Sunday, October 29, 2006

This brings a smile to my face...

Because I am what I call a "transport groupie", articles like these peak my interest. I promise to write an update on my activities here in Oslo and the program hopefully before the trip to Stockholm. Enjoy the following article which aslo can be viewed here.

Intercity ICE 3
Now, while the USA may not be as developed as say Europe with rolling stock such as this, imagine if we did. This is not a new topic of discussion for me, but one of my favorites...

Resurgent rails
Popularity of going by train grows with discontent with other kinds of travel. Plus,
the Empire Builder appeals to tourists year-round.
Kevin Giles, Star Tribune
As the eastbound train glides into the emerging sunlight south of St. Paul, John Stopa aims his video camera at a panorama of silver lakes and quiet woods flashing past the windows. "You don't see this in a plane," said Stopa, a Minneapolis native returning home to Chicago. "You don't even see this in a car." This is the Empire Builder, making its twice-daily run through Minnesota on Amtrak's most popular overnight route in the nation. Travelers upset with gasoline prices, declining bus service and fears of flying are boarding the Empire Builder, named for St. Paul railroad pioneer James J. Hill, in record numbers. Nearly a half-million passengers rode the Chicago-to-Seattle line in the fiscal year that ended last month, up 4.3 percent over the previous year, said Marc Magliari, Amtrak's spokesman in Chicago.
In Minnesota, about 183,000 people boarded or exited the Empire Builder in 2005, say the most recent figures available. That's up 10,600 from 2004.
Proponents say escalating ridership -- on the Empire Builder and other routes -- is further evidence of a resurgence of train travel that one day will combine overnight trains with high-speed commuter rail, light rail and other means of moving people faster and more
"We are now moving toward a new era in rail," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, who's on the Minnesota House Transportation Committee.
"It doesn't matter if it's long-distance rail or Lake Street to downtown Minneapolis on light
rail -- people like this choice," Hornstein said.
Ridership in small cities
In Staples, one of six Amtrak stops in Minnesota, a growing Amish community inclined toward trains contributes to the upsurge in Empire Builder ridership, said Mayor Bruce Nelsen. He's also heard some of the city's 3,000 residents complain about airport delays and gasoline prices, and figures that even more people would board in Staples if the train didn't pass through at 3 a.m. in both directions. "It's an economical way to travel, no doubt about it," he said.
In Winona, the first Minnesota stop for the nightly westbound Empire Builder and the last for the morning train, many of the city's thousands of university students prefer Amtrak, said Mayor Jerry Miller. One of them is Atinuke Akinsanya, 20. "The bus really isn't convenient," she said. She rode Wednesday's train from St. Paul for about $30. Farther back in the coach, sisters Jeanne Burckhard and Rita Brossard stowed their blankets after riding from North Dakota the night before. It was their first train trip, they said, and they were going to Winona, where they would catch a bus to Rochester in time for their 75-year-old father's cancer surgery.
They also said that once they climbed aboard in north-central North Dakota, the train did the work, and they were relieved that they didn't have to drive in metro traffic. "We have no responsibilities," Brossard said, smiling. The Empire Builder, now in its fourth consecutive year of ridership growth, also is popular with summer tourists eager to see Glacier National Park, with winter travelers who want to avoid icy roads, and with people of all ages seeking regional connections. Lately, Amtrak has updated service on the Empire Builder, adding fresh-baked cookies and wine and cheese tastings in redecorated sleeper cars, and an at-seat food and beverage service in the coaches, among other perks. The upscale amenities are a
response to critics who thought Amtrak should be more profitable.
More trains, more riders?
In its annual report issued Thursday, Amtrak announced that ticket revenue stands at $1.37 billion, the highest ever. Nationwide, Amtrak carried 24.3 million passengers in the fiscal year that ended in September, an increase of 300,000 over the previous year. Minnesota railroad union leader Philip Qualey and other Amtrak proponents say that ridership would be higher yet if Amtrak had enough money to add coaches and sleepers to the Empire Builder. "Somebody needs to start talking about adding the second train along that route," said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association. He and other Amtrak fans say that Minnesota also could sustain regional business routes linking larger cities like Rochester and Fargo with the Twin Cities. The planned Rush Line between St. Paul and Hinckley partly revives a route that until 1985 was Amtrak's North Star run. "With some really aggressive advertising, it would be scary how many people would get on this train," said Empire Builder conductor Cordt Rose, a Lakeville resident and a longtime Amtrak employee.
The federal government established Amtrak in 1970 after legendary passenger trains like the Northern Pacific Railway's North Coast Limited and the Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha, both of which served Minnesota, lost money and ridership to the point that they folded. Today, Amtrak provides intercity service to more than 500 destinations in 46 states. But despite three consecutive years of record national ridership -- more than 25 million last year -- Amtrak faces continuing threats of extinction.
The Bush administration proposed spending $900 million for Amtrak in 2007, which amounts to "a shutdown level," said Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. The administration's proposal would eliminate overnight routes, such as the Empire Builder. The House is debating $1.2 billion and the Senate, $1.4 billion.
Amtrak's critics, including Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., say the Amtrak subsidy represents a ripe target for savings, contending that the amount is disproportionately large compared with ridership. David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, disputes that Minnesotans ride trains because they can't find other transportation. He thinks most of them are attracted to rail nostalgia, which he said is why he favors ending Amtrak service, including
the Empire Builder route, and preserving only Amtrak's heavy commuter routes on the East Coast.
"I'm not insensitive to people liking trains," he said. "The question becomes, 'Why is it that
a small group of people to whom the romance of trains is attractive is entitled to a subsidy
that the rest of the people pay?' "
Instead of trying to eliminate Amtrak, America should be building a network of high-speed
trains that rival those in France, Japan, China and other nations, said Oberstar, the
ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee.
Oberstar pushed for a $50 million appropriation to revive St. Paul's Union Depot as a hub
for passenger rail traffic. Amtrak's popularity is "part of a resurgence in transit," which he
said is adding a million new riders a day nationwide in buses, trolley, light rail and the like.
He said the trend toward trains accelerated after the terrorist attacks with airplanes five
years ago:
"The surge was enormous and many of them never left," Oberstar said.
Kevin Giles • 612-673-7707 •
©2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Giles mentions a lot of important things in the increasing debate about regional transportation that has been taking place in Minnesota and other Midwestern states for the past decades. Norway enjoyes a very well developed local, regional, and international (at least Scandinavia and connections to Europe) railroad network. If the Midwest wants to make a statement to the rest of the country about our importance, instead of all this west and east coast envy, we should pursue improvments to the connectivity of the midwest. I would like to see higher speeds, however, 110 is making steps towards improvment. I hope everyone in Minnesota Votes yes for Transportation funding (helps make me finding a job in the next couple years better) and to make Minnesota regional transport projects a reality instead of just a pipe dream or a should have, would have, could have 25 years from now.

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