Thursday, May 25, 2006

Power Failure Halts Rails in Northeast

by Ken Houghton

A Three-Hour Tour

The great thing about public transport is that this is actually news. The bad thing is that leaving the house at 7:20 and arriving at work a little after 10:00 is not the "one-hour-door-to-door commute" I promised my wife.

(Her cousin, staying with us for the week until her NYC apartment is available, will probably arrive at her CJR internship about an hour late--on her third day. Fortunately, they probably read the NYT headlines website.)

But the world continues, and the infrastructure still mostly works. Hope the Iraqi leaders can say the same some day.

UPDATE: On the off-chance that you thought this post more appropriate for my personal blog than this one, I note that the GAO has made explicit what a lot of Congressmen are trying to avoid noting:
Commuter rail agencies provide mobility to millions of people across the country, often using Amtrak infrastructure and services. Given these interactions, an abrupt Amtrak cessation could have a significant impact on commuter rail operations. Amtrak's chronic financial problems and recent budget proposals make such a cessation a possibility. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which commuter rail agencies rely on Amtrak for access to infrastructure and services, (2) issues that commuter rail agencies would face if Amtrak abruptly ceased to provide them with services and infrastructure access, and (3) the options available to commuter rail agencies should Amtrak abruptly cease to provide them services and infrastructure access.

The accompanying report can hardly be faulted for failing to note what we in the Northeast know well: we're a profit center for Amtrak. It's the small stations where no one ever gets off (or on) that are a drain on the budget and the plans. (I lived in one of those: in 1979, there wasn't a station; by 2000, the train stopped there--in the middle of the night, both for arrivals (now a civilized 5:00a.m.) and departures (3:01 a.m.), on specific days.

Over that time, the city population fell.

The GAO Abstract concludes by noting that today's once-in-a-while could become tomorrow's rule:
Most commuter rail agencies that rely on Amtrak have identified ways to mitigate service disruptions in an abrupt Amtrak cessation. However, these options are largely dependent on retaining Amtrak employees and access to Amtrak's infrastructure. Federal agencies could provide short-term options to mitigate potential impacts on commuter rail agencies through their authority to order continued commuter service (called "directed service"), although federal officials stated that service disruptions are likely and the cost estimates are unreliable. Private transportation companies could provide options for commuter rail agencies in the long term; however, other issues would need to be addressed to ensure a smooth transition. [emphasis mine]

The train takes me currently, on a normal day, about an hour less than driving would. So for the week, I'm still ahead on a time basis. I look forward to a return to normal travel tomorrow.
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