Transportation Nation

UPDATED: Here's What a Revamped D.C. Union Station Would Look Like

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rendering of planned renovations for Washington, D.C.'s Union Station (Courtesy of Amtrak)

UPDATED 6:30 p.m EST (Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) A wavy roof and shimmering glass atriums would join the stately dome of Washington, D.C.’s Union Station if the new $7 billion master plan from Amtrak comes to be. The proposal would convert Washington, D.C.’s main transit terminal from an aging, over-capacity station that dates to 1907 into a modern transportation hub of high-speed rail that will double the number of trains and triple the number of passengers in gleaming, glass-encased halls.

At a press conference at Union Station Wednesday, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said the project will be completed in four phases over the next 15 to 20 years in order to minimize disruption to northeast corridor customers at the station.

The Central Concourse as viewed from the south showing waiting areas, reconstructed tracks and platforms, the first class lounge & retail. (Courtesy of Amtrak)

The massive overhaul of one of the busiest stations in the country – 100,000 passenger trips daily – is also designed to benefit the city and region through job creation, increased tax revenues, and economic development. It all looks beautiful on paper now, but it remains unclear if the plan will actually come to be.

Missing from the images of modern concourses that were put on display at the press conference were any concrete plans to finance the project.

The proposed new "train shed" as seen from H Street. (Courtesy of Amtrak)

“You got to have a vision to get anything done. If you don’t have a vision or a plan of where you are going, you are not going to get anything funded,” said Boardman, who stressed that he is confident the federal government will come through with a significant portion of the financing.

“When you build highways you can expect to get 50 to 80 percent of the funding,” Boardman said. “When you do a transit system you can expect that same kind of percentage."

Phase 1 is scheduled to start next year with improvements to existing concourses, two new tracks and platforms. Subsequent phases will involve the construction of below ground platforms, tracks and shopping space that will be naturally lit.

“Today is about the vision that will serve this country here at Union Station for the next 50 years,” said John Porcari, a deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation. “You get to that by having bite-sized segments of projects that we can fund one at a time. The federal government has been a funding partner. We believe the private sector can and will be.”

Concourse A looking northwest showing the waiting areas, skylights and mezzanine bridges. (Courtesy of Amtrak)

Amtrak’s plans to make Union Station a high-speed rail hub envision trains bolting at more than 200 miles per hour, cutting the trip from D.C. to New York City to about 90 minutes. The high speed rail would take someone from Washington to Boston in about three hours. Read our summary of the full Northeast corridor high-speed rail plan here, including renderings of the New York station upgrade plans.

Also unveiled Wednesday was a proposal by a private developer to make over the neighborhood around Union Station with three million square feet of office, residential, hotel, and parking space.


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Transportation Nation

PIC OF THE WEEK: What Amtrak High-Speed Rail Trains Will Look Like in 2040

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rendering of Amtrak's "NextGen HSR" Train

According to a vision for high-speed rail from Amtrak updated with tons of renderings and slick new images of a bullet train future, this is what American high-speed rail will look like, at least from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

Here's our summary of the plan and comparison to the previous edition. Give it a read.

And here's what the NYC station will look like.

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Transportation Nation

Digest: Amtrak Updates High-Speed Rail Vision, What's Changed

Monday, July 09, 2012

Amtrak Acela Express High-Speed Train running on existing Northeast corridor tracks in Bristol, Penn. (photo by Gary Pancavage, Amtrak)

By 2017, the fastest train in America will zip through Central New Jersey at 160 m.p.h. Upgrades to make that happen will be paid for, in part, by money returned by Florida when Gov. Rick Scott rejected that state's high-speed rail. Those and other tidbits--combined with loads of futuristic renderings--paint a hopeful vision for high-speed rail in the Northeast as laid out in a new report by Amtrak (PDF).

In two decades: New York to Philadelphia in 37 minutes. To D.C. or Boston in 94 minutes.

Amtrak released an update to a 2010 "vision" for building high-speed rail from Boston to Washington, D.C. that scales back the total cost, drops planned stations, and devotes much more attention to realistic, phased implementation. What this vision lacks in grandiosity, it makes up for in marketing savvy with flashy renderings and optimistic fiscal projections.

“It does seem to be more cognizant of the environment in which it is presented,” said Robert Puentes Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. It is "perhaps less aspirational than the 2010 version and more rational in terms of roll out and execution." The document lays out a "stepped" approach to investments, starting small with things like more Acela rail cars.

Puentes called the approach, "iterative," a strategy en vogue in design circles -- just the type who clamor for a 220 m.p.h. transit option they can tote their bike on.

Compared to the 2010 document, this report has far more images, graphics and charts, and futuristic renderings of stations along with the spaceship-like new trains. The document talks a lot more about including stakeholders in decision making. New terminology is stressed. The new trains aren't just high-speed rail rolling stock, they are "NextGen HSR" trains. The roll out of the plan isn't just rolling out, or dropping from they sky, it's a "stair-step" approach, showing how Amtrak will procure what is needed when it's needed and deliver results along the way, not just in 2040 when everything is built.

Starting small makes practical sense in selling the idea. For instance, according to Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm, adding those extra cars on Acela trains will increase seating capacity by 40 percent. That will be done by 2015. The purchases are already in the works. Early, visible results will help sell the project.

So will cutting costs.

This updated vision is just as fast (220 m.p.h.) but it's cheaper: $151 billion, down from $169 billion. “A lot of it is pushing off some of the station development," explains Kulm. "We realized that some of the items we wanted to do, we should put off for the future."

This vision integrates two previous plans by the rail agency, the Master Plan and the high-speed rail Vision. “What we’ve done with this report today is combine the two, and integrate the two, and through the process find some cost savings."

