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Please note as of Dec. 1, 2014, All Aboard Ohio moved its statewide offices to Cleveland’s public transportation and retail hub, Tower City Center! Our new mailing address is:

All Aboard Ohio
230 West Huron Road #85.53
Cleveland, OH 44113

Our telephone number remains (844) 464-7245, a toll-free number you may better remember as 844-GO4-RAIL. Our e-mail address continues to be info@allaboardohio.org for general inquiries.

 

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You’ll enjoy instant news on rail travel discounts or special packages, travel tips, rail and transit service interruptions, local/state/federal policy issues, discussion and dialogue from around Ohio, the U.S. and even the world. For more in-depth news, dues-paying members receive the quarterly Ohio Passenger Rail News. Click HERE (5mb PDF) for a free sample of our newsletter. Please join All Aboard Ohio if you think this flow of information is important and you want it to continue. With your support, it will!

Amtrak is a public-private partnership, but at the inverse of its competition

Amtrak-F35

Courtesy AP-Politics

 

In the days following the tragic crash of Amtrak train #188 in Philadelphia, the public profile of Amtrak’s infrastructure issues were raised significantly. We at All Aboard Ohio abhor the tragedy but encourage conversation about how to prevent such tragedies in the future by providing this nation with a First World transportation system. Instead, America’s level of public investment in rail is dwarfed by other civilized nations as is our public investment in competing highway and aviation systems.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the basics of transportation which makes it difficult to assign responsibilities for implementing solutions. This goes to the heart of who owns what and who pays for what when it comes to passenger rail, highways and aviation. While all are public-private partnerships, understanding the stark differences in these ownership models is crucial to addressing the shortcomings of America’s passenger rail system.

All modes of transportation have two basic cost components: fixed and variable. Any business would want to minimize the fixed costs and thus reduce the risk to shareholders and cut costs for customers. Thus the majority of remaining costs are variable as they rise or fall with changes in business activity. In the transportation world, these two cost components can be categorized as infrastructure (fixed) and operations (variable). And anything you can do to externalize the fixed costs of infrastructure onto other parties — namely taxpayers who absorb those costs — to artificially reduce the cost to customers is preferable.

For road/aviation/water transportation, its public-private partnership has the infrastructure publicly owned and financed while the vehicles/operations are privately owned.

In the past 44 years of American passenger rail, its public-private partnership has the infrastructure privately owned and the vehicles/operations are publicly owned. Prior to 1971, passenger rail was entirely a private enterprise. It will never be entirely a private enterprise again unless the infrastructure and operations of its competition become entirely private too.

The reason for this inverse fixed/variable, infrastructure/operations policy approach is due to the differing political eras in which each mode came of age. Railroads grew up in the 19th century era of Laissez-faire. Roads and aviation grew up in the mid-20th century New Deal/Great Society eras. Yet too many don’t recognize the public-private paradigm for each today.

Railroads and their shareholders traditionally owned or are otherwise responsible for everything from right of way property (only 18,700 route miles or 7% of the nation’s total were provided to the railroads by federal land grant), to the tracks, to the trains, to property security, the insurance, financing, to the dispatching/traffic control systems, to the communication systems. All are privately owned and financed through private debt markets that charge higher rates and profit margins on their debt than does government debt.

Given these ownership constraints, you can’t just go out and get a locomotive engineer’s license and show up with a train to use a railroad line (even today where a new but still small percentage of railroad corridors are publicly owned). Until the 1970s, the public sector owned virtually no rail infrastructure, so when there was an economic downtown, we ended up with many miles of track getting ripped up, never to return. Fewer than 1,000 miles of Amtrak’s 21,300-mile national system are owned by the public sector. In the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is responsible for owning and maintaining all but 95 miles of track, bridges, electrical systems, stations, dispatching, policing and more.

