Archive for the ‘high-speed rail’ Category

The public likes public transportation!

March 9, 2009

Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2008! This is a 4% increase over 2007 levels and also marks the highest level of ridership in 52 years, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Ridership on all modes of public transportation increased in every quarter for the second year in a row. Light rail had the highest increase in annual ridership, growing by 8.3% in 2008, followed by commuter rail (4.7%), bus service (3.9%) and heavy rail (3.5%). Streetcars and trolleys are considered ‘light rail’, while subways are categorized as ‘heavily rail’.

Not only are more people taking public transportation, they are also driving less: Total vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. declined by 3.6% from 2007 levels. According to the APTA report, “This ridership record continues a long-term trend of ridership growth. Public transportation use is up 38% since 1995, a figure that is almost triple the growth rate of the population”. Not too shabby, huh?

Keepin’ it rail in the Midwest

February 23, 2009

Seems our previous blog post on high-speed rail’s future prospects was a bit prescient. Check out this AP piece in the Chicago Tribune today on how Chicago, as a hub, stands to score more high-speed-rail funds thanks to early support from Obama and other Illinois pols in his cabinet (notably Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood).

Looks like Nevada and California—which want a high-speed line connecting Las Vegas and Anaheim—might be the caboose in this scenario.

Excerpted from the article:

Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, a group promoting a Midwest high-speed rail network, said his area is in excellent position to capture a good chunk of that money. The Federal Railroad Administration, he said, has recognized the Midwest initiative connecting Chicago and 11 metropolitan areas within 400 miles as the system most ready to go.

He and others brushed aside claims that the $8 billion was set aside for Reid’s favorite. Obama, who expressed strong interest in high-speed rail investment during the campaign, and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, are both from Chicago. Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray Lahood, also is from Illinois. So is the Senate’s no. 2 Democrat, Richard Durbin.

A WPA-type high-speed-rail project in the Land of Lincoln, the original rail splitter? Somehow apropos, isn’t it?

Then again, we’re talking years and years of construction and development.

Meantime, why don’t we all take a cue from the bike- and hike-friendly Rails to Trails Conservancy, and try to drive some funds their way as well? Those repurposed dilapidated tracks, like Chicago’s imminent Bloomingdale Trail, could be fixed up a whole lot quicker.

(Above photo, of Obama-Biden whistle-stop tour during their election campaign, from Time Inc.)

High-speed trains: The cure for what rails us?

February 19, 2009

The ginormous economic stimulus package signed, sealed and about to be delivered by President Obama and a grudgingly bipartisan congress dedicates serious greenbacks to science and technology. That includes, of course, alternative energy research and sustainable mass transit. Most of the talk is about cars, given that the Big Three are currently on a life-support system with a near-flatlining EKG.

Something that doesn’t talked about much is high-speed rail. Lack of investment in rail, reports Jamble, an online magazine covering green travel, has left the U.S. decades behind Europe and Japan in modern rail infrastructure. Jamble wonders whether the funds going to improve our rail system will go to mod futuristic projects like the “Texas T-Bone” or a magnetic-levitation train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that claims potential speeds of 300mph (resulting in an 86-minute journey between the cities) or to, more realistically, improving Amtrak.

Americans like their cars, they like to fly, but not many of us bother with Amtrak, which isn’t that much cheaper than flying, a sloth compared to high-speed rail, has a lousy track record in terms of accidents (like the train that recently plowed into a garbage truck outside St. Louis) caused by poor maintenance and human error, and doesn’t boast an extensive enough network of lines and connections to make it a convenient option.

Otherwise known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak is hardly a source of national pride. Which is a shame, really. It promises lower emissions, further independence from foreign oil, faster travel times than cars offer, business investment and tourism revenue, and a nostalgic way of reconnecting with the American landscape—something we’ve utterly lost in the evolution from horse-and-buggy to 727s and expressways. Toss in the modern equivalent of a Pullman car, the glamour of the old streamliners like the Super Chief, and we’ll book a berth tomorrow.