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Old May 1st, 2009, 09:24 PM   #1461
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Ride the rails to the Grand Canyon
Tribune Media Services
April 13, 2009

It's that rare vacation moment when everyone is happy at the same time. And all it took was an old-fashioned train in a remote Arizona town and a singing cowboy leading the kids in a spirited rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."

"Our kids have never been on a train before," said Mary Macho, visiting from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with her husband, 10-year-old twins and 8-year-old. "This is a new adventure for all of us."

"And this is a lot better than me having to drive!" adds her husband Dennis.

We're on our way to the Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway -- the way tourists came more than a century ago, before the natural wonder was designated a national park in 1919.

The Railway, in fact, is credited with revolutionizing this spectacular place, opening the region to widespread tourism. Before then, the remoteness of the area -- and the arduous trip by horseback or stagecoach to get here -- kept most people away.

That was difficult for the kids in our train car -- iPods and video games in hand -- to even imagine. Today, the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the world, drawing nearly 5 million people a year, most coming by car.

My young cousins from Denver, 6-year-old Ethan Sitzman and his 4-year-old sister Hannah, who have joined me, along with their parents, couldn't be happier that they're on the train and not buckled in their safety and booster seats as we make our way the 65 oh-so-scenic miles to Grand Canyon National Park.

As parents compare vacation notes, cowboy singer Craig Summers perches on the side of their seats to strum his guitar, while the older kids make a big fuss. "I didn't even know this guy this morning and now he's my best friend," says Ethan. Now, that doesn't happen in the back of the minivan!

"The best part of the trip is the other kids you meet," says 9-year-old Joshua Jeffries, Ethan's new buddy. Jeffries, like Ethan, is from suburban Denver.

Little Rock, Arkansas, dad Joe Whisenhunt was more interested in sharing the history of train travel with his four kids, watching the scenery with them instead of driving unfamiliar roads with squabbling kids in the back seat.

Onboard the Grand Canyon train, the journey is actually as much fun as the destination. Parents play cards with the kids, trade quips with the cowboy entertainers, help themselves to snacks and drinks and keep their eyes peeled for wildlife. (We're supposed to sing, "Home on the Range" when we spy an antelope.) Our friendly steward, Lorraine Oresko, a five-year veteran, offers tips on what to see when we arrive.

Whisenhunt didn't mind a bit that the family could have driven for far less money -- round-trip tickets start at $40 for kids and $70 for adults. Ask about AAA discounts. And in honor of the 50th birthday of the diesel locomotive, if you are turning 50 or celebrating your 50th anniversary, you can ride the train for free.

The train, besides being a good history lesson, is also good for the environment. It carries more than 225,000 passengers a year, reducing auto traffic to the South Rim by 10 percent. Instead of steam locomotives, cleaner and more efficient diesel locomotives are used.

"This is money well spent," said Whisenhunt. No matter how bad the economic news, he added, "You have to keep going and make memories."

And this train ride -- not to mention a visit to the Grand Canyon -- certainly is one for the memory books. The experience can be even more memorable at Christmastime when the train becomes the Polar Express, complete with Santa.

"Our kids are getting older and won't want to travel with us too much longer," says Alice Schmookler, mother of three, ages 14, 12 and 9. She and her husband, Sandy, are also happy to have the opportunity to show their Florida-bred kids such a different landscape.

Some of our fellow passengers chose to return on the train that afternoon, but we spent the night at a Grand Canyon lodge so that we could have more time to explore. The train makes it so easy -- they transferred all of our bags so we could head right out. The bags were waiting in our rooms later -- and would be delivered back to the train the following day.

Thanks to Max and Thelma Biegert for making this possible. By the '50s, more and more tourists were driving to the Grand Canyon instead of taking the train and the train eventually shut down in 1968. Only after spirited (and expensive) efforts by the Biegerts did train service resume in 1989.

Nine years later, the Grand Canyon Railway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the quaint Williams Depot was renovated. A hotel soon opened and two years ago, Xanterra, which oversees the hotels and lodges in the Grand Canyon and other national parks, took over the train and depot hotel.

For us, the train fun started before we even got on board -- with a Wild West show at Williams Depot in Williams, Arizona. "Those aren't real guns are they?" asked a worried Hannah. As if on cue, the cowboys got up, dusted themselves off and told more jokes.

On the way back, the kids are too smart for the "train robbers." They recognize them from the Wild West show and just giggle as they make their way through the car, followed by the "sheriff."

