Ever since he came to Amtrak from the airline industry, President and CEO Richard Anderson has “railed” against so-called “experiential” trains, an expression he often uses in disparaging the roughly 15 long-distance trains in Amtrak’s skeletal national network. Anderson clearly prefers corridors, and many members of the rider advocacy community also like them, but Anderson seems determined to expand those corridors by eliminating long-distance trains in what he and his followers perceive as a zero-sum game. While he often uses the word to describe his company’s long-haul trains, it does not seem clear what he dislikes about them, or whom he believes they serve and with what sort of experience.
Author: David Peter Alan
St. Louis’s ill-fated Loop Trolley rolled along Delmar Boulevard for the last time on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. It died in infancy, at the chronological age of 13 months and 14 days, but an actual service life of only 235 days. While it is difficult to determine the actual cause of death, it appears that the little streetcar that couldn’t never had a chance. It was an unwanted child whose birth was delayed for years, and who suffered from neglect, ill health, destitution and just plan bad luck during its pitifully short life. Ironically, the line may still get another chance to live, if circumstances allow that.
When we last reported to you about the Gateway Program on Aug. 13, 2019, its proponents were making a best effort to alarm the public about the condition of the existing tunnels between New Jersey and Penn Station New York (officially known as the North River Tunnels), in the hope of stirring up public and political support for spending billions of dollars to build a new set of tunnels before starting repairs on the existing ones. At they same time, they were disparaging an alternative repair method now being implemented on the Canarsie Tunnels under 14th Street in Manhattan and under the East River to Brooklyn on the L-Train line of the New York City subway system, a method that averted a 15-month shutdown of the busiest part of the line.
This article is like no other that I have ever written for Railway Age, or any other publication. It is about a personal transit accomplishment like no other. This piece is not a commentary in the traditional sense, nor is it a news story, because nobody else is making news here. It is an essay; a personal look at America’s rail transit from the standpoint of a person who has ridden every line on every system that is currently operating in the nation. So, for this one occasion, I will set aside the journalistically correct title of “this writer” and deliver my comments in the non-journalistic style of first-person-singular.
“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.
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.