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Everything posted by sax184

  1. We're going to have to disagree on how much has changed. The Obama administration and Congress may get the opportunity to pull Amtrak out of the annual political grandstanding it gets from anti-rail politicians by addressing Amtrak's needs in the re-authorization of the transportation bill later this year. The best way to do this without burning political capital is to run a continuation-based budget to continue present operations while Jim Oberstar and the transportation committee put together their bill. Amtrak does not want to ask for money every year. They want a 6-year authorization just like FHWA, FTA, and the aviation system. They have to continue to ask for funds like they are doing currently because Congress has not given them a new avenue to seek funding yet, but it is coming. There has been a massive sea change in Washington on passenger rail. We have at minimum, $8 billion reasons and vocal public endorsement from the President that things have changed. The transportation bill offers a greater chance for this to happen. NARP is a good organization but they are more focused on preserving Amtrak's existing route structure than anything else. This was exactly what was needed from a political advocacy point of view for the last 8 years, when the primary strategy was getting together conservative democrats and republicans from areas with long-distance trains to vote with the urban rail supporters. Things have changed. NARP's advocacy has not yet adapted to the new conditions in DC, though I am confident they will in time. An alternative organization to NARP which is more forward-looking is the National Corridors Initiative. This group is the one actually pushing the vision for intercity rail in the US. The leading group on re-authorization is Transportation For America. Check out their platform, and you will see that there is significant discussion of intercity rail being addressed through the transportation bill. This, not an extra $300 million for Amtrak this year, is the big goal.
  2. Depending on the distance between interlockings, sometimes double-track can actually be cheaper than single track with passing sidings. I assume that $16 M will fund a mix of double and single track/passing siding approaches, with a commuter rail approach with trains no more often than every 20 minutes, more likely every 30 minutes. I'd feel more excited about this potentially happening if some more local elected officials in the Triad actually uttered the words "transit" every now and then.
  3. It's important to understand the differences between capital and operating grants, and to acknowledge that the transportation bill is up for reauthorization this year. Remember that "Amtrak" is not synonymous with "all spending on rail in the USA." So: 1. Grants for Amtrak have not increased substantially because the capital improvement program was largely put into the $8 BILLION high speed rail "down payment" in the stimulus bill. To continue operating the national rail system at its current level takes roughly the same amount of money. 2. It will take time to build the improvements in the capital program. When some of them are made, Amtrak services will begin to improve in speed and reliability. As this happens, demands for service should increase. At this time, maybe 2-4 years out, we should see some definite growth in the Amtrak budget. 3. The transportation bill is up for re-authorization this year. It may be broadly rewritten to include rail, which has been left out of each of the last three transportation bills, all of which are authorized for 6 years. If Congressional leaders and the Obama administration plan to remedy this anomaly, the best way to do it would be to give Amtrak roughly the same amount of money it got last year and do the major re-programming of Amtrak funding through the transportation bill. Most serious Amtrak advocates want this to happen because it is better to put the Amtrak budget on a predictable 6-year renewal cycle instead of an annual political football in Congress. The former is much, much, better for infrastructure planning than the latter. In summary, Obama has been in office a little over 100 days. In that time, he has committed over $9 billion to passenger rail in the US. Bush was in office for 8 years, never had a budget for Amtrak above $1.4 billion, and tried to reduce funding for Amtrak to under $700 million multiple times. If this isn't a night and day difference, I don't know what is.
  4. Could you then explain why the EU has abandoned all its maglev projects as being too costly?
  5. Very nice original journalism on the GTA meeting. I suspect you have provided better coverage here than the local papers!
  6. Many of the points being discussed here are false choices. CATS will be able to deliver its entire program on the existing 1/2-cent sales tax, EVENTUALLY, unless the current plan eats the revenue stream completely through operational costs. I have yet to see any documentation that this is the case. The sales tax was unusually robust for a few years, and now in a period of unprecedented economic tumult, it is weak. The viability of the 2030/2035/2040 plan is always going to be seen through the prism of the present health and future projections of the sales tax. If the economy were to recover and return to its form of say, 2004-2005, or the mid-1990s, we may find ourselves talking about new lines not in the present plan. Then assumptions may change again. The real debate in Charlotte is fundamentally this: "We know the sales tax has been weakened considerably because of the economy. Until the economy revives, we can follow a path that delivers fewer projects by the horizon date, and try to catch up by building more projects later if and when the sales tax recovers. Alternatively, we can raise new revenue to compensate for the weakness in the sales tax today to try to keep closer to the original schedule. What does Charlotte as a community, want to do?"
