This report comes to you from Amtrak Train 49, the Lake Shore Limited, en route from New York to Chicago. While this is an unusual location from which to file a story, it is
Author: David Peter Alan
Brightline, Florida’s private-sector passenger railroad that is building a line from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport (MCO), continuing west to Walt Disney World and Tampa, has been spared from missing a July 31 deadline imposed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The project will still take longer to complete than originally projected, but is proceeding.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 13 released a report on work and travel patterns, along with other issues, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 82-page study, “Preparing for the Future of Work,” addresses what work could look like in Massachusetts in both the near term (to 2025) and the longer term (to 2030), as well as “what the implications might be for the Commonwealth and its residents across its regions, economic sectors, commercial centers, local downtowns, transportation, and public spaces.”
Throughout my series about the Gateway Program over the past two years, I have often noted changes in circumstances that could, or at least should, give Gateway proponents reason to consider changing the nature or the magnitude of its component projects. That recently happened with the project to start building two new single-track tunnels under the Hudson River.
For several months, Railway Age has reported extensively on Amtrak’s efforts to begin running two daily round trips between New Orleans and Mobile, and the strong opposition to the plan voiced by CSX and Norfolk Southern (NS). The focus has been on the railroads. But there’s another vital interest at stake: that of the American people to be able to ride new services on “America’s Railroad.”
The COVID-19 virus did not kill all of its victims. Most people who were infected with it recovered. Still, the virus not only wreaked havoc on individuals, but also on communities and the economies of those communities. Transit is no exception. It is recovering slowly, but its long-term future is uncertain.
Historians may look back on the Great Pandemic of 2020-21 and notice that February 2020 was the month in which commuting by train peaked in the United States. Beginning in March 2020, Railway Age has reported the overall decline in service on our local railroads, which came in reaction to the shutdowns that suddenly appeared to sweep the country on Friday the Thirteenth of that month.
Amtrak is looking to expand its network of passenger trains, for the first time in two decades. The proposal by “America’s Railroad” to add dozens of new corridors and state-supported trains to its network has drawn both support and criticism from advocates: support because it marks a new attitude on Amtrak’s part favoring expansion (of some sort, at least); criticism because it does not go far enough toward pushing for more long-distance trains or recognizing the contributions of the citizen-advocates who have been calling for more trains throughout almost all of Amtrak’s 50-year history.
Amtrak is attempting to start service between Mobile and New Orleans, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. CSX and Norfolk Southern (NS) oppose Amtrak’s plan, and the issue is now before the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The issues are purportedly operational, having to do with rail capacity at the Port of Mobile, although there are also procedural issues to the controversy. There is a political dimension, too, with essentially the entire political establishment in Mississippi supporting Amtrak’s position and all of Alabama’s opposing it.
With all due respect to Shakespeare’s characterization of Hamlet and his potential life-terminating decision, today’s rail commuters are facing a less-final but still life-altering question. Will they resume their old commuting habits once the emergency stemming from the COVID-19 virus is over, or will their work lives continue to incorporate the drastic changes that have occurred during the past year?