Railways and US Elections

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thenorthern

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With the US Presidential Election quite a big thing in the news at the moment I was wondering if the railways are ever featured as a topic or is it normally just a case of that railways are a City/State Government issue and given the low usage Amtrak gets it will stay the same regardless what happens so its not worth mentioning?

I know that more half the things they discuss never feature in the news in the United Kingdom and I would think if it was discussed it wouldn't be something that would be of much interest to British people.

Also can we keep this topic about American Railways and not mention how bad/great Donald Trump and/or Hilary Clinton are.
 
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edwin_m

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Current Vice-President Joe Biden is very much in favour of expanding passenger rail. I've not heard of rail becoming a subject for discussion in the election.
 

Groningen

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From Time; March 3, 2016

Trump Agrees With Democrats on High-Speed Trains

In a freewheeling speech Thursday afternoon, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump stumbled into a riff about how great trains are. It’s sad, he said, that the American rail system is so dilapidated while China’s is now slicker than ever. “They have trains that go 300 miles per hour,” the populist billionaire exclaimed. “We have trains that go chug … chug … chug.”

The line got a laugh—it’s not often that one sees a presidential candidate imitate Thomas the Tank Engine—but it also underscored one of the most solid planks in the billionaire businessman’s rickety policy platform: to fund and rebuild U.S. infrastructure, including its crumbling railways. The thing is, that’s usually a Democratic talking point.

President Obama spent the better part of his second term pushing for a $478 billion infrastructure bill to fund roads, bridges, and rail lines. Before that, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who at one point practically moonlighted as Amtrak’s spokesman, pushed a new U.S. Department of Transportation initiative awarding $8 billion to states to build new high-speed intercity rail. “There’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America,” Obama announced in a 2010 statement.

“By investing in high speed rail, we’re doing so many good things for our country at the same time,” Biden added. We’re creating good construction and manufacturing jobs in the near-term; we’re spurring economic development in the future; we’re making our communities more livable—and we’re doing it all while decreasing America’s environmental impact and increasing America’s ability to compete in the world.”

Trump’s language, six years later, is nearly identical. “Our airports, bridges, water tunnels, power grids, rail systems—our nation’s entire infrastructure is crumbling, and we aren’t doing anything about it,” he wrote in his 2015 book, Crippled America. He went on to promise that fixing it would spur economic growth.

“These projects put people to work—not just the people doing the work but also the manufacturers, the suppliers, the designers, and, yes, even the lawyers. The Senate Budget Committee estimates that rebuilding America will create 13 million jobs,” he wrote. Which, incidentally, was Obama’s point in 2011, when Congressional Republicans blocked his $60 billion infrastructure jobs bill.

Republicans have generally fought efforts to increase federal spending on principle. That includes vast infrastructure projects, even popular ones. In the hours after the deadly Amtrak derailment in May 2015, for example, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted to slash the rail budget by 20%.

In December, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate joined to pass a less sweeping $305 billion version of the infrastructure package. But both of Trump’s top rivals for the Republican nomination, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, voted no on the bill.

In a nod to the fiscal conservative tradition of the Republican Party, Trump has admitted that rebuilding American infrastructure would cost taxpayer dollars. But then waved away the concern with Trumpian bravado.

“On the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that. But in the long run it will more than pay for itself,” he said. “It will stimulate our economy while it is being built and make it a lot easier to do business when it’s done—and it can be done on time and under budget.”
 

thenorthern

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Its kind of strange how more passengers use Birmingham New Street station per year than who travel on Amtrak. I think in a way with Amtrak it shows why nationalisation is a bad idea. :D

Do they still have a presidential railcar? I know the security would be massive which is a contrast to David Cameron traveling on a standard Virgin Train for getting between locations.
 

anme

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When I visit the US I am often a bit shocked at the poor state of public infrastructure - roads full of potholes, dilapidated airports, etc. Reports suggest the hidden infrastructure such as the electrical power grids are in an even worse state. The nearest equivalent in Europe is probably Belgium, where public spaces tend to be similarly run down, filthy and depressing (and considered unimportant by the general population).

