Back on I-95

Wow! Mention I-95 and you get a lot of comments. So, I will stay on the topic for another day, address some of the issues raised in my post last Friday, and bring up another idea.

The current car-train permits Snowbirds to bring their cars from the DC area to Florida, where they spend the winter, and get them back again. I have never been on this train so I have no idea if it would suit the purpose suggested here of allowing travelers along the I-95 Corridor in the summertime to likewise bring their car along. The reason is, as someone pointed out, that it can be cumbersome to get the cars on and off the train. Once, on an overnight train in Italy, I went to sleep planning on waking up in Venice. I woke up in Milan. The front half of the train split off at Verona and went one way, and the back half the other. Something similar could be used for the car-train. For instance, heading north from New York, there could be one car for New London, another for Providence, a third for Boston and the final one for Maine. These would be attached in order so that the first off (New London in this example) would be at the end of the train. When the whole train pulled into New London, the last car would be detached and the rest of the train could continue on its way and the autos could take their time unloading.

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A reader named Annie objected to federal monies being used to help Northeast liberals like me enjoy their vacations. She, living in New Mexico doesn’t want to subsidize our train travel. Fine. As soon as all the Western states reimburse Connecticut for their water projects, I will abandon my quest for federal money for Amtrak. When the Hoover Dam, and the Glen Canyon Dam, and the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, and the Grand Coulee Dam, (the list goes on) are torn down and Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque no longer have any electricity or water, then and only then, will I submit to a lecture on the importance of local government or the rugged individualism of our Western fellow citizens.

Joseph Cleary and Brian Gallagher raise a different but related issue. They note that the tracks are antiquated and owned by the rail companies themselves. This is because trains are a nineteenth century technology and back then, before the federal income tax, the rail companies had more cash to lay train tracks than the government. Now, it is crazy that the government has not purchased the tracks. The airlines do not own the airports and drivers do not own the highways. And, instead of threatening claims of eminent domain and seizing whole neighborhoods along the coast, why not lay the new track right down the median of I-95. It is not perfectly straight, but most of it is, and it would be better than what we have now.

Michael Binder’s suggestion that all cars be Zip Cars is interesting, but I am not sure anyone wants to drive our car after our Saint Bernard puppy was in the back seat after playing in the river. Alas, we treat our cars like family rooms and some people are allergic to dogs.

The good news is that we are even discussing these issues. It is time that we, as a nation, end the historical anomaly of the lack of federal ownership of the tracks. It is time we find ways to make high speed rail a reality, rather than make excuses for why it won’t work. It is time we find new products like car-trains that will so improve the experience of a great American tradition – the family vacation – that it might even prove profitable sooner than one thinks. All Aboard!

 

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8 years 6 months ago
YES to HSR. Improvements to freight tracks, grade crossings, signals and control, dramatically improves efficient movement of goods and people. Rail is 2 to 3 times more fuel efficient than planes, trucks, and cars, while polluting our atmosphere half as much (EPA). This is a huge deal, when oil starts its upward climb again as supplies dwindle. Rail can be electrified in decades to come to use emerging energy sources, further reducing our need for foreign suppliers. WA and OR began deploying tilt trains, capable of 125 mph, between Eugene and Canada in 1999. To date, even being limited to just 79 for lack of improvements to freight tracks, our trains carry more people between Seattle and Portland than airliners. Travel times and ticket prices are competitive with planes and cars. We look forward to improvements that allow our fast trains to finally go fast. Mike Skehan, Member, All Aboard Washington
8 years 6 months ago
Sorry, but you lost me with your notion that it is an "anomaly" that the tracks are not owned by the government already. It is not an anomaly. You seem to be under the impression that railroads are run down and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and would welcome such a purchase. This was true 40 years ago, but after deregulation and some massive restructuring it is certainly not true now. Today the large freight railroads are successful business that are making a profit shipping intermodal freight and commodities such as coal. They would have no interest at all in selling their tracks to the government and would vigorously oppose any such proposal. However, you are correct that passenger and freight operations are not very compatible. Separate tracks are the best way, as with the Northeast Corridor. It is also possible for the private and public sectors to collaborate on capacity improvements that make it easier for the two to co-exist. But I think the idea of the government buying the tracks is a non-starter.
8 years 6 months ago
Michael: Amtrak owns nearly all or all of the Boston to Washington tracks today. The reference to track ownership you read about is outside of this segment where most city to city passenger trains (Chicago to Washington for example) share right of way with freight trains. I do think you missed my point- while I would support upgrading the boring stuff along the Northeast Corridor ( trains/ switches/ bridges/ power stations) we already have the backbone of pretty darn good service. We do not need to build a whole new track system here. Elsewhere in the US there are travel corridors where upgrades could take the train from a novelty to a reasonable alternative to air travel. I would note that most Amtrak city to city service today includes spectacular vistas not available form the car or the plane. In Europe, most high speed travel for safety reasons runs though new segregated cattle shoots that provide limited to no scenery. I would propose upgrading the backbone of the existing network where increasing service makes sense ( switches/ trains/ overpasses and eliminating crossings/ additional lanes where justified/ etc ) vs. starting from scratch. Beyond cost, there is a compromise involved in all such travel. And My suggestion to you —have the Winters family walk the talk and take an Amtrak vacation this summer. No car (we did this a few years ago so yes it can be done) You and your family will remember it for years. And you will get a few article out of it too. Drop me an email for some ideas. Joe
8 years 6 months ago
Thanks for the shout out. I didn't say all cars should be zipcars, only that all cabs and rental cars should be - provided that they are computer controlled. Its likely that there would be a no uncaged pets rule on such vehicles.

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