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32 minutes | Jun 3, 2021
Crossing the Borders, Connecting Communities
This episode of Train Time takes us to the borders region of Scotland, an area with storied history and dramatic scenery. Simon Walton tells the story of how, over the course of two decades, the Campaign for Borders Rail has made a case for the reconstruction of 35 miles of a passenger rail line that [...]
24 minutes | May 3, 2021
Berkshire’s Center City: an interview with Ricardo Morales
One of Pittsfield young leaders explains how the city is getting ready for rail In this episode of Train Time, we spoke to Ricardo Morales, the Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities for the City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Like many US cities, Pittsfield has faced challenges in recent decades, especially after the departure of GE Plastics, which left a toxic legacy in the Housatonic River. But Pittsfield has been inventive, benefiting from its location at the center of Berkshire County, between Williamstown to the north and Lenox and Great Barrington to the south. Even more important is its location on the train line between Chicago and Boston, and as the destination for the planned Berkshire Flyer and Berkshire (Housatonic) Line passenger services. Morales is involved in transportation planning and explains the rise he’s seen in car service availability and plans for bike-share in the city, part of Pittsfield’s commitment to be an effective transit point for north-south and east-west passenger rail. We wrapped up with some of his research into the streetcar system that used to exist across the region; you’ll find some of the pictures he’s collected below. See below for an edited transcript of the interview. Ricardo Morales served as the City Engineer before being appointed as the Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities for the City of Pittsfield. Prior to working for the city, he worked in project management for Consigli Construction Company. Morales serves as a representing member for Pittsfield on the Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization and Transportation Advisory Committee, and has represented the city, along with Mayor Linda Tyer, on train-related initiatives like the Berkshire Flyer and the Massachusetts East-West Rail study. Transcript Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we have added an introduction and done some editing. Mon, 4/26/21 3:11PM • 22:01SPEAKERSKaren Christensen, Ricardo Morales Karen Christensen 01:31Ricardo, it’s a pleasure to have you here on Train Time with us. Welcome. Ricardo Morales 01:36Hi, Karen. Thanks for having me. Karen Christensen 01:38I don’t know how long it was after you came to the Berkshires that we first met in Great Barrington. Had you had you been here long at that time? Ricardo Morales 01:47I’ve been in the Berkshires since 2011. And the last, the first time I was introduced to the train campaign in Great Barrington was early 2018. Karen Christensen 02:00Yes, that seems about right. And today, we’re focusing on Pittsfield, where you’re working now. Can you for listeners who don’t know, the city of Pittsfield, can you just kind of give us a paint a little picture? Ricardo Morales 02:18Of course. Well, I would start like any resident in Pittsfield would say: Pittsfield is the heart of the Berkshires, Berkshire County, the westernmost county in Massachusetts, and we are a city of approximately 44,000 residents, and with long history and ties with the with the region, paper mills and then later GE and the plastics industry, some cultural and arts industry has developed around the region. Pittsfield has not been shy of that. So nowadays is a very, very community and taking pride in the arts and culture and other minor industries. Karen Christensen 03:21Yes, it is one of the cities of the Northeast that that had, you know, a major industrial employer. This is one of the you know, there are many cities like this that have tremendous potential. And as one of my colleagues said, Great bones, we’re talking about Pittsfield, am I that’s true, and he said in a beautiful place, but certainly has struggled economically. Especially since GE Plastics left. So there are a variety of things that that have been done to, to restore vibrancy and just start some new activities and, and business activities there as well as cultural activities. And connectivity, I think comes up quite a lot, connectivity of different kinds. But obviously, today we’re focusing on what rail can do passenger rail can do for a city like Pittsfield? Have you seen? Have you seen the film The last train to Pittsfield? Ricardo Morales 04:40I did see that some, some time ago. Quite, quite interesting. It just paints a picture of what could be it that’s the first question that comes to mind. What can this region and Pittsfield Can, can strive for and, and meet if we all work together towards a common goal of creating more access across the region, between different you know, larger cities, and connect and create that level of access that we that essentially the drives the economic benefits that are induced by that type of connection. Karen Christensen 05:36When you describe Pittsfield to people you know, you can talk about its size. I’m thinking when I visualize it, one of the things that, you know, listeners might could easily imagine, especially in older movies, you see this, you know, a rather stapling, not at Nana Main Street, like a small town Main Street, but a big Broad Street with rather substantial buildings on either side. And, you know, and in days past those, those streets would been packed with people on you know, certain nights I’ve met a woman who said, Thursday nights always took the train to Pittsfield from late He was that was late shopping night. Ricardo Morales 06:23That’s quite interesting that you mentioned Thursday nights, as that was one of the vestiges of the GE era lives on the third Thursdays. As I’ve come to learn, not through lived experience here, I wasn’t born here, but rather through reading articles, old articles and learning from people that lived through that, that Thursday nights was the pay day. So, you would get paid, and the street would be filled with activity. As people would have the money to spend on retail and other things. Karen Christensen 07:08I see and, and so do you do something on Thursdays now? Is that what you were? Ricardo Morales 07:14In the summer month, we conduct the third Thursday’s were close, we close the main downtown corridor, North Street. And it’s open to only foot traffic and you know, bicycles, scooters, people walking. And there’s all sorts of activities. We have vendors, food vendors, we have street markets. And you know, music and dance companies come here. Other employers come to promote themselves and the work they do. Karen Christensen 07:53I actually think we did some years back there was someone in Pittsfield, who hosted a table for the Train Campaign there. So I did go up and take a look. She was actually as I recall, she was running it. That was nice. I hope we’ll be able to do it again, that would be great. Well, Pittsfield is has come into a number of rail proposals and initiatives of late. And what I, the reason I really wanted to talk to you is because that makes Pittsfield particularly important. It would be a hub, a connecting point for a number of different services. The East-West, the big, I think of it as the big project, the big East-West project that would go from Boston, to Springfield and to Pittsfield, and, we hope, on to Albany. And then, of course, the Housatonic, the Berkshire Line, coming up from New York. And then there’s the Berkshire Flyer weekend project as well. I mean, that would if we could see all those things happening. Pittsfield would be the center central point for all for that, you know, part of part of what is a regional rail system? Tell us how would that transform Pittsfield? What benefits would it bring to the city? Ricardo Morales 09:31Of course, the main thing we’re after with all of this, and we do recognize that Pittsfield is poised to great success with these projects that will bring access and enhance access to the region is the concept of the newest economy, the newest economic benefits. And what we want to see there is, by having this level of access, we are going to tap into things that we currently do not or cannot anticipate, based on the level of transportation we have in the region. Simply because it’s nonexistent at the moment. So the industry around it does not exist, the economic benefits can be studied and translate and translated from different regions to our own. And making Pittsfield the hub for the Berkshires is definitely you know, it’s definitely up front. For many reasons, we have the transportation, we are central in the Berkshires and we have the transportation capacity to provide the level of service that is expected as at the end of line for destination. Karen Christensen 11:05Because Pittsfield is really it’s a small city, but it’s a city and the rest of the Berkshires has, you know is quite different. Actually we should explain because it you This was I didn’t grow up here. And it took me a while to grasp the position Pittsfield, essentially that the county is a long, narrow, tall and narrow, and Pittsfield right in the middle. And then at the northern end up towards Vermont, is Williamstown, which is well known because of Williams College. And then down in the south, there’s some very well-known venues. Pittsfield really is, is the hub of the county, but it could be a hub of a different sort a lot, much larger region, with, with train service, I can so easily imagine, you know, lots of, you know, if we have, you know, really frequent trains, daily trains, from different directions, imagine how, how vibrant this city could be in, of course, as you know, lots and lots of small, smaller towns and villages around Pittsfield. That that that does mean the there’s a challenge that’s called the last mile, and I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of talk about that. What do you see? How do you see improvements in the local transportation coming about to support these, you know, travelers coming in from places farther afield? Ricardo Morales 12:47Karen, that’s a great question, the I’ll start answering that by pointing out what we have seen. naturally occurring in the last three years, we have noticed the increase, sharp increase in rideshare, in Pittsfield, and certain other communities in Berkshire County, to the tune of, you know, when in the last three years, three years ago, we were seeing 5000 rides, rides per year, and consistently growing from there in three years, we have now reached the 45,000 rides per year. So it’s a very drastic increase. And it’s one that makes us think about the vast potential that rideshare has for serving a sector of that last mile concept. Karen Christensen 13:52Is it ,is it more than one company? Ricardo Morales 13:56Yes. It’s that it’s really, at the moment, being driven by two companies. Karen Christensen 14:05And I’m assuming that Uber and Lyft, but I don’t know, because Ricardo Morales 14:10that is what we see. And at the moment, because the reports do not include that information. It is mostly an anecdotal evidence that I see those two companies are the ones that you see out there. Then that leads me to, you know, what else can we do and, and tying it back to the Berkshire flyer, which is a program that we are piloting, hopefully next summer in 2022, with working with Amtrak and CSX to use a frequent weekend connection to Albany, and then through Albany, all the way down to New York City. With that program, we’re working on ways to maximize that last mile and provide reliable access to other sections of the county, other areas of the county, once you arrive at Pittsfield, and that’s something the city of Pittsfield is working hard to provide, as a partner in the in the collaborative that that is, you know, building up the Berkshire flyer program. Karen Christensen 15:20And that would that that’s a weekend thing, which of course, is great groundwork for you know, the other things ahead. The there is some possibility, and we will certainly are certainly hoping for it, that there will be more service from Boston very soon, because the both because senator Eric Lessor of Springfield has proposed as filed a bill that would call for amp that calls for Amtrak to start running additional trains out to Pittsfield in the next year on the existing line. without making any major upgrades. So that’s one possibility. But we also noticed that when Amtrak put out its visionary map a couple of weeks ago with the new stimulus bill, the infrastructure bill and in prospect that they included on that increased service from Boston West. As something that would happen again, even before the kind of major upgrade of service that we’re hoping to see to get, if not high speed, but certainly high performance trains coming out west, that that could also happen in the fairly near future. Ricardo Morales 17:03I am, I am aware of the bill presented by Senator Lester and happy to say to that it was co-sponsored by our own senator and Pittsfield, Adam Hines. And it’s reassuring to see the effort being placed by our representatives into making this a reality. And all that that’s going to do if nothing else, is show that there is a an economic benefit to having these types of connections made with places like Pittsfield. And I would be remiss if I forget to mention that in the subject of the last mile, one of the biggest things we’re working on in Pittsfield, that we can actually do and drive for better success is we’re right now in a feasibility study, to install and operate Ride Share facilities, which would essentially cover a shorter distance than rideshare would, but it would offer the means for accessing places around the county, at least around Pittsfield. Once you arrive in Pittsfield, by train, you can rent a bike Karen Christensen 18:35Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s terrific. Because Pittsfield actually does seem like a pretty syllable city to me. So we see a lot of things going on. So you have that going on, we see the upgrades being done to the Berkshire line, right now, to bring it to passenger standard. But you know, you said in your email to me that you could tell us a little bit a little bit about the streetcars of Pittsfield of the past. And I think we, we have to, we have to get that in, because then that will, of course, was a last mile thing, maybe that’ll come back. Ricardo Morales 19:09Karen, that’s, that’s it’s something that I as a first visitor, and later, our resident, I was always passionate about, I’m always passionate about history. And I was doing some digging of my own in some old papers at the library and very interested in the streetcar and in what the street rail system, what it used to be, what it offered, and what this place would be, if it still had one, and also made me think about, well, for those that would not be aware of the history with this street rail. It’s essentially was an operation electrified from 1886 to 1932. So little close to 50 years, short lived, it was taken down abruptly, everywhere, it was connecting Southern Vermont, to Northern Connecticut, and into the East, all the way to Westfield. And it provided that sense of connection through rail, that could be long range, mid-range and local range. And makes me wonder had it lived another 20 years? In the process, it would, would have most likely coincided with the peak of G’s legacy in the area and the population boom of the 50s. And who knows it would have been it would have never become a thing of the past. But we see that in other communities. It still happened. So it’s just me wondering what if Karen Christensen 21:04and you have to wonder if you know people Are the technological developments, you know this with various kinds of smart app apps, you wonder whether maybe someone will come up with a way to, because it’s a sort of a lightweight, I mean, they’re an elector electrified to some very attractive features there. And it is wonderful to think of having a really extensive network of transport. So we’ll see, I think that’s, I think it’s worth keeping in mind. Only, Ricardo Morales 21:47I think it has, it has room to come back in, I would say smaller scale. And I know there’s support from different organizations from the RPC the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, to other members of the administration in the city, that would support something like this at a smaller scale. Even if it’s as a pilot to have some type of trolley system maybe that would move people around. Karen Christensen 22:20That would be really neat. Well, you have you and working with Mayor Tyer certainly seem to have a lot of irons in the fire and, and a lot some really interesting things in prospect for the city. So we’ll look forward to seeing what develops, and I will, I hope you can provide us with some photographs that we can put on the web page with this podcast. I’m sure that anyone who’s listened to this will immediately want it say well then what are those streetcars look like. Ricardo Morales 22:52Absolutely. All right. Karen Christensen 22:53That’d be terrific. Thanks so much for talking to us at Train Time today.