Not that I support Donald Trump!
 
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edwin_m

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Its kind of strange how more passengers use Birmingham New Street station per year than who travel on Amtrak. I think in a way with Amtrak it shows why nationalisation is a bad idea. :D

Do they still have a presidential railcar? I know the security would be massive which is a contrast to David Cameron traveling on a standard Virgin Train for getting between locations.

If it weren't for Amtrak there would be no intercity passenger trains whatsoever in the USA.

Excluding the North East Corridor and a few other areas, in most of America the cities are too far apart for rail to be anywhere near time-competitive with air, and cars or long-distance buses are often cheaper and/or more frequent. So over most of the country the train is used only by those with time to spare or who enjoy train travel for itself. The same distance factors also make rail ideal for freight and (outside those few areas) what passenger trains there are have to run at freight speeds and often give priority to the freight trains.

The irrelevance of intercity passenger rail across most of the country means most of its politicians don't see any benefit for their own electorates. Others do see public ownership as intrinsically evil, competing against privately-run air and road operators and the freedom of the private citzen to use their car (and conveniently ignoring the amount of public funding that has gone into airports and highways). The benefits of rail in reducing CO2 emissions are largely acknowledged in much of the world but in America a substantial slice of the population and the legislators deny climate change even exists.

This probably means that rail will always struggle to get any prioritisation on a Federal level, and Amtrak is probably lucky to have survived for 40+ years. The best hope for expansion is at the state level in California and elsewhere, which do have cities well space for intercity service and (partly for this reason) a legislature that looks more favourably on it.

There isn't a presidential train as such but there are many luxury private cars available for hire, and candidates including Obama have used these for campaigning tours.
 
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philabos

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There is far too many real and imagined security issues for the President to travel by rail.
Obama did ride from Philadelphia to Washington for his inauguration and Amtrak was forced to shut down the entire railroad.
As to politics, it is simply not an issue except for the rare blathering about High Speed Rail from people who see fine trains in Europe and Asia and wonder why we cannot do the same. Much of that answered above.
I will say "the freight has priority" is largely a myth promoted by people who may see a freight train actually moving when the are not at a siding meeting point. Never a good idea to meet on single track.
 

rf_ioliver

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Excluding the North East Corridor and a few other areas, in most of America the cities are too far apart for rail to be anywhere near time-competitive with air, and cars or long-distance buses are often cheaper and/or more frequent. So over most of the country the train is used only by those with time to spare or who enjoy train travel for itself. The same distance factors also make rail ideal for freight and (outside those few areas) what passenger trains there are have to run at freight speeds and often give priority to the freight trains.

The irrelevance of intercity passenger rail across most of the country means most of its politicians don't see any benefit for their own electorates. Others do see public ownership as intrinsically evil, competing against privately-run air and road operators and the freedom of the private citzen to use their car (and conveniently ignoring the amount of public funding that has gone into airports and highways). The benefits of rail in reducing CO2 emissions are largely acknowledged in much of the world but in America a substantial slice of the population and the legislators deny climate change even exists.

This probably means that rail will always struggle to get any prioritisation on a Federal level, and Amtrak is probably lucky to have survived for 40+ years. The best hope for expansion is at the state level in California and elsewhere, which do have cities well space for intercity service and (partly for this reason) a legislature that looks more favourably on it.

You point out one issue with "intercity" rail in the US, in that it is almost always framed as a country-wide thing rather than state-wide. By this I mean there are areas where an intercity style service would work very well. The NE Corridor is the classic example, but there are areas where a 2-3 journey time over a large distance would be very competitive. For example, the expansion of long-distance services around Chicago (110mph running!) and the LA-SF area in California.

I think we can be sure there will never be a coast-coast LGV line, but there are plenty of city-city links in the 200km range that would benefit. The NE Corridor here being an exception due to its population density.

But this all brings to mind a debate that occurs a number of years ago (I forget which politicians) where one politician stated that he would remove all subsidies for Amtrak and was challenged that if this happened could all subsidies for airlines similarly be removed...

