Heads Up! There’s a Groundswell Building for Passenger Rail.

The news is coming in bits and pieces, and it’s too early to know for sure how significant it is, but [breaking into song] “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christ-mas … “

That’s from the perspective of a passenger rail advocate, of course.

Seriously, there really does appear to be the beginning of a movement back to passenger trains … and not just commuter rail, either. 

There’s All Aboard Florida, a private company proposing to operate trains between Miami and Orlando. Their big advantage is that they’re a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, the company that owns the tracks … and that, as we all know, is huge advantage, probably making it economically viable from the get-go.

In Texas, we have a group talking about building a true high-speed rail line linking Dallas and Houston. And this is getting serious. The Texas DOT is currently working with the Federal Railroad Administration to prepare an environmental impact study, a necessary and critical first step. This idea was discussed some 20 years ago, but was abandoned thanks, in large measure, to heavy lobbying by Southwest Airlines which was afraid of the competition. Once the Dallas-Houston line is built there can be no doubt that additional track will be laid to connect with both San Antonio and Austin. It just makes too much sense.

There’s a lot going on in Illinois, too. Work is well underway to upgrade track between Chicago and St. Louis. When completed, those trains will run at 110 miles per hour and reduce the running time between the two cities from 5 1/2 to less than four hours

Also in Illinois, the DOT and Governor Pat Quinn’s office are looking for ways to increase train service between Chicago and Carbondale. In recognition of Illinois’ commitment to passenger rail, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) recently presented Governor Quinn with our Golden Spike Award.
Farther south, the Memphis City Council is talking to Amtrak about doubling the number of daily trains linking their city and Chicago. Memphis is currently served by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, which runs daily between Chicago and New Orleans in each direction. The southbound train stops there at 6:30 in the morning and the northbound gets to Memphis at 10 p.m. The second daily train would be scheduled at somewhat more convenient times … putting the old railroad adage to the test: Double the frequency, triple the ridership.

And after a rocky start, California’s high-speed rail project has new momentum, thanks to the absolutely unwavering commitment from Governor Jerry Brown and some favorable court decisions.
These are by no means all of the passenger rail projects that are being discussed. And what’s significant about almost all of them is that the momentum is building and it’s coming from the ground up … starting from citizen advocacy groups like NARP … like the Midwest High Speed Rail Association … like Texas Rail Advocates … and others.

There are also the ad hoc groups formed for the purpose of supporting specific trains … groups determined to keep the Southwest Chief operating on its traditional route or pressing to restore the New Orleans-Orlando segment of the Sunset Limited or making the Cardinal a daily train.

Here’s what’s so exciting and so significant about all this: the momentum is coming from the ground up … from the people … the citizens … from the VOTERS! Local and state politicians have noticed and they’re starting to get on board. And it won’t be long before the do-nothing-oppose-everything element in Congress starts to notice. And they had damn well better!

Here is a link to the NARP web site. There’s lots of information about how to reach your representatives in Washington and what to say to them. OK … let’s go get ’em!