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Archive for the 'rail' Category

high-speed rail – `separate’ from financial crisis?

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Because there aren’t many people around who oppose high-speed rail, I’m finding myself cast in the disagreeable position of honorary naysayer for the program. Most people, myself included, think it would do the state some good to have a way to get from north to south on whatever energy source we’ve developed over the next two decades.

But most people also understand that there are limits to all the good things we can buy or build. I’d really benefit (as would the climate) from buying a house in Orinda, and lousy market notwithstanding, I can’t afford it to the point that I’m sure even Countrywide wouldn’t extend me credit for such a dwelling.

I’m not saying California can’t Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, May 21st, 2008
Under: Funding, global warming, high-speed rail, Misc. Transportation, rail | 16 Comments »

high-speed rail through a child’s eyes

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No sooner than I heard that inland temperatures were headed for triple digits, I’m sitting on the Capitol Corridor in Emeryville and the train is overrun with rugrats. Moms, dads, boys and girls are feverishly power-walking up and down the aisle looking for six seats together.

Summer’s arriving early, it seems.

One youngster, perhaps 9 or 10, insisted that he choose where to sit: “Car ONE,” he nearly shouted, as he dragged the hand of a thirty-something woman. “Car ONE!”

After riding the train for two years, I should know right away what that means, but I guessed correctly. He wanted to be in the car that had a view of the engine.

I knew this even before I asked a conductor, because this entreaty sparked a powerful memory from my childhood. I remembered riding a train, perhaps more than one, and being captivated by the sight of the locomotive at the front-end of the train. It so happens that this train is being Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, May 12th, 2008
Under: Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Environment, global warming, high-speed rail, rail | 15 Comments »

paying off my carbon credit account

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So, rather than firing off one of my usual unsupported assertions on the blog, I spent way too much time yesterday trying to figure out how much carbon and other nasty stuff is emitted by the locomotive currently dragging me to work.

Regrettably, I can only say at this point that it’s a diesel electric, which means that it’s a ginormous diesel engine that doesn’t actually turn the gears that turn the wheels, like in a regular car, but turns a generator that powers an electric motor that makes the wheels turn. I have calls in to the EPA and several other entities, but the blogosphere waits not for laggards in pursuit of the truth. I’ll delay no further, and update when I (or one of you smart people) locate the data.

My assertion, in theory, was that I had done what Gov. Schwarzenegger had done, but with sweat instead of cash.

As many of you no doubt know, our green governor was called to account for jetting around the world to promote his anti-global warming campaign. To atone for his oversized carbon footprint, he paid indulgences to a Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 30th, 2008
Under: Amtrak, BART, Bicycling, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, Environment, global warming, rail | 10 Comments »

i’d rather be riding the bullet train


Ok, if a black man can be nominated for president, maybe California can build high-speed rail.

It’s starting to look like the wind is behind this thing, what with college students campaigning for it all over the state from now until November, when voters will have to decide whether they like the $10 billion bullet train bond measure or not.

I’m still waiting to see what sort of borrowing plan Sacramento will cook up to get us through the current budget crunch. I get the sense, however, that even that won’t stop the bullet train measure from going before voters.

Tomorrow between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., students on UC Berkeley’s famous Sproul Plaza will be riding tricycles, jumping on pogo sticks and walking on stilts while wearing “I’d rather be riding high-speed rail” t-shirts.

These students, sold on the idea that the bullet train is public transportation’s answer to the Prius and a major way of fighting global warming, have been pulling off stunts like this up and down the state. While the students’ enthusiasm at first blush might evoke comparisons to Barack Obama’s youthful appeal, I see it a bit differently.

The presidential parallel I see in the bullet train’s renaissance resides in Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
Under: Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, BART, Bicycling, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving | 11 Comments »

the Key Route remembered

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Today I received an advisory announcing that on Friday, AC Transit would be celebrating the demise of its predecessor, the Key System.

Ok, they’re not cheering the end of “one of the most efficient transportation systems in the world, which also marked the beginning of AC Transit (insert superlative here), but they are drawing a rather odd comparison:

More than commemorate the passing of the Key Route era, they will assert the need to go “Back-to-the-Future” with the kind of Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008
Under: AC Transit, Buses, rail, Transit vs. driving | 12 Comments »

train in vain

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On my way home last night, I fancied that I was going to blog about the latest bit of transportation research to come out of the Cato Institute, an inside-the-Beltway limited-government think-tank.

