Saturday, June 25, 2005

What Amtrak Needs

Once again we run across another threat to Amtrak. The National Association of Railway Passengers is asking for help to again keep funding levels for Amtrak.

I don't expect to see a passenger rail network developed in America; indeed I believe it's been kept at its skeletal level of service to insure that, once people tired of present level of service, they could quickly close it down, transfer whatever lines are owned by Amtrak to freight railroads (assuming they want them) and move on to closing down the commuter railroads (like Metro North in New York, Metra in Chicago and MUNI in San Francisco).

Sad thing is, the Mass Transit authorities are finally getting their heads together in trying to make their services usable. They're creating intermodal centers and readjusting their schedules to make it easier to move between transit systems. Not only that, but the states are getting together to plan regional high-speed rail networks. There was also a plan in 1997 that had some good ideas for additional trains and hookups (including the development of a passenger rail hub in Dallas/Fort Worth and rail lines down the Eastern Florida seaboard).

Anyway, here's some ideas I'd like to see to revive and enliven Amtrak:
  • Impliment the ideas from the 1997 plan. These would include adding on the Crescent branch from Meridian to Dallas, the realigning of the Sunset Limited through Dallas/Fort Worth and East Florida Line, as well as the Cross-Country train and the Philly-Chicago line running through Ohio and Indiana during the daytime.
  • Institute the Midwest High-Speed Rail System. Eight states linked together via High Rail, with direct connections to downtown and the airports. O'Hare becomes able to handle what it has!
  • Desert Wind and Pioneer routes reinstated. This would rebuild the passenger rail system in the west to what it was in the eighties and early nineties. If they actually synchonized the trains so they met and left at the same time in Salt Lake City, that would be much better.
  • A line from Duluth to San Antonio via Minneapolis, Kansas City, Topeka and Oklahoma City. Along with the Desert Wind and Pioneer routes, this would add flexibility to a system which is too dependent on Chicago to switch everything. People in Minneapolis would experience the greatest benefits, although there'd also be benefits for Texas, Oklahom and Kansas City..
  • A (Philly-)Pittsburgh-Columbus-Indy-Saint Louis(-Kansas City) route. Another Chicago bypass, this one bringing service to the capital cities of the Midwest..
  • Revive the Chicago-Florida Route. Why should the east coast get all the easy trips to Florida?
  • Detroit-Toledo (with a stop in Monroe). Maybe this could go from Cleveland to Chicago via Detroit.
  • Rationalize Iowa Service. Send a line through Iowa City and Des Moines.
  • Electrify the line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Another idea whose time has come, gone and returned.
  • Create a second Empire Service Route. Expand the service through the north, maybe have them go at different times so that some areas only served at night will get some day service. That way, even if they have to split the route, you'd still serve a larger area and give better service to areas stuck with late-night rail service.
  • Transfer the Chicago-Milwaukee route to Metra. This would free trains to go elsewhere, plus there'd be better service between the two cities as the Metra trains would make more stops.

Not that I expect any of my suggestions (outside the Chicago-Milwaukee idea, which is being studied at the moment) or any of the other ideas not yet implimented to happen. There are lots of rail lines which would need to be rebuilt, and the Rails-to-Trails movement is nothing more than a movement to insure that rail lines are kept closed down (who'd dare take over a public park for a rail line, even if it's meant for public transit?). Not only that, but government's main focus seems to have shifted from the idea of the public good to insuring that corporations and the rich get their fair share of tax money from the rest of the nation, and building rails for the use of public transit would drain money from that goal. Plus, the automobile companies may be about to disappear (or sell out to Japan) and oil is about to fall into an unstoppable decline, but hell if they're going to give us a chance to develop a way of getting around that doesn't depend on them. can hope.

1 comment:

Rip said...

Some interesting ideas here. Amtrak needs critical mass, something that is present on the Eastern Seaboard but not the rest of the country. You have ideas here that would contribute to that required critical mass.