Commuter rail is integrated far more significantly, and in the process, shifts some station construction costs and decision-making to local municipalities.

Likewise, the document takes into account the unlikelihood that states along the route will spend big to speed the process. Call that the legacy of N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's killing of the ARC tunnel.

The Gateway Tunnel (ARC's replacement), however, plays a big role in this new vision. One way Amtrak expects to lift top speeds from the current 130 m.p.h (let alone average speeds!) to 220 m.p.h. is by relieving congestion of commuter and freight trains that block the way.

There will be dedicated right-of-way added north of New York City, but to the south the bulk of the liberated corridor space will be from making New Jersey Transit commuter service more efficient through the Gateway program, which adds two tunnels under the Hudson River and four tracks between Newark, N.J. and an expanded New York Penn Station that will be connected to a new Moynihan Station (see slick rendering pics here).

N.J. Senator Frank Lautenberg issued a statement praising the inclusion of the Gateway Tunnel in this report, saying: "Amtrak will continue to have my full support as we move forward to revolutionize passenger rail travel in the Northeast." Amtrak funding reauthorization is looming in Congress and Lautenberg will be writing the legislation in the Senate. Expect generous funding proposals for infrastructure upgrades.

Amtrak's fiscal projections are more optimistic than in 2010, but it's not clear what formula was used to develop the new numbers. Amtrak has had record ridership in recent years, so that bodes well for a bolstered bottom line for future service.

All of it is aspirational anyway. There isn't a $151 billion pot of money to make this happen. The document is an argument for why there should be and it is a detailed plan for how it could come to be -- a transportation straw horse for political times hostile to megaprojects. But this is the megaproject of megaprojects -- with a mega reason to be completed according to Kulm, "This region is the economic powerhouse of the country, it’s where the political capital is, the financial capital is… we can’t afford to come to  standstill," he said.

"The transportation network, roads, air, even the rails, are operating at or near capacity," he said. "Simply building and rebuilding what is there today is not going to be enough." Speed on the tracks means more people moving each day, each hour. So, he argues, the solution is: go faster.

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PICS: Renderings of Amtrak's Future NYC Moynihan Station

Monday, July 09, 2012

Amtrak released an updated "vision" report for the Northeast corridor high-speed rail plan on Monday. Compared to the last vision report in 2010, capital cost projections are lower, ridership projections are higher and the highlight remains fast travel times: by 2040 2030, you'll be able to go from NYC to Philadelphia in 37 minutes and to Washington, D.C. in 94 minutes. We'll have more on all that soon, including why the cost projections changed (hint: it has to do with more rail ridership).

In the meantime, here's what the eventual NYC Amtrak hub, Moynihan Station, will look like.

From the report:

"The new Moynihan intercity passenger rail station will extend the present terminal across 8th Avenue into the historic Farley Post Office Building to create a new signature station in New York. The Moyhnihan/Penn Station complex will create a consolidated Amtrak operation on Manhattan's west side and the high level of service and connectivity required for NextGen HSR."


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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Says Railroads Need To Work Together To Overcome Maxed-Out Hudson River Crossings

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Amtrak concourse at Penn Station in New York. (Scott Beale / flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota told a conference of transportation professionals that the only hope for moving more people under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey is for the area’s commuter railroads to set aside their traditional enmity and work better together.

His remarks came after a presentation showing rapid growth in New Jersey’s commuter population has maxed out rush hour crossings — both transit and vehicular — and that relief in the form of a proposed Gateway Rail Tunnel won’t arrive until 2025. If it arrives.

Which raised the question: what to do in the meantime?

Lhota tossed out three ideas, each aimed at boosting capacity at Penn Station in Manhattan, the hemisphere’s busiest railroad station and a terminal for New Jersey Transit trains.

He said the station’s 21 platforms should all be made to accommodate 10-car trains, which would mean lengthening some of them. He also said that the railroads using the station—Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road—should do a better job of sharing platform and tunnel space.

Each railroad currently controls a third of the platforms, which sometimes leads to one railroad having too many trains and not enough platforms at the same time another railroad has empty platforms. The railroads also vie with each other for access to tunnels during peak periods. Lhota said capacity would be boosted if dispatchers in the station’s control room could send any train to any platform, and through any tunnel, as they saw fit.

Lhota’s third suggestion was the most ambitious. He said the three railroads—plus the MTA’s Metro-North line, which connects Manhattan to Connecticut and several downstate New York counties—should use each other’s tracks. In other words, trains should flow throughout the region in a way that sends them beyond their historic territory. For example, a train from Long Island could arrive in Penn Station and, instead of sitting idly until its scheduled return trip, move on to New Jersey. That way, trains would spend less time tying up platforms, boosting the station’s capacity.

The practice is called “through-running.” It happens already when NJ Transit trains carry football fans on game day from New Haven, Connecticut, through Penn Station to Secaucus, where passengers transfer to a shuttle that takes them to MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

Lhota says more trains crossing borders would make for a truly regional and efficient system. But first the railroads must cooperate. "Right now, we're as Balkanized as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “We need to find a way to coordinate that."

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said running the football train is complicated but shows that cooperation is possible. “Doing just this experiment required agreements among four railroads to coordinate schedules, crews, track, ticketing, revenue and some minor hardware issues,” he said. “So expanding it to full-fledged through-running will take much more.”

Lisberg said the four railroads are conducting a $1.5 million study to look at improving Penn Station’s capacity. “The study is trying to quantify the benefits and the costs of through-running,” he said. One of those costs would be overcoming the railroads’ disparate technologies: Amtrak, Metro-North and NJ Transit use overhead catenary power, while Long Island Rail Road is powered by a third rail.

