A New Idea for Amtrak

I am posting early because as you read this Friday morning, I will be somewhere on that great American nightmare known as I-95. It is still early in the season, of course, but in another month, I-95 will take up its summer job and become a parking lot of stalled traffic all along the Northeast Corridor.

The President has proposed increased funding for high-speed rail. This should have been done twenty years ago. Throughout Europe, you can get from one major city to the next by train, and it is often as fast as air travel between the same destinations. America’s trains can go faster than they do; the problem is with the tracks. As I have written previously, because trains were a nineteenth century technology, before the income tax, the railroads themselves own their lines and they lack the money to update them. Drivers do not own the roads and airlines do not own the airports. Only rail companies own their lines and the President should think about buying them and upgrading them. It is a huge infrastructure project of the kind that puts people to work while improving both the environment and the quality of life.

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There is another project, related but distinct, that I should like to propose: Car-trains. When I catch the ferry from New London to Long Island, I drive my car onto it, ride across the Sound, and get off at Orient Point to continue on to my destination. This solves the inter-modal problem for ferries. Amtrak should build car-trains that work the same way. It is no problem taking a high-speed train to New York City. You get off at Penn Station and grab a cab or get on the subway. But, in the summertime, when vacationers are heading to more remote and rural locales, Cape Cod or New Hampshire or Maine, they need to take their cars because there are so few, if any, inter-modal connectors at the train termini. You get off the Amtrak train, high speed or otherwise, at New London, Connecticut and you need a car because there is no taxi service, no bus service, etc. If there were car-trains, you could disembark your family and your car in New London and then drive on to that nice little B&B in Stonington or Old Lyme.

I suspect that the manufacturers of railcars could devise plans for these trains easily. They are common in Europe. And, building them would employ many people. It would certainly make I-95 easier to traverse in the summertime. Already I can close my eyes and taste the steamers at the Water Street Café in Stonington, Connecticut. I just wish I did not have to endure the I-95 nightmare to get there.

 

