07 July, 2008


Passenger rail? "Oh, we just deleted it"

Railway Age, Feb, 2008 by William C. Vantuono

In my line of work, what you ultimately, decide to leave out of a story, whether it's a full-length feature or a one-paragraph news brief, is often dependent on the amount of available space.

In the federal government's case, that's never a problem. The government printing office seems to have an endless supply of paper and ink and binding materials. Those of you in this industry who must regularly digest those enormous government-issued documents (STB decisions, NTSB accident reports, FRA rulemakings, etc.) know what I'm talking about. So, it would seem that when a special commission of experts is assembled to produce a study and make recommendations--let's say, on transportation--and that document is vetted and approved (even voted upon) before public release, chopping out pieces of it won't happen.

That's what Paul Weyrich assumed. Weyrich, for those of you who don't know him, is a staunch conservative, a principal of the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank. He's also a former Amtrak board member, and a strong advocate of all forms of passenger rail. He and colleague Bill Lind have published several excellent position papers supporting investment in rail transit for APTA. Rail transit, Weyrich believes, is good for the nation, for reasons ranging from economic and social and environmental to national defense and security.

Weyrich served on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission and contributed to its "Transportation for Tomorrow" report (p. 12) with a section titled "The Case for Public Transportation."

Weyrich's section included the following: "It is the view of the Commission that public transportation, especially in the form of electric railways, must and will play a significantly larger role in Americans' mobility. Federal transportation policy should not only accommodate but encourage this development." And, "Federal policy should include a clear and unambiguous endorsement of a shift away from the private automobile to public transportation for travel in urban areas."

When the report was issued, Weyrich's section was missing, apparently deleted by someone in the Bush Administration.

"It is disappointing that after [the section I contributed] was passed by a nine to three vote that someone without ever asking me would see to it to do away with these important policy considerations," Weyrich said to the National Corridors Initiative. "It is the kind of gutter politics that make people hate their government, and Washington in general."

So this "editing," if you can call it that, was no word processing glitch. It was no "Oops, we overlooked it--sorry!"

Why does that not surprise me?

"Gutter politics"? Look at this way: Highways--not railroads--have gutters.

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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