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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The Republicans have won one of the established political Power Positions in American Politics, and so they propose to eliminate funding for Amtrak:

The Bush budgets for 2006 and 2007 proposed ending federal support of Amtrak, the only US national passenger rail service.In fiscal 2005, the federal subsidy to Amtrak was $1.2 billion, which is what Bush spends in six days in Iraq.

Now, that was a 2005 fight by Resident George W. Bush, after he won his first Presidential election and his second term in office. So as one of their "new ideas", the new Republican House proposes the same old same old.

What a big surprise. Really, you could knock me over with a feather  {Legal Disclaimer: Strictly speaking, a bronze plated ostrich feather when I am already in danger of losing my balance}.  

Same old, same old

RSC: Federal Funding for Amtrak & HSR on the Chopping Block

First we had President George Bush and would-be president John McCain calling for the end of federal funding of Amtrak. Republican gubernatorial candidates joined the anti-rail chorus and campaigned on promises to refuse federal funds for passenger rail improvements and expansion if they couldn't be twisted and perverted into subsidies for trucks and automobiles instead. Now it looks as though the GOP-led House is not far behind on the bewildering but growing anti-rail bandwagon that is quickly developing into a fundamental platform position for the Republican party. Although there may not yet be enough Republicans in active office to completely defund Amtrak at this time the trend lines are clear. Presumably there will be some sort of reduction in a "compromise" between the House and the Senate. If the Republicans are able to regain political dominance Amtrak is likely to suffer a critical shortage of funds at their hands. I cannot predict exactly how much funding Amtrak will lose in a compromise bill or when the GOP will regain their former political clout, but I think it's safe to say it's going to happen eventually. The question that's bouncing around in my mind now is how much of Amtrak's current network can possibly survive on its own after all or most of their federal funding is finally lost?

[The Republican Study Committee] wants to eliminate Amtrak operating subsidies ($1.565 billion), which amounted to $32 per passenger in 2009. In 2009, 41 of Amtrak's 44 routes -- which service 500 destinations in 46 states -- lost money, indicating that, without the subsidies, Amtrak would have to significantly reduce or eliminate its service outside the heavily trafficked urban coastal routes. The plans also call for the elimination of Intercity and High Speed Rail Grants to the tune of $2.5 billion a year.


Fighting Back against the Amtrak Cutback

Now, when the Republicans had the Presidency, the House of Representatives and the Senate, the push from the White House to eliminate operating subsidies to Amtrak did not work. The last time they tried, there was tha familiar outcry. Then-Senator Biden argued against the cut:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about another tough issue for both of you: Amtrak. The president wants...

SEN. BIDEN: It's not tough for me.

MR. RUSSERT: You take Amtrak every day back and forth to work.

SEN. BIDEN: This is absolutely bizarre that we continue to subsidize highways beyond the gasoline tax, airlines, and we don't subsidize, we don't want to subsidize a national rail system that has environmental impact. Do you know what it would take? It would take us $71 billion to be able to go and take--if you took Amtrak out of the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston, to build enough highway on 95 to go up and back. This is the ultimate being penny-wise and a pound-foolish.

Take a 3% discount rate, and a 50 year time horizon (given the oil-addiction of our road-based intercity transport system, a time horizon of 20 years before obsolescence would be generous, so this is being extraordinarily generous). That capitalizes to $1.8b per year. So the capital savings in not having to replace the transport service in the Northeast Corridor alone covers over half of the operating subsidy.

And of course, Amtrak was also defended by a large number of other usual liberal suspects, such as a pair of radicals from Pennsylvania (continuing from above source):

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, your Republican colleague from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, said the president's elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak is unacceptable.

SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you share that view?

SEN. SANTORUM: I would agree with--it's not...

MR. RUSSERT: So you're going to fight it?

SEN. SANTORUM: It's not acceptable to me, either.


The Amtrak Wedge

What was Resident George W Bush really attempting here? Look a little closer at the details of the proposal:

President Bush wants to push Amtrak into bankruptcy, and end its rail services. He proposes to set aside funds for a new train system to someday run only in the country’s northeast corridor.

Bush wants to "privatize" the rest of Amtrak by selling its assets, and let corporations make profits as they see fit.