27 minutes | May 3, 2021
Moving into the 21st Century: an interview with Luke Bronin
In this episode of Train Time, we spoke to Mayor Luke Bronin of Hartford, Connecticut, who has become a leader in regional efforts to promote passenger rail for economic development, social and environmental justice, and climate stewardship. Bronin is also the co-chair of the bold proposal that was first called Rebooting New England and is now christened North Atlantic Rail. We talk about his vision for his city and state, and how the infrastructure projects in the North Atlantic Rail initiative and also the Hartford400 plan will revitalize an entire region, and serve as a model for parts of the United States that don’t yet have a robust public transit system. We also discuss the challenge of deciding where to spend money, given the pressing need for both maintenance and new construction, and his vision for unlocking economic growth and expanding economic opportunity in cities that have fallen behind. See below for an edited transcript of the interview. Luke Bronin became mayor of Hartford in 2016 and led the city through the biggest fiscal crisis in the city’s history, working to put Hartford on a path to fiscal stability. In addition to promoting economic development and investment, his administration has focused on building opportunity for Hartford residents. He has also worked to position Hartford as a center of innovation and establish Hartford a leader in environmental stewardship. Prior to becoming mayor, Bronin was general counsel to then-Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and also served in the Obama administration and as an officer in the US Navy Reserve. He earned his BA and JD from Yale University and his MA from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Transcript Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we have added an introduction and done some editing. Mon, 4/26/21 3:11PM • 24:46SPEAKERSKaren Christensen, Luke Bronin Karen Christensen 01:26Mayor Bronin. Luke Bronin. How wonderful to have you with us on Train Time today. Luke Bronin 01:31Thanks so much for having me, Karen, great to be with you. Karen Christensen 01:33Well, you know, I follow you on Twitter. And I see that you have many other things on your mind, and on your plate, but you seem to have made passenger rail transportation infrastructure, a significant part of your vision for Hartford. Luke Bronin 01:56It is a huge part of my vision for Hartford. And I think it should be a huge part of our vision for New England and the North Atlantic region as a whole for so many reasons. I mean, it hits so many things that should be priorities right now, economic growth and economic opportunity, climate stewardship and climate action, housing opportunity. There’s just so many things that a modernized rail system would do for our country, but specifically given the opportunity that we have right now for New England in this North Atlantic region. Karen Christensen 02:32So let’s look at your particular part of the North Atlantic region. For listeners who are elsewhere in the country, give them a sense of where Hartford is, why it matters how it is, it has a very central position. And then I’d love to hear the story of how you got involved in in the effort with passenger rail. Luke Bronin 03:02Sure. Well, Hartford, Connecticut capital city sits pretty much smack in the center of Connecticut. And that also places it pretty much smack in the center of New York and Boston. And yet, it is extraordinary that you cannot take a train from Hartford, Connecticut to Boston directly, you’d have to go down to the shoreline down New Haven and then up, you know, you could drive to Boston and about an hour and a half, it would take you three or four hours to get there by train, which is which is crazy. And similarly, you cannot get by train from Hartford to Providence, Rhode Island. Even though as the crow flies, we’re not too far away. And as you know, Karen, this isn’t true just of Hartford, there are literally dozens of mid-sized cities in New England, that were once powerhouses of manufacturing. in Hartford, we were also the insurance capital of the world. But that saw economic decline in the mid-20th century, and have not seen the economic opportunity and growth that they should see, should have seen over the last couple of decades, in part because of the lack of connectivity, and the atrocious state of our infrastructure, the rising congestion, just the difficulty of moving between cities that should be part of one economically integrated region. Karen Christensen 04:30And we are a relatively small region, we do have trains and public transport. But as you say, they’re far from where they should be to really make us effective. Now you were thinking about this long before the pandemic. Luke Bronin 04:47Absolutely, you know, this is it’s something that I think is just glaringly obvious. If you spend time in New England, or downstate New York is just how far behind we are when it comes to modern transportation infrastructure, you know, just how much at the mercy of traffic or traffic jams you are if you’re trying to move around the region. And again, how economically isolated communities that should be deeply tied in to two of the biggest metro areas in the country, New York and Boston are because of that failing infrastructure. So it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. Here in Hartford, we’re looking toward what will be our 400th anniversary as a city in in 2035. And as part of that work of envisioning where we want to be as a city, there’s lots of things we’re working on, including a variety of infrastructure things you know, we’re one of those cities where you have the classic planning sin of cutting off a city from its river with a highway and then cutting the city off, bisecting it with another highway. So we’d love to see that address too. But, but we need to begin moving beyond this car centric vision of our infrastructure and, and build what most of the world has already begun to build on as far along in building thing, which is high performance, high speed rail that is more convenient, and also a whole lot greener than what we’ve got. Karen Christensen 06:15Yeah. And then the opportunity, of course, right now is really tremendous. I had, certainly when the pandemic, when we first heard about COVID-19, I had no idea that this would help us to think afresh about what was coming next. And to build this, this whole idea of building back better, but it has proved an opportunity. But one of the things I’m not from New England and I came here from London, where of course, I’ve been used to trade. One of the things I remember hearing about Connecticut, quite often is that the traffic there is terrible. Do you think it has worse traffic than other places? Luke Bronin 06:58Look, I’ve got plenty of places in America that have terrible traffic. But the parts of i 95, that go between New Haven and New York City are awful. And you don’t know, if you’ve got to get to a meeting at nine o’clock in the morning, you’ve got to leave at six o’clock in the morning, even it should only be an hour drive, because you don’t know what you’re going to hit. And from my experience, the same is true in the Boston area. So I think the traffic is pretty bad. I think the infrastructure is out of date. But you know, the other pieces that we it’s not just that we haven’t built the modern rail infrastructure. We surrendered. The old real rail infrastructure that we had a train service today is actually worse and slower than it was 50 years ago. And you know, that’s that is stunning, and really makes us an outlier in the world. So you know, it’s all of those things together. And I do think there’s a there’s a significant opportunity, right at this moment. Karen Christensen 07:58I think that it must be that Connecticut is so central, and it because it is between New York and Boston, that’s why would hear about the traffic, because trying to move through Connecticut is important. It’s it is a, you know, a place that that connects a lot of other places. It’s a hub. And Hartford, of course, is the center of that. So what do you see? What is your vision for the transportation of the future? Luke Bronin 08:31Well, it’s twofold when you talk about rail. It’s number one, it’s building a genuine net rail network that connects communities. It’s not just about the biggest cities, it’s about a real network that allows you to move where you want to go and where you need to go by rail. And there’s so many advantages to that. Obviously, there’s huge climate advantages to it, there’s convenience advantages to it, you can work on trains, I think that generationally, there’s more and more eagerness for mass transit options like that. So you need that full network. But you also need to move into the 21st century when it comes to high speed and high performance. So the North Atlantic Rail vision is built around two ideas, one, connecting New York City and Boston with a 100 minute high speed service. And then making sure that all of the midsize cities around that region are tied into that network, it’s those two things together. Now there are a bunch of it does, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it happens sequentially, where you build the high speed first, and then you do the connectivity. There’s a lot of work that can be done right now to improve connectivity. You know, the North Atlantic rail vision starts with some early action projects, including the completion of East West rail in Massachusetts, you know, connecting Springfield to Boston, which is there again, it’s stunning that you cannot currently travel by commuter train from Springfield to Boston, strengthening the service and frequency on the Hartford line, which goes between Springfield, Mass and New Haven, Connecticut, and then improvements on that New Haven line, so that you can begin moving much faster, much more reliably between New Haven area in New York, that’s a perfect example of a line where the service is a whole lot slower now than it was half a century ago. That’s shocking. It’s stunning. And it’s embarrassing. It should be certainly a regional investment bears when it should be a national embarrassment. Karen Christensen 10:33Yes, indeed. One of the very interesting things about the North Atlantic rail project is it really does connect a lot of states. But I was last week on a bunch of calls. For the rail passengers Association. We were meeting with offices of legislators in Washington to talk about the infrastructure bill. And one of the things that I kept bringing up because it’s something that’s a challenge with whose atomic line is interstate cooperation, and for us and Connecticut, of course, To do almost any rail project there, you want to connect to other states. Have you have you thought about how we could improve that interstate cooperation, which does seem to be a challenge for many projects? Luke Bronin 11:25Yeah, you know, you’re absolutely right here. And it’s a really important part of it. And so one of the other things that we are proposing as we lobby for this, this rail network is the creation of North Atlantic rail entity that is essentially a planning and construction entity to oversee the design and the build out of this system, you’re going to have lots of different trains and lots of different services running on these rails. But I think for exactly the reason you state, we need to have an entity that is a multi-state entity that is responsible for the planning instruction, that’s how this stuff can get done in a much more efficient and much more effective way. Karen Christensen 12:06Yeah, because otherwise, we just have all these different we’re nobody’s like in charge. Right? And, and it’s one of the, I guess, weaknesses of our federal system is this federal system has strengths, but its infrastructure is something that we you know, it connects all of us in terms of the most important things now, as we enter the next, you know, this sort of immediate future, what would you say is most important for us a city like Hartford or other smaller cities? Luke Bronin 12:42Well, I think the most important thing right now is to make sure that we seize this moment of opportunity with the American jobs, American jobs plan, you know, President Biden has put forward a very large, ambitious infrastructure plan. And I know that he is passionate about rail service and about high speed rail. But I do think that in this one area, it’s actually too modest, a lot of the funding that’s in that bill right now, would be eaten up by just making state of good repair repairs, just trying to keep the current infrastructure from deteriorating further. And that’s obviously vitally important, that needs to happen. But I think this is a moment when we should be doing more than just, you know, preventing further deterioration. This is a moment when we should be positioning America and positioning this region to be truly competitive in the 21st century. And as we talk about climate action, and really rising to the, to the challenge that we face of tackling climate change with the urgency that we should have brought to it 3040 years ago, yeah, this has to be a part of it. And we’re going to have to be bigger and bolder. And I think that, you know, it’s hard to deny that as a country, we’ve, we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing big, bold things. This is the country that built the transcontinental railroad and built the interstate highway system. High speed, high performance rail, is the equivalent for the 21st century, it generates enormous economic growth. And that’s why you’re seeing dozens of countries around the world. Do it. So I think, you know, I know this is a long answer your question, but the most important thing right now is seizing this opportunity that’s in front of us right now, is looking at the American jobs plan and saying, we have to do all those things that are in there. But let’s do a little bit more. So we’re not just maintaining what we’ve got, we’re actually building modern infrastructure and a modern rail system that would transform this region. You know, when you think about the economic impact of connecting dozens of New England cities and tying them into a high performance rail system, that is also connecting New York City in Boston, you will unlock extraordinary economic growth, and also exploring economic opportunity in a lot of cities that that had fallen behind again, and where there has been some economic isolation and, and many of them, including my city, oh, Hartford, Connecticut is 85%, black and brown. This is this is a community where we should all be working to expand opportunity. And this is one important way to do that. Not just for my city, but for many, many others. Karen Christensen 15:36That really is one of the reasons that rail is certainly so important to me and becoming more and more important to more people in positions of leadership is that it’s a way to deal with a lot of different intersecting problems of equity and climate. And more and economic development in the sense of separate, you know, that we live in two Americas are very prosperous. America for some, and often hopeless saving America for others. Luke Bronin 16:13That’s right. And these things are, as you said, I mean, it’s very much tied into to transportation infrastructure. You know, one of the crises we’ve had in our country in recent decades is that the places where there’s the most economic opportunity are also the places where it’s most expensive to live. And that locks a lot of people out from accessing that opportunity. And, and that’s why transit systems like this really are about opportunity, equity, growth is more inclusive. Karen Christensen 16:43And in terms of young people and young people’s future, obviously, that if they feel locked out as a city’s it’s, you know, all the ways in which we can make young people more capable of facing the challenges. But sometimes, I’m sure they feel that the older folk have are leaving to them. The better. But I want to pose what I think is a rather difficult question to this is on my mind, the northeast corridor of Amtrak, which is the most best used train line in the country, the proposal is to use $43 billion to bring it up to state of good repair. But not to make any changes that would actually deal with the, you know, the real challenges of the future, electrification, you know, various other things that would really modernize that line. So how do we balance those immediate priorities? Those long term people have this, you know, there’s this long list of things that need to be done in terms of tunnels and bridges and various other things. I’m not sure what is $43 billion, you should buy quite a lot. But it’s not. It doesn’t get us where I think you want to see us. Luke Bronin 18:15No, it doesn’t get us where we were we need to go it again, it is important to maintain a state of good repair is important, and something that we should have been doing with a much greater amount of funding for decade after decade. We have to make those investments, but we shouldn’t stop there. And if we do, I think we’re really doing a disservice to ourselves and to future generations, you know, I want my kids to be able to, to live in a country and to live in a region that has a modern transportation infrastructure. And so that means that we’ve got to dedicate additional funding, I think some of the funding that’s in the American jobs plan can go to some of the early action things that we’ve identified, like building out east west rail in Massachusetts, like making significant improvements on the New York to New Haven line, like some of the, you know, the Danbury line and some other lines that begin to get up more towards the Berkshires as well, some of that work can begin very, very soon, and should be part of it. But I think what we need to do is position ourselves to, to allow this vision to move forward. Knowing that it’s not going to be done tomorrow, it’s not going to be done in a couple of years, you know, this is probably a decade to two decades of work to build out a system like this. But what we should do now is put the funding aside that is necessary to do that, and make the authorizations that are necessary to do that. So that the planning, design and construction can move forward as quickly as possible. And, you know, we may not get a chance like this again, not just when you have, you know, a president who is committed to infrastructure, who a president and a Secretary of Transportation who are longtime advocates of rail, but also congressional leadership that that is deeply affected by this, this plan. And I think is really wants to see transformative investment. You know, you got folks like Richie Neal in Springfield, chair of Ways and Means Committee, who has been a huge advocate for East West rail and Massachusetts, but I think also recognizes the power of a regional network. Similarly, you’ve got Rosa DeLauro, the chairman, chairman of Appropriations Committee, in New Haven, similarly, obviously wants to make sure that that New Haven line is modernized, but understands the power of a truly transformative investment, and what that could mean for the entire region. And it’s worth saying, by the way that we’re talking about a region that has more than 10% of the country’s population and about 14% of G up. And the estimated cost of doing this right is about $105 billion, which is a lot of money. But it’s a smaller fraction by far of the, of an overall infrastructure package than either the population or the economic power of the region. You know, good, good, good art before. Karen Christensen 21:25Yeah, one of the things that I’ve noticed is as America tries to regain its position of leadership in the world, it’s certainly in terms of climate. But this, you know, the infrastructure piece of it is, I think, because I work in China a lot that America’s infrastructure is an embarrassment. And, and, as we, you know, really seek to reclaim a sense of leadership and visionary leadership for the country, a project like, like this, and especially, you know, a region that’s ready to use rail, we’re ready to ride, you know, when people who do ride the train, want to ride the train. There what so what can leaders do leaders like you who are not in Washington? how can how can you and your fellow mayors and other local leaders work together to make this a reality as quickly as possible? Luke Bronin 22:25Look, I think that this is these are decisions right now that are going to be made in Washington, but they’re going to be made in Washington by folks who are listening to their constituents and listening to their, to their state and local partners. So I would say to anybody who shares this vision, it would be to share your feeling about this, to share your passion for it with your member of Congress, with your member of Congress, your senator, there an end, there’s a relatively couldn’t be a relatively short window of time, you know, we don’t know how long the deliberations over the American jobs plan will take. But I know that the Speaker Pelosi has said that she wants to act on that by July 4. So we could be talking about just a couple of months. And so it’s important that people weigh in now. And again, I don’t think that they’re going to find that folks are going to find a lot of resistance in their members of Congress, I think a lot of the members from this region recognize just how powerful and transformative this could be. But it still makes a big difference when they’re hearing from folks you know, close to home about what it could mean, what it could mean to them. So that’s, that’s one thing. You know, if you want to learn more about it, go to the North Atlantic rail vision is laid out at North Atlantic rail Comm. Just NorthAtlanticRail.com so go and check that out. And if you want to get more involved, then then reach out to us and contact us. Now there is a growing and pretty substantial coalition of local leaders and mayors and labor leaders and businesses and others that are working alongside a growing coalition of members of Congress to advocate for, for this. And then jumping back to the point you made about our competitiveness and looking at countries like China and the kind of investments they’ve been making. They are significantly ahead of us as a country. And catching up is something that we have to do deliberately, we have to do it with a sense of purpose. And the way to start that is by recognizing that just as you said here, in this Northeast region, you have the highest train ridership anywhere in the country, if we’re going to build a model of what a modern transportation system ought to look like, this is the place to do it. So in some ways, we think of the North Atlantic rail vision as a pilot for what ultimately should be a National High Performance rail system, you know, that’s what we should be aiming for. But this is the opportunity to show how it works and to model it and to show its power to again to create economic growth for millions and millions of people. Karen Christensen 25:12Well, this is this is the time to do it in this episode of Train Time will be a great kickoff for our efforts to get people to do everything they can to ensure that the American jobs plan is really focused on passenger rail and on our region. Thank you very much indeed for taking the time out to talk to us. Luke Bronin 25:35No, thank you. I thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it and any chance to spread the word and hope to talk with you again soon.