Sure it's hokey. But it's fun -- for the grown-ups as well as the kids. And these days, that counts for a lot.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 07:08 AM   #1462
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All not aboard: Upstate NY's congressional caucus not big fans of Amtrak's Albany-Buffalo run
1 May 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - There is no "Amtrak Chuck" or "Amtrak Louise" among upstate New York's congressional delegation, at least not when it comes to riding passenger trains between Albany and Buffalo.

While lawmakers from western New York to the lower Hudson Valley are united in support of high-speed passenger rail service, when it comes to actually riding an Amtrak train between the state capital and upstate's largest city, few will be confused with Joe Biden, aka "Amtrak Joe."

The vice president earned the nickname for his frequent use of the passenger service while commuting between his Delaware home and Washington during decades in the U.S. Senate.

Most of the Congress members who formed the bipartisan Upstate New York Caucus earlier this year have Amtrak service in their home districts, and several said they occasionally take trains between Washington and New York City, or between Manhattan and Albany.

But even the lawmakers with districts between Albany and Buffalo say they never or rarely ride Amtrak trains between the two cities. Yet it's that stretch of economically struggling upstate New York that the lawmakers say will benefit the most from a high-speed rail system costing billions of dollars.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of the Rochester area, who heads the upstate caucus, has purposely avoided Amtrak trips, flying instead between Washington and her home district.

"I have done it, under great duress, but not in 23 years, since I've been in Congress," she said. "If you are a passenger on an Amtrak train, you don't have any idea when you're going to arrive anywhere. We deserve better than that."

Unlike the more traveled north-south route with its scenic Hudson Valley landscape, passengers aboard Amtrak's east- and westbound trains get an eyeful of defunct small-town factories, urban blight and the occasional junk yard, interspersed with wide stretches of countryside dotted with forests, marshes and swamps.

Republican Chris Lee of suburban Buffalo couldn't recall the last time he rode the train, but at least one memory lingers: "My recollection is that it was a very slow process."

Dan Maffei, a Democrat from Syracuse, said he took Amtrak trains during his college days in New England, but hasn't been on one in about 10 years. "It's not a bad way to go," he said. "The disadvantage is that it's, on average, an hour late."

Even Sen. Charles Schumer, who makes it a point to visit all 62 New York counties every year -- by car and plane -- probably hasn't caught a westbound train to Buffalo during his 10 years in the Senate, a spokesman said.

Democrat Michael Arcuri of Utica traveled by train to and from New York City while in law school and later while serving as Oneida County district attorney. But, he said, "With each passing year, it gets less and less reliable. It makes it real difficult if you have a time-sensitive schedule."

Arcuri suggested his Amtrak-avoiding colleagues might benefit from a long train ride across a region they hope will rebound, in part, from billions of dollars spent on improving rail service.

"I would like to get on the train at either Albany or Buffalo, all of us together, and take it across the state, not just symbolically, but to get a firsthand tour," he said.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 05:13 PM   #1463
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The NEC (NorthEast Corridor) between Boston (South Station) and Washington, DC is electrified and, IIRC, all of the rest of Amtrak is diesel. There is a 'break' in the electrical standard on the NEC somewhere northeast of NYC Penn Station, I believe that it is somewhere in the Bronx.

There are a couple of electrified METRA commuter lines in Chicagoland, too.

Mike
Philadelphia to Harrisburg, PA (Keystone Corridor) is electrified as well and quite fast (for the US that is).



SEPTA Regional Rail in Philadelphia is 100% electrified as well (13 lines), which is pretty unique in the US and hints at the great railroad heritage Philly had. It's amazing how things have changed...

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Old May 2nd, 2009, 06:10 PM   #1464
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Yeah Id say all trackage in Philly's vicinity is electrified.
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Old May 3rd, 2009, 10:11 AM   #1465
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Old May 4th, 2009, 07:25 PM   #1466
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NYS aims to get up to speed with rail improvements, makes pitch for US funding for projects
1 May 2009

FONDA, N.Y. (AP) - Mayor Kimberly Flander is in mid-sentence when the train horn blares, followed by a rumble felt throughout her two-room office in this tiny Mohawk River village.

"Everything shakes," Flander says with a shrug, describing the effects of the freight cars and Amtrak passenger trains zipping past on tracks that bisect her community of about 800 located 40 miles northwest of Albany.

If lawmakers in Albany and Washington pushing for a high-speed rail system get their way, those trains will be traveling faster and, they hope, reviving Fonda and all the other struggling former manufacturing towns along the east-west railroad corridor stretching across upstate New York.