Of course, what would "push Amtrak into bankruptcy" would be the mandates to provide service on routes that cannot be operated without a subsidy. Lift those mandates, and provide funds for the Northeast Corridor ~ where, as Biden pointed out, the cost of appropriating sufficient funds to replace that transport service with roadworks has a massive sticker shock effect ~ and Amtrak would operate in the NEC corridor that it partly owns, as well as in operating those state-subsidized lines where the state or states would be willing to replace the Federal subsidy.

It is, in other words, not primarily an attack on rail service New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts (etc), Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Washington, Oregon and California.

It is primarily an attack on rail service in West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

Its primarily an attack on rail service in places where people can be convinced that the operating subsidies to Amtrak is a subsidy for some "them".

And the goal is, of course, not primarily in diverting the $2.5b in operating subsidies or $1b~$4b in capital maintenance and upgrades to the service of some more Republican constituency. It is, rather, the fear that Amtrak may be entering a period of sufficient success that it will be able to start expanding upon the skeleton backbone network. The "problem" is, after all, not that Amtrak is losing riders: the problem is that Amtrak is gaining riders even in "Red States":

WASHINGTON - Despite the lingering effects of the Great Recession, Amtrak ridership hit an all-time high in fiscal 2010.

According to the Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers, Amtrak carried 28.7 million riders during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 5.7% from fiscal 2009. Ticket revenue set an all-time record too, and all four Amtrak trains serving Georgia shared in the gains.

The Palmetto, running between New York, Washington and Savannah, showed the biggest surge: it carried 10.6% more riders, and ticket revenue was up a whopping 23.1%. The Silver Meteor and the Silver Star, both running between New York, Washington, Savannah and Miami, enjoyed ridership gains of 6.5% and 6.0% respectively, and revenue increases of 8.1% and 10.2%. On the New York-Washington-Atlanta-New Orleans route - which stops in Toccoa, Gainesville and Atlanta - the Crescent recorded a 4.2% ridership gain and a 8.3% revenue gain.

Looking at raw numbers, the Silver Star was the most popular Amtrak train serving Georgia, carrying 393,586 passengers during fiscal 2010. The Silver Meteor was next, with 352,286 passengers, followed by the Crescent with 298,688 riders and the Palmetto with 189,468 passengers. The Palmetto's revenues covered about 53% of its costs; the Meteor had a 49% revenue-to-cost ratio; the Star had a 42% ratio and the Crescent had 38% ratio.

So one fear is something like the system sketched to the right. While very heavily subsidized services like The Cardinal and The Hoosier could see very substantial increase in ridership with only a small drop in total subsidy, each 1% in revenue growth in services like the Palmetto and Meteor means a 1% or greater drop in subsidy per service mile.

Because of the way that the route performance is now tallied, it is most convenient to report this in terms of net operating ratio, where a negative net operating ratio under (-50%) is in the zone where subsidy drops as fast or faster than revenue:

  • Auto-Train, (-26%);
  • Empire Builder, Palmetto, (-50%),

However, ridership and revenues are growing, and the real risk is that all but two of the remaining trancontinental routes have net operating ratios in the (-50%)~(-60%) range:

  • Capital Ltd, (-53%);
  • Silver Meteor, California Zephyr, (-53%)
  • Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight, (-55%)
  • City of New Orleans, (-56%),
  • Lakeshore Ltd, (-57%);
  • Southwest Chief, (-58%),
  • Crescent, (-59%)
  • Silver Star (-60%)

With a series of oil price shocks likely to hit in the coming ten years ~ which is either, if you believe they are freely functioning competitive commodity markets, what freely functioning competitive commodity markets do when supply constraint, or if you believe the evil commodity traders are blatantly manipulating the market, an irresistible ploy for evil commodity traders in the face of supply constraints. Indeed, since we get a series of oil price shocks from the pure free functioning scenario and from the pure price rigging scenario, and since its somewhere between the two opposite extremes ~ we're getting a series of oil price shocks in the decade ahead.

And when they hit, ridership and revenue will only grow. And, indeed, when they hit it will be too late to spring this attack.

Best to ensure that as many people live in states with no intercity rail transport at all, so that pandering to their prejudices is not threatened by the dangerous facts of personal experience or face to face discussion with somebody with personal experience.