28 minutes | Mar 28, 2021
Meredith Richards plays a rail long game in Virginia
Advocate explains that corridor collaboration is the key to regional rail In this episode of Train Time, we spoke to Meredith Richards, president of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute and a member of the Board of Directors of the Rail Passengers Association. She explains how she helped build a statewide coalition to connect, and reconnect, Virginia by passenger rail. She tells an instructive story about the way Amtrak ticket allocation left Virginia business passengers without train service even though trains stopped in their towns en route to Washington DC. Her account includes details that are relevant to those in other regions, including the Northeast. She explains how important it is to build a coalition, to change the way transportation funding is allocated, and to ensure that short-distance, regional service is given due attention. Meredith Richards is a former Charlottesville City Councilor and Vice Mayor and today is president of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute and a member of the Board of Directors of the Rail Passengers Association. In 2005, Meredith established a Charlottesville-based non-profit to advocate for enhanced passenger rail for the Virginia Crescent Corridor and subsequently organized a consortium of twenty-two political jurisdictions along the US29 corridor into the Piedmont Rail Coalition. Their collective, multi-year effort succeeded in bringing the Lynchburg-DC Northeast Regional, the first new passenger rail service for the corridor in over a half-century and Virginia’s first state-sponsored intercity passenger train, to the corridor. She led a successful effort to significantly increase transit’s formula share of the state transportation fund and while serving on Governor Mark Warner’s Commission on Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century, she helped establish Virginia’s first dedicated fund for rail capital projects. More recently (2021), as a co-chair of Virginians for High-Speed Rail, she helped build public support for establishing the Commonwealth Rail Fund as a permanent division of the state transportation fund and for the newly established Virginia Passenger Rail Authority. In 2020, Virginians for High-Speed Rail created an annual Legislative Achievement Award in Meredith’s name.
25 minutes | Mar 4, 2021
Rural Rail as a Game Changer
Inspired by constituents, a new state senator leads with rail In this episode of Train Time, we spoke to State Senator Jo Comerford, who represents a large rural district in the northwest of Massachusetts. Comerford is a relatively new legislator, having taken office in 2019. As a legislator in Boston, she started talking about rural rail right out of the starting gate, and explains in this interview that her focus on rail was driven by the stories she heard on the campaign trail. Here, she explains her vision for restored passenger service on what’s known as the “Northern Tier” line. The Northern Tier Rail Study will look at the feasibility of restoring passenger rail service between North Adams, Greenfield and Boston. In addition to direct service along the Northern Tier Line the service could provide connecting service via Greenfield to southern New Hampshire and Vermont. A connecting service to Montreal would also be possible. For more detail, visit the Northern Tier Rail Study page at Trains in the Valley. At the Train Campaign website you’ll find an earlier proposal for the same line, extending west to Pownal, VT and then to Schenectady, NY, by Walter Klinger, a retired Amtrak conductor based in Vermont. For more about the potential connections in New York State, here’s Guest Post: Letter to MassDOT from Steve Strauss, NYS Council Representative – Rail Passengers Association. Jo Comerford moved to western Massachusetts after graduating from the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York. Her career has included time at the Center for Human Development, the American Friends Service Committee, and The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. She was then executive director of the National Priorities Project before becoming a campaign director for MoveOn, focusing on a range of issues from gun safety to health care. She was elected to the state senate in 2018 and represents the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District. In 2021, Comerford was appointed chair of a new Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.
28 minutes | Feb 24, 2021
A Big Vision for Big Sky Country
Our first Train Time podcast outside the Northeast takes us to Big Sky country. We spoke to David Strohmaier, chair of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners, about efforts to restore passenger rail service restored through the southern tier of Montana. He is also chair of the newly formed Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which was featured recently in the New York Times (link below). This Authority is a legal entity formed by a coalition of counties, and will be working to develop plans and raise support in the region and in Washington DC. New York TImes: “In Rural Montana, a Hope That Biden Will Reopen the Rails“ Strohmaier explains that when Hiawatha service was stopped in 1979, the Empire Builder service that goes from Chicago to Seattle through the North Tier of Montana was maintained. The choice was based on preserving public transportation in the more remote part of the state, even though that came at the expense of the cities and towns along the Southern Tier. Strohmaier emphasized a point that we often make: passenger rail restoration is not a zero-sum game, pitting one project against another. Our aim should be to focus on creating networks, east-west and north-south connections. He sees future potential in passenger rail restoration on other lines that, like the Housatonic Line and North Tier Line in Massachusetts, used to have passenger trains and now have only freight. Strohmaier and his colleagues want to see studies focus on the value passenger rail creates, and on the equity that good public transportation provides. He also explains that the counties that are part of the Authority range from blue/purple politically to various shades of red. They have found common purpose in this initiative to benefit the entire region. It’s 600 miles across Montana, and the restored line would go through a county with a population of only 1,000 as well as three of the biggest cities in Montana, including the state capital, Helena. Dave Strohmaier has called Missoula home since 1997. He currently serves as chair of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners and he also chairs the Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee. From 2006 to 2013, Dave represented Ward 1 on the Missoula City Council. Prior to his time in elected office, Dave spent 18 years with the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service in a variety of roles. He also spent 13 years in the private sector as a public historian with Historical Research Associates, Inc., where he specialized in environmental and Native American history. Transcript Note: This transcript was created using AI and will be edited for readability. (THIS EDITING HAS NOT YET BEEN DONE YET!) The AI transcript is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we’ve added an introduction and did some editing. SPEAKERSKaren Christensen, Dave Strohmaier Karen Christensen 00:55Dave. Hello. It’s just great to have you with us from the great state of Montana. What’s the weather like out there? Dave StrohmaierIt is hovering around freezing today. But we do have snow on the ground and it’s still feeling like winter. Karen Christensen 01:12Ah, yes, I’m in Massachusetts.This is really exciting, both because of what you’re doing, and because this is the first Train Time podcast where we’ve really got gone outside the Northeast region, and away from the East Coast, way out west. So it’s been an education for me, I’ve been looking at maps and I’m counting on you to educate me more about Montana and exactly what you see passenger rail as bringing to your state. Dave Strohmaier 01:45I am happy to be here to do exactly that. Karen Christensen 01:47So tell me how did this all get started? How did you get involved? I gather that you’re one of the leaders in this the effort in Montana, and tell us a bit about yourself, please. Dave Strohmaier 02:00Yeah, so I currently serve as the chair of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners, a role that I’ve been in for about a little over four years now. I previously beginning in the mid-2000s, served on the Missoula City Council. And it was at that time that in contact with some of my constituents that I became interested in the possibility of restoring passenger rail service to the southern tier of the state of Montana. Now, in Montana, we actually had multiple long distance rail routes, passenger rail routes up until 1979. And in 1979, during a period of retrenchment by Amtrak, the Empire Builder along the what’s called the Highline in Montana, the northern tier of the state, adjoining Canada, the Empire Builder was retained, but what was called the North Coast Hiawatha route along the southern portion, and actually the most populous portion of Montana was dropped. It was a bit of a tradeoff and that it was seen as if we were only to have one passenger rail route in the state of Montana, it ought to serve those communities that are most disadvantaged in terms of having air or other decent modes of public transportation. So we’ve been without passenger rail service in my neck of the woods for basically 42 years. Over that time for him, there have been various fits and starts of trying to restore service but it’s typically oscillated between moments of enthusiasm led by passionate advocates or advocacy groups and even longer periods of what I would call the wet blanket syndrome where folks had their hopes dashed. So fast forward to where we are today, we’re trying something different and hopefully more successful than those decades long, unsuccessful efforts. Big Timber, Montana David Holifield on Unsplash Karen Christensen 04:08Tell us about Montana. I think that a lot of my listeners, although obviously they’re training advocates, and people pass Pat passionate about rail across the country. I don’t know Montana, can you describe it and the cities there I’ve been looking at a map give us a sense of who lives there and why passenger rail would be such a boon to them. Dave Strohmaier 03:54The state of Montana exists in the run at the juncture of the Rocky Mountains, the Northern Rockies and the Great Plains region. The western part of the state is fairly mountainous. We are home to both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks couple of our most iconic national treasures. And the state is big geographically, which is why it’s called Big Sky Country and which is also the moniker for our newly minted Rail Authority, which we’ll probably talk about here and Karen Christensen 04:33just Yeah, Dave Strohmaier 04:34but it’s a big state. It’s stretches 600 miles from east to west. We’re bordered on the east by North Dakota on the west by Idaho and to the south by Wyoming. We’re fairly sparsely populated. As larger geographic region as we are we have about a million people. We only have one congressional district. That might change after this last census. But we actually have the largest congressional district in the country Karen Christensen 05:09to congressional this 600 miles. Dave Strohmaier 05:12Yeah, large geographic area, large population with one representative. So we feel somewhat disproportionately underrepresented in Congress. But nonetheless, we press on in terms of, of the population centers in the state, as I mentioned, the majority of Montana’s population spread out across cities such as Billings, Bozeman Missoula lie in the southern tier of the state. We have no passenger rail service, we have air service, we have interstate highways. But this is a mode of transportation that we think would benefit our state and region greatly, and is currently completely lacking in our transportation portfolio. But you Karen Christensen 06:01but you have an existing freight line, Dave Strohmaier 06:04we do we have an existing freight line. In fact, it is the is the same, same corridor that was served by passenger rail service up until 1979. So we’re not contemplating anything like creating a completely new system that has never existed before. And in fact, we’re not just looking at what it would take to recreate this East West connection across our state. But also, what does it mean to add some north south connectivity in the western United States, bringing passenger rail from Denver up to Billings, Montana independence, from Salt Lake City, in theory, up to Butte, Montana, and then on to Seattle. Karen Christensen 06:54So you’re taking this kind of systems approach, which we’re taking in New England. And also this is what’s really interesting is that you’re looking for the sort of simpler and less expensive solution than a high speed rail line between major cities, but you’re looking to connect to use existing infrastructure, in fact, to improve it, so that we can have passenger rail as well as freight trains on lines that that exist. Dave Strohmaier 07:26Absolutely. And it’s not to say that there would not need to be infrastructure investments on these corridors that are currently just being used by freight. railroad operators. But it is to say that we think that investing in not high speed but higher speed, passenger rail service would be a much better investment and provide connectivity and a level of transportation equity for our population, that would not be realized if we simply dumped vast sums of money into high speed rail as, as maybe as important as that might mean to some of the country. Karen Christensen 08:13Yeah, well, we’re looking at this in a very similar way, in many, in many cases, here further, further east. So I, what I hadn’t gathered from the New York Times article was that you’re also thinking about this, you know, the more the systems, the rail system for the region, which I think is really timely. Are there other? Is there a freight network running along those lines you just mentioned? Dave Strohmaier 08:45Yes, all of the potential alignments or corridors, not just east west, but also the north south connections currently are served by frayed So again, it’s not so much a matter of recreating something that’s never existed or completely running a line through a green field that would require right of way acquisition and streaming something from whole cloth. It’s building upon the rail system that we’ve already had, and currently are utilizing. Karen Christensen 09:23Tell us please about the Big Sky passenger rail authority. It’s called I was really intrigued to read about the fact that you could establish that counties could establish an authority. Dave Strohmaier 09:35Yes, as we’re we when we stumbled upon this piece of state statute that had not been used since the 1990s, when it was originally adopted by our state legislature. So going back to the attempts, the really failed attempts over the past four decades to reestablish passenger rail service in our state and seeing what has been Not worked. Again. And again, I’ve come to the conclusion. And I came to the conclusion when I started as a county commissioner A number of years ago that we’re just not getting anywhere trying the same thing ever harder, expecting different results is not getting the job done. And in fact, isolated communities, cities, towns, municipalities, passing resolutions to affirm their supportive passenger rail, and this kind of siloed fashion, also is not getting the job done. So in looking at the map of our state, it’s a bit of a no brainer. But it occurred to me that the one thing that is continuous across the entire state are counties. Is there a mechanism in state law that would allow counties to come together and create some sort of a special district that would further our goals. And so that’s what we did one of our students, Deputy county attorney’s found along the books, that allows counties and only counties in the state of Montana to jointly come together to establish Regional Rail authorities. And so over the course of the year 2020, we did a full court press here in Montana, trying to reach out to those counties that either were one served by passenger rail and might be candidates to have it restored, or counties in which just looking into the future passenger rail service restoration. And creation would make sense. So in November of last year, 12 counties came together, and an executed a joint resolution to establish what we’re calling the Big Sky passenger rail authority, the first such authority in the history of the state of Montana, that that literally does span the entire 600 mile breadth of the state, and represents not only urban population centers, but also some of our most isolated and extremely sparsely populated portions of the state. Karen Christensen 12:15And what do you all want to see happen? What’s the vision? Dave Strohmaier 12:21So one of the organizing concepts for the rail authority is that we are now that that governance structure that institutional infrastructure that was totally lacking in prior decades when you just have advocates or nonprofit groups, working towards this goal of restored service. So we now by virtue of having the authority established and we are a bonafide arm of state government, governmental entity, we have the ability to directly engage in, in negotiations