In an email, Lisberg further weighted the costs and benefits of through-putting. He said a big advantage would be that trains wouldn’t have to stop and turn around in Penn Station, “or use precious tunnel slots to move empty trains into storage yards.”

And he said the existing tracks and platforms under the station “could be reorganized into simple eastbound and westbound tracks and platforms, regardless of which railroad uses them.” Then he added a caveat: “However, it would require lots of capital investment and changes to existing procedures – and we want to know it can be done without affecting on-time performance.”

The Regional Plan Association, which held the conference at which Lhota spoke, and other advocacy groups have expressed support for through-running—at least until Gateway Tunnel gets built. If it gets built.


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As in the 1800s, Bikes and Trains Could Boom Together in Florida

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DeLand, Florida (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

In central Florida the car rules. A network of wide highways link sprawling cities.

But now two machines which saw their heyday in Florida more than a century ago  are making a comeback: the train and the bike.

With the arrival of the SunRail commuter train in 2014 some cities are looking to bicycles as a way to get passengers to their final destination.

In Winter Park -- built in the late 1800s -- the city's sustainability coordinator Tim Maslow is thinking about how to incorporate cycling into the transportation mix. Maslow says the new SunRail and Amtrak train station could be a starting point for bike sharing.

Winter Park's train station will be demolished and rebuilt (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“We see having a station here with maybe ten bikes at first to see how it goes," says Maslow. "You could go up to 20 bikes per station with some of the companies we’ve been looking at.”

One company talking with Winter Park is the Wisconsin based B-cycle, which is backed by the bike manufacturer Trek. In Denver, the company has some 50 bike share stations where users can rent their bikes, and B-cycle says the system works well with the city's light rail line. Train passengers use the bikes to go the last leg of their journey after getting off the train.

Bike sharing already has a foothold in South Florida, where Broward County has started a system. Sales manager Lee Jones went for a ride around Orlando on a recent visit. He says bike share stations around SunRail may have to be positioned to avoid the busiest roads.

“I did find some of the very wide streets, basically three lanes across, it was almost like being on the interstate," he says.

Early map of Winter Park

Some cities along the rail line are ideally situated for this back to the future approach to getting around.

Tim Maslow, from Winter Park, points out his city was designed so passengers could easily walk to and from the train station.

“That was before the automobile was so prevalent in everyone’s lives, so when they came down to the train station they actually had to go to different locations that were no longer than a 15-20 minute walk, because in Florida no one would walk that far,” says Maslow.

A return to cycling as a primary means of transportation may seem a bit old fashioned. But when the bicycle first appeared in America, it was high tech. In the 1969 Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman's Cassidy shows off a bicycle with the words: "meet the future."

The movie was set in the late 1800s, when the real-life Cassidy and the Kid were robbing trains in the American West.

In Florida at that time, rail barons were laying a network of tracks across the state, and the whole country was gripped by a cycling craze.

"It was huge in this country, huge," says Tim Bustos, the executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association.

"Next to the railroad, bicycling was like the most powerful transportation lobby out there. [Bicycles] were expensive, so it was mostly well to do and influential people that could afford them.”

And in the late 1800s, well-to-do people were taking the train to cities like Winter Park to spend their winter vacations.

Winter Park’s not the only place where rail and cycling could make a comeback.

Tim Bustos, Florida Bicycle Association

The Florida Bicycle association’s headquartered in Deland, and Tim Bustos dreams of making the city a hub for cycling in the state.

He says SunRail’s completion in 2016 could help, by giving riders better access to a network of cycling trails. Bike share could also be part of the mix.

“People that would have rented a car five years ago, are now using bike shares," he says.

"It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s more enjoyable.”

Some DeLand cyclists have reservations- they say a safe route first has to be found from the train station to the city’s downtown, five miles away.

“We’re researching routes that could be bike friendly," says Ted Beyler, who owns the Deland Cyclery, one of two bicycle shops in Deland.  Beyler’s on a chamber of commerce committee looking into the problem, and he says if that can be worked out, bike sharing could take off.

"That’s the major hindrance that I see is the proximity of the station to downtown Deland," says Beyler.

However, central Florida bicycle advocates agree that SunRail’s arrival brings with it a chance to begin a new chapter in the shared history of cycling and rail.

DeLand Cyclery (photo by Matthew Peddie)


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Crowds Flock to NY's Penn Station for Memorial Day Weekend Travel

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Alex Goldmark has been out and about this morning, and reports big crowds are at New York's Penn Station, trying to beat the road traffic.

Photo: Alex Goldmark

Melanie Miller of New York is heading to Washington D-C to visit her mother. She chose Amtrak because 10 years ago she made a promise to herself never to drive on Memorial Day Weekend again.  "I've sat in traffic and I also don't think it's good for the environment. So I'll take the train. I'll do something else. Or I'll stay home, but I won't drive."

Amtrak says it's had heavy bookings this weekend, and that some trains on the NY-Boston route are sold out.

Photo: Alex Goldmark/Transportation Nation

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Trans-Hudson Tunnel Awarded Another $20 Million -- If Congress Okays It

Thursday, April 19, 2012

(photo courtesy of Senator Lautenberg)

A new trans-Hudson tunnel got a $20 million vote of confidence Thursday -- but it remains to be seen whether it will win approval in political environment riven by dissent over transportation funding.

The Gateway tunnel project-- deemed "absolutely critical" by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a hearing last month -- was proposed last year as an alternative to the ARC tunnel, a similar project cancelled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010.

According to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who 's trying to bring a new rail tunnel to fruition, Gateway is expected to increase Amtrak and NJ Transit's capacity into New York by 65 percent.

