Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Six Things for Obama

Via the Sustainable Cities Blog, via, here's a list (PDF) of "51 specific recommendations for what the federal government could do to help New York City" from the Center for an Urban Future.

5. Dramatically increase the share of federal transportation spending
that goes to mass transit.
6. Reform Washington’s anti-urban funding formula for infrastructure
7. Fund Amtrak at a level that enables vast improvement to inter-city
rail service.
8. Accelerate plans to develop and implement a more advanced air
traffic control system that would reduce flight delays.
9. Include more ferry projects in future federal transportation infrastructure
10. Expand dredging of New York City’s waterways.

I'm honestly a little skeptical about some of these. I'm in contact with a bunch of transportation people - and admittedly, not so many marine transportation people - but I honestly don't hear anyone saying, "gee, if only our waterways were more dredged!" The air traffic control problems have already gone down with the economy, and they're going to go away pretty much for good when the price of jet fuel finally gets rationalized. And I've already made it clear what I think of ferry system investments. So there's three wasted.

So here's some things to replace those three.

First, fund the cross-harbor rail freight tunnel.

Second, (and this might fit under their #5 and #6, but why not make it explicit?) abandon the "cost effectiveness index" used by the Federal DOT to judge transit projects - or else apply it to road projects as well.

Third is a simple change that will hardly cost anything, but could make a huge difference: Reform the Federal Railroad Administration's regulations to allow European-style "light" diesel multiple unit trains to share tracks with freight trains. From what I've read, Colorado Railcar went under because it was run by greedy incompetents, but the reason no one's rushed to fill that void - and the reason it had no competition - is because the FRA regulations make it almost impossible to build a DMU cheaply enough to make a profit, despite a very high demand. It's also why the Acela and Talgo sorta-high-speed (sHSR) trains used in this country are so much more expensive than the high-speed trains used in Europe and Asia.

From everything I've heard, the European DMUs are just as safe as commuter trains. The only reason that these FRA regulations are still in effect is bureaucratic inertia. Getting them back in line with reasonable expectations would be change I could believe in.

1 comment:

BruceMcF said...

Its not just inertia ... they are just as safe, but that is due to more active crash prevention measures as opposed to passive crash resistance ... and that implies costs to upgrade lots of freight rolling stock.

We certainly could do with a Rapid Rail network, which would be designed for interoperable Rapid Freight Rail and Rapid Passenger Rail ... where FRA bulk-freight compliant trains that also met the Rapid Rail standards could operate across both networks, and those that one complied with one would be restricted to that network.