with or discussions with our host railroads, with Amtrak, with our congressional delegation, our state government state d o t. And we have the ability to seek funding, we have the ability to accept funding to deploy for a project to conduct the necessary studies and analyses. So we’re filling a void that has not existed. We’ve got a lot of work to do before we see a train passenger train rolling down the tracks, but it’s all about setting ourselves up for success. Whereas otherwise, if opportunities were to materialize, if a multi trillion dollar infrastructure bill was to come out of this administration and Congress in the past, we would have just been completely unprepared to engage in that process. Now we’ve got the structure in place to take an active role. Karen Christensen 14:04Who owns the line, the southern cheer line in Montana. Dave Strohmaier 14:09So we have three host railroads. Burlington, Northern Santa Fe is the owner of the East West rail line through the state. About half of the state is under a long term lease between Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Montana Rail Link. And then if you look south, at least one of the corridors that we’re looking at is owned by Union Pacific. Uh huh. Karen Christensen 14:38And what do you think that next step is into in terms of assessing I saw that there was an estimate made of 50 million to upgrade the line for passenger service, but is that is that just a ballpark figure? Do you need to do more to assess exactly what is required? Dave Strohmaier 14:58The short answer is Slowly, yes, more assessment work needs to be done. About a decade ago in 2009, Amtrak conducted a feasibility study of restoring the north coast Hiawatha route to the southern tier of the state. And, and even at the time, there were many of us who thought that this by all rights appeared to be an attempt by the host freight railroads to bankroll the complete reconstruction of their lives. Karen Christensen 15:30Yes, yeah. Dave Strohmaier 15:34That the cost estimate came back at and we’re talking not just within Montana, but basically from Chicago to Seattle and Portland. The cost estimate came back on the order of magnitude of about a billion dollars and, and the B word, instituted one of those proverbial wet blankets that got tossed on the effort at the time. So over a decade is a lapse, some of the suggested infrastructure improvements back in 2009, have already been completed by the host railroads to support their freight operations. And I would also argue that we certainly can bring more creativity and ingenuity to how to structure a system that works for us without completely breaking the bank. And that’s what we need. Now, you’re hoping to have daily service? Yeah, we are hoping to have daily service. And I should also say, here in Montana, where we have the Empire Builder, which connects Chicago to Seattle, and Portland through Montana. It’s been scaled back during the pandemic, and we are strong advocates of restoring full seven day a week service to that. And in everything that we say and do is the authority, we want to make clear that we are not proposing any sort of zero sum game by which adding service to our region would somehow diminish your takeaway service and another part of Montana or LA is all about being additive and adding conductivity to the overall system, which we’d argue makes the overall system more robust and vital. Karen Christensen 17:24Yeah, I think we have cases in the East where people want to see one line is competing with another, which is not the right way to look at it, because it is a system. Now what condition I’m, I’m really into the engineering of this, I’m, I want to see your line, as soon as I can. I’m obviously going to be out there sort of walking the track. But what kind of condition is that line? In as a freight line? Do you know how old it is? I’m asking because we have a line that’s 37 miles long, that’s being restored to passenger level. And it’s costing about a million dollars a mile to do that here in Massachusetts. But that’s very, it’s very old, it’s 100 years old. Yeah, we would not be looking at that. If so we would probably be in the wet blanket scenario, again, with over 600 miles of Route in Montana. And, and at a million dollars a mile, we’re talking that half a billion dollars just within our state, no, the line is in good shape. Some of the upgrades that would need to be made, would be adding additional double tracking or sightings in some areas. Just to avoid any conflict between the operation and passenger trains, we would probably have to add back in some of the super elevation, if you will, and then that’s kind of a fancy term for the way in which a rail line would bank around a corner to allow for higher speeds. Yeah, yeah. And that and those were removed after passenger rail was, was abandoned in our southern part of the state just decrease maintenance costs for the frayed rail roads. Dave Strohmaier 19:18We’d have to put back into service some of the stations that have well, all of the stations that have not been used over the last four decades, I saw a Karen Christensen 19:27photograph of a gorgeous station in Missoula in Dave Strohmaier 19:31Yeah, there’s some beautiful facilities and again, it’s a matter of thinking creatively and how do we, how do local communities perhaps have skin in the game and one way in which they would is by taking on the responsibility of the station Reestablishment. But, in general, we’re talking a pretty solid network of rail lines in the state of Montana, and even For those portions of the line that would exit the state and add connectivity, two points east and west end points north and south. Karen Christensen 20:07Where do people in Montana where are you likely to be going or where are people coming from? Dave Strohmaier 20:13So here in Montana, and there’s a number of potential classes of riders, if you will, that we expect. And we can look to the Empire Builder in Montana for somewhat of an analogy or analog to what we’d be looking at for areas where service would be restored. So the Empire Builder along the northern tier of the state provides both connectivity for tourists. We have one of those iconic national parks in the country, Glacier National Park, through which you can access the park by the Empire Builder Karen Christensen 20:54is that my daughter worked in Glacier National Park one summer, but she flew somewhere in Idaho, I had no idea that the train Dave Strohmaier 21:04can disembark or board the train on either the Eastern or Western edges of or southern edge of Glacier National Park via the Empire, an Empire Builder. So you’ve got you’ve got that clientele, you’ve also you also have those individuals who are residents of the communities who are serviced by the rail line who either choose not to or really don’t have any other way to travel by rail. So that would be folded into the equation here. And on that point, that there’s a there’s a bit of, of transportation equity at play, in that I’ve heard from folks across the state who are part of the disabled community who can drive really cannot easily fly, but would absolutely take a train. From the business sector. I’ve heard from CEOs of companies here in the southern tier of Montana, who desperately want to be able to take a train to their other office locations and have productive time, work time while traveling, which you cannot say so much. If you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle, or are here in Montana, if you’re wanting to access another community in the state via air, you have to fly outside of the state of Montana, to a Denver or Salt Lake City or Seattle or Portland, only to then fly back to the state to your destination. So it’s crazy. Karen Christensen 22:40I need to put some maps up with when we put this podcast online, we’ll put up some maps so we can for those of us who are unfamiliar with the challenges of the West, it’s just different from you know, being in the kind of rather crowded northeast. So what are you looking forward to? What do you what happens next, I’m going to make sure that the website is available, you know, the link is there so people can read more about it and stay in touch. But what happens next, what should we be looking forward to from the authority Dave Strohmaier 23:14moving forward? It’s a multi-pronged effort that the authority is taking. So usually, when I get questions about how is this going to be possible? Well, first off, if the question is, what’s the likelihood that restored passenger rail service will occur? My response is absolutely zero if we don’t do anything differently than we have in the past. But beyond that, usually the next question is, how much is it going to cost? And that’s where we will be working with our members of Congress or US senators, and other partners to try to initiate through the next surface transportation bill in Congress, a new study of restored service through our state and throughout the entire region. But beyond just cost, what and the question of what, from an engineering standpoint, would it take to make this happen? What usually does not get addressed is what are the benefits? Not just the cost, but what are the social and economic benefits of passenger rail or restored rail service? Karen Christensen 24:25And those don’t tend to get put into the financial equation and we to deal with this? Dave Strohmaier 24:34And it’s because yeah, absolutely. And it’s because of that, that one of the first undertakings of the Big Sky passenger rail authority will be to garner the funds to do a socio economic study and to answer that very question. And again, we have a great analog by way of the Empire Builder where it’s been estimated by the rail passengers Association. That for the entire Breath of the builders route between Chicago and Seattle and Portland that Garner’s over $300 million in economic benefits to those states collectively. And that’s, that’s a great return on investment when you consider that the federal government puts in about $57 million per year. And so it’s that question of economic and social benefits that we want to put a lot of effort into, to continue to make the case to not only our constituents here in the state, but to our national and federal leaders that this makes a lot of sense. And as a great investment for our nation. Karen Christensen 25:46This, this is something we’ll follow closely, we have many, many parallels with what we’re dealing with in other parts of the country. And I’m looking forward to talking to you again, but my plan is to do it in person, because I want to get out there and see this for myself. 26:05Absolutely. Karen Christensen 26:05So I will, I will take the train somewhere. And look forward to seeing this. I really congratulate you on what you’re doing. And thank you for joining us on train time. Dave Strohmaier 26:21Thank you for having me. All aboard Montana. Big Sky Country Photo by Nicole Y-C on Unsplash
38 minutes | Feb 11, 2021
Talking North Atlantic Rail with Robert Yaro
Bob Yaro joins us to explain the history and concept of North Atlantic Rail, a project that has attracted great interest because of its scope and ambition. North Atlantic Rail is an initiative aimed as building a high-performance rail network to serve New England and downstate New York, connecting New York and Boston with high-speed trains and reconnecting smaller cities of the region with high-performance passenger service. We expect it to stir debate in the North Atlantic region and nationally, as the United States begins to look seriously at infrastructure investment for the 21st century. Bob’s breadth of experience is unparalleled and we’re delighted to have him explain the vision for North Atlantic Rail with Train Time. Biography: Bob Yaro worked in regional and transportation planning in metropolitan regions and megaregions in the US and abroad. He also knows rural America, having been a professor of regional planning at UMass Amherst, where he founded and led the Center for Rural Massachusetts. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and was the president of the Regional Plan Association, where he led strategic planning initiatives for the New York Metropolitan Region for 25 years. At RPA he led advocacy efforts for more than $100 billion in transportation investments. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut and developed the North Atlantic Rail concept with his long-time colleague Kip Bergstrom. See https://northatlanticrail.org for more details. Transcript Note: This transcript was created using AI and will be edited for readability BUT THIS EDITING HAS NOT YET BEEN DONE YET! The AI transcript is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we’ve added an introduction and did some editing. SPEAKERS Karen Christensen, Robert Yaro Karen Christensen 00:02 Welcome to Train Time, Bob. It’s a thrill to have you with us today. Robert Yaro 00:07 Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your audience. Karen Christensen 00:14 I don’t know, it seems like a long time ago since we were first introduced, I suppose it was about the time that you were starting that project that was then called rebooting New England. 2017. 00:26 Yes, that’s right. Yeah, we started this and again, it was remains unabashedly, a, a regional economic development project. Excuse me. You know, our goal, our focus, initial focus was on strategies to revitalize the older industrial cities or legacy cities of New England, places like Pittsfield and Springfield, and Waterbury and others, you know, they’re 30 or more of these places that have never quite recovered from the loss of manufacturing in the in the 1970s. And 80s. You know, when, for example, in Pittsfield, when GE left town, you know, they just it was like, they pulled the plug on a large part of the economy of Pittsfield in the Berkshires. And we just went spray Left, left, North Adams. And, you know, there have been some really important steps taken since then to revitalize the economy of these places, but it’s hasn’t been sufficient. Karen Christensen 01:24 How did this come together? In your mind, I will tell us a little bit, I will certainly put biographical information online. But I’d like to hear a little bit of your story how you came into this? Robert Yaro 01:38 Well, I’ve had, you know, it’s been a 50 year career working on City and Regional Planning and everything from rural I started ran the Center for rural Massachusetts, at UMass Amherst back in the 80s. And to urban, you know, I ran regional plan Association for 25 years in New York. And I described it as getting into the belly of the beast in the metropolitan area. So, you know, I’ve been, and I lived in Western Mass for a number of years, when I was teaching there, we were putting in North Hampton. And we have, you know, spending a lot of time, you know, across New England. And I’ve lived ironic I’m a New York native, but I but I’ve lived in, in New England, ever since I was 17, I guess. And so I’ve got a deep interest in, in, in the region. My first job out of school, I went to Wesleyan and the first job out of school, I was a city planner in New Britain, Connecticut, just at the point where the, you know, where were the bottom dropped out of the hardware city, for the world self-styled. And, you know, most of the most of the hardware manufacturer, other than Stanley works, left town or went out of business and, and help helped along by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which decided to ramp that one, not to free, limited access highways, right through the center of the city, just yeah, if this eviscerated the downtown in the end, and the neighborhoods around the downtown, devastating, and the city, you know, hasn’t quite recovered from that. And the same thing happened, all of these places. And so I got interested in revitalizing older industrial cities, I went to work for the city of Boston, in 2003. And my job was to was to, for quite a while I was the neighborhood planner for Dorchester, which is a third of the city and that in that neighborhood was just unraveling because of housing, abandonment, white flight, you know, a whole series of pathologies. And, you know, Boston had lost 40% of its population over a 30 year period at that point. And, you know, my job and our job at the Boston Redevelopment Authority was to turn that around, stabilize it and then bring it back. And it worked. I mean, and at any rate, I’ve been interested in these cities, and then in the transportation underpinnings at regional plan, a big part of our, our work was thinking about the future of the MTA and regional rail network. I been teaching since 1984, at the graduate level, City and Regional Planning. And in 2004, at the University of Pennsylvania, I ran an ambitious studio, the understated they named for which was a plan for America studio, where we looked at the long term trends, population growth, land use change, and so forth, and the infrastructure needed through the middle of the century. And, and at that studio, we had advisors of really the best people from both the US and UK and Europe working with us because the Europeans have done this kind of long range planning for continental Europe. Karen Christensen 04:56 When did you start that up? When are you doing that? Well, I 05:00 started that that studios in 2004. And, and we’ve had a series of these studios where we’ve brought students and faculty and advisors to places around the world that are, you know, that are ahead of us on regional planning, or transportation and so forth to see how, see what the state of the art is. And they get advice from people who’ve been living with