Both New Jersey senators have thrown their support behind the project. “The Gateway Tunnel is critical to addressing our state's transportation crisis,” said Lautenberg in an emailed statement. Senator Robert Menendez, also quoted in the email, added: “We are at capacity on all Hudson River crossings, so the Gateway Project is simply essential to New Jersey’s economic growth and for our commuters."

Lautenberg is smarting over the ARC tunnel. At a Senate hearing yesterday, he testily asked a Port Authority executive: "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?"

If the $20 million wins full Senate approval, Amtrak will have a total of $35 million to begin design and engineering work on Gateway. In November 2011, the Senate approved $15 million for the project. Amtrak had initially requested $50 million for a design and engineering study.



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New Amtrak Line for Northeast Texas?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Amtrak train in Fort Worth (photo by StevenM_61 via flickr)

(Houston, TX -- KUHF)   Texas transportation officials are studying the viability of a new Amtrak line in northeast Texas. The 200-mile route would follow the I-20 corridor between Dallas-Fort Worth and Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana -- a popular gambling destination.

Three Amtrak lines currently serve Texas. There's the Sunset Limited, which passes through Houston and San Antonio as it travels between New Orleans and Los Angeles. The Heartland Flyer has daily service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.  The Texas Eagle takes a jagged route through northeast Texas on its way between Chicago and San Antonio.

TxDOT Rail Division Director Bill Glavin says they're looking at passenger rail as a way to provide better connectivity between Shreveport's airport and the big international airport located between Dallas and Fort Worth. The train would make up to seven stops on two daily round-trips. The Texas Eagle's current route passes through Marshall, Texas, west of the state line, and  Glavin says they'll examine whether to extend that line into Louisiana or build a new route.

TxDOT is using $265,000 in federal funds to do the study.  Glavin says they'll look at the costs associated with setting up the new route.  The train would operate on existing rights-of-way and would share routes with freight trains, and Glavin says they may have to construct additional sidetracks.  They'll also study projected ridership. Since the train would be a short-distance route as defined by Amtrak, Glavin says the route would be state-supported. That means filling the gap between revenue and operating costs.

The study does not include the cost of building rail stations.  TxDOT says that would be the responsibility of local governments.

Funds for the study were secured by the East Texas Corridor Council.  Amtrak says any new route would have to be approved by state legislatures in both Texas and Louisiana.  Officials in the Shreveport-Bossier City area have expressed support for the route, saying it would help bring in visitors to the area's attractions, including its popular casinos.  Shreveport hasn't had passenger rail service since 1969.

This isn't the only proposed passenger line TxDOT is currently studying.  The agency is working on a $15 million, multi-year study of a possible high-speed route between Houston and Dallas.  They're also looking at Amtrak routes between Houston and Austin, and Oklahoma City and south Texas.

TxDOT says it hopes to complete the Dallas-to-Shreveport study by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

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TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill Differences Heat Up, Gridlock Reigns Over NYC Skies, LeBron James Bikes To Work

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top stories on TN: a California lawmaker wants to put high-speed rail back on that state's ballot. For the first time ever, NYC gets a subway map that actually shows what trains are running late at night when three lines shut down. And: Why do some cities get car share while others don't?

(photo by Theo La Photo via flickr)

Amtrak funding, ANWR drilling, and the Keystone XL pipeline are shaping up to be the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bills. (Politico)

And: the House Republican version would spend about $260 billion over the next four and a half years -- and substantially increase the size of trucks permitted on highways. (AP)

NJ Governor Chris Christie defended recommending 50 people — including dozens with ties to his administration — for Port Authority jobs. (The Record)

Gridlock reigns in the skies over New York City. (USA Today)

Sam LaHood -- son of U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood -- is being sheltered in the U.S. embassy in Cairo after Egypt barred him from leaving the country. (Los Angeles Times)

The auto industry is taking a second look at diesel engines. (NPR)

A recent New York law designed to speed infrastructure projects will be put to the test on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Bloomberg/BusinessWeek)

A 2010 federal audit of Atlanta's transit system raised safety concerns that included the death of a passenger, faulty third rail indicator lights, and a near miss between a train and a work vehicle in a rail yard. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The NYC intersection where a 12-year-old was recently struck and killed by a minivan has a shorter crossing time than 20 major intersections across the city. (DNA Info)

Why are Chinatown buses so popular? Riders liken it more to an "attractive cultural experience than to an objective travel choice." (Atlantic Cities)

A NY State Senator -- who has made the city's rodent problem one of his biggest issues -- wants to ban eating on subways. (WABC)

Olympic organizers want Londoners to change their travel patterns during the games to ease the strain on public transit. One recommendation: stop and have a beer on your way home from work. (Washington Post)

A program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Colorado's Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck. (The Republic)

LeBron James: basketball player, bike commuter. '"You guys drove here?" James said to reporters after the game. "You guys are crazy."' (Wall Street Journal)

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Amtrak: In 2012, We Want eTickets, Electric Locomotives, and Speedier Trains

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

(Photo: Amtrak Locomotive (cc) by Flickr User Slideshow Bruce)

Amtrak will begin the groundwork for faster trains in New Jersey, building electric locomotives, and extending electronic ticketing to all trains in 2012.

The rail company released a list of  major projects (pdf) it hopes to begin, continue, or complete in 2012.

Amtrak also will roll out an e-ticketing system this year that will allow passengers to receive tickets via email, and then display them on their smartphones in the form of barcodes -- which conductors can then scan.  The rail provider said it would also continue to work on modernizing its 30-year-old reservation system.

Many of the new projects  focus on the Northeast -- the most heavily-traveled rail corridor in the country -- and also the region that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee head John Mica says represents the best hope for high-speed rail.