  7. In January 2009, monsoon said: Linked below are the metrics that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the overseeing agency of the LYNX project, demanded of CATS to provide the federal portion of funds for the project. They are published in the public record on a federal website because those metrics were acceptable to the FTA. Anyone interested can read the Federal documents citing the 9100 daily riders predicted after one year. The LYNX line carried over 16,000 passengers one year later. We understand that you do not believe that CATS is an agency that is well-run or serving its mission appropriately, but this project has been in the spotlight for years, and has passed the test in numerous ways in terms of metrics and the court of public opinion.
  8. Not to mention forcing a transfer and a switch of technology instead of having through trips from the other side of downtown to the arenas and south end.
  9. The midday trains are supposed to start sometime later this year- could be August or September, maybe.
  10. Ack- my math brain must have stayed in bed yesterday. Let me try again: Battery back in Chevy Volt that will get you 40 miles of electricity-based mobility: $5000-plus 10 Gallons of fuel in my car that gets me 300 miles of mobility: $20-$22 today. I imagine the batteries weigh as much or more than the liquid fuel. Now, it is correct that you get to use the battery again and again in the Volt. However, the point of the post was about energy density, meaning that today it costs thousands of dollars in capital cost to put approximately 1/10 of the range of a conventional sedan's tank of gas into a car. The energy density of petroleum projects is truly amazing, and therefore incredibly hard to replicate. As to the alleged hydrogen plane, the article linked to above casts doubt on its feasibility, and notes that the plane DOES NOT EXIST: Are we now going to put nuclear plants at all our airports? After we spent a good deal of time post 9-11 trying to make sure nuclear airports were safe from planes? Better yet, a fully loaded 747 weighs 900,000 lbs (or 408 british tonnes) at takeoff. 200 tonnes of liquid hydrogen needs to be kept at incredibly low temperatures, and thus will need extraordinary cooling systems on the plane. Assuming they could actually get this thing off the ground, which is exceedingly doubtful, there might be space for 10-20 seats onboard.
  11. Good catch- I think I mangled that a bit. It should have read: "In 1997, the sum of all fossil fuels burned was estimated to be the equivalent of 400 years of plant material." If these calculations are correct, then every day, human civilization burns the equivalent of an entire year's worth of plant material put out by all plants on earth and in the ocean. Suffice it to say that there's still a heck of a lot of plant material in a barrel of oil, and the energy embodied in that material originally came from the sun, and that mankind is not close to being able to reproduce that feat achieved over tens of thousands of years.
  12. Gard's post above indicates an optimism about technology that disregards some key laws of physics, most importantly energy density. Oil is truly an absolutely amazing resource. One barrel of oil holds over 400 years of solar energy condensed into a compact, easy to use and manage form. Our greatest technologies are nowhere close to replicating this. The Chevy Volt will probably be the longest-ranging electric vehicle in the world that is ready for mass consumption when it rolls out next year. It will be able to go about 40 miles on a full charge using a battery pack that costs several thousand dollars. I can presently buy that amount of mobility for my car in gasoline form for approximately $20-$22. If the price of gasoline quadruples, I will still be able to buy that same gas for $80-$88. The price to get 40 miles using electric power is extremely high. You just can't replicate this in an airplane. Ignore for a moment the problem of how you would generate thrust from electricity- you have much bigger weights (planes, not cars) , much longer distances (100s of miles without refueling/recharging), overcoming gravity, being lifted into the sky, not merely being pushed forward down the road. If we get to a point where we have $200/bbl oil and a mid-haul distance transportation system based on air travel rather than ground travel, we will lose a lot of mobility by having people priced out of 250 - 600 mile trips. If we have decent rail services in place, they can be electrified and run on a variety of domestic power sources, including renewables.