And that is only one fear ... there are also these:

If a kernel of Express HSR and Regional HSR corridors get established, and demonstrate that they can generate positive net operating ratios ~ as the Acela services already do ~ that is a serious threat, and so to would be the establishment of a network of 100mph oil-independent electric freight rail tollways.

Because the danger is the demonstration that the way we do things is not the way we have to do things, which threatens a vast array of yellow bellied surplus suckers with their snouts buried deep in the public trough. The fear is that national passenger rail will stop being a running joke, because when that happens, there are big chunks of the Great Rip-Off Economy that are under threat.


Responding to the Attack

It is very unlikely that the Republican House on its own will be able to eliminate Amtrak operating subsidies. Indeed, it seems unlikely that this is their goal.

The goal of the House Republicans is to force patriots who do not wish to sell out our national security to the profits of the oil industry and road building lobbies into a defensive, hunkered down posture, enabling them to gouge out some or all of the HSR capital grants and some or all of the Amtrak capital grants that are the serious threat.

After all, without capital funding, Amtrak will not even be able to buy enough new passenger cars to carry more than a fraction of the people who will wish to ride when the next oil price shock hits.

We need to push our Senators ~ both Democratic and Republican, wherever possible ~ to do more than to hunker down in a defensive posture. They need to go on the attack. And since objectively this policy of the Republicans is betraying the national security interests of the nation in the service of the profits of the oil industry and the road building lobby ~ they need to go all out, wrap themselves in the flag, and go on the attack:

  • Hearings that grill the Department of Defense on how we move vital war material and maintain logistical support for vital Defense Industries in case of an massive disruption of oil supplies, such as the Shutdown of the Straits of Hormuz or collapse of national government in Nigeria
  • Hearings that grill the Department of Defense on how we mobilize troops in the event of a massive disruption of oil supplies
  • Hearings that grill the Department of Homeland Security on how their evacuation plans for each of the top 100 US metropolitan areas in the event of a massive disruption of oil supplies

In other words, don't restrict ourselves to the standard ~ an perfectly valid ~ litany of external benefits ... environmental benefits, equity of access to transportation, massive subsidies being provided to alternative means of intercity transport. Those are all points well worth hitting, but    if that is the sole case, we are preaching to the choir.

We get the right 15 second sound bite from an Army General, we have the material for an ad hitting a Republican Congressman for being soft on national security.

Now, of course, I'm just an economist, so read this more as a general strategy than a specific tactic: getting the right messaging delivered in the right way is not necessarily going to come out of any one of these attacks, but if we push at the enough different edges of the established frame, we can dig up something that shakes people's perceptions. And with gas prices likely heading up again this coming summer, it puts supporters of sustainable transport in a position to gain increasing traction on the back of voter's everyday experience.


Late Update: The Fight to Save Caltrain in the Bay Area

See the California HSR Blog for More information.


Midnight Oil ~ Truganini

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 07:17 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Tipped for the importance of the issue (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, BachFan, DrTerwilliker

      but I think you need to clarify the net operating percentages and their implications.

      (Also, unfortunately, Bush was President instead of merely Resident.)

      •  Net operating ratios are ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, marykk

        ... revenues less operating costs including OPEB (other post employment benefits), over operating costs.

        The Acela is a plus, the other ones are a minus. There was a change in the way that these costs were computed since they last time I diaried this, so I couldn't cut and paste what I had written before, and I was massively under the gun ~ probably shouldn't have copied the tables from the pdf into a text file and loaded them into excel, but I got an itch of curiosity how things had evolved since the figures I looked at last year that SubsidyScope had used in their flimsy hatchet job on Amtrak.

        End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

        by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:05:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I understand; the question related to how this (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose

          relates to the subsidies.  

          •  When the net operating ratio is ... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, maryru, marykk

            ... (-50%) then a 5% increase in revenue is a 5% savings in required operating subsidy per service mile.

            Maintain 5% revenue growth for four years, you have grown revenue by more than 20% ... so if you were at (-50%) net operating ratio, now you are at (-40%). Now a 5% increase in revenue is a 7.5% decrease in required operating subsidy per mile.

            When operating revenues are a large enough share of the total funding base, then with the guarantee of substantial increases in ridership and operating revenue in the decade ahead ~ provided the services continue to be provided ~ it becomes possible to provide an increasing range of service on the same operating subsidy.

