Monday, March 08, 2010

Questionable NYT op-ed today on funding for Acela

The NYT has an op-ed today by Christian Wolmar, "Slug on the Tracks,"advocating that federal high speed rail funding go toward improving Acela.

He may be right, but the whole thing seems a bit sloppy and, frankly, late. This may be the fault of NYT op-ed editors and not the author, who knows. As Wolmar notes, the federal DOT already made their announcement about where they're spending the $8 billion in high speed rail funds.

Wolmar writes of Acela being "often held up by freight trains and road crossings." Really? I thought the slowdowns were much more because of the commuter railroads. As for freight, there's little of it on those lines, at least during the day. The Acela route is owned and operated primarily by Amtrak, with a small portion operated by Metro North. And road crossings -- there just aren't many. Are there even any at all between NYC and DC? Do the road crossings in CT and RI actually cause any delay at all?

Among Wolmar's recommendations:
Money is needed to improve the overhead electric wires, straighten out curves and upgrade the track. And more trains are needed to increase trip frequency, reduce overcrowding and offer flexibility.

It’s not just a matter of money, though. The government must do away with a host of state and federal regulations that reduce train speed and are far too restrictive.
I'm not so sure about the increase trip frequency part. Holidays aside, I'm pretty sure a lot of the Acela trains do not sell out. And is there actually any research to suggest that there are people who would be more likely to take the train if it ran every half hour than every hour? I'm skeptical.

Wolmar ends with this:
Perhaps someday, like the Trains à Grande Vitesse in France or the Shinkansen in Japan, an Acela train speeding past the Statue of Liberty could be the defining image of a second great American railway age.
I don't get it. The Acela route is a good four or so miles from the statue. You could probably get both into a shot if you really tried. But this is just tacky.


At 10:14 AM, Blogger Ran Barton said...

FYI, before the economy tanked, the Acelas were selling out all the time, and even now the peak trains due so regularly.


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