and re-establish the train routes proposed to be cut because those trains ran through their House districts. And even the lofty Senate had critics turned supporters for trains in THEIR state. The rush to find Washington money to “save” the doomed Hiawatha service is just one great example of many, and an ironic lesson on bi-partisanship. It didn’t matter if the politician was a lefty or a righty because they worked together to see that Amtrak got the $$$ to keep those money losing trains running for their constituents. And that is still the case today. When Congress was done looking out for itself, virtually all the trains that had been proposed for elimination were now funded–by Congress. Pretty much the same network Amtrak had before the proposal.
    However, we can’t blame our elected representatives for doing their job: hearing the demands of those who elected them and acting accordingly, unless they wanted to lose the next election. The truth is that there are many in rural America who depend upon Amtrak who don’t have the means to travel 200 miles to the next town, and there are folks like that in rural America. Further, it makes poor economic sense for private companies to service rural America with transportation nor delivery services, not even the Postal Service has the infrastructure to get the mail INTO those isolated portions of rural America. So, who does bring in the mail and all those packages from Amazon or via US Mail, UPS, FedEx and other shippers? Yep, Amtrak. Rural folks do like getting mail (sometimes bills like the rest of us) and packages just like the rest of us. Oh, and the mail is moved OUT by Amtrak, as well. There is NO economical sensible private venture alternative. So, the good folks who depend upon Amtrak make it very clear to their House representatives and their Senator that a particular Amtrak train had better not cease service OR ELSE one may find themselves to be a former politician.
    We should just quit kidding ourselves about Amtrak and admit that many Americans DEMAND the service as it does perform some function and the private industry sees no mullah to be made. After all, they got out of the passenger game and out of the home delivery loop a long time ago precisely because it was too expensive. Let’s quit wringing our hands and fund Amtrak simply because tax-payers demand it, and Congress can quit playing the annual funding game. Washington has no money–or at least the political WILL–for the kind of expansion of city to nearby city service imagined by many. That is going to require a commitment from each state from its state budget as that is how most such short service trains are funded today. Unfortunately, We the People, demand Amtrak, and it just makes sense to admit that there is no alternative, so sufficient funding for Amtrak ought to be done honestly, without pretense, and knowing We the People aren’t going to make a profit from it.

  3. Hate to break it to you, but Amtrak is not particularly reliable even in the northeast. I used to commute on the route between NYC and Albany for years and the frequent delays, technical problems and general incompetency of the Amtrak system was a major hassle.

    The issue is that Amtrak usually shares tracks with freight lines, meaning they have to stop and let a giant mile-long train slowly grind past at 20 mph. Or the signals break down and CSX or whoever takes their time fixing them.

  4. Yeah, whatever happened to the Coast Daylight train from LAUS to 4th and King in SF? There’ve been rumours about it for the better part of a decadel

  5. That Amtrak article is mind-numbingly simplistic showing zero understanding of real world challenges (geography, funding, host railroad relations, etc.). And a blanket “Amtrak poorly serves the West Coast” is interesting given three of the highest ridership lines operate in California. The state invests in rail and while perhaps what we have is far short of what the northeast corridor provides frankly that is an unfair comparison. The last few Surfliners I rode have been packed.

  6. Amtrak poorly serves the West Coast. When I lived in the Northeast, Amtrak ran on schedule, had newer cars and did not have to go to a side track to let commuter trains pass like they do for the Coaster in San Diego County. Commuter trains in the Northeast have their own tracks. Amtrak has poorly served the West Coast in the 40 years that I have lived in the Los Angeles Area.