National Train Day



Today marks the 140th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.  In celebration, Amtrak hosted National Train Day at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.  I talked with some members of the National Association of Rail Passengers, picked up some new information on the Silverliner V, saw some great paintings of trains, heard a former Pullman Porter talk about his experiences, and saw Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.  Probably the most exciting part was the rolling stock tour.  I got to walk through an Acela trainset as well as an old Santa Fe dining car.

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame

I departed for Paris twenty days ago.  I stayed in the 5th and spent plenty of time walking, riding the Paris Metro, taking pictures of trains, and eating at restaurants.  I made it to all of the obligatory tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysee, and Notre Dame.  My trip seems far away now, but I had a great time and took some fun pictures (click here for a slideshow).  I also documented my trip in a Google Earth file.

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The Spirit of Transportation

The Spirit of Transportation

In contrast to the last two years, where most of my regional rail rides were to/from Market East and Suburban Station, this year I’ve been spending a lot of time at 30th Street Station.  With my Intro to Education placement trips and my Megabus journeys, I’ve gotten plenty of chances to investigate different parts of the station, including the cool sculpture in the North Waiting Room.  The Spirit of Transportation, sculpted by Karl Bitter in 1895, was originally installed in Philadelphia’s Broad Street station.  A baby carrying an airship leads this procession of transportation innovations, “a prophetic vision of a mode of transportation to come.”


Futuristic transportation: paddleboats, dirigibles, and locomotives

Silverliner V in Suburban Station

Silverliner V walkthrough on Track 0 at Suburban Station

SEPTA has a mockup of the new Silverliner V cars available for the public to walk through at Suburban Station.  Unfortunately, my last couple of trips into Center City have been either too rushed or too late to go through the car.  I plan to finally make it in next week during fall break.  Having three level platform doors will really help reduce dwelltimes in Center City.  I’m most excited about the digital LED destination signs.  The plastic placards they use now are frequently wrong, though they are quite the ticket for dorm decorations around campus.

One of the many Silverliner V advertisments posted around Suburban Station

One of the many Silverliner V advertisments posted around Suburban Station

Metrolink Crash – 10 Days Later

Some time has passed in which I’ve been able to reflect a bit on the collision between a Metrolink train and a freight train in Chatsworth on September 12th.  It was a pretty horrific incident.  I was especially shaken up that a Latin teacher Quinn and I know was in the train.  The video of his story is intense:

Despite his own injuries, priest gave last rites to crash victims

There has been some valuable discussion about transportation investment priorities in the Los Angeles area in the wake of the disaster.  CityWatch discusses the relatively unsafe record of public transportation in Southern California and the systemic reasons for this.  In the LA Times, Steve Hymon writes about the management and budget of Metrolink.  He raises some salient points, including Metrolink’s unusually high farebox recovery rate, and how concerns about “homeland security” have harmed rail safety.

PennPIRG Releases Transit Report

I’m becoming less of a fan of the PIRGs after I spent the summer two years ago canvassing for them.  (Working for the PIRGs’ fundraising branch ended up being an ideal summer job for me two years ago.  I enjoyed it and am glad that I applied and interviewed on a whim when they were on campus through Career Services).  PennPIRG’s latest report, entitled “Getting on Track: Good Investments for Pennsylvania’s Public Transit System,” had some good suggestions but was not particularly well done.

I’m glad to see projects like the Roosevelt Blvd. subway in Northwest Philadelphia and Regional Rail extensions getting some good advocacy.  The report summarizes basic information about the importance of public transit in a way that seems pretty formulaic (cf. CalPIRG’s report on transit).  What really bothered me was a misleading caption on page 20 of the report.  A picture of Amtrak Acela trainset 4/20/24 is shown with a caption that reads, “Highly successful high-speed rail service from Philadephia to Harrisburg could be extended to Pittsburgh.”  While the Keystone Corridor serviced by Amtrak is a designated High Speed Rail corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, I’d definitely be surprised to see an Acela trainset running along it.

Passenger Rail in Southern California

Decades ago, Los Angeles had one of the most extensive passenger rail networks in the country.  Streetcar lines were the lifeblood of personal transportation.  Now, passenger rail transport in the Southland (on Metrolink commuter rail or Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner) is unreliable, subject to lengthy delays, and unsafe compared to other commuter rail systems across the country.

Such poor service can generally be explained by one reason: passenger trains in California run along freight railroads.  Unlike in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, passenger trains in California must share tracks and yield to frieght trains.  This makes service subject to significant unforeseen delays and safety concerns.  Last week’s horrific Metrolink crash is an extreme example.

As rail traffic in California increases over the coming years, it is imperative that the state invest in grade-separated tracks dedicated to passenger service.  California High Speed Rail would do just that.  Passing the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, on the ballot in November as Proposition 1A, is an important step in free ingpassenger rail from the constraints and dangers of sharing tracks with freight and creating environmentally friendly, rapid, and punctual service.

Palin Fights Against Environmental Justice in California

The LA Times reported last week that Governor Palin has been working against California SB 974, which would implement per-container charges to fund air quality and goods movement measures in the Los Angeles and Bay areas.  I think it’s a pretty base move (though not that surprising) for the Governor of Alaska to seek to dissuade Californian officials from addressing some of Southern California’s most crippling problems.  The pollution, health, and safety problems caused by the ports is a case of environmental injustice.

The LA Times notes that:

Fully 15% of the nation’s international container trade travels along the 710 en route to rail yards east of Los Angeles, warehouses in the Inland Empire and importers nationwide.

Environmental justice communities near the ports and along freeway corridors should not have to bear the unmitigated harms of the nation’s cargo needs.

Today’s strategies of goods movement in Southern California, especially through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are dangerous and inefficient.  Traffic congestion on local freeways, particularly the 5, 10, 15, 60, and 710 is significantly worsened by truck traffic from the ports.  Truck traffic from the ports creates safety hazards for drivers; an example is a seven vehicle fatal crash on the 710 last year.  As shown by last week’s train crash, Southern California railroads may also need to consider better and safer ways to move rail cargo on tracks that are increasingly being used for heavy commuter rail traffic.  Additionally, the pollution emanating from the ports leads to disproportionate health problems in lower income communities of color; the Times article above explains that literally thousands of Californians die each year as a result of pollutant emissions from the ports.

The bill (full text available here) recognizes that:

(b) The operation of the ports and trains, ships, and trucks that move cargo containers to and from the ports cause air pollution that requires mitigation.
(c) The improvement of goods movement infrastructure would benefit the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by allowing the owners of the cargo to move container cargo more efficiently and reliably, and to move more cargo through those ports.
(d) It is vital to the movement of goods in California, especially
in southern California, to resolve the road and rail conflicts of locomotives carrying container cargo and automobile traffic by
building grade separations. This infrastructure will reduce air
pollution and provide benefits to the owners of container cargo by
mitigating rail expansion. Without these grade separations, the rail
expansion may not happen, and California could lose valuable goods movement jobs.
(e) The reduction of goods movement air pollution would benefit
the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by contributing to the achievement or maintenance of federal air quality standards, which will allow for continued federal funding of goods movement infrastructure projects.
(f) The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Port of Oakland operate in unique communities, environments, and markets that require infrastructure improvements and air pollution reduction measures tailored to the nature and degree of need in each port of each community.

Governor Palin’s argument against the bill completely disregards the public health, environmental justice, traffic congestion, safety, and environmental concerns of California.