  13. The 2 runways at RDU are more than enough to handle current demand for long-haul passenger air service, and Terminal 2, when complete, will probably be all that is needed for ground facilities. Suggesting that a third runway is overkill is not in conflict with this. And yes, in the long run I think that the demand for in-state travel by ground transport is far bigger than that for air from RDU beyond 300 miles. I believe that future oil prices will make these journeys by train very attractive on a cost basis for business and leisure travel. Finally, 35% of all my holdings are in energy-related ETFs, and I'm doing fine, thanks for asking. Let's revisit this post in 2010 - 2011 and see what is the highest price for a gallon of gas is 2-3 quarters into an economic recovery.
  14. RDU is not getting set back. GSO is overinvesting and doubling down on a bad idea. The price of oil is going to be back up around $80-$90 within another 2-3 years, and GSO will suddenly find its petroleum-powered logistics/air/highway economic development strategy to be an albatross around its neck. Forget a 2nd runway at RDU. RDU has all the runways it will need for the remainder of its life as a passenger airport. The money would be better spent on expanding and improving rail connections from Raleigh to the coast or Asheville.
  15. Most airports have far more EMPLOYEES than air travelers taking the train to the airport. The Washington Metro is one of the few exceptions to this trend, not the rule. Most people go to the airport 2-6 times per year. Most people go to work 251 days each year. RDU boarded about 9730 passengers per day in January, on average. RDU is not O'Hare. In fact, it's not even CLT. 40,000 people work in downtown Raleigh every weekeday. 30,000 people work or study at NCSU every weekday during the school calendar year. They are both right on the STAC plan rail line. For most Triangle residents who do not work in downtown Raleigh or some other parking constrained (or non-free parking) destination, the airport is the only place in the region they ever pay to park. This is the primary reason why they think about taking transit to the airport. The secondary reason is that many (but not all) people have used transit from an airport in a major US city. RDU will NEVER generate the ridership of a downtown Raleigh station or a NCSU station. Unfortunately, the importance of transit to the airport as a primary issue is an article of faith in the Triangle. So we must improve transit to the airport. Let's hope we do it in a way that doesn't blow too much money that could have been spent in places where transit pays far greater dividends.
  16. This is a good question. Train speed generally depends on a few things, working in combination with one another. 1. Track Design 2. Station Spacing 3. Power Source Let's tackle them one at a time. 1.Think about driving- where is it easiest and safest to go fast? On a straightaway. Where is it harder? On a curve. Where is it hardest? On a tight, hairpin mountain road that makes a 180-degree turn in a very short distance. How does NASCAR allow cars to go faster in curves? They bank the raceways in the curves. Railroad tracks share the same properties and are affected similarly by centripetal forces. The fastest high-speed train lines in the world are very straight, with extremely gentle curves. The radius of the curves allows for trains to turn even at high speeds. Sometimes, as on the NCRR, the tracks are superelevated so that the outside rail is higher than the inside rail. Combining softer curves and outside rail superelevation provides higher speeds. For higher speeds, construction standards for the tracks also get more stringent- ties need to be closer together,etc. 2. Even if you have a 100% straight track and can run as fast as you want with brand-new equipment, if you have one station every mile along the track, it is unlikely you will ever top 50-60 mph before you need to start slowing down again to stop at the next station. Trains are heavy and steel wheel on steel rail provides much less friction than rubber on asphalt, so decelerating/stopping distances are not inconsiderable. Fast deceleration is often uncomfortable to passengers, just as it is in a car. 3. The fastest trains in the world are all electric. Under the most favorable conditions, you are unlikely to get a fossil-fuel powered train to go faster than 125-140 mph. Getting back to the Raleigh MTC, the way we are developing high-speed rail in NC allows free intermingling of high-speed trains with conventional speed trains on conventional speed tracks, beneath a 79 mph threshold. This means that you will have trains traveling mostly up to 79-89 mph between Charlotte and Raleigh, but then getting north of Raleigh and getting into the newly built fast section to Petersburg, and cranking up towards the 100-110 mph for long periods of time to cruise at high speeds. Instead of Raleigh to DC in 6-6.5 hours, with varying reliability and trains up to 2-3 hours late, you will get there in 3:45 to 4 hours, with about 90% on-time performance, and if you're late, maybe 10-20 minutes will be the most delay. Hope this helps!
