» The Obama Administration hopes to invest almost $40 billion in new and improved passenger rail infrastructure over the next five years. Good luck getting that through Congress.
It’s an annual spectacle. The President releases his budget. The budget proposes a huge expansion in spending on surface transportation, particularly in high-speed rail. Administration figures testify on Capitol Hill, hoping to raise the specter of infrastructure failure if nothing is done. The Congress responds lackadaisically, with Democrats arguing that something should be done and Republicans doing everything they can to prevent a cent more from being spent, and ultimately no one agrees to much of anything other than a repetition of the past year’s mediocre investments.
Will things be different this year?
The question is particularly relevant because the U.S. Government’s rail investment program — its authorization for allocating funds to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will expire this year. Legislation supporting the FRA, as
Continue reading The Administration Refreshes Its Push for a Major Infusion of Funds into the National Rail Program »
» To convince even more passengers to take the train, the SNCF national rail carrier plans to offer very cheap tickets.
France’s SNCF national rail service has, since the introduction of the TGV in 1981, held to the belief that fast trains should not be segregated to serve only higher-paying passengers. As a result, fast trains have replaced all slow-speed service on most long-distance travel throughout the country; passengers are able to take advantage of fare deals that allow them to journey between cities hundreds of miles apart at €25 or less, as long as they book in advance.
This dedication to opening up speedy trains to people across the income spectrum is unique compared to most other European and Asian countries. In Germany, for instance, train service between major cities is often available at two speeds — fast Intercity-express and slower InterCity, at very different prices. In the
Continue reading In France, a Truly Low-Cost High-Speed Rail Option »
» New proposals for light rail connections to LAX put in question whether an extension project will offer any major benefits.
Of the nation’s largest cities, Los Angeles is one of the remaining few with no direct rail connection to its airport.* Over the past two decades, L.A. County has expanded its Metro Rail network considerably, but the closest it has gotten to a station at its largest airport — LAX — is a stop about a mile away from terminals on the Green Line light rail service, which does not reach downtown and requires customers to make a connection to a surface bus to get to and from check-in areas.
According to current plans, that will change in the next few decades. Metro dedicated $200 million to a light rail connector in its Measure R spending packaged passed by voters in 2008. The agency began studying potential direct links from its
Continue reading Light Rail to Los Angeles International: A Questionable Proposition? »
» New York and Chicago debate putting BRT lines in street medians.
Last week, the New York City Department of Transportation announced that in the Bronx’s planned Webster Avenue bus rapid transit corridor, buses will run in lanes along the side of the street — not in the median lanes previously being evaluated. For this 5.3-mile route through the center of the borough, the decision will reduce bus travel speeds, increasing rider commute times and ultimately limiting the benefit of the BRT investment. The move evoked concern that the city was settling for less-than-best when it comes to bus transport in New York.
Yet the issue is more complicated than that, since many BRT lines share their routes with local buses. This has implications for cities across the country that are investing in BRT.
Here’s the problem: In addition to BRT along Webster Avenue, New York plans to
Continue reading Combining Local and Express Bus Services in One Lane »
» Amtrak, as always, is being targeted for privatization by conservatives. But what approach leads to optimized public benefit?
Over the past few weeks, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has convened a series of hearings on the failures of Amtrak, America’s independent — but fully federally owned — national rail operator. Mr. Mica has used the meetings to wage an ideological crusade against the railway, arguing that it is too inefficient and expensive to continue receiving subsidies. Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has also advocated selling Amtrak.
Democrats have mostly shot back, arguing that privatizing the agency would result in a significant reduction in services provided and increase ticket costs.
Here is the confusing truth about Amtrak, however: The rail agency, fully government-owned, is in many ways already a privatized operation that receives federal subsidies. The organization does not seem to have the larger public’s interests in
Continue reading Revisiting Privatization in Intercity Rail »