“GREEN SIGNALS AHEAD: THE FUTURE OF RAIL EXPANSION IN MASSACHUSETTS.” That was the theme of the fall meeting and mini-conference held in Boston on Friday, Oct. 11 and sponsored by the Rail Users Network (RUN). At the event, several rail managers and planners, as well as representatives of elected officials, provided an ambitious plan for expanding rail in the Bay State, from Pittsfield and Greenfield in the west to New Bedford and Fall River in the southeast.
Author: David Peter Alan
Amtrak is no longer offering traditional dining car service on its trains east of Chicago and New Orleans. This is a sad development in the downward slide of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, especially under CEO Richard Anderson’s leadership. There have been a number of “obituaries” for Amtrak dining service, but they are misplaced in time. They have either come too soon, or they should have been written about 15 years ago.
Occasionally, rail advocates and bicycle advocates agree on an issue, such as placing bike racks on trains, if there is enough room for them. Often, though, relations between the two constituencies are stormy. In fact, they can be downright adversarial, especially if the right-of-way over which they stake their competing claims is not wide enough to accommodate both a rail line and a bicycle trail. The two sides have been engaged in battles around the country for years.
It feels a little strange to paraphrase Karl Marx in this publication, but the circumstances seem to warrant it in this instance. There are advocates all over the country who want an improved Amtrak, at least as they see it, and this writer knows or has known many of them. Unfortunately, sometimes their advocacy serves to undermine the efforts of other advocates, pitting two advocacy camps against each other and furthering the goals of the anti-rail forces who want to make our trains disappear permanently. A recent editorial piece here in Railway Age, a blog post, a magazine story and an advocate’s response to it from earlier this year comprise two cases in point.
Voters in Phoenix, Ariz., delivered a resounding endorsement of their light rail line and a stinging rebuke to a plan that would have halted funding for rail expansion, stopping that idea dead in its tracks. Phonecians (as they call themselves) went to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 27, in a special election. There were only two public questions on the ballot, and no candidates for office. Proposition 105 called for an end to funding for any expansion of Valley Metro’s LRT, including canceling extensions already approved by the voters, while Proposition 106 called for a cap on city spending until at least 90% of its pension liabilities are funded. The voters rejected both initiatives overwhelmingly.
When we published the sixth article in this series last month, we promised continuing coverage of the Gateway saga. What we did not know at that time was that so much news would come to us so quickly. At a Board meeting of the Gateway Program Development Corp. on July 22, a Gateway spokesperson presented an analysis of delays that he attributed to the existing Portal Bridge and the existing Hudson Tunnels (also known as the North River Tunnels) on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) and criticized the plan currently under way to rehabilitate the Canarsie Tunnels in New York City. Both analyses omitted facts that indicate that Gateway’s Hudson Tunnel and Portal North Bridge projects are not as cost-effective or necessary as he made them appear. Later that day, the Gateway Corporation became a “Commission” with questionable fundraising authority. Despite that change, a former offer by New Jersey Transit (NJT) to impose a surcharge on future rail trips to and from New York has been scuttled, raising the question of how New Jersey can replace the money that would have come from the surcharge.
Amtrak’s Hoosier State train, Nos. 850 and 851, died on Sunday, June 30 at Indianapolis, after a long illness. She was 38. The immediate cause of death was removal from life support by Indiana state officials. During her lifetime, she ran between Chicago and Indianapolis, but her later life was difficult and plagued by ever-increasing weakness, except during one brief period in 2015-17. She is survived by Amtrak’s Cardinal, which traverses the same route on its journey between Chicago and New York, but only three days per week.
July 17, 1979 was a momentous day in the annals of U.S. transit history. The New Jersey legislature passed, and Gov. Brendan T. Byrne (1924-2018) signed, the bill that became the Transportation Act of 1979. The legislation established New Jersey Transit (NJT), and in so doing, began the process of consolidating the state’s bus service under a single statewide umbrella. That step was considered radical in its day, but it set a model for bringing public transportation into the public sector, at a time when railroads and bus companies in the private sector were working hard to get rid of it.
At a legislative hearing on Aug. 16, 2018, Gateway Program Development Corp Interim Executive Director John D. Porcari said, “There is no Plan B.” He was wrong. At the same hearing, this writer (as Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, a New Jersey-based advocacy organization) outlined the “Plan B” that some rider-advocates had formulated and submitted, in the event that the entire $30 billion-plus Gateway program as currently proposed fails to attract sufficient funding. Porcari stuck to his story that the existing North River Tunnels are deteriorating so quickly that they constitute a disaster waiting to happen but, under his proposal, they would not be repaired until 2030 or some time shortly thereafter.
In 1995, one of the alternatives of the original Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Project would have developed a track connection for New Jersey Transit (NJT) trains to go to Grand Central Terminal (GCT) on the East Side of Midtown Manhattan. New Jersey riders, especially commuters whose offices are nearby, would have enjoyed convenient access to them for the first time. That alternative was eliminated in 2003, and the means for delivering new Manhattan capacity was downgraded to a stub-end deep-cavern station 20 stories below ground.