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9 years 3 months ago
The federal government should not spend American taxpayers' money on railroads so that Northeastern liberals can vacation more conveniently. People (like me) who live in New Mexico, have no need for railroads that circumvent I-95 and don't want to pay for them. Upgrading the railroads in New York should be done by the State of New York with New York taxpayers' money. Better still, raise the price of rail tickets, so that the cost is borne by those who benefit.
9 years 3 months ago
Great idea and environmentally great as well!!!!!
9 years 3 months ago
I agree with the premise that intermodal connections need to be increased around many cities in this country, with or without Amtrak stations. However, driving a car onto the train sounds extremely inefficient as a solution to reducing congestion on I-95. We don't expect people to take their cars on planes. There's a reason for that. They are large (bulky) and weigh a lot. The additional weight and size required for taking cars on trains greatly degrades the fuel efficiency of taking the train in the first place. Logistics also limit the capability of car-trains. Because of the way autoracks are loaded, trains would essentially be limited to to stops (one on each end of the route). This is precisely how Amtrak's Auto Train currently operates. The Auto Train operates from Lorton, Virginia - just south of Washington - to Sanford, Florida - near Orlando. There are no intermediate stops along the route, which parallels Interstate 95. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_Train But as a serious way of relieving congestion on I-95, this car-train concept has limitations. The railroads on which Amtrak operates south of Washington are privately owned and many have little capacity left for additional service. While getting people to travel by rail is certainly preferable than having them travel all the way to Florida by car, and is certainly more efficient than flying them there, I don't think cars on trains is the best way to go. Perhaps travelers would consider renting a car when they arrive at their destination. It's easier than trying to put yours in your suitcase.
9 years 3 months ago
Annie, is this really a partisan issue? For ''Northeastern liberals''? Sheesh. Would this line of argument also apply to the mostly federally-funded freeways through sparsely-populated red states like mine (SD)?
9 years 3 months ago
There already is an auto train. It runs from Sanford, FL (just north of Orlando) to near DC. It'd be a great idea to expand that. The only thing is air travel is still far more convenient between cites outside of the northeast. The fastest trains go 180 mph. The typical jet goes 500 mph. That would make a trip from Orlando to Dallas 3 hours by jet, 6 hours by the fastest train.
9 years 3 months ago
I couldn't agree with you more. Since my return to the northeast from Arkansas two years ago, I have found the only time to use the dreaded I-95 corridor (from Washington to Maine) is the middle of the night! I have often mused, while sitting in that parking lot, that a car train could move all of us more swiftly to those major northeast cities along the way! Who do we write to?
9 years 3 months ago
Michael It is frustrating- even when I want to agree with you – I disagree. I just took Northeast Corridor service yesterday. It’s a great value and it is the only service in line with city to city service in Europe. I know its not the same however lets be honest—as a nation we were both unwilling to spends the extra billions nor were we really wishing to condemn and seize the thousands of homes and businesses that would be necessary to create a brand new straight as an arrow railroad corridor between cities as was done in Europe so trains could go 150+ miles per hour. And if you check you will see that Amtrak already owns most of the Boston to Washington tracks. So one less government bailout! However, if I-95 is a parking lot this summer —it’s not because of a lack of regular train service—it is despite such service. We already have auto train service from Washington to Orlando—but the short hauls to make your vacation easier you’re describing do sound like unnecessary overkill. Rent a bike when you arrive by train instead my friend. Enjoy your vacation.
9 years 3 months ago
Amtrak has ONE such train, it runs from Virginia (I think) to Florida. In California when I was on leave a few years back, off of Bart there were cars commuters could pick up for the last few miles. Residents drove them to the station in the morning, commuters out from the city picked them up and drove them to work. The process reversed at night. Since I'm bound for that I-95 corridor in a few hours, I'll have lots of time to contemplate other solutions!
9 years 3 months ago
One of the reasons why high speed rail always hits speed bumps in the US is that Amtrak makes use of rail lines owned by freight companies, and if you get behind one of their trains, it doesn't matter how hi-tech your Amtrak train is. High Speed rail through major corridors like the Northeast would require quite a bit of eminent domain of property in order to lay dedicated high speed track.
9 years 3 months ago
YES WE CAN : Washington and Oregon, through our own DOTs have been working towards HSR along the Cascade Corridor between Eugene, OR and Canada since 1999. Tilt trains, capable of 125 mph, have been gradually defining a market share and offering an alternative to driving or flying. Results so far are impressive. Trains carry many more travelers between Seattle and Portland than do airlines, using half the fuel and producing half the pollution per passenger mile at a lower cost. This is an amazing statistic, considering our fast trains are still limited to just 79 mph for lack of federally mandated safety, signal and track improvements. Reducing bottlenecks with freight trains will finally allow our fast trains to go fast. We look forward to working with President Obama and Sec. LaHood to offer America an additional option for travel, while reducing our needs for imported oil and polluting our atmosphere less. Mike Skehan, Member, All Aboard Washington
9 years 3 months ago
Whenever I travel on the east coast, I use alternate routes through rural areas. Some are Federal highways and some are state highways. It's interesting and takes less time. If I absolutely have to go on I-95, I put myself into a zenlike mentality of being one with it all--no radio or other entertainment to distract me from marveling at all the variety around me. However, Annie, here in New Mexico, we have Federal highways to nowhere, and I don't think New Mexicans paid for them.
9 years 3 months ago
Annie: People (like me) who live in everywhre, have no need for schools that educate other people's children and don't want to pay for them. Silliness coming right back at you!
9 years 3 months ago
A lot of the problem with I-95 is bad driving, although congestion is also an issue. Rental cars are also too expensive, not for the car, but for the insurance. There is a better way. A system of electric cars with central computer control and payment by the mile for both road and energy would prevent most accidents, be used to relieve congestion and facilitate a cheaper rental system with system cars rather than independent rental that would be priced to use in the more deserted parts of New England as well as the high traffic areas of the corridor. This would make it easier to jump on a train where trains are common and hop off and get a car where trains are not economical. For those who think wires covering freeways are unsightly, we can construct roof decks where the wires will run and put grass over them, which lessens storm water runnoff and the need to close roads when the weather is bad (provided you have retractable plastic shielding for the sides).
9 years 3 months ago
Before the 1950s the U.S. had an excellent train system. Then Pres. Eisenhower, as a result of his experience with highways in Europe during WWII, promoted the development of the interstates. Alas, as a result of that, the right-of-ways of many of the secondary train lines were abandoned--a terrible loss. And here we are, 60 years later; Europe has built high-speed train systems. (I wonder if they did so to avoid eight-and- more-lane highways like the U.S. that take up so much land). Trains use energy (including coal) far much more efficiently than cars and planes. I've heard trains are 200 times more efficient than cars--but check that elsewhere. And trains would especially make sense in high population areas such as east of the Mississippi and along the Pacific coast. How to pay for this? If you reread the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, you will see its foundation is the common good. There are some things that we all must share, rich and poor--things like roads, the air, water and, I hope, paying to rebuild our train systems. Once people get accustomed to trains again I doubt they would demand the right to sit burning gasoline in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Sixty-four and For Trains.
9 years 3 months ago
Thanks for helping promote the idea of highspeed rail. However, i do no believe the american people have the mentality and social structure to develop high speed rail as it is promoted. Some of the posts themselves point to the great amount of ignorance and obstructions involved in developing these systems. You happen to be a new yorker, and already you get posts about paying taxes for east coast types. Just my point.I would hope we would adopt an off the shelf system from france, like mexico city did years ago. But this would be impossible because of the ''french'' thing Americans have in their brains. Living in the SF bay area with BART has been a disaster because Americans had the idea that if we can place a man on the moon, we can build our own system, without help from France, Italy, or Japan. Wrong!
9 years 3 months ago
We are so selfish and such cheapskates! Intercity trains are clearly more efficient, less costly and far less polluting. The real opposition comes from entrenched auto, bus, and airline lobbies whose one great fear is an interconnected short and long haul intercity passenger train system that works. Yes it will cost money to buy right of way. Most of that is through existing poor and dilapidated and antiquated development. We probably will not go directly through downtown Manhattan or upscal Chevy Chase neighborhoods. The second part of the cost rightly identified is to build track on separate right of way that does not have to compete with freight and auto traffic crossing over the lines. The third cost is already plaguing Amtrak: lack of funds to buy new equipment and add services. The coast starlight for example, has only two trainsets for over 1,000 miles of service. Trainsets are old, out of repair and lack modern amenities. The cost of a compartment for overnight service is prohibitive, even if one of the scarce ones could be reserved. For pennies on the bail-out dollar we could have a first class system that would pay dividends far into the future. If we want it...

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