In March, Gov. David Paterson announced the state's plan to seek some of the $8 billion in federal stimulus money set aside for improving the nation's rail system. In April, President Barack Obama called high-speed rail travel a priority to relieve highway congestion, help clean the air and save energy.

New York officials say faster, more efficient movement of people and freight will be a major step toward economic revival. While the plan is designed for the state's entire rail system, Amtrak's Empire Corridor connecting Albany and Buffalo is getting special attention because of the region's anemic economy.

"If we really want to bring back the economy of upstate New York, this is an integral part of it," said U.S. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Rochester-area Democrat and longtime supporter of improved Amtrak service. "Those mill towns have failed, and part of it is transportation. We let so many of them just strangle. They deserve better."

New York's comprehensive rail plan is the latest of the state's many attempts to upgrade the region's passenger train service. The plan, a prerequisite for the federal application for the rail funds, calls for boosting freight rail usage while increasing the speed and reliability of Amtrak trains across New York.

Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told New York's congressional delegation earlier this year that the stimulus money will be parceled out to roughly six regions of the nation seeking to create high-speed rail corridors.

A decision is expected later this year.

As part of its plan to move goods and people faster across the upstate region, the state wants to build a third east-west track strictly for Amtrak trains, add a second track to the stretch between Albany and Schenectady, and make improvements to existing infrastructure.

"Reliable, quick access is how we do business these days," said state transportation department Commissioner Astrid Glynn. "Right now that corridor doesn't have it, unless you want to get in your car and drive and drive and drive."

Currently, Amtrak trains must share two sets of tracks along the corridor with dozens of CSX Corp. freight trains each day. CSX owns the right of way, and Amtrak trains often get delayed by freight traffic, resulting in irate passengers.

With a third Amtrak-only track, and with the speed of trains boosted from the current federal maximum of 79 mph to 110 mph or higher, officials envision a passenger train resurgence for upstate New York, and with it a revitalized economy.

"Transportation has always facilitated economic development," said Peter Hansen, editor of Railroad History, the academic journal the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. "The places that get railroads tend to thrive, the ones that don't wither on the vine."

The addition of the Albany-Buffalo high-speed rail line alone would cost at least $3 billion and take several years. The project and other related upgrade work would create up to 12,000 construction jobs, officials say.

As for the more heavily traveled Albany-Manhattan Amtrak line, where passenger train speeds average 90 mph and can hit 110 mph only in a 15-mile stretch south of Albany, DOT officials want trains to achieve on-time performance of at least 95 percent. It's currently 87 percent, Amtrak officials say.

But figuring out just how faster trains will revitalize a moribund upstate economy that has shed nearly 145,000 manufacturing jobs over the past decade isn't readily apparent to some local officials such as Flander, a former state higher education employee-turned part-time preschool teacher.

"I don't see how it's going to provide any jobs for people here," she said recently from her office, a stone's throw from tracks used by CSX Transportation freight trains and Amtrak. "I might be wrong. I don't know the whole game plan of it."

Amtrak's Empire Corridor shadows the Erie Canal along much of the waterway's nearly 340 miles between Albany and Buffalo. Along the Mohawk Valley stretch, Fonda (founded by an ancestor of the acting clan) and other formerly thriving factory towns have seen their fortunes rise and fall with each advance in transportation technology. In the 19th century, mule-drawn canal boats gave way to trains that traveled on rails laid alongside the waterway, supplanting canal haulers but giving rise to the region's industrial base. The latter half of the 20th century brought the Thruway, which allowed traffic to bypass canalside communities just as their manufacturing jobs began to dwindle.

Now, New York officials hope faster trains will bring people, money and jobs back to the region in the form of entrepreneurs, tourists and business travelers.

"It's kind of the if-you-build-it-they-will come philosophy," said Kieran Donaghy, chairman of the City and Regional Planning Department at Cornell University. "A lot of firms look for service blocks, or a high-end concentration of services near a high-speed rail stop."

But, he cautions, cutting travel time between Point A and Point B can come with drawbacks.

"Are you just providing a means to get between Buffalo and Syracuse faster, and leaving in the backwash all the little communities along the way?" Donaghy said.

Others aren't convinced the rail plan is the economic antidote for what ails the upstate region. According to one critic, upgrading the current system will be "hideously expensive," even with billions of dollars in federal funds.

"The stimulus money is like dumping a lot of feed at a hog farm -- everybody is lining up for it," said John Stilgoe, a professor in Harvard University's Visual and Environmental Studies Department.

"The right of way isn't maintained for even fast passenger service west of Albany," said Stilgoe, author of "Train Time: Railroads and the Imminent Reshaping of the United States Landscape."

