Breaking Up is a Hard Thing To Do May 25th, 1994
From TRAINS (reprinted with permission). by Timothy R. Jorgenson
In 1996, Amtrak’s authority to operate over American freight railways is scheduled to expire. The expiration of this authority theoretically could signal the end of Amtrak service outside the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak and maintains its own railway. Freight railway opposition, if any, to this extension will presumably serve as a negotiating posture to extract the best possible terms for freight railways over the second 25 years of Amtrak’s existence. Adamant opposition to Amtrak may only come from unrepentant ideologues or perhaps the likes of Greyhound or Southwest Airlines.
One needn’t by a flybody or train-wrecker, however, to be opposed to the unthinking extension of Amtrak’s nationwide authority. Everything under the sun has a time and a season. Those of us who endorse publicly subsidized intercity passenger rail service in America must ask ourselves whether a national rail corporation is a good vehicle to actually develop intercity passenger services over the next 25 years. Isn’t America about due for intercity service development?
For all the good that Amtrak has accomplished – and there is a great deal – we must ask ourselves, Good for what? Good for whom? A nationwide intercity passenger network has been “saved,” but for what end? Despite the considerable importance of its services in the Northeast, Amtrak has an insignificant share of the travel market elsewhere. During Amtrak’s life, commercial aviation has gained market share, largely from the private automobile, and it now accounts for about 17 percent of domestic passenger miles, vs. the roughly 10 percent that aviation accounted for at Amtrak’s birth.
Meanwhile, all passenger rail miles have dwindled from somewhat under 1 percent to about two-thirds of 1 percent of national passenger miles. Amtrak’s share of the rail portion is around 7 percent annually, commuter rail enterprises accounting for the remainder. Whatever Amtrak may have accomplished, the national significance of intercity passenger rail has diminished during Amtrak’s existence. Even lifeboats eventually become leaky.
What is to be done? There is probably no single answer. America is a big country. Its history is replete with local and regional transport enterprises that became national in scope. Amtrak is among the exceptions. Amtrak was putatively national in scope from its birth, but has never been significant without individual states’ help in any region other than the Northeast. If intercity rail passenger travel services are to become significant elsewhere, capital and enterprise will have to be focused elsewhere, hopefully many other elsewheres. Coaxing capital out of the federal treasure has been, and promises to be, very difficult. One can’t help wondering whether America ought to devolve passenger service development to the states or regions.
The most natural way to promote many regional developments simultaneously, and the way that accords more with American history and culture, would be to promote regional passenger rail development enterprises. Some regions may wish to have a regional public railway; others may create authorities that would franchise private ventures. California, New York, Texas, and perhaps Florida contain the embryos of regional rail enterprises that could raise public or private capital and use that capital in response to local markets. Other states might be prompted to form regional entrepreneurial alliances that center on, say, Atlanta, Chicago, or the Pacific Northwest Triangle or that align themselves along extant long-distance routes
Some states may participate in more than one enterprise. Federal funds should be parceled out by a rough equity, as they are in the highway funding process.
Amtrak’s fixed and rolling assets germane to each of the regional enterprises would be conveyed to them, except for the Northeast Corridor, which would remain Amtrak’s. Assets having national significance – like the reservation system – could be carved out of Amtrak. How this would be done, how equity would be conveyed in Amtrak and in the other regional enterprises, how the regions would be configured, and how the federal funds would be allocated are but a few of the questions deserving political attention.
The time is ripe for thinking how America should develop intercity rail service. Regional rail enterprises deserve to be considered as vehicles to take us beyond salvation to a new life for American passenger rail service.
– Copyright 1994 Kalmbach Publishing Co., reprinted with permission from the February 1994 issue of TRAINS magazine.
Tempe Considers Transit Center May 25th, 1994
Bill Lindley – An Interview with Bob Barber (May 1994)
I recently spoke with Bob Barber about the Tempe City Transportation Committee. This committee considers items ranging from how proposed freeways will impact downtown traffic to the funding and routing of buses. Since the success of a Regional Rail system can hinge on its interface with each city’s transportation infrastructure, I found this discussion of a current project insightful.
The Tempe City Transportation Committee is currently considering a new Bus Transit Center for near the ASU campus. One of the primary goals of such a Center would be to serve the large student population, which generates much bus ridership.
Proposals currently include a location at the corner of College and University; at the north end of Tempe Center; and at the northeast corner of College and University. These options and others are being considered for their accessibility and potential ridership. The Committee has received a great deal of input from ASU and the community.
[The new Tempe Transit Center is expected to open in 2007 or 2008 at the new ASU Light Rail Station. -- Ed.]