            This has been what has been seen in California-Amtrak with the Capital Corridor, San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner receiving service improvements which have resulted in increased patronage, resulting in a smaller operating subsidy per passenger mile.

            End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

            by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:54:48 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  You have got to be effing kidding me ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Magnifico, blueoregon

      ... when I hit play on the Midnight Oil embed ... the "pop-under" commercial was a click through for BP propaganda on YouTube.

      I don't think the bot that picked up on "Oil" knows what "Midnight Oil" means.

      End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 09:20:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't get the rail subsidies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    theran

    The NE Corridor is profitable for Amtrak - there is no subsidy there at all.

    However - some of the routes (such as the LA to New Orleans route, for one) are so poorly used and not a replacement for air travel that I don't understand why the trains are running.  What positive good is it providing society to subsidize folks' rail travel?

    Railroads used to be THE big businesses in the United States.  The idea of subsidizing them (aside from giving them the rights of way necessary to build their railroads) would have been odd.  Why, after the market has spoken and said that rail travel is dead in all but a few places, subsidize it?

    And if someone is interested on impact on climate change, the rail that is a solution is not the Inter-City rail provided by Amtrak, it's the light rail and commuter trains that are typically only LOCALLY supported.  I'd rather subsidize $1.2 billion of mass transit rail around America's cities than the decaying dinosaur that is Amtrak outside the NE corridor.

    •  They certainly do not replace much ... (9+ / 0-)

      ... air travel, because the average trip length on an transcontinental train is around 600miles, and many of the communities they serve have no airport.

      We subsidize every form of intercity transport in this country. The subsidy to automobile transport runs from the obvious $600b in current dollars that the Federal government has put into road building from the General Fund (over and above the federal gas tax) since 1947, to the exemption by states of gasoline from sales tax, so that much (or in New Jersey, all) of the state gas tax is not additional revenue, but rather existing revenue diverted from the state general fund to road building, to the parking mandates, to the cost of additional emergency room services and the heavy cost of enforcing property rights and policing operating of private motor vehicles, where railroads carry all the (much smaller) cost of such services as cost on their own books.

      And of course, when the Federal government allowed private freight railroads to avoid the mandate to implement Positive Train Control if they put the rail speed limit down to 79mph, it ensured that passenger rail could not compete effectively with the Interstate Highways that we were building.

      I don't see how anybody could complain about a 33% subsidy just on the basis of a level playing field with cars, which receive about 33% of their total cost in direct or hidden subsidies. Add another 16% to represent the net external benefits of a rail passenger over a car passenger, and a 50% subsidy is straightforward to justify.

      And when gasoline hits $8/gallons in terms of 2010 dollars, all those corridors that are in the (-60%) to (-50%) range are going to be well under the (-50%) mark, so the insurance value of having a skeleton network to build on seems worth another 10%.

      Which in terms of long distance routes leaves exactly two routes that are hard to justify, the Sunset Express and the Cardinal. I have already written on why the Cardinal is broken, and how it might be fixed. The Sunset Express is a different case: it is severely affected by the fact that it runs on the main rail line to bring containers of cheap Chinese electronic crap and tube socks and such from Long Beach to the eastern states. However, even the Sunset Express would be in a much better position if only it could be slightly redirected to run through Phoenix. Phoenix is, after all, the most populous metro area without any intercity passenger rail, and the Phoenix / Tucson corridor would provide a substantial lift to the load factor for that service.

      End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:00:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  So the answer to the auto subsidy (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        theran

        Is a rail subsidy?  That doesn't make sense to me.  Why not increase the gas tax to make cars pay for themselves?  Or eliminate the auto subsidies altogether and then see if rail makes it?

        If we are going to subsidize rail, it should be INTRA city rail.  What % of all miles driven are intra city?  80% or more?  That is where the dollars can have the MOST impact.

        Where do you get 16% as a figure for the "external benefits of a rail passenger over a car passenger"?  On non-electrified intercity routes the mode of transportation is diesel-electric, which is more efficient than pure diesel but hardly carbon friendly.  Do you know that something like only 20% of a train's energy pushes it forward?  (steel wheels on steel track).

        •  Because it is grossly unfair ... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, marykk, MCinNH, JayinPortland

          ... for all of the beneficiaries of transport services other than the passengers to take a free ride on the back of the passengers alone.

