Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Reality of Rail

We've found out that by increasing congestion we increase emissions. As a result, bike paths and light rail systems will actually contribute to global warmi . . . I mean climate change. You know . . . seasons.

But there's another aspect to rail systems, like the KRM, that isn't talked about very much. There's no question flying is a hassle. It seems, at times for short trips, one would be much better off driving than bothering with flying. But, if flying is a bit of a drag, trains suck. They suck out loud.

BOSTON (Reuters) - Looking up at a list of delayed trains at Boston's crowded South Station on a summer afternoon, Peter Pesis asks why passenger trains in the United States are so slow, so crowded and so prone to delays.

"This is not like Europe," sighed the 38-year-old Greek native who has lived in New York 15 years and often rides the nation's only high-speed train, Amtrak's Acela Express, between midtown Manhattan and Boston.

Rising costs of traveling by air and car, brought on by record oil prices, drew a record 2.8 million people onto America's cash-strapped passenger railway network in July, the largest of any single month in Amtrak's 37-year history and up nearly 14 percent from a year earlier.

But as passenger numbers grow, so too are complaints of overcrowding and delays.

Like many Acela travelers, Pesis grumbles at why the train is limited to reaching its top speed of 150 miles per hour (240 kmh) for just 20 miles on two sections of track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Compare that to France, which has the world's fastest high-speed train, the TGV, that runs for long stretches at speeds as high as 200 miles an hour (322 kmh). And Japan, which boasts its 186 mph (299 kmh) "Shinkansen" trains.

The Acela barely beats a car, averaging just 82 mph (129 kmh) on its 456 mile Northeast Corridor, which connects Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, slowed by 19th-century tunnels and other aging infrastructure. High-speed rail is usually defined as faster than 120 mph (200 kmh).

"They need to improve the speed," said Pesis, echoing a popular gripe. "It's very slow."

The bigger crowds are also a challenge for Amtrak. Maurice Levene, a 67-year-old health-care consultant who lives in New York and runs a business in Boston, says securing a seat is harder.

"I'm looking for the track so I can get a seat because I like to sit on the outside," he said as he made his way through Boston's South Station. "When I travel with my wife, it's really a pain getting two seats together."

Further south in Hartford, Connecticut, Linda Sarangoulis waited for her 3:20 p.m. train to Philadelphia.

"The ticket counter said it was going to be 20 minutes late," said Sarangoulis of Reading, Pennsylvania. "In Europe, you can hop the train so much easier and it's cheaper. I don't know why we can't do that here. If they had more trains, maybe I would ride more," she said

There's more:

"They have a fair number of passenger cars that are out of service that could be put back into service with modest amounts of expenditure. But their budget doesn't permit that," said John Spychalski, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies the U.S. rail network.

Amtrak chief executive officer Alex Kummant has said that about 60 out-of-service cars could be refurbished for $700,000 each but they can only afford to overhaul 12 of them.

Senate Democrats introduced legislation this year that would authorize Amtrak to borrow nearly $3 billion to spend on replacing railcars. The bill would also direct $400 million in gas taxes each year to expand capacity. The Bush administration has sought to scrap direct federal funding for Amtrak.

November's presidential election could be pivotal. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama says he would fight for Amtrak funding while seeking reforms. His Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, has in the past sought to block subsidies for Amtrak.

So, you want to tax me for something that's over crowded, moves slowly, is broken half the time, requires more tax money to fix, and provides little benefit?

Thank you, no. We already have MPS.

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