By contrast, highways, aviation and waterways all have their rights of way publicly provided by government agencies and financed through government held-trust funds which substantially reduces risk and interest costs. They pay no property taxes on their rights of way, nor liability insurance on the infrastructure. Security on the roads is provided by local or state enforcement. A decade ago, the Ohio State Patrol was funded out of the gas tax but is instead funded by general taxpayers. More than two-thirds of airport security costs are funded by general funds, not user fees. Air traffic control is funded 20% by general taxpayers. Airport improvements and expansions are funded by tax-exempt bonds. When airlines fly the coop as happened in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland and other cities, taxpayers are left holding the bag.

Road/air/water fixed costs of infrastructure are externalized on to taxpayers so they are far less for users of road/air/water than for the railroads. Motorists pay only half of the cost of using roads, with general taxpayers providing the rest. All of these subsidies artificially reduces the cost of driving and flying and distorts the transportation market in their favor.

The barriers for competitors to enter the market is much less for road/air/water modes. All you need is an operator’s license, some business savvy and a vehicle to use those rights of way which enhances innovation and price competition, but can cause safety issues. And when there are economic downturns, taxpayers bear the risk burden of sustaining or otherwise mothballing those facilities until good times return. That helps them gain market share from railroads whenever a recession ends.

Taxpayers provide direct subsidies for all modes. The highway trust fund has been bailed out countless times by the general treasury since 2008 with more than $50 billion in general funds — not gas taxes thereby keeping the cost of driving artificially low. We don’t increase the cost of using roads at peak travel times and instead provide an extra lane or two to busy highways which isn’t economically justified the other 20 hours of the day. And don’t anyone say that a road across unpopulated areas like Wyoming or Montana pays its own way. Many busy urban highways fail tax-gap analyses too.

Yet the biggest victim of this common misunderstanding of who pays for what in this inverted world of infrastructure/operation ownership paradigms is the truth. It results in a double-standard held against passenger rail which is urged to become a private operation while its competition is not. But half of Amtrak’s infrastructure/operation ownership paradigm is already privatized — the infrastructure half. Meanwhile half of its highway/aviation competition is private too — vehicles/operations. They are mirror images of each other; only the dollar amounts invested in infrastructure truly separate them. How big is the separation?

The discrepancy in historical federal investment between highways, aviation, and intercity passenger rail is staggering. Between 1958 and 2008, nearly $1.3 trillion has been invested in our nation’s highways and over $473 billion in aviation. Federal investment in passenger rail began in 1971 with the creation of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). Between 1971 and 2008, only $53 billion dollars have been invested in passenger rail.

Either apply the Laissez-faire policy to all modes or recognize that the every mode is subsidized albeit in different ways. And if we want a First World passenger rail system, we’re actually going to have to pay for it. There is no train fairy waiting to leave a Shinkansen or TGV under all of our pillows.

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Cleveland RTA busily replacing rail stations

Little Italy-University Circle is the first all-new (not a rebuild-in-place) rail station Cleveland since 1996. This station will open this year on the Airport-Windermere Red Line.

Little Italy-University Circle is the first all-new (not a rebuild-in-place) rail station in Greater Cleveland since 1996. This station will open this year on the Airport-Windermere Red Line. Its construction required shutting down the Red Line last summer so the eastbound track we’re riding on in this photo could be moved to insert the new platform between the tracks (All Aboard Ohio photo).

Cleveland has $90 million worth of active station projects along its 50-mile rapid transit system (37 miles rail, 13 miles Bus Rapid Transit or BRT). In fact, there are more station projects moving forward simultaneously now than perhaps at any time in the 40-year history of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA).

Of the 52 rail stations in the GCRTA rail system, replacing or relocating 11 of them is in various stages of project development (ie: design, funding procurement, bidding, construction). This doesn’t include the $18.5 million reconstruction of the Cedar-University Circle station which re-opened Aug. 28, 2014.