For now, the state's plan doesn't include adding Amtrak stops, something officials in places like Lyons, midway between Syracuse and Rochester, have been seeking for years. One of the current stops -- Rome -- could be eliminated as officials push for faster trains designed to cut the five-hour, 30-minute trip between Albany and Buffalo by two hours.

Rome Mayor James Brown said he supports the rail plan even if it means losing his city's Amtrak stop in favor of keeping one in Utica, 15 miles to the east. Bringing more jobs to the region is the priority, he said.

"We have to look the regionalization aspect of this," he said.

Amtrak said it's waiting, like everyone else with a stake in the rail industry, to see where the federal stimulus funds go and how much is doled out to each project.

"From our standpoint, any rail plan that we can work on that can decrease the travel time of our passengers by adding track capacity is something we would look favorably on," said Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman in New York City.
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Old May 7th, 2009, 07:22 AM   #1467
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I don't see what is so hard about planning different services along Amtrak routes- a regular service which stops at all of the stations, and an express, which only stops at a few stations. That is how the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen route works.

I want HSR in this country, but our government is going to screw it up big time. We should hire the leading rail engineers/strategists from one of the countries that has a successful HSR system (like France, Japan, or Spain) and let them oversee the construction and implementation of an American system.
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Old May 7th, 2009, 03:04 PM   #1468
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I want to see it too where it makes sense but how are you going to pay for it? It isn't hard to do at all but there just isn't a large enough public outcry for it to make it any kind of priority. Amtrak is a historical money pit and thus it will be very difficult to get a majority Congresspersons to approve large expenditures for it. That's the reality. Although, if it is ever going to get funded now is the time. This current bunch of clowns will print money they don't have for just about anything.
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Old May 7th, 2009, 04:23 PM   #1469
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HSR won't work in the US because urban planning has been non-existent for 50 years. Newer cities and the suburbs of older cities (where most people in a metropolitan area live) are built around the car. Cars are cheap, roads are free and therefore very convenient to have. That's part of the American dream and a key defining factor in American freedom. You can go anywhere you want, in your own car, with ample space and comfort. In many places in the US, mass transit is perceived as old fashioned and something only poor people use. To change this, I think there needs to be a lot more than just money (of which the proposed amount is very little), but policy changes and ideological changes among the American people. Anyway, I think the best way to spend any HSR money is not to put the money into HSR projects, but to invest in building a time machine. Better spent that way I think.

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Old May 7th, 2009, 05:52 PM   #1470
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Originally Posted by nouveau.ukiyo View Post
HSR won't work in the US because urban planning has been non-existent for 50 years. Newer cities and the suburbs of older cities (where most people in a metropolitan area live) are built around the car. Cars are cheap, roads are free and therefore very convenient to have. That's part of the American dream and a key defining factor in American freedom. You can go anywhere you want, in your own car, with ample space and comfort. In many places in the US, mass transit is perceived as old fashioned and something only poor people use. To change this, I think there needs to be a lot more than just money (of which the proposed amount is very little), but policy changes and ideological changes among the American people. Anyway, I think the best way to spend any HSR money is not to put the money into HSR projects, but to invest in building a time machine. Better spent that way I think.
#1. The Northeast corridor has proven you wrong. Also most of the cities that the proposed systems are hitting do have mass transit systems.

#2. That's a bullshit arguement anyway and I'm really sick of it. Taking a train to a station is no different than taking a flight to an airport (except that you aren't half an hour out of town). Either way, you don't have a car. You could take mass transit, or you can rent a car.

#3. Roads are most certainly not free.
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Old May 7th, 2009, 08:44 PM   #1471
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#1. The Northeast corridor has proven you wrong. Also most of the cities that the proposed systems are hitting do have mass transit systems.

#2. That's a bullshit arguement anyway and I'm really sick of it. Taking a train to a station is no different than taking a flight to an airport (except that you aren't half an hour out of town). Either way, you don't have a car. You could take mass transit, or you can rent a car.

#3. Roads are most certainly not free.
All completely true. Not to mention no need to be at the station hour or hours in advance.
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Old May 8th, 2009, 12:15 AM   #1472
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HSR won't work in the US because urban planning has been non-existent for 50 years. Newer cities and the suburbs of older cities (where most people in a metropolitan area live) are built around the car. Cars are cheap, roads are free and therefore very convenient to have. That's part of the American dream and a key defining factor in American freedom. You can go anywhere you want, in your own car, with ample space and comfort. In many places in the US, mass transit is perceived as old fashioned and something only poor people use. To change this, I think there needs to be a lot more than just money (of which the proposed amount is very little), but policy changes and ideological changes among the American people. Anyway, I think the best way to spend any HSR money is not to put the money into HSR projects, but to invest in building a time machine. Better spent that way I think.
All true except the NE corridor and some other metro areas. HSR will work in those areas. It won’t get built any time soon but it would work. You are almost right about the perception issue also. Other than Chicago, Philadelphia, NYC and a few other very large cities mass transit is definitely seen by many as the mode for poor people. Here in Norfolk for example no one rides the bus except as a last resort. It isn't seen as safe.