these problems, and other countries and so forth. So 2004, we were, we were in Sir Peter Hall, who was the Dean of British planners, University College, London hosted a group of students and faculty, for the studio. And we identified the emergence of what we call mega regions, networks of metropolitan areas and midsize cities that, that function as an integrated economy over a very large geography. And the first one, you know, which was not news was the Northeast, but there were, you know, 10 others, and eventually, we’ve identified a total of 13 of these places across the country. And they’re all they’re all 300 to 600 miles across, which means that they’re too large to be easily traversed by automobile, and too small to be efficiently accessed by airplane, you know, so what’s the motive choice, and it turns out that everywhere in the world that has similar places, they’ve built high speed rail systems, because you know, because it just fits beautifully in, in that geography. So that you can get, you know, most any place within an hour or two on high speed rail within the Northeast, or anywhere, the 12 other mega regions across the United States. And when we look closer at these places, and we did some research over a period of years, both with pen studios, and then I started a project at regional plant called America 2015, we, with support from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others, you know, we looked at the long term development trends in these places, infrastructure needs, and natural resource issues and so forth. And it’s very clear that that we needed, we need to build a network of these high speed rail systems, you know, one of one of these, at least one of these lines, and each, each of the 13 mega regions across the country. We developed a proposal, I think, 2005 or six for that system, it was more or less adopted by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2008. I think it was, and then funding, initial funding was included at the error recovery pretty modest. It was a billion dollars in a in a $900 billion recovery. Yeah. And, and it was not well done. And it turned out, you know, the, unfortunately got tied up in the nasty Washington party politics, you know, where Republican governors refused to accept the funds, you know, because it was Obama, one of Obama’s priorities, and they wanted to poke him in the eye. So not too much happened. We got a few billion dollars in Northeast Corridor a few more in California high speed system, but it was not sufficient to really make these make these projects work. We stayed with it. In 2010, I did a studio with a colleague at Penn, Marilyn Taylor, who done a lot of work in Northeast Corridor planning, where we looked at the Northeast quarter of 2009, Amtrak came out with a proposal to spend $50 billion to produce a 15 minute travel time savings between New York and DC. And, you know, I said it doesn’t sound particularly ambitious to me a lot of money for not a lot of payback. And, and so we developed our own strategy for high speed rail. And again, we took the students, we had a, you know, fabulous group of advisors made really the best people in the US and the UK, advising the studio top, you know, engineering professionals. We went to England just at the point where they were literally the week they made the decision to move ahead with HS to the high speed rail lines from London to Manchester. And we met with the politicians and the professionals involved in that decision. And so we came up with our own proposal and then a 90-minute travel time between New York and DC 100 minute travel time from New York to Boston, using new right of way on going east on Long Island, tunnel under the sound and then an inland route from Hartford to Providence, and that we had an interesting set of next steps on that thing. The final proposal one of our advisors was the 09:53 transportation director for the city of Philadelphia who had been at that role when Ed Rendell was mayor, before he became governor, I got a call from the governor after we presented this thing. And it was a story of the Philadelphia papers. He’d heard about it from his advisor. He said, “When are you presenting this to me?” So as a governor, “When would you like to see us?” A week later, I had a bunch of graduate students and faculty sitting in the governor’s office. And, you know, no more than about 10 minutes into the presentation. Rendell pulls out to his assistant says, “Get Joey on the phone.” And who the heck is Joey? You know, it was Joey Biden picks up the phone, and then Vice President Biden, and he says, “When are you presenting this to me?” And I mean, Rendell said, you know, we’ve been waiting for this for 30 years. He said this to a bunch of kids at Penn. And I think he just knew that, you know, Biden, Biden’s kids all went to Penn and there was a affinity there. So we were invited to present this at the White House, which we did in August of 2010. And, and I got about 10 minutes of the presentation, Biden says, Hey, this is great. I want to see this happen. And he directs the officials in the room and Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to get moving on this thing. And, again, the term get moving in Washington means different things to me. Yeah, than it does to you and me, they resulted in a majestic five year long, preliminary, cis process, you know, which, ironically, here’s the Vice President’s, you know, one of his top priorities. And they finished the study after he leaves office. And that’s what they did. And it landed like a dolphin both in the region and it ended with the Trump administration. And so we’ve stayed with it, we’ve 2017. I mean, the new piece of information was that the UK you know, I learned from friends, there had been an active, you know, British planning, and remember the Royal town planning, Institute, institution, so forth. And we learned that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Conservative Party had not just recommitted to HS to the high speed rail line from London, to Manchester, Leeds, it was always predicated on the notion that it would underpin an economic development strategy for the north of England and the old manufacturing cities there. But the new Conservative government got big went the next step and said, we’re going to initiate a comprehensive economic development strategy built around high speed rail and other activities, called the northern powerhouse, initiative. And, you know, so I was invited to meet with people who are putting this thing together to advise them on that which was very flattering and, and then I brought another team of students over in, I think, 2016, to meet with the people who are advancing the northern powerhouse in HS two and then HS three, which is the east west, high speed rail line. And, you know, the bottom line is that the British government is committing $160 billion to high speed rail investments, designed to revitalize old industrial cities in the north of England that have the same juxtaposition, you know, to London and the southeast that that our older industrial cities, New England, Hampton, New York into Boston, and raise the question, Well, why can’t we do this here? And that’s, so we ran this, this research project, a studio project, looking at looking at that issue, and that’s where the that’s where the proposal for the, you know, what we call rebooting New England, you know, later, we, we change the name to North Atlantic rails simply because there was a lot of misunderstanding about what rebooted to England that then, particularly on Long Island, and in New York City, where they right gave us the water, we chopped liver speech, and which I’m familiar with. And so we said, okay, let’s, let’s give it a name that encompasses all, all seven states in the, in the North Atlantic region. So that’s, that’s so gets us back to the present day, we launched this thing with a series. My, my colleague, and this has been Kip Bergstrom, who’s a classmate at Harvard and then a longtime economic development expert in Connecticut and Rhode Island. And Kip and I held a series of, of roundtable discussions across the region. And Massachusetts we held to because as you know, Western Mass is a different state in Massachusetts. And, you know, where we got, we basically got input from the state and local officials, civic leaders, business leaders on what the top priority rail investment priorities were. And that became, you know, the initial phase of North Atlantic rail so you know, projects like East West rail and in Massachusetts and, and others, the New Haven line, fixing the New Haven line, fixing the Hartford line, double tracking electrifying The Hartford line. Karen Christensen 14:52 So can you do I’m looking at the map now, but why don’t you verbally explain the route, the stages, and then we can talk about some of the details, because I do have some questions. But if you could just explain it for listeners, that would be grand. 15:09 Yeah, well, there, you know, we’ve laid it out in three chunks, you know, and the first chunk is the investment in each state’s passenger rail priorities. Which, you know, which, at the, you know, each day was kind of promoting these things on their own, independent of other initiatives and other parts of New England and New York. And, you know, we, we basically mapped all of those and then began to connect the dots between these things to create some synergies between them. So it’s projects like East West rail, the, you know, upgrading modernizing the New Haven line, you know, which is, you know, been beset by, by, you know, a whole series, you know, so, these, most of this stuff’s 100 100 years old, 150 years old, and, you know, need desperately needs new investment just to bring it up to modern standards and so forth. Goals, which are to reduce travel times, increase frequency, make it more reliable, all of those things. The second phase is the High Speed Rail connection between New York and Boston. And that and they, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve identified an alignment that goes east from Penn Station, using a number of old freight rights away that are either abandoned or you know, used for one or two trains a week. And then a judicious amount of tunneling, some viaducts to go over existing tracks in places like Jamaica. And then using parts of existing alignments east of oil in Suffolk County, basically how to walk about and then a there are a couple of electric power rights away that we would use one of them runs 200 foot wide right away runs from Brancato station, to Port Jefferson village, we’d use that to get cut near the sound and then tunnel under the sound to Stratford. And people ask, you know, can we do that at 16 miles? And the answer is that they’re 23 tunnels that are of this length or longer that have been built or under construction around the world, everywhere, but here, you know, and we’re starting to look like a formerly developed country, when you know, we, we say to ourselves, we can’t build what the rest of the world is building. Karen Christensen 17:31 And the reason you’ve chosen that is, is to avoid the coast on the north side of the Long Island. Yeah, there’s 17:39 so the existing New Haven line is the most congested rail corridor in the country, there is there no unused capacity, if you were going to run, if you’re going to run high speed trains, 150 plus mile per hour services, you’d have to blow a lot of the Metro North commuter services out of the schedule to do it. And to, to and there’s it’s such a, you know, well, you know, I’m not sure whether, whether Darien or Greenwich or Westport, you know, or the or the NIMBY capitals of the world, but you know, it’s a competition. And you know, can you drop? Can you drop two or three additional tracks through those towns? I don’t think so. So, you know, for a variety. And then the last thing, of course, is that a lot of it’s in the flood zone, and it’s going to increasingly be subject to Yes, flooding. Yes. And so it just didn’t sound like something that we’re going to build something is going to, we’re going to be using 150 years, we’ve learned we’d like it to be above water when we’re done. So the Long Island alignment, this new alignment is, is away from the coast, it’s entirely inland. It’s elevated from, you know, projected sea level rise and storm surges and so forth. And it serves big markets. I mean, there are 7 billion people on Long Island who are not on the northeast corner. Yeah. And a million people in greater Hartford who aren’t on the Northeast Corridor, at the moment and half a million people in Springfield that aren’t on the, you know, that don’t have access to the northeast corridor, they’re all brought into the, into the service area for this thing. So there are a lot of those are all the reasons for, you know, for that alignment. You know, it’s interesting when they in the future. Tier One, as I mentioned before, Federal Railroad Administration staff against the advice of their consultants said that while the easy thing is just to use the existing quarter, and they just ran into a buzz saw of public opposition, both in Fairfield County, but also in eastern Connecticut, western Rhode Island where people went nuts and so the that proposal was dropped and, and, and more or less said to the states here, you take care of it. Karen Christensen 19:49 Sounds like it’s left many scars. 19:52 And though I think some people are Yes, and, obviously, you know, we’re very sensitive to the fact that this thing can’t just be you know, dropped on communities without, without a lot of discussion, we’re looking for a very robust, you know, set of discussions with, with the communities where this new alignment is going to go. And, you know, it won’t be easy to, you know, it’s always hard to locate something like this, I mean, I learned at RPA, that, you know, big projects of this kind have, you know, diverse, and multiple region wide benefits, and then highly focused and highly immediate, local impacts. And, and so it’s really hard, it’s really hard to get a, you know, get people motivated across, you know, a region with, you know, with 36 million people to get in support of it, it’s really easy to go into a town meeting, and, you know, Westport, Connecticut and get people to, to raise hell over something like this. So it’s hard to do. And, but, but we just have to do it. And, and we think that, you know, combination of intensive, you know, public discussions and a whole series of measures, we’ve identified two alternative rights away through Eastern Connecticut, Western Rhode Island, if it’s the least populated area of both states, we’re able to avoid, you know, towns and villages and natural resources that are sensitive, you know, Wildlife Habitat, habitat, wetlands, and so forth. But there will be some impacts. And though and as a result, there will be a lot of tunneling, a lot of cut and cover a lot of other measures to, to mitigate and spread probably some offsets of, you know, actual, actual, you know, cash payments to communities into the region to offset the impacts of that this thing. So, Karen Christensen 21:42 we’ll come back to some of the details there. But what so that, that that is stage one, 21:49 that’s the, so that so the first stage for stage one is that, you know, the, basically the aggregate of each state’s highest, you know, rail priority, not necessarily high speed rail, you know, fixing the New Haven line, East West rail, double tracking the Hartford line, modernization of the MBTA commuter rail system. For Rhode Island, it was it was simply upgrading service between Providence and other cities in Rhode Island and Boston, which are highly constrained and very slow at the moment. And so that was an incident phase two is the high speed spine, which runs from New York Eastern Long Island, and that it lived from Hartford to Providence, into Boston. Phase Three is kind of connecting the dots between all of the above and it’s, it’s, it’s things like the extension of the Danbury branch to Pittsfield and, you know, double tracking the Waterbury branch. And I mean, it’s basically turning this whole thing into an integrated network where you can get from anywhere in the region to any other place in the region a lot better a lot faster than you can now. One of the remarks of our British advisors was this by analogy, they said, Well, you know, if you, if there was a saying, You can’t just be building the high speed spine, because that doesn’t really connect all the places you need to connect. And they use the analogy, if you built an airport, and they said it was the best airport in the world, but there was only one airport, it would be useless. If you build two airports, well, that would be interesting, you get from one place to the other. But if you build a network of airports, where you can get from anyone to any other place, then you’ve created something of enormous value. And it also applies in the rail network, you’ve got to connect all of these different lines of different places to each other. Karen Christensen 23:40 And that’s what your map shows, as I’m looking at it now that we see Pittsfield, for example, as it becomes, you know, each one gets to it from different places. And in fact, although this doesn’t extend to all, buddy, obviously, you could go there and 23:53 yeah, look, I think, you know, this, this is we don’t see this as the, you know, the end state that in fact, once you build this network, and you recreate, you know, rail culture in the, in this part of the world, which are we already have a strong one, we’ve got something like two thirds of passenger rail and, and rail transit