Only one station site is new – Little Italy-University Circle. It replaces a poorly sited station (Euclid-East 120th) for a location at Mayfield Road where it’s helping to spur the $200 million Uptown and Intesa developments. Most station projects are to keep the system in a state of good repair and/or to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

These are the 11 station projects listed in order of total cost (graphics for each station follow that station’s listing):

Tower City Center (located on Red/Blue/Green/Waterfront lines) – total projected cost is $25 million – Work will start this summer and continue into 2016 on replacing Tracks 7 and 8 costing $7 million with slab tracks like what was done in the airport tunnel and station in 2013 (SEE PHOTO). The old Shaker station’s track 7 will be used temporarily for most westbound trains for the next two years.

Tower City Center GCRTA station (click to enlarge).

Tower City Center GCRTA station (click to enlarge). GCRTA will replace ex-Shaker station track 7 first and then current westbound track 8. Other tracks and drainage will be replaced as more funding becomes available.

GCRTA CEO Joe Calabrese (with blue folder) tours elected officials and media on Stand Up For Transportation Day) April 9 to show them needed trackbed improvements at Tower City station (Click to enlarge).

GCRTA CEO Joe Calabrese (with blue folder) tours elected officials and media on Stand Up For Transportation Day April 9 to show them why trackbeds need to be replaced at Tower City station (Click to enlarge).

 

Little Italy-University Circle (Red Line) – $17.5 million – This station is due to open this year, resulting in the replacement and closure of the Euclid-East 120th station. It involved relocating the eastbound track on a new bridge over Mayfield Road to insert the platform between the tracks.

Little Italy-University Circle station under construction on Mayfield Road, Sept. 27, 2014.

Little Italy-University Circle station under construction on Mayfield Road, Sept. 27, 2014 (Click to enlarge).

 

Brookpark (Red Line) – $16.5 million – Contracts were awarded in March to start construction this year. This station is GCRTA’s second busiest after Tower City Center.

Groundbreaking for the new Brookpark station was held April 9, 2015. This station, GCRTA's second busiest after Tower City, sits on the border of Cleveland and Brook Park. This is the Cleveland entrance.

Groundbreaking for the new Brookpark station was held April 9, 2015. This station, GCRTA’s second busiest after Tower City, sits on the border of Cleveland and Brook Park. This is the Cleveland entrance (Click to enlarge).

 

East 79th (Red Line) – $12 million – Design and construction funding procurement has begun for this station. All Aboard Ohio dropped its objection to rebuild this station at its current, remote location when GCRTA and the city joined up to develop transit-supportive land-use plans for the surrounding area.

East 79th Red Line station. There is also an East 79th station on the combined Blue/Green lines  (Click to enlarge).

East 79th Red Line station. There is also an East 79th station on the combined Blue/Green lines (Click to enlarge). Photo is courtesy of Cleveland.com and appeared with THIS ARTICLE.

 

East 116th (Blue/Green lines) – $6.3 million – Design of a modern, ADA-compliant, two-level station is nearing completion and construction is due to start in 2016.

East 116th station at Shaker Boulevard on the combined Blue/Green lines. There is significant new residential development at the former St. Luke's Hospital next to this station.

East 116th station at Shaker Boulevard on the combined Blue/Green lines. There is significant new residential development at the former St. Luke’s Hospital next to this station.

 

Lee-Van Aken (Blue Line) – $5.4 million – Construction is underway to replace this two-level station with an ADA-compliant facility and should be finished in about 20 months.

Lee Road-Van Aken station on the Blue Line in Shaker Heights (click to enlarge).

Lee Road-Van Aken station on the Blue Line in Shaker Heights (click to enlarge).

 

East 34th-Campus ( Red/Blue/Green lines) – $3.4 million – Design of a modern, ADA-compliant station is nearing completion and construction is due to start by 2017.

East 34th-Campus on the combined Red-Blue-Green lines. However there are no ridership generators within a quarter-mile of this station and no plans to build any, yet GCRTA was urged to rebuild this station anyway for $3.4 million.

East 34th-Campus on the combined Red-Blue-Green lines (click to enlarge). However there are no ridership generators within a quarter-mile of this station and no plans to build any, yet GCRTA was urged to rebuild this station anyway for $3.4 million. Photo is courtesy of Cleveland.com and appeared with THIS ARTICLE.