I was going to write about the study, Does Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Emissions?, as I quaffed a $4.50 micro-brew on the Capitol Corridor. If you know anything about the Cato Institute, you can probably guess what it says: 

Far from protecting the environment, most rail transit lines use more energy per passenger mile, and many generate more greenhouse gases, than the average passenger automobile. Rail transit provides no guarantee that a city will save energy or meet greenhouse gas targets.

While most rail transit uses less energy than buses, rail transit does not operate in a vacuum: transit agencies supplement it with extensive feeder bus operations. Those feeder buses tend to have low ridership, so they have high energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile. The result is that, when new rail transit lines open, the transit systems as a whole can end up consuming more energy, per passenger mile, than they did before.

This will be some comfort to regular readers of this blog, at least those who believe that rail transit, commuter rail in particular, is on par, if you will, with whites-only Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
Under: Amtrak, Bicycling, Buses, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Carpooling, connectivity, driving, Environment, fuel, global warming, rail, Transit vs. driving | 14 Comments »

silver bullet for high-speed rail measure?

So, while I was blithely blathering Friday about CalPIRG and their campaign to promote California’s high-speed rail plan, the Sacramento Beebullet-train-and-mt-fuji.jpg

was getting the real scoop on the future of our improbable love affair with 200+ mph bullet trains:

Democratic lawmakers have agreed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request to include public-private partnerships for a high-speed train that could travel from either San Francisco or Sacramento to Los Angeles in 2 1/2 hours.

Supporters of the high-speed “bullet” train are hoping the changes will ensure that a $10 billion Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2008
Under: Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Environment, Funding, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving | 12 Comments »

on and off-track

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News item:

OAKLAND _ A Capitol Corridor commuter train struck a car near the Jack London Square Amtrak station Monday evening, prompting an AC Transit bus to illegally pass railroad crossing gates and become jackknifed on the tracks.

Several trains were delayed, the worst an hour and fifteen minutes on the train that hit the car, which made an illegal turn in front of the train, an Amtrak spokeswoman said.

Oakland police said the driver of the car was not seriously injured and refused medical attention. No other injuries were reported.

Trying my level best to maintain my journalistic objectivity, I tried to imagine how this incident could have been the railroad’s fault.

First, there’s the whole Embarcadero issue. Here’s a street that also serves as something like a half-mile of railroad. It’s like the mother of all railroad crossings. Each intersection is gated, but the gates could be open when you enter the street, but close while you’re still driving along it.

I was on an AC Transit bus that came up to that very same intersection where the car was thrown off the tracks. The lights started flashing, and the driver Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, March 14th, 2008
Under: AC Transit, Amtrak, Bicycling, Buses, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, rail, Safety, traffic signals, Transit vs. driving | 2 Comments »

the government deserves more credit

OK, so I was hasty after all. Seems that my last post did not give enough credit to the Bush Administration’s attempts to help improve intercity passenger rail. I suspect its efforts have more to do with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters’ pragmatic approach to funding, i.e., we can do more with less if we channel more into public transportation.

Today I got another note from the Federal Rail Administration, which falls under USDoT’s umbrella:

I saw your blog entry.  I am glad my message was of use to you.  Your main point seems to be that $30 million is not enough.  We agree.  As I wrote in my email cover message to you, the Bush Administration had requested $100 million for this grant program for the current FY08 budget, but Congress Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, February 25th, 2008
Under: Amtrak, Caltrans, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Funding, rail, Transit vs. driving | 4 Comments »

the government is here to help

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This morning I arrived to find a phone message from the Federal Railroad Administration. Seems someone in Washington had seen my story about California’s intercity rail services lobbying state government for more money.

What I might find helpful, the message said, was that the FRA had announced on Tuesday that it had started a new program to do just what the operators of the Auburn-to-San Jose Capitol Corridor and two other state-subsidized operators were looking for.

By helpful, I’m guessing he meant, you missed this, buddy, and should have Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2008
Under: Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Freeways, Funding, rail, Transit vs. driving | 5 Comments »