In New York, Amtrak will be moving forward on a study for the Gateway Tunnel -- a replacement option for the now-canceled ARC trans-Hudson tunnel. Amtrak had initially requested $50 million for the study but was granted $15 million by the Senate.

Amtrak will also begin working on upgrading a portion of track in New Jersey to allow trains to travel at 160 miles per hour (a 25-mph increase over current speeds), and will continue upgrading track switches at the western entrance to New York's Penn Station to minimize congestion.

The first of 70 new electric locomotives will also be built in 2012, and will be put into operation on both the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington) and the Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia to Harrisburg.) In the spring of 2012, Amtrak says it will release a plan on how it will meet the forecasted growth in ridership nationwide.

Amtrak set an all-time ridership record of over 30 million passengers for FY 2011 -- the eighth ridership record in the last nine years. Congress cut its funding to $1.42 billion for FY2012, or $64 million less than Amtrak received in FY 2011.

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TN MOVING STORIES: GM Reinforces Volt Battery, Queens Convention Center Builder Wants Swift Subway Link, Buenos Aires Doubles Subway Fares

Friday, January 06, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Getting Around the Bay in 2012 Just Got Harder and More Expensive (Link)
Now He Can Say It: Walder Calls NY’s Infrastructure “Terrible” (Link)
Filling in the Blanks Of New York’s Infrastructure Plan (Link)

Buenos Aires subway (photo by posterboy2007 via Flickr)

GM is reinforcing the Volt battery with extra steel. (Detroit Free Press)

The company behind a proposal to build a new convention center in Queens said it will work with New York's MTA to fund uninterrupted subway service between Midtown Manhattan and the proposed convention center. (Wall Street Journal)

Buenos Aires is doubling subway fares after Argentina handed control of the system to the city--and decreased subsidies. (Bloomberg News via San Francisco Chronicle)

The feds have given final approval for a $1.7 billion transit line along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. (AP via Sacramento Bee)

Freakonomics quorum: can Amtrak ever be profitable? Discuss. (Link)

RadioBoston kicks around solutions to prevent Boston's transit service from being slashed. Two words: congestion pricing. Other ideas: quasi-privatization, automatizing trains, and implementing zone fares. Read the comments section for even more. (WBUR)

NY Senator Charles Schumer wants the commuter tax credit back. (Staten Island Advance)

Yet another rescuer tries to save Seattle's historic Kalakala ferry. But: "It may have looked cool, but it was hard to maneuver and kept running into things." (NPR)

Ron Paul video from 2009: "By subsidizing highways and destroying mass transit, we ended up with this monstrosity."(Streetsblog)

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Transportation Nation

Romney: I'd Stop Funding Amtrak, and Have Big Bird With Ads

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Mitt Romney Addressing Iowa Voters (photo: Romney campaign)

In his final rally before caucus day, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took time to say he'd cut Amtrak.

"Amtrak ought to stand on its own feet or its own wheels or whatever you'd say," Romney told a raucous crowd of several hundred at the Competitive Edge warehouse in Clive, Iowa, on Monday night.

This final speech is part of what's called a candidate's "closing arguments" to voters.

"I've got to balance the budget.  I gotta cut spending," said Romney, sounding about as folksy and riled up as he's ever been, as he heads to the caucuses in what looks like a no-lose situation:  he either wins, or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul wins, which mean Romney wins, because neither Paul or Santorum is expected to do well beyond Iowa.

Amtrak has had its highest ridership ever, but at the same time, it's been a favorite political punching bag for Republicans. (Though House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica recently had a change of heart, sort of.)  The federal government's annual subsidy is about $1.4 billion. The federal budget is about $3.5 trillion.

"I like the fact that my grand kids can watch Big Bird on TV," Romney added. "I think that’s wonderful, but because they don’t have advertising the government has to put in a check and I don’t think that’s right. So we’re going to have Big Bird with advertising probably because I don’t want to borrow money from China!"

(Special thanks to Anna Sale of for sending us the tape)

Listen to the relevant portion of his speech below.

Here's a transcript:

Now I’ve also got the balance the budget, I gotta cut spending, I gotta cap federal spending and then I’ve got to balance the budget now how do you go about doing that? let me tell you how I do that (unintelligible interjection)…My view is this: what you do to get our budget in line is you say this: you take all of the programs the federal government has and you say which of these programs is so critical that we gotta have it? And those things we keep but those programs that don’t pass the following test we got to get rid of.

And this is my test: is this program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from china to pay for it?

Yells NO

And on that basis we’re going to get rid of some programs, even some we like.

Now the easy ones we can get rid of, like  this one, this one I’ll get rid of on day one

Let’s get rid of Obama care, I’ll get rid of that right away.


And there are some other things, look Amtrak ought to stand on its own feet or its own wheels or whatever you’d say. And I like the National Endowment for the Arts. And the National Endowment for the Humanities,  but I’m not willing to borrow money from China to pay for it.

I like the fact that my grandkids can watch Big Bird on TV.  I think that’s wonderful, but because they don’t have advertising the government has to put in a check and I don’t think that’s right. So we’re going to have Big Bird with advertising probably because I don’t want to borrow money from China!



You guys, I just don’t think it’s moral for us as a nation to borrow money knowing that my generation will never pay it pack, and the next generation will have to pay those burdens.  It’s wrong.  We have to live within our means, and finally get America on track to a balanced budget and I will do it!