          Indeed, politically, that is how the attack on Amtrak operating subsidies was beaten the last time: the beneficiaries other than the passengers themselves made their feelings felt loud and clear to their elected representatives.

          End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

          by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:44:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  All transportation systems require subsidies (6+ / 0-)

          Transit systems — whether we're talking about roads, airways, or railroads — are public conveyances.  They are a critical economic component and vital necessity for any society;  yet because of their expense and poor P&L ratio, it's not an attractive proposition for private interests.  

          Subsidies, I might add, come in all forms, not just cash payments.  The late Gov. Ann Richards of Texas referred to the Reagan Administration's decision to send US warships to escort oil tankers through the Persian Gulf.  "They might not like to call that a subsidy," she said, "but you can put lipstick on a hog and call it Monique and it's still a pig."

          Regarding intracity rail:  yes, we ought to subsidize that, too.  But no transportation system exists in a vacuum, and the entire transportation network achieves efficiency only with all components linked together.  Having both a functioning intercity rail service and intracity rail service actually makes both of them more efficient, because they compliment each other and the total ridership increases as the number of people who can link to either system increases.  

    •  You have it all wrong (5+ / 0-)

      and btw, when I hear "the market has spoken" my nose goes up like an infield fly.

      The reason ridership is poor outside the NE corridor is that the poor availability of service has caused potential riders to delete the train from their mental list of "how to get there."

      When I lived in Illinois and could get nearly anywhere in the state by train, I did.  Every time I had to travel.

      If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

      by marykk on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:07:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Meanwhile, in Ohio, ... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, marykk, MCinNH, JayinPortland

        ... the largest and second largest metro areas in the state have service between midnight and 6am once a day and three times a week respectively, and the third largest metro area in the state has no intercity passenger rail service at all ~ the second largest metro area in the US without passenger rail service (Phoenix, which is not on the Sunset Ltd but should be, is the largest).

        End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

        by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:09:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  so your answer is more service? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        theran

        How many people go from Chicago to Springfield every day?

        From Rockford to Springfield?  Decatur to Springfield?

        I'm just not sure the demand is there for rail service.  

        The reason why rail service was popular in the pre-50's America was that people generally didn't have cars and they had no choice but to take the limited number of trains available to them each day for intercity trips.

        •  No service in Rockford or Decatur (4+ / 0-)

          Chicago to Springfield - the trains are packed.  I often left Chicago in the AM, got to Springpatch between 10:30-11, worked until 5 and took the train home.  Cheaper than flying or driving, more relaxing for me.

          If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

          by marykk on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:30:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  However, it seems that Americans are ... (5+ / 0-)

          ... not a homogeneous mass of identical clones with identical tastes. Some like driving, some don't. Some are taking trips with a group, some are traveling alone. Some are traveling on their own funds, so are traveling for business.

          At the speed and frequencies available after the freight railroads downsized their tracks to cut down on property taxes (which roads and airports do not normally pay) and reduced their speed limits to 79mph, there are only a few areas were 79mph services will dominate the market.

          There are, however, quite a number of corridors across the country where there is a substantial demand for service. Very few people are forced to ride Amtrak at gunpoint, so the fact that ridership is growing, revenues are growing, and the ratio of revenue to operating cost is rising seems to indicate that improvements which increase the reliability and frequency of even Amtrak speed services will result in greater demand for the available seats.

          End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

          by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:39:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  The amount of traffic in and out of Chicago (6+ / 0-)

          every day, in almost every direction, is simply astounding.  A great deal of it has always come from the Quad-Cities, an area of 400,000 people a mere 180 miles to the east — the closest port to Chicago on the Mississippi River.  And no rail connection. The nearest train stations are in Galesburg or Macomb, each about 40 minutes away.  

          It's a basic truism of transit planning that more service increases ridership because having more time options for travel brings people into the system who might have chosen other modes.  

          Finally, a major part of this diary was predicated on the idea that we will experience major oil price shocks in the next decade, which is the closest thing to certain after death and taxes.  Air travel plummeted in the last decade and the industry's economic model appears precariously unstable.  As the economic hurt from the stagnant job market ripples out and the middle class continues to collapse, the automobile is likely to follow the airplane as transportation for those who can afford it.

