A generational failure: As the U.S. fantasizes, the rest of the world builds a new transport system

Tomorrow, two high-speed rail lines open in France, providing new corridors for trains to slice through the countryside at 200 mph (320 km/h). One is a 302-kilometer link that will connect Paris to Bordeaux in the southwest part of the country. The other is a 182-kilometer line connecting Paris to western France. They’ll provide riders the equivalent of linking Washington, D.C. to Charlotte in just over two hours (versus an eight-hour Amtrak trip today), or Dallas to San Marcos in less than an hour and a half (versus a seven-and-a-half-hour Amtrak trip).

What’s remarkable about the completion of these projects is not so much their scale (though at €7.8 billion and €3.4 billion, respectively, they’re hardly a drop in the bucket), nor the improvements in connectivity they’ll provide (though they’ll slash travel times in western France for millions of riders every year). What’s remarkable about them is, frankly, just how

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Revisiting Privatization in Intercity Rail

» 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

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Are Private Operations on the Northeast Corridor the Means to an End, or Just an End?

» Without a commitment of more federal funds for improvement, an initiative to transfer rights to private entities to operate trains along the Northeast Corridor would not accomplish much.

In order to take advantage of the roadways effectively, bus drivers — not to mention car drivers — do not need to take possession of said roads. Indeed, they need only to be in possession of a vehicle that can navigate along the streets and be able to pay for fuel, part of whose cost returns to cover many of the expenses required to build and maintain the roads. Many different vehicles, owned by many different people or organizations, can share the roads, usually without problems. Sometimes, there are accidents, which can be mostly avoided through proper design of the roadways, and there is sometimes congestion, which can be relieved through road fees. Fundamentally, the system works: There are vehicle owners,

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Discussing Privatization of the Northeast Corridor, but for What Aims?

» House Republicans suggest putting Amtrak’s primary line up for bids, but faith in the private sector is not enough to promote this change.

House Representative John Mica, a conservative Republican from central Florida and the Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has been berating Amtrak for years, so his announcement last week that he would promote the privatization of the Northeast Corridor comes as no surprise.

With Democrats still in control of the Senate and a Republican Party history of bringing up the issue and then promptly giving up in the 1980s and 90s — even when the GOP has controlled the Presidency or both houses of the Congress — any such plan is unlikely to move forward. Yet the question of the privatization of intercity railway operations in the United States will play a role in future debates, especially if the federal government continues to

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Making Sense of Amtrak’s Vision for the Northeast

» Delving into the national railway’s plans for growth.

Let it be known: Amtrak’s focus is on the Northeast Corridor. While Congress may require it to provide long-distance, cross-country services, the public company owns most of the rail corridor between Boston and Washington and it intends to exploit it fully… If it gathers sufficient resources to do so.

That, at least, was the message projected by Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, who spoke on his company’s future vision in Cambridge last week. And it is in line with the mission the organization has been slowly constructing since the Obama Administration entered office: Not only to upgrade the existing line, as the company has been doing since it was founded in 1971, but also to build a new parallel corridor such as the $117 billion project the agency sketched out last year, which would allow travel times of about three hours between

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The Site / The Fight

  • by Yonah Freemark
  • Twitter: @yfreemark
  • yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com
  • Le progrès ne vaut que s'il est partagé par tous.

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