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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: MegaBus Wants Feds to Restrict BoltBus, Fracking Moves to Suburbs

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top stories from TN:
Stranded A Train Passengers Sue New York MTA (Link)
YEAR IN REVIEW FLORIDA: 2011 Rides Rails Out of the Sunshine State (Link)

Image from New Jersey red light traffic camera

Unfinished subdivisions in Arizona have led urban planners to suggest "smart decline" strategies that sometimes even dismantle existing infrastructure. (NPR)

Hydrfracking moves to the suburbs. (Marketplace)

Friends don't let friends walk drunk, because "every mile walked drunk, turns out to be eight times more dangerous than the mile driven drunk."(Freakonomics)

California's plans to use Amtrak as a fallback for high-speed rail are coming under fire -- from Amtrak. (Los Angeles Times)

Megabus wants the feds to restrict--or break up--rival BoltBus. (Bloomberg via Crain's New York)

A red-light traffic camera manufacturer made a video of New Jersey intersection crashes and near-misses. (Star-Ledger; video)

Tweet of the day, from the Detroit News's David Shepardson: Ad in @BostonGlobe: Boston-area Saab dealer offering new Saab with $17,000 discount off MSRP

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Public Transit Tax Benefit Cut, New Trucking Rules, & NYC's Taxi of Tomorrow Threatened by Livery Bill Of Today

Friday, December 23, 2011

Top stories on TN:
FAA Clears Santa’s Flight Path (Link)
DC Dangles Cash to Fight Congestion (Link)
Just How Good Are the TSA’s Body Scanners? (Link)
Tips for Infrequent Flyers: Leave the Olives at Home, and Junior’s Shoes On (Link)
Despite a Year of High-Profile Crashes, Inter City Bus Use Soars (Link)

(photo by Kate Hinds)

Commute by public transit? Your tax benefit is being reduced. Drive? You're getting a parking benefit increase. (Chicago Tribune)

Volkswagen's will limit employees' access to work email in an attempt to give them a break during non-work hours. (Marketplace)

An oil spill near the coast of Nigeria is likely the worst to hit those waters in a decade. (AP via NPR)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's requirement that NYC's entire taxi and livery fleet eventually become wheelchair-accessible is a stinging rejection of the mayor's non-accessible Taxi of Tomorrow. (Crain's New York Business)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he won't back a proposal to prohibit drivers from talking on cellphones -- giving a boost to car makers and mobile-phone companies that stand to lose if regulators impose a ban. (Wall Street Journal; subscription)

President Barack Obama’s administration maintained an 11-hour limit on truck drivers’ hours today, scaling back a proposal to give them more rest... (Bloomberg)

...But some rules for drivers have changed. Learn more about the new regulations in Politico MT.

Can Amtrak afford to leave Penn Station for its new home in Moynihan Station? (Atlantic Cities)

Take a peek inside lower Manhattan's Fulton Transit Center, which is scheduled to open in 2014. (DNAInfo)

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Transportation Nation

Mitt Romney: Metro-Friendly Moderate?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on December 6, 2011 in Paradise Valley, AZ. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Pop quiz: What national political figure, as one of his first acts as chief executive, created a new agency tasked with coordinating housing, transportation, and energy policy in the pursuit of “smart-growth” development? Hint: in his four years as leader, this politician championed a fix-it-first infrastructure strategy and awarded taxpayer-funded grants to communities dedicated to sustainability, insisting that, “by targeting development to areas where there is already infrastructure in place, not only can we revitalize our older communities, but we can also curb sprawl as well.”

If you said President Barack Obama, that’s understandable—Obama also believes in fixing existing infrastructure and curbing sprawl, and he also created an agency to bring together housing, transportation, and energy policy—but that's not who we're describing.

The sprawl curber in question was, in fact, one of the the president’s potential challengers, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. In 2003, shortly after taking office, Romney created a state Office of Commonwealth Development, which—like Obama’s Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities—broke down the silos separating livability issues and made policy out of smart-growth ideas.

The OCD’s criteria (PDF) for public grants read like a new urbanist handbook. Successful projects should “provide transportation choice,” by being “walkable to public transportation,” the guide said. A good plan “reduces dependence on automobiles by providing increased pedestrian and bicycle access.”

But those were the ideas championed by the governor of a fairly liberal northeastern state, not those of a presidential hopeful vying for the nomination of an increasingly conservative party. Recently, Romney has been reminding debate audiences, opponents, and interviewers almost constantly that he doesn’t believe that what was good for Massachusetts is necessarily a prescription for the nation. He’s proud of his record, he says, but his emphasis has changed.

For one, he’s become an energy hawk, calling for the immediate approval of the Keystone oil pipeline. “Oil is obviously one of our most crucial energy resources and the single most important fuel for our transportation needs,” says his online campaign platform (PDF), which calls for increased domestic oil production and an amendment to the Clean Air Act to exclude the regulation of carbon.

This is the same Mitt Romney who in the spring of 2004 unveiled Massachusetts' first Climate Protection Plan (PDF), saying: “The same policies that protect the climate also promote energy efficiency, smart business practices, and improve the environment in which our citizens live and work. For Massachusetts, promoting climate protection in the Commonwealth and throughout our nation also promotes Massachusetts businesses that are at the forefront of the new markets for renewable energy technologies.”

Romney has made the creation of jobs a central pillar of his campaign, but he’s keen to trim the federal payroll—in the transportation sector, among others. In late September Romney opined in the New Hampshire Union Leader (a paper that went on to endorse Newt Gingrich) that “Amtrak is a classic example” of the many “functions that the private sector can perform better than the public sector.”

This conviction may come in part from a transition he witnessed as Governor. Just before Romney took office, Amtrak declined to bid to renew its operations of Boston’s commuter rail system, and a newly formed consortium, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, took over the nation’s fifth-largest regional rail network in the summer of 2003.

