Trains Trains Go Away

Posted by: on Jul 22, 2015 | No Comments


Trains Trains Go Away

I grew up on the Port Washington line of the Long Island Railroad. Far and away the best train line in the NY metro area. The local was 33 minutes, the express 23. No change in Jamaica, frequent service, and not a whole lot of problems – from what I remember…but it’s been a very long time since I last rode the LIRR on a regular basis.Monday night, Zach’s train ride home was delayed more than an hour due to electric problems with the Amtrak overhead wires, which New Jersey Transit uses for many of their lines.  Tuesday more electrical issues, and once again this morning, delays of over an hour with infrequent service to Penn Station due to…you guessed it…issues with overhead electrical wires.  Do you see the pattern developing here?  All this on the heels of NJ Transit announcing a 9% increase on fares beginning in October.

Let’s face facts – our nation’s rail infrastructure is aging, and our government does not seem to have the stomach or any idea on what to do to fix it. The desperately needed 3rd Hudson River Tunnel connecting NJ to Penn Station was derailed (pun intended) by Governor Blow Hard, which could do some serious damage to New Jersey rail service in and out of NYC in the not too distant future. If I have my numbers correct (and I’m not 100% sure I do but I do think I’m close), without the 3rd tunnel, NJ Transit’s schedule of trains going into Penn Station will go from a maximum of about 20 per hour down to about 6 if one of the 2 existing tunnels (which are getting older every day) needs to be taken out of service, which many are predicting is inevitable within the next 15 – 20 years. How are all these people who take the train now supposed to get into NYC? Obviously our governor didn’t give 2 shits about that but if you think traffic at the 3 Hudson River crossings into NYC are bad now, just wait.

As I said, it seems our country has no stomach for investing in our rail system. Pretty much could say that for our entire transportation infrastructure. About 15 years ago, a colleague of mine was telling me about her experiences working for Amtrak. One story she related to me still sticks out in mind, especially in light of recent events. A plan had been discussed for high speed rail service in the Washington/Philly/NYC/Boston corridor. In order to accomplish this, you need the rail line to be as straight as possible. Someone involved in that process pointed out that there was actually an existing structure which would accomplish a big portion of that goal.  If you look at a map of the northeast corridor, you might see what the idea was. Build the rail system on the existing Interstate 95 infrastructure. You couldn’t use I95 for the entire route but certainly for big portions. As no one outside of a small group of Amtrak and government agency insiders ever heard of this plan, you can pretty much figure out what happened to it. Nothing, nada, zilch, zippo. Another idea on how to improve our rail system tossed in the permanent outbox before even being widely discussed or studied. Could that idea have worked? Maybe but we will probably never know.

And do we have high speed rail service today? Not really, especially if you compare our rail system to others that have been built in other countries around the world. I guess someone in our government figured most Americans would rather sit in traffic on crumbling roads and bridges, than zip right past them on a nice modern rail system. Of course, most politicians who could make a difference when it comes to fixing our rail system and transportation infrastructure don’t take mass transit and probably don’t spend too much time in traffic, as they float gently down that lazy political river, da nile.