  17. Please cite some examples and data for your assertions, since several of them seem to have little evidence behind them. This one seems particularly unlikely. Portland has pioneered a very good streetcar construction technique which can cover a standard Portland block (about 200 linear feet) in 3 weeks' time, and then move on to the next block. This is done to minimize impact on adjacent businesses. This construction costs $25-$30 million/mile for extensions, and more for new systems because the first segment amortizes the cost of streetcar maintenance facilities.
  18. In the Triad? At this point, never. There is no business or governmental leader even talking about it in Winston or Greensboro. Sorry to be blunt but it's the truth.
  19. I leave it to others to decide whether the FTA official ridership projection published by the federal government and not CATS constitutes a stated goal for the LYNX line. I certainly believe it is, obviously monsoon disagrees.
  20. FTA New Starts Profile Issued by Federal Government on CATS South Corridor LRT (Word DOC format) The link above is to a FTA document released in 2006 stating the expected metrics, aka GOALS, of the LYNX line in terms of ridership. The above report's first page, in the standard format issued annually for all projects in the New Starts program, states that the Opening YEAR (not opening day, Opening YEAR) forecast for the line is 9100 daily weekday boardings, and that the 2025 YEAR forecast is 18,100 average daily weekday boardings. The 9100 number was stated as a one year ridership goal prior to opening. It was an accepted goal by the regulating agency, the FTA. It was an accepted goal by CATS and by the community. That said, I'm with ChiefJoJo- we need to get back onto the Triangle topics, not minutia in Charlotte.
  21. Wendell Cox is a well-known paid lobbyist/speaker/hack of right-wing think tanks who wanders the country criticizing rail projects by abusing statistics. His work is not peer-reviewed because it would never stand up to scrutiny. Todd Littman, an international transportation researcher whose work is often published by the Transportation Research Board, the gold standard for transport research under the National Academy of Sciences, has detailed many of Cox's erroneous and misleading techniques in his paper "Evaluating Rail Transit Criticism." Feel free to download it here(PDF).
  22. I'm sorry, we'll have to agree to disagree. Regardless of your view, there is a strong consensus in NC and among national TOD experts that LYNX has driven development in the South corridor, just as I-485 has driven development towards interchanges in the suburbs. That said, this is supposed to be a Triangle thread so I'm not going to argue about Charlotte and CATS any more here. We have a whole thread in the Charlotte forum where these discussions have taken place, and I don't think having this discussion a second time is going to improve the quality of the Triangle thread.
  23. Maybe it's time to set up a thread on SC Intercity Rail?
  24. The projected ridership of the Lynx line was widely publicized before opening, at 9100 daily riders at the end of the first year. This is the definition of a quantitative goal. LYNX Ridership is far above this number, and peaked in the 15000-16000 range in the fall. Obviously with the slowdown in the economy and colder weather, ridership is likely to tail off a bit in the first part of 2009. The second number that is in little dispute is that there has been $1.6 to $1.9 billion in private sector development along the LYNX corridor. I am not sure if Charlotte ever had a goal for this like they had projected ridership, but the impact of the line can be and is being measured.
  25. Here's an article from the fall on the Music City Star. Title: Worth Saving? Music City Star is on the Ropes. Assuming this train is operational for another year, or into 2011, the underwhelming results have surely dealt a blow to the future of transit expansion in Nashville. Charlotte and Nashville are both sunbelt cities that built rail projects that had higher costs than projected. Charlotte is perceived as a rousing success, and Nashville is perceived as a failure. The Nashville project was a lower-cost, low-value proposition, and it has probably hit its benefits ceiling for the community. The Charlotte LYNX is a higher-cost, high-value proposition, and with $1.6 billion in development along the line, the ability to extend north, and 15,000 plus people riding each weekday, it is widely considered a success, and has not come close to reaching its benefit limit.
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