But the deal hardly serves as a success story for privatization. Mass Bay, as it is known, is paid more than $250 million a year to manage the railroad, and the company came under harsh scrutiny recently when it came to light that the MBTA, the public transportation authority that funds that contract, waived millions of dollars in penalties the private company was supposed to have paid for slow service. Despite Mass Bay’s performance issues, the consortium’s contract was extended for two years in January.

Romney played no role in awarding or extending the Mass Bay contract, and he made no moves to privatize city trains and buses operated by the MBTA. Instead, when the T showed signs of fiscal trouble in 2003, Romney signed a law to allow fare hikes. "It was just a slap in the face," Democratic State Representative Gloria L. Fox told the Boston Globe. "It just goes to show that the poor pay more." But Romney stopped short of advocating increases in ticket prices. He ordered an audit of the T’s finances, and suggested strongly that they look for ways to increase ridership and improve service before asking riders to pay more.

Governor Romney took a similarly business-like approach to the state’s highways. In 2004, he signed a reform bill to streamline and consolidate the operations of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the state Highway Department. The move was philosophically similar to recent proposals, by both parties in Washington, to simplify project selection and funding mechanisms in federal transportation.

All in all, Romney remained a metro-friendly moderate during his tenure as Governor. In 2005, mid-term, he unveiled a twenty-year, $31-billion state transportation plan that re-emphasized his “fix-it-first” convictions, directing “seventy-five percent of all new capital spending toward maintaining and improving the Commonwealth’s existing transportation network.” Hailing the “post-Big-Dig world,” Romney’s plan was modally balanced. Twelve billion went to “reconstructing, decongesting and expanding roadways across the Commonwealth, including all major choke points,” while nine billion went to “achieving a state of good repair on the MBTA’s aging assets.”

Will Romney’s smart-growth past be thrown back at him as “right-wing social engineering”? Will his ruminations about a private Amtrak take firmer root? Will he continue his anti-Federal tack and declare transportation the prerogative of the states? It’s hard to know. Perhaps it won’t come up much in the primaries—it hasn’t so far.

But some are betting that Mitt’s a transportation man, deep down. According to an analysis of campaign contributions from the transportation sector this cycle, Romney comes in second among politicians nationwide (including the President), with $485,626 as of press time. The leader, Texas Governor Rick Perry, tops Romney by less than $5,000, and the two are way out in front. House Speaker John Boehner, in third place, has raised less than half the haul of either man.

More candidate analysis: Newt Gingrich: Rail Visionary, Lover of OilRick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor Problem.

(Special hat tip to blogger Mike Laub whose obsessive catalog of old Romney press releases provided a wealth of information.)

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.


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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NYC Officials Worried About Fracking, Amtrak Sets Thanksgiving Ridership Record

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Top stories on TN:

NYC On Track to Have Lowest Traffic Fatalities in a Century (Link)
Extreme Weather Events in 2011 Costing Federal Highway Officials Hundreds of Millions (Link)
Cuomo: Private Pension Funds Could Invest in Tappan Zee Bridge (Link)
New Jersey Adds GPS to Snowplows (Link)

(Photo: (cc) Flickr user JPMueller99)

Now House transpo leaders are now saying that a drilling-for-infrastructure bill won't make it to the floor until next year. (Politico MT)

Los Angeles is adding 95 new buses to its fleet that run on compressed natural gas and provide commuters with adjustable seats and climate control. (Los Angeles Times)

New York City officials say upstate fracking could damage the tunnels that channel millions of gallons of water to city taps every day. (WNYC)

The House turned away all four Democratic amendments to a bill aimed at overriding a National Labor Relations Board rule that would allow for faster union elections. (The Hill)

The federal government says it's making changes to prevent lengthy tarmac delays, especially around the holiday travel season. (Washington Post)

Amtrak set a Thanksgiving ridership record. (Washington Post)

Can higher fares save public transit? (Atlantic Cities)

The U.S. is set to become a net fuel exporter for the first time in 62 years. (The Takeaway)

NYC officials want to sell ad space on the back of taxi receipts. (NY Post)

The New York MTA quickly restored a depressing poem to its original condition in the Times Square subway station after a Bronx student papered over it to make it peppier. (New York Times)

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Transportation Nation

Congressman John Mica: Northeast Corridor Must Be the High-Speed Rail Priority, and Amtrak Can Keep It

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

NY State Senator Malcolm Smith and U.S. Congress members Carolyn Maloney, John Mica and Jerry Nadler, speaking Tuesday at a U.S. High Speed Rail Association meeting (photo by Kate Hinds)

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Tuesday that nation's best shot at a viable high-speed rail line is in the Boston-to-Washington corridor -- and Amtrak can be a "full participant."

"Any further money for high-speed rail needs to solely come to the Northeast Corridor," said Congressman John Mica (R-FL), who promised to direct any rejected high-speed rail money to it.

Speaking at the U.S. High Speed Rail Association conference in Manhattan -- and joined by two Democratic members of New York's Congressional delegation -- Mica said that while it was fine to develop high-speed rail elsewhere, the focus needs to be here.

"While I want to give California every chance and opportunity to be successful," said Mica, "I think we have to redirect our efforts to having at least one success in high-speed rail in the nation. And that high-speed rail success needs to be here in the Northeast Corridor."

He added: "If even one more penny gets sent back to Washington from any high-speed rail needs to come back here."

Several states have already rejected funding for high-speed rail -- including Mica's own, which sent back $2.4 billion to the federal government earlier this year. And last week California released projections saying its bullet train program would cost almost $100 billion --  far above earlier estimates -- raising doubts about that project's viability.

Mica also said Tuesday that he will also hold a hearing in December on the status of high-speed rail and review the programs already in place.