      •  Your nose goes up? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose

        I'd suggest it should go down, unless of course you are wearing hip waders at the time. Otherwise there's a serious risk of stepping in some horseshit. For instance, why is it that the biggest yellow bellied surplus suckers at the government trough are always saying "the market has spoken" when they have got government subsidies rigged the way that they like it?

        End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

        by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 09:14:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  is that the nasty gov. of ohio (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, blueoregon, marykk, jwinIL14

    guffawing with gwb at the top of your diary?

    [i'm from ohio, but refuse to call him "my" gov.]

    the same nasty idiot who gave up stim. $$$--even
    before he took office! a wonderment to me!--

    for high-speed railway...because he imagined he could use the money elsewhere, but alas, ohio lost it.

    for which i blame him totally, the jack-ass.
    As If we couldn't have used that money for employment here.

  •  Best diary I have read in weeks. Well researched (5+ / 0-)

    well written and newsworthy.  And a very important issue.  Keep up the good work.

  •  Excellent diary, Thanks. (6+ / 0-)

    Britain privatized their train system, to everyone's great regret. Yes, this move is a blatant gift to the oil companies.

    John Boehner - The hairy blue mold on the American congressional sandwitch. Matt Taibbi

    by blueoregon on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 07:48:52 PM PST

  •  I love Amtrak. (6+ / 0-)

    I've written diaries before on what a great experience it is to travel long distances by train.  It is really unbelievable that we do not have first class rail travel in this country.

    "What is essential is invisible to the eye." www.thefoxfoot.com

    by greywolfe359 on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 07:56:11 PM PST

    •  I take Amtrak every week from New York Penn (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, marykk, BruceMcF

      as one of my jobs takes me to Boston.  I can walk 10 minutes to a train station in my neighborhood, from which I can be at Penn Station in another ten minutes.  When I get off the train in Boston I have a 10 minute walk to work.  

      Come to think of it, I need to get to bed soon, I have a train to catch in the morning.  

  •  Get used to it (5+ / 0-)

    I think we're about to enter an aggressive vicious circle in public policy.

    1. More and more cuts to useful public programs under the slogan of Balancing the Budget
    1. Resulting in overall deterioration of quality of life
    1. Resulting in lower tax revenues
    1. Requiring further cuts

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:02:37 PM PST

    •  And we have to take the Democratic party ... (5+ / 0-)

      ... back from the corporate wing to get it into the hands of the Democratic wing in many cases, which requires us to get interested in primary politics early, like the rightwingnuts do in the Republican party. All too often we are busy chasing our tails on the issue of the week and letting the long slog of staging primary challenges across the country slide until it is too late.

      End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:14:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, the useful work is neither fun nor glamorous (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, BruceMcF

        The Democratic Party is really our only hope (slender though it be). Even primarying candidates for federal and statewide office is late in the process. The bench of candidates is developed from such tedious posts as transit board commissioners and local party chairmen.

        And then it's not just the party. The mass media, though not unequivocally tied to the Republican Party, are yet very leery of rocking the boat of insider consensus.

        "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

        by Demi Moaned on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:32:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Aha, when I say primaries ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, Demi Moaned

          ... I'd assume it would be read as going down into State Representative and State Senator races as well, but it really does need to go down to local school board and county board of supervisors and etc. as well.

          End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

          by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:41:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  "The Democratic Party is really our only hope" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, Demi Moaned

          Barf.

          True, though. Easier and more satisfying than trying to flip the repugs.

          •  If the Whig Party was the only hope ... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, wu ming, marykk, ozsea1

            ... of abolitionists in the early 1950's, it would have been a depressing thought ... but then the pro-slavery Whigs drove the anti-slavery Whigs out of the party, resulting in the collapse of the Whigs and the construction of the Republican party, with the pro-slavery Whigs one of the building blocks.

            If in the end the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is purged because we cause too much of a nuisance to the Corporate Wing, well then we can take it from there. Until then, the fight to organize and mobilize the Democratic Wing of the party has to continue unabated.

            End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

            by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 10:25:00 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  My mama was a railroad woman, before (7+ / 0-)

    and during WW2. She operated the telegraph and gave the engineers slips of paper transcribing the information as to which sidings they should go to and when.

    She was posted in Loveland Colorado and met my dad there, who was guarding German pows.  It is quite a story, and I am quite partial to trains.

