Friday, January 7, 2011

The Party's Over

As 2010 drew to a close, there is much to suggest "the party's over" for passenger rail. While the "$8B for HSR" provisions enacted under ARRA '09 (Stimulus) have awarded funds that will benefit existing routes, such as the "incremental" track improvements on the Chicago-St Louis route and restoring dormant rights-of-way accessing Chicago to minimize freight traffic interference, all too many have been seen for what they are - needless "pork" for largely needless passenger train routes. Two states, Wisconsin and Ohio, awarded funds under the legislation have rescinded the funding and recognize that the funding will simply be applied to rail passenger projects elsewhere. A third state, Iowa, appears on the brink of making a like rescission.

But the biggest of all rescissions did not involve Amtrak or intercity service; that of course was the cancellation of new tunnels under the Hudson River to be used solely by New Jersey Transit. The additional capacity to operate passenger trains from New Jersey directly into Manhattan is clearly needed and would make New Jersey a more attractive locale in which high income persons holding jobs in Manhattan would want to reside. But a conservative Republican Governor has said "no dice" and withdrew the portion of funding controlled by the State. While the project may someday be revived, possibly after this Governor has moved from one White House named Drumthwacket to another with a street address of 1600, it is now "requisceat in pace' - need for such totally notwithstanding.

However, all told, Amtrak has had a good run during the first two years of the Obama administration, but with the Republicans having a majority in the House of Representatives and are preaching repeal of any agenda having Obama's name on it, somebody has pulled the emergency brake cord. A legislative target will be a rescission of any unexpended funds under ARRA '09 (Stimulus) - and much of that funding represents the passenger rail provisions, i.e. the "$8B for HSR".

But even if "the party's over", Amtrak has "done OK" during these past two years. Additional frequencies have been added to four routes, new electric locomotives and new passenger cars for LD trains, as well as Talgo equipment for two Corridor routes, have been ordered.

While of course to the railfan community, where there's never enough - especially Long Distance trains - there is disappointment that a balance of power, "Plural Democracy", has returned to Washington. But with the growing public acceptance of both Corridor and Long Distance services, I think it safe to say that Amtrak's existing route structure is here to stay.


  1. From all of the public statements I have been able to see, Amtrak ordered the new electrics from Siemens without having secured funding for the $466 million, so it is unclear to me how safe that essential contract actually is.

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