But the big news was the change in Mica's attitude towards Amtrak -- and his reversal of his earlier position on privatizing the Northeast Corridor. "I'm willing to have Amtrak be a full participant in this process," he said Tuesday. "If there wasn't an Amtrak...we'd create an Amtrak."  Later in his talk he reiterated: "we can continue again having Amtrak be a partner in this, no one wants to push them overboard."

That's what Mica wanted to do several months ago, when he introduced legislation that aimed to take the Northeast Corridor away from Amtrak, deed it to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and privatize the development of high-speed rail. He said Tuesday he knew that proposal had been "controversial."

In a press conference afterward, he was asked why he had a change of heart. "We did put a proposal out there that we knew would be tough for them to accept," he said, referring his June legislation, "but that's what you do sometimes in the legislative process to get them to the point where they're willing to work with you to make something happen."

Mica has criticized Amtrak's 30-year timetable for building high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor as too slow. He thinks it can be done in ten to fifteen years.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said "there is widespread agreement that some sort of private capital can be brought into this, but I think -- I hope -- we have agreement that Amtrak has to be the main vehicle for it."


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Transportation Nation

Senate Approves $15 Million For Trans-Hudson Rail Project, Future Uncertain

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

(image courtesy of Senator Lautenberg)

In the wake of the ARC tunnel's cancellation last year, there have been different proposals for increasing trans-Hudson rail capacity. Like extending the #7 subway to Secaucus, which has recently captured the attention of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Now, another trans-Hudson alternative --the Gateway Tunnel -- won a small victory on Tuesday when the Senate approved $15 million for Amtrak to begin design and engineering work.

Like ARC, Gateway would dig two rail tunnels underneath the Hudson River from New Jersey, terminating just south of Penn Station. And, like ARC, the Gateway project aims to alleviate the biggest rail bottleneck in the Northeast -- trans-Hudson capacity in and out of Penn Station.

Amtrak had initially wanted $50 million for the study, but the corporation put a brave face on receiving $35 million less then it requested. "Today’s announcement also brings us one step closer to Gateway’s desired goal -- expanding track and station capacity necessary to enable Amtrak’s next generation high-speed rail plan and support improved service for thousands of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passengers traveling between New York and New Jersey each day.”

But just how much closer it really brings that to fruition is unclear. Although the Senate has approved the $15 million funding, the bill must now be reconciled in an Amtrak-unfriendly House. And no one can even hazard a guess as to how the total cost of the $13.5 billion project might be funded.

But Gateway is the reality that New York and New Jersey have, and the fact that the Senate has approved funding puts it that much further along than the #7 to Secaucus. And Gateway does something the # 7 doesn't: it lays the groundwork for bullet trains in the northeast.

Petra Todorovich, the director of America 2050, said: "The way I see it is the ARC tunnel was primarily... regional commuter rail with side benefits for inter-city rail.  The Gateway tunnel is more of a project focused on inter-city rail with side benefits for commuter rail."

But while Todorovich viewed the $15 million as a positive step, she said: "Now we’re back to studying the options for relieving capacity constraints under the Hudson River."

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who championed ARC and is now a Gateway booster, said: “This funding will allow Amtrak to begin moving the Gateway Tunnel project forward to create jobs, increase access to commuter trains, and bring America’s first real high-speed rail project to New Jersey and the Northeast Corridor.”

His colleague, Senator Robert Menendez, added: "People crossing the Hudson River are facing outrageous tolls, traffic jams, and train service that is getting less and less reliable. The Gateway Project will add enormous capacity across the Hudson and also pave the way for true high speed rail for the entire region. This will create jobs now and unlock enormous economic opportunity in the future.”

New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand also emailed statements of support for the project.

Juliette Michaelson, director of strategic initiatives at the Regional Plan Association, said she was sorry to see the ARC Tunnel go. "There’s a very clear need for more transit service between New Jersey and New York. ARC was one way to do it, it wasn’t perfect, but it had the funding, it had all the environmental approvals, it was underway... Now that it's gone, there are any number of proposals on the table."  Not just the Gateway project and the #7 subway, but also options like building a new bus garage at the Port Authority, extending the L train, and adding ferry service. But, she said, "all of this will take a long time to shake out. And we've got to do it right."



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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NYC Mayor Backing #7 Subway to Secaucus Plan, BP Profits Triple, BRT to Michigan?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Mitt Romney is making President Obama's support for two high-end green car companies a campaign issue. (Link)

The first Mexican truck has crossed the US border. (Link)

Formula 1 racing is coming to NJ. (Link)

Waiting for a bus on Staten Island (photo by johnpignata via Flickr)

But: is NY making its own "ARC mistake" by killing transit on the bridge? (Second Avenue Sagas)

And: the lack of transit drew criticism at a Tappan Zee public comment session. (Journal News)

Real-time bus arrival information will come to Staten Island by the end of the year. (Staten Island Advance)

A Maryland panel recommended a gas tax hike, fare increases and an end to transit raids to fund state transportation projects. (Baltimore Sun)

The NY Post reports that Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be announcing plans to move forward on extending the No. 7 subway to New Jersey.

The Port Authority will raise the Bayonne Bridge by 2016. (

Michigan's governor wants to jump start a regional transit system in Detroit with bus rapid transit. (Detroit Free Press)

NYC taxi update: the city will crackdown on the $350 no-honking-except-in-an-emergency rule (WNYC).  And the Taxi and Limousine Commission is surveying passengers about their cab rides (NY Daily News).

Boeing's Dreamliner made its maiden voyage after a three-year delay. (Guardian)

18 months after the massive oil spill in the Gulf, BP stages a comeback: company profits have tripled. (Marketplace)

Reporters complain about the Acela, continue to ride it. (Politico)

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