    That one map with all the routes looks like what train service was in this country in the 1950's.  Oh I long for the day.

    Thanks for keeping the torch of rail alive, I hope to see it come to pass.

    "Never, desist till we ... extinguish this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, will scarce believe that it suffered a disgrace and dishonor to this country.

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:02:46 PM PST

  •  An important diary. Thanks for all the work. /nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, Miss Jones, BruceMcF

    " It's shocking what Republicans will do to avoid being the 2012 presidential nominee."

    by jwinIL14 on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:09:54 PM PST

  •  The last time the GOP tried this ..... (5+ / 0-)

    .... people like Trent Lott and a few others heard loud-and-clear from not only many of their constituents but also the business and tourism industries that rail service was essential in their business plans, and many came around. It's one thing to cancel possible, proposed future services .. and quite another to can existing services.

      It's too early to say how this will shake-out, but a similar full-court-press is needed today.

    "We should pay attention to that man behind the curtain."

    by Ed Tracey on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:32:18 PM PST

  •  Is hi-speed rail one of Obama's investments? (6+ / 0-)

    Let's hope so. Beyond keeping the AMTRAK backbone going, the nation needs hi-speed rail if we ever are going to move enough people fast enough without choking on gridlock and emissions.

    Our 19th century Republicans would gladly lead us back there - lets hope Obama calls them out Tuesday.

    "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."

    by oregonj on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:47:25 PM PST

  •  National defense (5+ / 0-)

    Maybe if Amtrak was running MX missile trains, then Republicans would finally get the idea that passenger rail is part of our national defense? Aside from running trains in and out of Manhattan, the Amtrak system kept running on and after September 11, 2001. The same could not be said about our air passenger system.

    •  One reason for calling the people ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Miss Jones, Magnifico

      ... from that absurd "a camel is a horse designed by a committee" Department of Faterland Security and grilling them on what they will do in various scenarios ~ including all planes ground.

      End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 09:09:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ...or a hurricane hits a major US city... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marykk, BruceMcF

        and I don't mean New Orleans.  Recall Ike, and the 250-mile-long traffic jam when TxDOT turned both sides of IH-45 northbound for people to evacuate Houston.  It went from Harris County (Houston) all the way into Dallas County.  Four to eight lanes wide, 250 miles long, bumper to bumper.

        Which happens to be nicely in the range for train trips generally, and HSR particularly.  With no major ciy in-between to stop at, it would be a slam dunk.  And Southwest Airlines is no longer opposed to such a scheme.  And SWA runs 50 flights each direction on 737s between the two cities.  Tell me there is no travel demand.  

        A city center-to-center trip at 220 mph top speed should take on the order of 90 minutes, station to station.  Each city has a viable metropolitan rail system in place or under construction (DART has 76 miles of LRT in place, soon to be 96 miles in 2013; Houston METRO has 9 miles, with 25 more under construction to be done in 2014).  If offered the choice, wouldn't a significant number of travelers choose to take a train rather than drive or fly?  I believe they would.

        Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

        by tom 47 on Mon Jan 24, 2011 at 08:31:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If there was even an Amtrak grade corridor ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marykk

          ... that had sufficient capacity and stocks of spare rolling stock located in strategic stockpiles across the country, it would be straightforward in an emergency to acquire locomotives and start a shuttle to a receiving city out of reach of danger. Even on bi-directional single track, bring as many of the trains as you can down, then start filling them up and sending them on their way. The length of each train is the length of available platform, but trains load much faster than buses, and when running out as fast as they can load, that is multiple lanes of interstate capacity.

          There's a reason we turned to railroads in WWII. It fit the need of moving people around the country while conserving on scarce petroleum and the raw materials that would have been required for the same transport capacity in cars and buses. That same material efficiency means that we can have a far greater passenger capacity in a rail car ready reserve than in any bus & car only system.

          And, just as with the 100mph freight system and multimodel freight with trucks ... its a far more efficient use of vehicles such as school buses to haul people to the closest rail platform and turn around to get more than to leave them on the interstate fighting emergency evacuation traffic.

          End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

          by BruceMcF on Mon Jan 24, 2011 at 11:24:42 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  BruceMcF (5+ / 0-)

    I'm an avid follower of your train diaries.  Many thanks!

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