 

East 105th-Quincy (Red Line) – $4 million – All Aboard Ohio successfully urged tripling the length of the tiny station platform and adding an access point from East 105th (serving the New Economy Village development) as part of the Opportunity Corridor boulevard (underway). The Ohio Department of Transportation is funding 80 percent of the cost.

East 105th Red Line station concept as advocated by All Aboard Ohio in 2013 (click to enlarge).

East 105th Red Line station concept as advocated by All Aboard Ohio in 2013 (click to enlarge).

New Economy neighborhood looking south on East 105th toward the expanded Red Line station (click to enlarge).

New Economy neighborhood looking south on East 105th toward the expanded Red Line station (click to enlarge).

 

Farnsleigh (Blue Line) – $0.225 million – The station is being retrofitted with an ADA-compliant ramp onto trains. Will support the $75 million first phase of the Van Aken District development by RMS Investment Corp. in Shaker Heights.

Phase one of the Van Aken District mixed-use residential/retail/office is being developed by RMS Partners between the Farnsleigh and Warrensville stations on the Blue Line.

Phase one of the Van Aken District mixed-use residential/retail/office is being developed by RMS Investment Corp. between the Farnsleigh and Warrensville (see next listing) stations on the Blue Line (click to enlarge).

 

Warrensville (Blue Line) – $0.2 million – Also getting new ADA ramps and will also support the adjacent Van Aken District development.

Warrensville station at Van Aken Boulevard on the Blue Line in Shaker Heights (click to enlarge). There is also a Warrensville station on the Green Line at Shaker Boulevard.

Warrensville station at Van Aken Boulevard on the Blue Line in Shaker Heights showing the old ADA ramp (click to enlarge). There is also a Warrensville station on the Green Line at Shaker Boulevard.

 

Lee-Shaker (Green Line) – $0.2 million – Also getting new ADA ramps.

Lee Road station at Shaker Boulevard on the Green Line (click to enlarge). There is also a Lee Road station on the Blue Line, but at Van Aken Boulevard (see listing above).

Lee Road station at Shaker Boulevard on the Green Line (click to enlarge). There is also a Lee Road station on the Blue Line, but at Van Aken Boulevard (see listing above).

For updates or more information about these and other Cleveland rail system capital improvements, please visit the GCRTA Major Projects page.

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Save Hoosier State train, expand to Cincy

A southbound Hoosier State train arrives Lafayette, Indiana on its way from Chicago to Indianapolis. All Aboard Ohio wants this train to run daily, run faster and run to Cincinnati.  (J Feister photo)

A northbound Hoosier State train arrives Lafayette, Indiana on its way from Indianapolis to Chicago. All Aboard Ohio wants this train to run daily, run faster and run to Cincinnati. (J Feister photo)

In a March 18 letter, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) urged the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration to continue the Chicago-Indianapolis “Hoosier State” train service and to improve the service to attract more riders. Among the improvements, he advised INDOT and FRA to extend the train service to Cincinnati. All Aboard Ohio thanks Senator Donnelly for his constructive, well-timed letter supporting the Cincinnati extension.

He joins Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana) in supporting the Hoosier State service. Senator Coats’ recent letter dealt with a dispute involving INDOT and the FRA (see last paragraph of this blog posting) rather than any expansions or service improvements. Regardless, the bipartisan support of this train is much appreciated.

All Aboard Ohio believes that the best way to boost ridership on the Hoosier State is to:

  • Run the northbound and southbound Hoosier State trains daily (each currently runs four days a week with Amtrak’s Cardinal service on the other three days)
  • Reschedule the Hoosier State two hours later northbound and two hours earlier southbound
  • Reroute it via faster tracks into Chicago
  • Add three new passing sidings and install more seamless welded rails for higher speeds (already underway)
  • Improve grade crossing safety with “triggers” set farther from road crossings and constant-warning-time circuits
  • Extend the train service to current and future Amtrak stations in Connersville, Indiana plus Ohio stations including Oxford, Hamilton, I-275/Tri-County area and Cincinnati Union Terminal
  • Provide coordinated, connecting bus service with through-ticketing to off-route destinations such as Middletown, University of Dayton and downtown Dayton.

