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February 2005

Bush Gambles on Amtrak

Pays for Tracks, not Trains

Amtrak logo The Bush administration is willing to match state spending on infrastructure for passenger rail, if states agree to take over funding for operating passenger trains. This plan failed to get enough support in 2003 because it did not specify how much it would cost the federal government. This caused suspicion that the administration would pull the plug on Amtrak, while not coming up with the money for new tracks. Newspaper analysts now say that the zero funding proposal for Amtrak is geared to make a crisis and force reform.

Editor's comment: It sounds like a good plan. The tracks need to be brought up to international standards if the trains are to be run more efficiently, and the states are the natural source of funding for operating trains that pass through them. The administration should draw up some credible numbers on what the reform would cost. Amtrak has said corridors across the nation need $3bn. The value of planning ahead, and of diplomacy, does not always have to be learned the hard way. See also Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta's article in the New York Times, stories at CNN and Sacramento Business Journal, and earlier story at New York Times. archive (February 22nd)

Bush Suggests Cancelling Amtrak Funding

US President Bush wishes to cancel Amtrak funding in an effort to lower the budget deficit. The suggested budget only includes $360m to be used for commuter trains in the Northeast Corridor in case Amtrak goes bankrupt. But the budget must first be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives. The suggested budget would allocate $3bn to expand airports and $284bn over six years for new highways. See also Oakland Tribune story on rising Amtrak passenger numbers and Washington Post article on the budget. (February 7th)

Faulty Switch Detectors in Sweden

Trains in Sweden were delayed over the weekend as rail administration Banverket inspected switches/turnouts/points. The switches were equipped with a new kind of detector which detects which way the switch is set. 7000 of these detectors were inspected over the weekend, and 10 were found to be faulty. The faulty detectors would send the wrong information if a rock or other hard object prevented the switch from locking in place. The faults were discovered the same day Banverket announced that 93% of trains were punctual last year, and that the total number of hours delayed fell 5% while traffic increased. A train is delayed if it is more than five minutes late to the end station. See alse press release on punctuality. (February 21st)

Rescue Plan for Endangered Railway

The rural Bohus railway in western Sweden may be cut short since the national road administration wants to build a road over it, and building a bridge would be too expensive. The railway runs from Göteborg to Strömstad. But opposition is building, and rail administration Banverket has presented an SEK80m plan to increase speed from 90 km/h to 100 km/h. See also note on the Bohus railway. (February 21st)

Swedish Monopoly Stays

Sweden will not abolish SJ's monopoly on 'profitable' long-distance traffic because the traffic isn't very profitable, says the minister of infrastructure ahead of a transport proposition to be put to parliament. (February 21st)

New Grey Trains in Service in Sweden

grey X 2000, photo by Alexander Fäldt As if February was not grey enough in drab snowless Sweden, SJ is putting two new grey trains in service this month; the grey and drab Alstom double deckers, and the refurbished grey X 2000 trains. The refurbished X 2000 trains have new electronic destination displays inside and out. See also photos of the double-decker, gray X 2000 photos, electronic destination sign and video about the redesign in Windows Media Format, and cross-platform wmv player. archive (February 11th)

Britain Studies London-Manchester HSR

The British government is studying a high-speed rail link that could take passengers from London to Manchester in less than 90 minutes, a reduction of at least 50 minutes. Transport Minister Alistair Darling says the Government must decide whether the extra capacity required on the rail network over the next 10 to 20 years could be achieved by upgrading existing lines or by building new railways. He also says earlier plans for the project drawn up by the Strategic Rail Authority had not been "robust" in terms of cost. The link was determined to cost £33bn. See also Edinburgh Evening News story. (February 7th)

Are Busses Better Than Metro?

The British parliament is to investigate wether busses would be better than extending the Midland Metro in Birmingham. The 11km, £139m extension was approved by the government in December, but construction has not yet started. (February 7th, thanks Nic Newman)

Three Dead in Latvia

Three people died in a train collision in the Latvian capital, Riga. An empty Moscow to Riga train reversing towards a depot collided with a commuter train on February 2nd. (February 7th, thanks Christian Mordhorst)

Alberta Railway Reopened After Crash

Canadian National's main rail line in central Alberta reopened Tuesday the 1st after a logging truck collided with a Via passenger train west of Edmonton a day earlier, derailing eight cars and two locomotives. Nobody was injured but the truck driver had to be cut out. (February 7th, thanks Christian Mordhorst)

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