The Politics of Amtrak Funding (Or: Why Conservatives Hate Trains So Much)

Amtrak train | Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com. Ayn Rand stamp | catwalker / Shutterstock.com

Amtrak train | Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com. Ayn Rand stamp | catwalker / Shutterstock.com

The House Appropriations committee made a curious move yesterday just hours after the deadly Amtrak derailment: It voted to cut $252 million in funding from Amtrak.

Just because there was a horrible train crash does not mean rail funding should be increased (or even kept the same). But, obviously, a lot of people were angry at the vote — especially after reports that a safety measure called positive train control would have prevented the train from traveling so fast around the curve. (Amtrak has begun installing PTC on the Northeast Corridor, but federal officials said it is not yet operational.) Let’s take one angry comment at random: Read more »

Gov. Wolf to Obama: Help Prevent Oil Train Accidents

Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Every week, as many as 70 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation pass through Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf says. Many are en route to Philadelphia.

Wolf wrote a letter to President Barack Obama Friday, asking him for help preventing a tragic accident involving the trains. Here’s the letter:

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Hell Is Other People on the SEPTA QuietRide Car

Illustration by Hawk Krall

Illustration by Hawk Krall

“I wish you were going to Vegas,” says the girl in the bright orange tank top. There’s something both infuriating and admirable about her tone. The way her declarative statements bend upward in pitch, as if she’s asking a question, reminds me of Valley Girls in the ’80s, and Paris Hilton. But this hot mess clearly doesn’t care what anyone around her thinks. If she were on a reality TV show, I’d say good for you — be yourself, screw the haters. But we’re on a SEPTA train bound for the ’burbs sometime around 6 p.m., and just seconds ago, the conductor made an announcement that we’re sitting in what’s known as the QuietRide car. Even if you’re not a regional-rail regular, you can probably figure out what that’s supposed to mean. Orange Tank Top and her male companion — who, in clear violation of some hipster-slacker ethos, is rocking both a backpack and a messenger bag — drone on, oblivious to both the friendly reminder and to the fact that no one in the entire car is talking except for them.
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Increased Ridership Making SEPTA Regional Rail Packed

Septa regional rail train

I rode a 7 a.m. train into town on Monday morning, and it was packed. Every part of it! I don’t often ride the regional rail into Center City at rush hour, so I was surprised by the number of people on the train. I had to stand! The conductor squeezed by me after taking my ticket.

This is apparently the case on lots of lines. The Inquirer reports today regional rail trains are packed because of increased ridership and the frequency which cars go out of service.

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The One Big Problem With Bringing Amtrak to City Hall

shutterstock_amtrak-940x540

“Ladies and gentlemen, the next station stop for this train is City Hall station in Philadelphia. Please check your seat and make sure you have all personal belongings with you as you leave the train. Thank you for riding Amtrak.”

At least one Philadelphian would love to hear this announcement. In an essay in the Philadelphia Business Journal yesterday, Bob Previdi, former spokesperson for City Council member Anna Verna, noted that running Amtrak trains through the heart of the city, stopping at a renamed Suburban Station on the way to New York, would offer all sorts of benefits: increased convenience for Amtrak travelers, increased property values for homes and offices now closer to intercity rail service, and even luring New Yorkers to Philly to live, as their commutes and their tax bills would both shrink.

There’s a lot that’s appealing about this idea. 30th Street Station, grand though it is, is across the river from the heart of the city, and Previdi is far from the only person who would love to see restored the city center access that was lost when Broad Street Station was closed in 1952. And he is right to note that this city, like London, has already made a major investment in easy rail access in the form of the Commuter Tunnel.

But in saying that the only thing standing in the way of operating Amtrak service through the Commuter Tunnel is the political will to bring the passenger and freight railroads together to implement the through-tunnel service, he is ignoring one big fact on the ground.

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Train Geeks Freaking Out Over 30th Street Station Renaming

30th Street Station. Photo | Jeff Fusco

30th Street Station. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Earlier this week, we told you that United States Congressman Chaka Fattah wants to rename 30th Street Station after his barrier-breaking predecessor, William H. Gray III, making it the clunkily named William H. Gray III 30th Street Station that precisely zero people will call it. It’s a nice enough idea and not one that you’d expect people to get up in arms about. But you apparently have never met a train geek. Read more »

Federal Officials Blame Conrail for Train Derailment

Image via NTSB

Image via NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board met today to release its report on a train derailment almost two years ago in New Jersey. The blame was placed squarely on Conrail. The NTSB says the train was allowed to attempt to cross the Paulsboro bridge despite a red light showing the rail slide locks were not engaged.

The train was allowed to proceed because Conrail was “relying on a training and qualification program that did not prepare the train crew to examine the bridge lock system,” according to the report. The NTSB also faulted the emergency response to the derailment, which caused a cloud of vinyl chloride to be released into the air. The report says state and local officials, along with Conrail, did not properly prepare first responders for the incident.

An earlier NTSB report said much of Paulsboro was sickened by the release of the dangerous petrochemical.

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Man Sitting on Train Tracks Hit, Somehow Survives

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

A man sitting on the train tracks in West Depford survived when he fell between the rails and the train largely passed over him.

Andrew Davoli, 25, was taken to Cooper University Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries to his right leg (and general soreness from being hit by a freaking train). The conductor saw Davoli on the tracks, West Depford police say, but wasn’t able to stop in time.

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Report: Much of South Jersey Town’s Residents Got Sick After Train Derailment

Image via NTSB

Image via NTSB

A new report form the New Jersey Department of Health says that most of the town of Paulsboro, New Jersey, was sickened by a train derailment that released vinyl chloride in 2012.

The report, which was posted on the National Transportation Safety Board’s website last week, says “58% of participants in the In-Person Survey and 66% in the Mailed Survey reported experiencing new or worsening symptoms in the week-long period after the train derailment and vinyl chloride release.” Vinyl chloride is a chemical primarily used to make the polymer PVC.

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Wire Problems Delay Philly-to-Baltimore Amtrak Service

There were significant delays for Amtrak riders in the Northeast Corridor Tuesday morning as wire problems led to a suspension of service between Philadelphia and Baltimore. Amtrak says limited service is now restored, and commuters should still expect heavy delays.

Amtrak, who dropped its Clippers sponsorship this week, says power lines came down between Baltimore and Wilmington, near Perryville, Maryland.

[Amtrak | Fox 29]

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