Regarding times and competitiveness - a trip from Chicago to Iowa which I made a few weeks back, while only being a 1 hour flight (or about 30 mins in the air) became a 30 min check-in, 1.5 hours in security (irradiation, fondling and water is a WMD) and 45 mins waiting to board while United divided the 15 of us into 6 different boarding categories based on loyalty cards and booking classes. Don't even ask about the on-board service....

Ian
 

Harbornite

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Its kind of strange how more passengers use Birmingham New Street station per year than who travel on Amtrak. I think in a way with Amtrak it shows why nationalisation is a bad idea. :D


That's one way of looking at it. However, the US railroads' passenger services had considerable competition from domestic airlines and cars after the second world war and many services were withdrawn before Amtrak was formed in 1971, so I wouldn't say Nationalisation is the main problem. Having said that, Amtrak has been underfunded but there has been some recent investment in new stock such as the Acela.
 
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yorksrob

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Its kind of strange how more passengers use Birmingham New Street station per year than who travel on Amtrak. I think in a way with Amtrak it shows why nationalisation is a bad idea. :D
.

I'm not sure it shows that nationalisation is a bad idea. Europe, including Britain ran nationalised railway systems that were very different to that in the USA for many years (is the American system even nationalised anyway ? I thought one of the big problems with Amtrak is that it has to play second fiddle on a large network of private freight railways).

Anyhow, what Amtrak certainly does show is that small state ideology is a bad idea that doesn't work :D
 

edwin_m

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(is the American system even nationalised anyway ? I thought one of the big problems with Amtrak is that it has to play second fiddle on a large network of private freight railways).

Amtrak itself is effectively nationalised. However, except in the North East Corridor and a few other sections, it operates on tracks owned by the private freight railroads.
 

philabos

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True. However, Amtrak is not only subsidized by the Federal Government, and some states,
It is also subsidized by the private railroads. While Amtrak has to invest capital in the Northeast Corridor, it pays only a very low level of track usage fees to the private railroads for use of their track. The cost of capital for new rail, ties, etc is picked up by the railroads for which Amtrak pays nothing. A study done in 2010 showed Amtrak's payments to the private railroads made up less than 3% of Amtrak costs.
 

edwin_m

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While Amtrak has to invest capital in the Northeast Corridor, it pays only a very low level of track usage fees to the private railroads for use of their track. The cost of capital for new rail, ties, etc is picked up by the railroads for which Amtrak pays nothing. A study done in 2010 showed Amtrak's payments to the private railroads made up less than 3% of Amtrak costs.

That's arguably fair, at least on the busier freight routes that make up most of the transcontinental network. Here Amtrak runs only a handful of trains per day and if they stopped running it's unlikely that the owning railroad would be able either to eliminate much trackage or to make much maintenance saving due to reduced wear and tear. Ironically it's the exact reverse of the UK situation where freight pays only its marginal cost on mixed traffic routes, but quite similar to the charging regime applying to open access operators.

Where it gets a bit more tricky is if freight has almost or totally disappeared from a route but Amtrak still wants to use it. I believe various sections have been bought out by Federal or state government when threatened with closure, but there are also instances (I think Phoenix AZ was one) where Amtrak has had to take a less attractive alternative route.
 

Shinkansenfan

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True. However, Amtrak is not only subsidized by the Federal Government, and some states,
It is also subsidized by the private railroads. While Amtrak has to invest capital in the Northeast Corridor, it pays only a very low level of track usage fees to the private railroads for use of their track. The cost of capital for new rail, ties, etc is picked up by the railroads for which Amtrak pays nothing. A study done in 2010 showed Amtrak's payments to the private railroads made up less than 3% of Amtrak costs.

Amtrak was initially formed to absolve the participating freight railroads for the cost of running unprofitable passenger train services--so the relatively cost cost Amtrak pays for track access is an outgrowth of that deal.

Some thought that Amtrak would be a temporary state of affairs--eventually dissolving. Indeed the first set of Amtrak locomotives were freight locomotives-- designed to flow back to freight railroads if Amtrak ceased to exist.
 
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