ridership in the country in the northeast, you know, but you know that, yes, indeed, you could, you could there, bunch of other services, connecting the dots between Springfield and Albany, through Pittsfield, and so forth, that could happen later on. Karen Christensen 24:31 Now, the total I see here is about 100 billion, 24:34 little over 100 billion. Yeah, and this came out of, you know, cost estimates that we started with in in 2010. And then we updated them in 2016 and 17. We had, you know, some of the top railroad engineers in the country working with us. And, and there they were based on comparable here. Well, here’s what happened. They were based on comparable costs that were coming out. of California, high speed rail, and so Northeast Corridor improvements and others, we took a closer look at the initial estimates which were much higher. And we said, well wait a second, these are when we compared them with the costs in Germany and the UK and France and so forth that these cost estimates the unit costs were five times Karen Christensen 25:18 what the rest of the world wanted to ask you about that, because I think you were involved in some of the analysis in New York of some of the issues related to the subway, 25:28 yeah, we’d lead, I lead a research project that looked at Well, first we did, we did private construction waited across, you know, multiple to build high rise, apartments and office buildings in New York than it did another, you know, big union cities in the US and so forth. And then we led a follow up project that looked at construction costs on the MTA, other transit, railroads and so forth. So that led us and then, you know, one of my last projects in New York was working with Andrew Cuomo on the Tappan Zee Bridge, to do Mario Cuomo, bridges, bridges that replaced the old Tappan Zee Bridge. And, and we kind of pulled out the stops to develop a process that did all the things that people said, either couldn’t be done or very hard to do. And we got to record a decision on the on the environmental impact statement, in nine months, instead of nine years. We used to design build construction, a bidding process that that got a construction start, the selection of the of the design build team and a construction start in about 14 months. And then a and then a completion of the First Bridge and three and a half years. And second one a year after that. And a total construction cost, that was about half of what everyone said it was going to cost because it got done, you know, in four or five years instead, Karen Christensen 26:57 right, so that itself is huge. 27:00 So part of North Atlantic rail is not just the physical, you know, the map, but also a process that we’re proposing to create a new partnership between the seven states and the federal government that we’re calling North Atlantic rail Inc., that will be authorized to obviously be, you know, not be subject to the red tape and the bureaucratic stuff that goes on in big agent bureaucracies, like the Federal Railroad Administration, would be able to do the kind of creative permitting and procurement and project labor agreements that was it that was a big part of the Tappan Zee is getting the unions to agree to, to, not to not to use traditional labor practices, and, and, and so forth, which resulted in a lot of featherbedding and delays and costs cost increases. So this project Karen Christensen 27:52 would not be managed by the states individually or something that would that would it be as a central entity to put this to make this happen? 28:03 Well, that’s the idea. Yeah, new a new entity. And we, you know, we learned this from the Brits, where they have created these special purpose. They call them delivery companies with public authorities that are established to deliver a big project like HS two or HS three or cross rail and, and then at the end, once the project is completed, this company goes out of business. They’re lean and mean, they’re mostly small staff that administers the process, lots of contracting out to consultants and others, you know, and, you know, just as the most efficient way to deliver a big project like this, you know, we’d be authorized to do design, build, design, build, operate, maintain, you know, various forms of public private partnerships, wherever it’s the most efficient, and cost effective way of delivering the project, it would be authorized to contract with Amtrak and with the States, where appropriate, you know, we might contract with Amtrak to rebuild portions of the right away that they own and operate, for example, but the idea would be to break it out of the usual bureaucratic processes. And we think we can achieve very significant cost savings and time savings. You know, we’re calling for a construction period of 20 years, which is probably, you know, half of what this would take if we went through the conventional bureaucracies and procurement processes and so forth. Karen Christensen 29:34 So is that this the main way that that the North Atlantic rail differs from some of the other there are a congressman Moulton, for example, has proposed in the national high speed rail project, but I think that that I don’t know that the way it would be executed is different from kind of the way things have been have been done in the past in the United States, this is quite a different approach, isn’t it? 30:05 Well, so I think, you know, we’ve been working with Congressman Bolden, the newest version of his draft legislation calls for enables the creation of multi state authorities like this one doesn’t go as far as it needs to go. You know, but it makes possible the creation of these of these entities to design and build. So that’s, that’s not it’s, it’s, you know, very consistent with what we’re thinking. Karen Christensen 30:33 I say, so it’s really a matter. So what happens next? How do how does something like this, or this, you know, the different proposals to do different initiatives that are being discussed, how how’s, you know, the listeners supposed to understand what’s going to happen, and maybe what they can do to help speed things along. 30:53 Also, we’re working with the congressional delegation across the seven state region. And we’re working with mayors, our, our, our new co-chair is mayor, Luke Bronin, from Hartford, who, you know, is, is reaching out to mayors across the seven states state region. And we’re finding that that this is resonating, we’ve reached out, we’ve had held a series of zoom conversations, and one on one conversations with groups of business leaders, mayors, civic leaders, environmental justice leaders, and so forth. And I will describe this as a bandwagon but I think we’re starting to see some momentum developing around this thing. The reason this is happening coming to a head now is that is that, you know, with Amtrak, Joe Biden in the White House, for the first time, and, you know, maybe decades we have, we have somebody in the White House who sees rail as a priority. Biden has proposed a two plus trillion dollar infrastructure program with a that will have a high speed rail, title, and, you know, money earmarked for high speed rail projects across the country. So we see a real opportunity here to have this project be authorized and funded. And, you know, it’s a once in a probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t know when it will happen again, but a long time. One like never right. Karen Christensen 32:27 One of the things I’ve heard you say, Bob before is you explain why New England, as you know, Northern powerhouse in the UK, but I mean, you talk about New England as a powerhouse in the past and potential powerhouse in the future. Can you go into that a little bit for us? 32:48 Well, a couple of thoughts. And one is just that, that these old, you know, manufacturing centers across New England, these are the places that, you know, powered the national economy and the tax base of the country for 200 years. And they’re quite capable of doing it. Again, they have extraordinary assets, they’ve got great bones, they’ve got most of them have higher educational institutions, teaching hospitals, they’ve got you know, they’ve got research institutions, they’ve got a well-educated workforce, and so forth. And the problem has been that they have become detached from the economy of places like Metro New York and Metro Boston that that have become the engines of the national economy. So we’re really talking about restoring their place in the firmament and in the national, in the regional and the national economy, they have the potential, instead of being a drag on the economy of the North Atlantic region, they have the potential to become engines once again, as they have been for most of the history of the country. The other thing we have going for us is that, you know, you know, the bad news is that we have, you know, six New England states in New York that don’t have, they basically don’t have diplomatic relations with each other. They there’s not a long history of collaboration, projects, projects like this. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if we work together, we got 14 United States senators, you know, for a place with an economy that’s, you know, the size of California is a little bigger than California is, of course, California has data centers. So we have an opportunity, we have an enormous cloud, you know, so, you know, Biden wants to move his you know, what the politics of Washington and the senate look like at the moment, it’s going to be 50, you know, plus one for everything. For 50 plus Kamala Harris. And so we have 14 members of Congress who we hope are going to say, well, we really like this program, but we want to make sure that that funding is included for North Atlantic rail to benefit our part of the country. And we assume that we assume that there will that we, and we know we know and we’re working with people in California and the Pacific Northwest and Nevada and Texas and other parts To the contrary, and we’re also going to be seeking funding for this thing. And in the wonderful way that the Congress works, I suspect that there are going to be some accommodations made between representatives of each of these regions to include their projects. And in this in this bill, Karen Christensen 35:16 well, that’s what I, you know, before we close, I wanted to step back a little bit and look at the country. You know, one of the things you and I’ve talked about is the rural urban divide. And, you know, the political impact the economic impact. And my, what I think I’m hearing is that this kind of connectivity is a model for other regions you’re thinking of. And obviously, there are other regions of the country thinking about it. What I mean, this, this isn’t just something for one place, it’s a conceptually, one can apply it elsewhere. Am I right? 35:58 Absolutely. You know, we’re by no means alone in and in having, you know, cities like, like Pittsfield, or Springfield, that have been left out of a lot of the prosperity of the last 40 or 50 years. Last month, six mayor’s from the Midwest, got together on a on a wall street journal, op-ed piece calling for a Marshall Plan for the for the for the Midwest. And they call they call for a high speed rail network. In that part of the world, Pete Buda, Judge, the new Transportation Secretary worked on an upgrade of the of the rail connection between South Bend and Chicago. That had been, you know, called four decades ago and finally succeeded in getting funding for that, you know, I think there are going to be we know that there are high speed intercity rail initiatives, in several places across the country, many of them have the same challenges, they know that, that we do, certainly the Midwest, southeast, you know, California, the Central Valley and, and the Inland Empire had, you know, the same challenges of being detached from the boom towns along the coast. You know, all of these projects are going to be designed to address that, that challenge. Karen Christensen 37:24 Yeah, so we’re addressing issues that are really common to many, many parts of the United States. And a project like this, obviously. I mean, I often think of Pittsfield in the surrounds is big, you know, we have a lot of the same issues here that people in, in, you know, the rust belt in, in remote rural areas that feel cut off. 37:48 Well, you know, the rust, the Rust Belt starts in, in millinocket, or someplace, you know, starts in Maine, and, and, and New Hampshire, and then stretches East across New England, and upstate New York, to Pennsylvania and Ohio. I mean, we’re, it’s, it’s the same challenge that in our old industrial cities that you face in the Midwest, network of industrial, old industrial cities, and the solutions are going to be similar, you know, and again, we look at the rail system as a platform for a broader economic development strategy. It’s not the only thing that you do, but it’s the it’s one of the first things that you do. And then, and this is where, 38:46 last year Karen Christensen 38:51 but 38:52 yeah, I’m still here. You can you can call me at any quick Well, I was going to say that, that, you know, the rail system is, is a platform for the broader economic development strategy that needs to unfold in places like Pittsfield and Springfield, and others, Waterbury, you have it? Yeah, and this is where we’re continuing to learn from our counterparts in the UK. The EU, it’s interesting that a group of our colleagues have created a strategic plan for the United Kingdom called Up 2017. It’s modeled after my, that you, America 2050 project, and it’s, it’s resulted in Boris Johnson adopting a national quote, leveling up strategy, where the goal and they’ve you know, they’ve reaffirmed the commitment to HS to NHS three in the northern powerhouse, but now they’re committing additional resources, structural reforms in governance, they’re creating come bind authorities that are essentially Metropolitan service districts around all of the cities in, in the north of England and Scotland and Ireland, Northern Ireland, and so forth. So a whole series of things that are that are, you know, that are designed to address the challenge of revitalizing it, reinvigorating these old industrial cities together, man, go ahead, we have so we have a lot to learn from this, we haven’t done anything like this, ever, you know, maybe since the New Deal, but maybe ever and, and it’s desperately needed. Another probably 40% of the country that’s just been left out of the prosperity of the last, the last 40 or 50 years. It’s underpins a lot of the political challenges. So many people are mad as hell, in these places, and they should be because the government hasn’t lifted a finger to help them ever, or in decades, anyway, not only that, since the New Deal, and it’s a long time. And so I, you know, I think that, you know, we see this project as the foundation as the essential, essential, you know, first step in revitalizing these older and cities, older cities, and, and much of this will happen, you know, the individual cities themselves, local leadership, local businesses, mayors, and so forth. You know, doing the bootstrapping that needs to be done once we created this network and reconnected the cities physically with each other, and with the, the economic engines in New York and Boston. Karen Christensen 41:26 Well, Bob, this is fascinating. And I think it would be really great if I could get you to come on, if we could do some kind of an open forum that would bring some of the people from the smaller areas, you know, the last citizens a chance to listen to this and, and ask questions and think about how it would apply. I think that that’s it’s creating that vision for a future that’s more connected. would be, is really what people are looking for now is some new ideas about the future. So this is obviously very stimulating. 42:04 Well, one last one last time, that is all despite all this speculation about what the post COVID, you know, world is going to look like and, you know, clearly there’s going to be more work from home than there’s ever been. And, you know, and we don’t know, we don’t know, to what extent probably some kind of hybrid where people work at home. Some of the time can be to offices, some of the time that might be more distant places. But there could be a wholesale restructuring of the of the economy, to address the overconcentration of population and jobs and activities in the heart of Metro Boston in Metro New York, which is hurt everybody. We believe that it’s hurt New York, and it’s hurt Boston? Yeah. Even before COVID, there was a you know, for the last five years, it was an out migration of jobs and residents from both of these places, just because they’re too congested and too expensive. And, though and we so we believe that that then in fact, there should be a and there has begun to be a move of people in jobs to smaller cities across the country, and places that are more livable, that are lower costs that have you know, better quality services and so forth. And, and that creates an extraordinary opportunity, rather than just sitting back and, you know, wondering what’s going to happen, why don’t we create the future that we want. And we believe that the North Atlantic rail proposal and its counterparts in other parts of the country will create that new infrastructure that can support a much more balanced economy and much more balanced in a way of life for people across the country? Karen Christensen 43:49 Well, that’s a fantastic vision. I would love to have you come back in another six months or a year and tell us what’s happening. 43:59 That’d be great. Love to do it. Okay, thank you.