Numerous cities, businesses and civic organizations are supporting the Hoosier extension to Cincinnati including the Hamilton County Commissioners, city councils of Hamilton, Norwood, Oxford, Wyoming and Cincinnati Council’s Transportation Committee Chair Amy Murray, Miami University, University of Cincinnati, the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation, Cincinnatians For Progress and others.

All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast noted the Cincinnati expansion depends on continuing the Hoosier State train service beyond April 30.

“You can’t expand and improve a train that no longer exists,” Prendergast said. “That’s why were so interested in what’s going on in Indiana. The long-term future of this train must be secured first. Then we want to consider expanding a faster, more frequent version of this train service to Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio.”

Senator Donnelly acknowledged this course of action in the letter he sent today to INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning and FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg.

“I write today to support the continued service of the Hoosier State line. I was pleased to see that the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) has announced the continuation of service through the end of April, and I ask that INDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) work together to continue the safe operation of the Hoosier State well beyond that time.

“As you know, the Hoosier State is an important transportation option connecting Indianapolis, Chicago, and the communities in between. Even as its future has been uncertain in recent years, demand for the service continues, with nearly 34,000 passengers during Fiscal Year 2014. I regularly hear from constituents who rely on the Hoosier State, as well as from those who would like to see the service improved and extended into southern Indiana communities and Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I know many Hoosiers support the state working to improve and expand the Hoosier State service. I am sensitive to concerns related to employment practices and state resources that may result from FRA policies. It also is important, however, that the state work closely with FRA to ensure the safe operation of the Hoosier State line. I also expect FRA to continue working with the state to address their concerns, while also ensuring that the safety of Hoosiers is not compromised.

“It is my hope that INDOT and FRA will quickly reach a resolution that will ensure the safety and continued operation of the Hoosier State line. If I may be of assistance, please do not hesitate to let me know. I stand ready to assist you,” Senator Donnelly wrote in his letter.

INDOT and the FRA are attempting to work through new rules implemented by the FRA to assign safety and liability compliance on states who are already required by a 2008 federal law to sponsor passenger rail routes of 750 miles or less. Longer routes are a federal responsibility. Indiana is the first state to be notified by the FRA, apparently because it is attempting to involve a private-sector third party (Iowa Pacific Corp.) to provide train equipment and on-board service crews to improve customer service over what Amtrak has delivered. North Carolina Department of Transportation was the first the state to engage a private-sector third party in 2008 which was also met with resistance from the FRA, then administered by Joseph Boardman. Boardman is now the president and CEO of Amtrak. NCDOT sued the FRA which then backed off.

END

 

Rail passengers win Supreme Court victory!

gavel on white background

Rail passengers have won an important victory for making their trains more reliable. The Supreme Court released their opinion this morning on Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1080. READ THE OPINION HERE

It was a unanimous Supreme Court opinion that Amtrak is a government entity, making it able to help the U.S. DOT develop and enforce performance standards over the track-owning host railroads (most of whom run only freight) represented by the Association of American Railroads.

Had Amtrak not prevailed, train services would have suffered worse than they already have. After the freight railroads prevailed last year in the lower court, Amtrak’s on-time performance sank especially on trains through Ohio.

All Aboard Ohio joined with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, National Association of Railroad Passengers and the Virginians for High Speed Rail in filing an “amicus brief” or friend of the court document in support of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s position that Amtrak can help develop and enforce performance standards for using the rights of way of host railroads.

So if you’re a member of one of these organizations, you just won an important victory for more reliable passenger train services! It shows that YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE by being a member of All Aboard Ohio. And if you’re not a member, join us today HERE! Thank you for your support!

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