Oh, and roads are free for the end user. Don't split hairs. What he means is that when you get on the train you buy a ticket (a user fee), when you jump in your car you don't. We all know there is maintenance and stuff and we all know you pay gas tax (too much) but I don’t think that's what he was talking about.

Fun argument but generally moot. This is not a priority in the US no matter how much some people foam at the mouth and tell everyone else how much we all want and need something that we generally don't want or need. It won't happen any time soon. Within 20 or 25 years it will start to get built if we as a nation haven't filed for bankruptcy. His highness pledged what, 8 billion dollars so consultants could take 6 to 8 years to get rich and write reports telling us all what we already know? Then in ten or fifteen more years they'll ignore the reports and build whatever they want to build whether it makes sense or not. It's the American way, LOL.

I wish they'd take those 8 billion borrowed dollars and just make the Boston / DC route a true high speed corridor. Then the proponents of this could stop telling us to look at how wonderful the French and the Japanese and the Germans are. We could see it in action and make an informed decision if it is something that can work here or if it would be a giant waste of money.
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Old May 8th, 2009, 12:28 AM   #1473
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Fuel taxes are the user fees for driving. Sure there is rarely a "fare" except on toll roads, but you pay no matter what.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 03:30 PM   #1474
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Driving is not cheap. It's tricky because it seems cheap, allmost free, but it's far from being that cheap.

There is fuel to pay.
The car to pay.
The maintenance of the car to pay.
There is also the road to pay (building and maintenance). You may not see it but they are a big part of your tax dollar. Much more than the train.
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Old May 10th, 2009, 01:02 AM   #1475
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Driving is not cheap. It's tricky because it seems cheap, allmost free, but it's far from being that cheap.

There is fuel to pay.
The car to pay.
The maintenance of the car to pay.
There is also the road to pay (building and maintenance). You may not see it but they are a big part of your tax dollar. Much more than the train.
It's true, for our 1200 dollars in taxes here, 330 goes right to county roads. However, not all is true with rail. High-speed covers its cost, commuter rail, light rail, etc usually require subsidies, less than what we'd pay with roads? I'm not sure, but it would be something to look into.
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Old May 10th, 2009, 06:13 AM   #1476
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I want to see it too where it makes sense but how are you going to pay for it? It isn't hard to do at all but there just isn't a large enough public outcry for it to make it any kind of priority. Amtrak is a historical money pit and thus it will be very difficult to get a majority Congresspersons to approve large expenditures for it. That's the reality. Although, if it is ever going to get funded now is the time. This current bunch of clowns will print money they don't have for just about anything.
You keep writing the same debunked bullshit over and over again.

How is America paying for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars? The military wants $130 billion to fund those conflicts for the next fiscal year.

The interstate highway system is a money pit. So are airports. Should we shut them down too?

Amtrak had its annual funding doubled by Congress last year by veto proof majorities. There is plenty of support for it in Congress.
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Old May 10th, 2009, 06:15 AM   #1477
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The gas tax pays for a FRACTION of highway maintenance. Congress had to appropriate $8 billion in 2008 from general revenues to shore up the Highway Trust Fund deficit. I don't remember the conservative wackos bitching and moaning about that.

Automobile and air travel have been immensely subsidized for over fifty years. It is time to restore balance to America's transportation systems. HIGH SPEED RAIL NOW!!
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Old May 10th, 2009, 09:31 PM   #1478
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Amtrak X2000 and ICE

In the early '90s Amtrak was testing (and showing off) some new trains it had borrowed, the Swedish X2000 and Germany's ICE. They ran themselves on the electrified parts, and were pushed by diesel locomotives on the non electrified tracks.

X2000


ICE


Video:
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Old May 11th, 2009, 11:24 AM   #1479
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what every happened to them? the lease expired?
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Old May 11th, 2009, 08:17 PM   #1480
He Named Thor
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dachacon View Post
what every happened to them? the lease expired?
They were on loan from their respective countries. Amtrak was using them to demonstrate the potential of rail travel. After they had toured, they were sent back.
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