16 minutes | Jan 15, 2021
Seth Moulton’s Bold Vision for High-speed Rail in the US
We spoke with Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton (D-6th District) on January 13, 2021 about his bold plan for high-speed rail in the United States. He filed his “American High-Speed Rail” bill last May. The prospects for investment in rail look far better now and we will be following developments in federal infrastructure recovery, knowing that Rep. Moulton will be one of the leading voices for rail. This podcast is shorter than usual, because Moulton and his aide were delayed by the increased security in Washington, and he had another interview scheduled. Later that day he voted on impeachment, so we were especially pleased to catch him. Rep. Moulton is no stranger to conflict, having served four tours in Iraq. And he has dealt with the challenges of building a new train system, since he worked for Texas Central before turning to public service. We spoke about passenger rail as something to be approached as a 21st-century project: not preserving something from the 1950s but building something for the 2050s. This “moon landing” approach is bigger and bolder than the approach of many in the rail advocacy world. Take a listen and see what you think! We’ll be picking up the conversation as the Biden transportation team gets to work. See below for an edited transcript of the interview. And here’s a link to Rep. Moulton’s proposal for American High-Speed Rail. Transcript Note: This transcript was created using AI and then lightly edited for readability. It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we’ve added an introduction and did some editing. SPEAKERS Karen Christensen, Seth Moulton Seth MoultonIt’s a delight to be here. And yes, it’s nice to be able to talk about the future at this difficult juncture for our country.Karen ChristensenSo we will be talking about your vision for high speed rail and higher speed rail. But tell us a bit about yourself, you have an unusual background in rail.Seth Moulton 00:47I’ve been interested in rail, particularly high speed rail, as a way to quite literally move our country forward for a long time. And it was actually a bit of an academic interest in appreciating the benefits, economic benefits, environmental benefits and other things of rail transportation over the alternatives. It’s something that I studied in school, both when I was quite young. And then up into grad school, I did a financial analysis of the California high speed rail proposal as a graduate student at Harvard Business School, for example. But when I was really young, I said, I just need to learn more about this industry. And I had an appreciation for how unique it is, how it has its own language and terminology. And I decided that I couldn’t really learn it at a fundamental level if I didn’t have on the ground experience. So I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work at a short line in New Hampshire. And I can’t tell you how much I learned from that experience.Karen Christensen 01:55What stands out?01:58What stands out is how it is a unique industry that is hard to understand from the outside. But it has a lot of people who work in it who are incredibly dedicated to making it a success. Because this was a short line, it hired a number of people who had retired from larger railroads and I worked with an engineer, for example, who ran trains in the Korean War for the US Army in Korea, who came back and ran commuter trains out of Boston when they were still powered by steam, who told stories of running crack passenger trains up into northern New England, knowing the route well enough that he could, shall we say, safely exceed the speed limit when you pick up really romantic stories from the past, but this was also a man who put in hours and hours of hard work who took tremendous pride in his trade, and was damn good at it. I was proud of him.03:01I hadn’t realized that you’ve done work when you were at business school on rail. So that led to your getting a job on the trains. Is that right?03:17Well, that’s exactly right. I became the managing director and project manager of Texas Central, although it wasn’t called that at the time, I actually came up with the name Texas central for the high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston, which I still expect will be the first true high speed rail line built in the United States. It makes so much sense it’s so relatively inexpensive, for the benefits it will deliver and transform transformative potentialKaren Christensen 03:59that may testify to the way infrastructure and rail can be bipartisan could get bipartisan support surely that it’s something that benefits different parts, all parts of the country.04:15Well, actually one of the reasons why I think it’s so important that the project in Texas does succeed, and a good thing that it will be the first is that it eliminates this argument, which is such a silly argument that it’s only East Coast blue states that want high speed rail. The country is so devoted to their cars that they will never ride a train. There’s no evidence to support this. And the studies actually show is patently untrue. In fact, one of the fastest growing commuter rail system, just old fashioned commuter rail is in Los Angeles, which has always been called the car capital of America. So we know it will succeed. But how it succeeded in a place like Texas in turning many of those Texas Republicans, from critics into fans will be good for high speed rail across the entire country.Karen Christensen 05:11Yes, now I know we have a hard stop on our call today. So let’s, I think we’re going to have to come back to some things on another call, perhaps when you have more time. And of course, I want you to join our film project as well. But let’s talk about the bill that you introduced last year, because that obviously comes out of your long, you know, your history with rail, but it’s really visionary and very much future focus. So please introduce that to listeners05:40Well the American High Speed Rail Act would transform how we think of investing in rail in the United States because it would bring high speed rail, up to par with airports and highways as investments that the government thinks are good for the future transportation. Now, in many ways, this is not a radical proposal at all. I mean, all we’re saying is that we want a level playing field. In fact, we’re not going nearly as far as China, which has done the analysis and said, actually, high speed rail makes way more sense than investing in highways, and airports. So we should subsidize high speed rail above all else. We were committed to high speed rail than any of the alternatives. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying, Hey, we’re the United States of America, we say we believe in a free market. And yet, we’re only subsidizing highways, we’re only subsidizing airports. We give a pittance to Amtrak every year to run a completely outdated old fashioned network. I have no interest in expanding this 1950s era service. In fact, most Amtrak trains run on slower schedules than they did 70 years ago.Karen Christensen 07:13I was shocked when I first learned anything about trains, you know, 10 years ago, that that astounded me.07:23Contrast that with China, China expects 24,000 miles of high speed rail by 2025. It had built this network in roughly a decade with the first line inaugurated just back in 2008.07:4107:43China has invested roughly 100 times the amount the US has. And we have zero miles of high speed rail operating here at home. Think about that. China has 24,000 miles. In a few years, we have 01 ofKaren Christensen 08:00One of the things that struck me looking at your bill, which I gather you know, you’ll obviously be carrying this forward. Is this is real sense that you want to build a national network people often I often hear about this line, this line this line, as if they’re, you know, competing little projects. And, and your proposal is very much that to connect the country, how do you think I’d love to know why you think that matters.08:35I’ll tell you right now. not ignoring what’s going on around us as we have this discussion, unifying the country is all the more important. If you think about exactly what’s going on here, there’s a huge disconnect between the big cities on the coast and in certain parts of the country like Chicago, and all the smaller cities and rural areas throughout America that actually defines our political divide. And the beauty of high speed rail, which is very different than the airline transportation system that we rely on for going long distances in America is that you don’t just have an airport in New York in Chicago. You have agents all the way in between. And so buffalo in Cleveland, these cities that have really fallen on hard times, they get served as well, and the economies get tied together. Many people in America criticize high speed rail by saying well, you know, you can have it between, say, New York and Washington but no one’s going to take a train from New York to LA. Well, well, actually, that’s true. New York to LA is too far for most travelers to go by high speed rail. It simply takes a little bit too long. But you mentioned Beijing to Shanghai, that’s about the same distance as Chicago to Atlanta.Chicago, and Atlanta is a distance that business travelers in China regularly take by high speed train, they choose high speed rail over the airplane, for that distance, guess but it’s not just about serving Chicago in Atlanta because Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, those are all cities that would benefit from this service as well. They would be just quick stops if you’re going through straight through from Chicago to Atlanta. But if you’re someone who wants to stop in Chattanooga, if you’re someone who lives in Nashville and wants to access, easy, fast access to all these other cities, then you benefit from this high speed rail line as well. You just simply can’t say that about airports, and no one’s no business traveler at least is going to drive from Chicago to Atlanta, it simply takes too long. So this is how high speed rail can be so transformative. Not just point to point. But for all the places in America in between.Karen Christensen 13:23You’ve talked about how the rail is part of the future. What aspects of it do you think are most important? Obviously, the economic development, but what about other? What about the environment? And, and equity, social equity?13:42High speed rail is a complete no brainer when it comes to the environment. I mean, I almost don’t even bother to make the environmental argument because it’s so obvious. It’s just like, I mean, I don’t even need to waste any time making it. It’s there’s no comparison. high speed trains are all electric, you simply plug in that network to a carbon free energy source, whether it be wind power, solar power, or even nuclear energy, and you have an entirely carbon free transportation system. You just can’t do that with airplanes, not anytime soon. And realistically, we are not going to convert as a country as an economy to all electric vehicles for a long time. So it’s transformative when it comes to the environment. But it’s not just about carbon emissions. It uses so much less land, even if everyone in America had an electric car. You need to take so much land for these super highways. That secret one high speed rail line has the capacity of about eight to 12 Highway leads. And then by the way, all these cities where you drive to have to have acres and acres and acres of parking lots all that land It’s better used if you have high speed rail. Yeah, so by every measure, it’s good for the environment. It’s amazing for economic development. We’ve already talked about that a lot. But it also makes a difference for social equity. Because high-speed rail can serve all these intermediate communities. So there’s a great airline market between New York and Chicago. And if you’re a business traveler who lives with easy access to one of those airports, you’re all set. But if you’re someone who’s struggling to make ends meet in Cleveland, if you’re trying to be part of the revival of downtown Buffalo, you don’t benefit at all from airline travel between New York and Chicago. That’s totally different when the high speed rail line goes right through your downtown.Karen Christensen 15:49So what will we see next once President Biden is in office?15:55Well, one thing I’m concerned about is making sure that President Biden and his administration have a truly transformative view towards high speed rail, we can’t just be investing in more Amtrak lines. I am even very hesitant to talk about higher speed rail because frankly, that’s old technology to where the United States of America folks, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have the fastest trains in the world. Right now we have some of the absolute slowest,Karen Christensen 16:24yes, and in the worst condition. So you’re very much in favor of a really, really bold 21st century approach to rail.16:36I had a friend who’s a rail consultant in the UK come and visit to take a look at some projects we were contemplating around Boston. And I told him to go out and ride the trains and make sure he rides some of the newest cars that the MBTA Boston’s commuter rail system has purchased. After a few hours, he called me and said, Seth, I’ve written four or five trains, but I haven’t seen any of these new cars. And then after a little bit of back and forth, we realized that no, he had been riding in those new cars, he just had no idea that they were actually new, because they’re so old fashioned, compared to new trains everywhere else in the world. So we’re behind here, we’ve had a lot of work to do, catching up.Karen Christensen 17:15I’ve had Chinese friends come and ride the trains here.17:19But that’s also the opportunity. Americans just don’t know how good it can be. And that’s why I believe that once we get one true high speed rail line built in America, especially if it’s in a place like Texas, where people really aren’t accustomed to traveling by train, it will be transformative. I like to look at Spain as an example. Spain was the people of Spain were very reluctant to agree to a high speed rail proposal from the federal government, because they had this idea that it was just going to centralize control of the country. So there was a tremendous amount of resistance. But as soon as one high speed rail line was built, every other province in Spain, one of their high speed rail line to it just makes sense.Karen Christensen 18:05So that’s what we need to create something that gives people a really clear vision.18:11And I think that’s right, I think that it’s important to talk about the environmental benefits of high speed rail, they’re astronomical, it’s important to talk about social equity. We’re finally discussing that more in America, it’s important to put numbers around economic development, which heavily favors high-speed rail over the alternatives. But what I think Americans need to know, to really change their minds, is just how much nicer it is to travel by train. It’s, it’s safer. Yes, it’s faster. Yes, it’s better for the environment, you’re just going to love it a lot more than getting stuffed in an aluminum tube, 30,000 feet in the air, or being confined to a car, going 70 miles an hour max, with some of the worst traffic in the world. We can be living a lot better, in fact. We need to invest in for the future of our country.
22 minutes | Dec 15, 2020
All These Things Are Possible: An interview about rail transformation with Governor Michael Dukakis
Former governor Michael Dukakis has strong views on the importance of public transportation. He thinks it’s an important investment but he’s also a believer in keeping costs in check. We talk here about rail as a regional issue and national imperative, and hear his views on how should governors and legislators should be thinking about rail infrastructure, and about the importance of a connection to New York, especially for Berkshire County, as well as the East-West Rail project and the North-South Rail Link. See below for an edited transcript of the interview. October 11, 2012 – Distinguished Professor Michael Dukakis. Michael Dukakis is known as Democratic presidential candidate and long-serving governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He has served as Vice-Chair of the Amtrak Board of directors and today is a professor of political science at Northeastern and UCLA. He’s also known for his transit advocacy and for his recent efforts to promote the much-needed North-South Rail Link in Boston. He grew up and still lives in Brookline. Transcript Note: This transcript was created using AI and then lightly edited for readability. It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we’ve added an introduction and did some editing. Karen ChristensenWe began our conversation by talking about his childhood interest in trains. Michael Dukakis 01:44Well, I wanted a train set when I was a kid. And those days line was the brand. And my father wouldn’t get it for me for Christmas. I was probably nine or 10. And he made the right decision, because two years later, I would have been interested in something else. In anyway, that’s when it all began. But you know, I grew up in Brookline, which had a and has always had a public transportation system for a long time. And it was just so obvious to me that the Commonwealth was in desperate need of a first class, public transportation system. And beyond that, you know, the country needs a great real system, and just got into it, and have been in it ever since. I think we made a lot of progress when I was governor. But we’re not making any progress these days. Karen Christensen 02:38Yes. And you’ve been in in recent years, you’ve been very much known [for your work on rail.] Michael Dukakis 02:44And I’m not the only one. I mean, they’re a good group of people that strongly for this. And we’ve been working hard at it, but we can’t move Baker. His Transportation Secretary is a nice person, but she’s not a builder. And so here, we said, with great opportunities, and we’re just not moving. And Karen Christensen 03:13We have a new president coming in soon, a new administration, who loves trains. This is certainly made me smile, many, many aspects of it. It’s made me have made me smile. How does that create opportunity and for those of us who are advocates for rail, in, in the state and in the nation, what can we best do now? I do want to talk specifically about North-South Rail Link, but perhaps some general thoughts from you on what this new administration can do for the country and for our futures? Michael Dukakis 03:57Well, Biden is a great advocate of this, probably as strong as anyone in the Congress. And he has been for a long time. So I’m feeling optimistic. I was blessed as governor with a Secretary of Transportation in the form of Fred Salvucci. There’s nobody better. I don’t know if you ever met Salvucci? Well, Fred’s the son of an Italian immigrant bricklayer who came over here, and eventually created his own brick subcommittee as a subcontractor. Fred’s one of these guys who went off to MIT and got two degrees. He’s got political smarts coming out of his ears, and he’s a rare combination of extraordinary intelligence and political skill. And we worked together on this for a long time while I was governor. He also had a great talent for picking people, and picked great people. He had a terrific team, including, by the way, a director of construction and engineering who was extraordinary, an Irish kid from Dorchester who was a co-op student at Northeastern in engineering, who went to work for the team right out of right out of Northeastern. And he was extraordinary. So I was blessed with really great people. And we went to work. Karen Christensen 05:45What did you do? What are the accomplishments you’re most proud? Michael Dukakis 05:48Well, we kind of transformed the place, I mean, a whole series of things, including major infrastructure stuff, statewide, with a very heavy emphasis on rail and transit. And by the time I left the governor’s office 12 years later, we had a good transportation system, or as good a transit system as we had in the country, anywhere. I wish I could tell you that we’ve continued that progress, but we haven’t. And, you know, we’re certainly a lot better off than we were. But North-South is just one of a series of things. I mean, South Coast Rail. Southeastern Massachusetts desperately needs a rail connection to Boston, and to the world, for that matter. And it’s one of the more depressed parts of the state, which means that we could do great things for the southeastern part of the state. We’re now talking about spending over a billion dollars on new bridges over Cape Cod canal. You know, 60 million bucks would get much improved rail transportation to the Cape all the way down Hyannis. Why are we spending a billion dollars on a highway project, which believe me, won’t solve anything? Karen Christensen 07:17These costs have been a big issue, the cost estimates, haven’t they with North-South Rail? And? And obviously, where should the money go? Michael Dukakis 07:28For one thing, they rely very heavily, very heavily on consultants. I’ve got nothing against consultants, some of my best friends are consultants. But there’s no cost consciousness there. None whatsoever. So a project which probably should be in the $2-3 billion range goes out to study to consultants. And they come back and tell us, get ready for this, it’s going to cost between $12 and $20 billion. When I was governor, we extended the Red Line from Harvard Square to Alewife. Much of it underground. It cost $1 billion in current dollars. So what is this $12 to $20 billion? I mean, it’s hopeless. You’re not going to get anywhere with those kinds of cost estimates. So here we sit with this ridiculous one-mile gap in in our rail system between Washington and Portland, Maine. Karen Christensen 08:45Governor, could you explain what the north-south rail gap is to those who don’t know Massachusetts? Michael Dukakis 08:55It’s 1.1 miles in the middle of Boston, which is not connected by rail to the rest of the world. And it’s been that way for a long time. You know, it started way back when you had private railroads and the Boston & Maine brought you down to North Station, New Haven & Hartford up to South Station, and there was this gap. And I think there was a special commission in 1914 recommending the gap be closed. It never has been. So we got cracking on it. And Salvucci and his people were terrific. We came up with what seemed to be reasonable estimates, affordable estimates, maybe one and a half to $2 billion. We couldn’t get [Governor Charlie] Baker to move on this thing. He and [Secretary of Transportation] Stephanie Pollack decided to go out and get consultants. They came back with estimates of between $12 and $20 billion. This thing’s crazy. Karen Christensen 10:10So how about federal funding and federal expertise? Michael Dukakis 10:14We’ve had a president who is seriously mentally ill, and I’m not kidding. Trump is all talk, can’t do anything. I mean, talking about infrastructure, nothing, nothing. So my hope is that we’ll get back on track, if you’ll pardon the pun, and get going on this. But at this point, I think we’re going to have to rely very heavily on our congressional delegation statewide. To put the kind of energy and support we need, not just for North-South, but for South Coast Rail, for the extension of rail to western Massachusetts. And for the other pieces of what is already a pretty good system. It just needs some work. Now, I’d be interested in your own thoughts on how we deal with the Berkshires, because my sense is that while Springfield to Boston makes a lot of sense, my sense is that Berkshires would be helped most by rail in New York. And I know lots of work that’s done on this. But seems to me, that’s a much more logical connection. Karen Christensen 11:53Governor [Deval] Patrick, of course, was instrumental in moving us in that direction. A lot of money’s been invested already in the Housatonic Line around the Pittsfield connection. If Pittsfield were a connection to both Boston and New York, which is what we want, that would mean so much. And there’s a lot of talk about Albany, but interstate cooperation is a challenge. Everyone says, “Why just go to Pittsfield? Of course, you’d go to Albany, it’s a capitol, it’s much bigger. Michael Dukakis 12:30Now all these things are possible. But you got to have somebody in the governor’s office who believes in it, and is committed to it and is staffed by good people who know what they’re doing, people who get things done. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. That’s too bad, because you know, Baker’s a decent guy, I think, on the whole and wants to do good things, but we just can’t get him engaged in the rail thing. Karen Christensen 13:00Where our congressional delegation, they’ve been – Michael Dukakis 13:04They are in position now to do some great things. That’s why my sense is that if we’re going to get things done, especially with Joe Biden in the White House, it’s going to be the congressional delegation that’s going to be pushing hard. And they’re good. They’re good. I know them all. I like them. And they are well positioned to do this. And they are believers – Karen Christensen 13:34 in that connection, that North-South connection, it’s a hub, but it’s now an empty hole where lines come together. Michael Dukakis 13:51An empty hole? Yeah, that’s what we got here. It’s just disgraceful. Karen Christensen 13:56Because it means that someone could go from Washington to – where? Michael Dukakis 14:05New Brunswick, Maine. Karen Christensen 14:07Seamlessly. Michael Dukakis 14:09And there’s more here. The Canadians, especially in Eastern Canada, are very interested in being part of an effort to extend rail to Montreal. They, in fact, have had people working on this and so on zero interest from New England on this. And they believe in this. Now, when I was governor, I was one of six New England governors and we worked very closely together. I was kind of a lead guy on transportation, but all of them were interested. And we worked on a number of projects that that were important, but that’s kind of faded. And there is no lead transportation governor for the New England governors now. Our friends in Canada are very concerned about this. In fact they appointed a guy, a former, I can’t remember what his position was, but in the national Canadian government. He was designated as the guy to lead this for Canada. The response from New England? Zero. Karen Christensen 15:23So, we really need to make a change here, because as you know, from the point of view of citizens, this kind of connectivity is hugely important. Michael Dukakis 15:32No question about it. And good, relatively high-speed rail connecting Boston to Montreal, I mean, you know, what a plus that would be, but zero effort coming out of the governor’s office. Just no interest at all. My sense is that if we’re going to get moving on this stuff, with Biden in the White House, committed to rail, it’s going to be with the New England governors and the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and our senators pushing hard. Ed Markey is strongly for this. He’s a very good guy. I’ve known him for years, he wants to move on it, and Elizabeth Warren I think would be fine. And then you’ve got, as you know, key congressional folks, Richie Neal for onc. Jim McGovern for another. And Seth Moulton, who’s a big rail guy. Karen Christensen 16:40Yes, indeed, I’m talking to all of them. Michael Dukakis 16:43We’ve got great people. Karen Christensen 16:46So what can what would you advise either train advocates or just regular citizens who say, I want to be able to get to Boston, I want to be able to get to New York, I want to get to Montreal or Albany by train. Michael Dukakis 17:01That’s important. But it’s going to take some strong political leadership. And I think, given what we’re facing in the governor’s office, I think that means a congressional delegation that’s strong and well positioned. And it goes to work on this. I mean, I’ve already been in touch with Seth. Jim McGovern is an old friend, Richie Neal, obviously, is in a position to do great things for the state as well as western Massachusetts. So my hope and expectation is that we can we can pull a congressional and senatorial delegation together and go to work, and kind of force Charlie [Baker] to get serious about this. I mean, it’s just so ludicrous. You know, imagine a one-mile hole in the middle of the northeast corner. Karen Christensen 17:58Well, your work on this, your voice on this is very much appreciated. Michael Dukakis 18:06Likewise. You’re nice to say that, but, you know, we need some action here. And not another consultant. God help us. I’m sure you’ve taken a look at the latest consultant work on the extension of rail to the west. Karen Christensen 18:22Indeed. Yes. What are your thoughts on that? Michael Dukakis 18:25$3 billion, are they serious? $3 billion. Be what would it cost to modernize rail? Just for starters, from Worcester to Springfield? Karen Christensen 18:40Because there’s a train that runs on that line every day. Michael Dukakis 18:47What are we talking, $15 million, maybe, to modernize that to Springfield? Now, over the mountains will be a little more difficult. But please don’t tell me it’s going to cost $3 billion. Who are these consultants that they’re hiring? What are they doing and saying? It’s just ridiculous. And in the meantime, you know, the Berkshires ought to be working on what is not a very expensive update and upgrade in rail from the Berkshires to New York. Also very important. As you know that. And all of this is possible with a national administration that wants to you get moving, but you’ve also got to have a state administration and state leadership that wants to get going. Karen Christensen 19:42I think you’ve really summed it up. All of all of this is possible, when you talk about people being builders – we clearly need builders! Michael Dukakis 19:51Yes. Builders and doers. And by the way, as you know, we’re not talking about difficult projects. The rail is there. All you got to do is upgrade. We’re not talking about elaborate environmental studies and this kind of stuff. We’re talking about taking existing rail and modernizing it. Karen Christensen 20:15That’s why it’s been great to see the work being done on the Housatonic Line by the Department of Transportation, because Governor Patrick made that commitment. It’s being done right now. And they’re upgrading it to a standard that can take a passenger train. Right now. It’s not that complicated. Michael Dukakis 20:37It’s not complicated at all. And this is the time to do it, people to work, get back on track, come out of this pandemic with a burst of energy, and get going on this stuff. And when you think about it, I mean, the fact of the matter is that we’re not talking about a huge project here. We’re talking about bits and pieces of what should and must be a first class regional rail system. Which by the way would include our New England neighbors. Many of whom are very interested in proceeding with us. Karen Christensen 21:17Yeah. Michael Dukakis 21:19Well, it’s there. I mean, you’re not talking about, you know, massive expenses, going into communities and places that are destructive in any way. I mean, it’s just taking the rail that’s been around since the 19th century and modernizing it. Karen Christensen 21:42We are so grateful to you for your continued efforts. Michael Dukakis 21:48I’m here to do whatever I can. But let’s see if we can the administration and get cracking on some of this stuff, with a congressional delegation which wants to do it. Karen Christensen 22:01That’s our aim. We appreciate everything you’re doing and we’ll stay in touch. Let’s make it happen. Michael Dukakis 22:08I appreciate everything you’re doing, and stay in touch. Let’s see if we get a head of steam up here and get going on this. We’re not going to solve our transportation problems in this state or region without a first class regional rail system.
22 minutes | Oct 12, 2020
The Network Effect: A Conversation with Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers Association
Welcome to Train Time. I’m Karen Christensen, and we’re talking today with Jim Mathews, CEO of the national Rail Passengers Association, about innovative ways of looking at the value passenger rail brings to our country and to our communities. We spoke about Jim’s awareness from an early age that trains make things happen, that all kinds of activity takes place wherever trains bring people. As he became professionally involved in the train world, he saw plenty of evidence that this was so. But he wanted to move from anecdote to data about rail as an economic engine. In this podcast he explains some of the things the Rail Passengers Association is doing to produce that data and to look at network scenarios.
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