Let Your Voice be Heard… Support Additional Rail Lines

by carfreestupidity

Carfreestupidity has graciously agreed to join us b’birders and share some of his postings here at 4&20. I’ve been reading his stuff over at Imagine No Cars: Thoughts on Alternative Transportation and Urban Design for some time. I love it. Good stuff. He’s got a a great thoughtful informative voice. I’m sure you will enjoy it too. Let’s give him a great welcome here – and take to the task of voicing support for more rail. Thanks carfreestupidity – and welcome aboard! – jhwygirl

An online version of the Restore the North Coast Hiawatha petition created by students at The University of Montana is now available on MontPIRG’s website. The petition was started in support of Amtrak’s passenger rail study and Senator Jon Tester’s push for reinstatement of the line. The original petition garnered over 1200 signatures in a matter of only a few weeks of gathering in Missoula. The first set of petitions will shortly be delivered to Senator Tester in Washington D.C.

It is the purpose of the online version to garner wider support for the rail line outside of Montana and to let our United States Senators know that the people demand more transportation options. The line connects many important cities in the region including Seattle, Spokane, Sandpoint, Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Billings, Bismarck, Forgo, and many more. The restored line would be an important step in reducing green house gas emissions, providing transportation options, and offering vital economic infrastructure.

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  1. petetalbot

    Welcome aboard, carefree, looking forward to your posts.

    When I was a youth living in the Magic City, my mom would buy me a couple of comic books and put me on the train to Bozeman, where my grandfather summered. It was a great time.

    Now I have grandkids in Bozeman and wouldn’t it be cool if they could hop a train to Missoula to visit their Papa — especially in the winter months when icy passes prevail.

    I’ll gladly sign the petition.

    • petetalbot

      Quick update. My aged eyes read ‘carefreestupidity’ instead of ‘carfreestupidity’. I thought, that’s a silly name. ‘Carfree’, however, makes a lot of sense. Again, welcome aboard.

  2. Chuck

    How about we save some taxpayer money and just buy Pete a Citation to fly em over every weekend!
    Just a little levity Pete, have a great weekend.

    • petetalbot

      Would that be a Chevy Citation or Cessna Citation? :)

    • JC

      How about we save some taxpayer money and quit fighting oil wars to prop up a failing transportation system based on gas powered autos?

      Nice to get another viewpoint here at 4&20, carfreestupidity. Welcome!

  3. Thanks for the warm welcome everyone… glad to see that my first post garnered that classic 4&20 banter.

  4. Lizard

    one of the few glimmers i see is growing national support for high speed rail. like so much else, transportation must be re-imagined, because transitioning away from a dwindling finite resource is inevitable. howdy CFS!

  5. Chuck

    The good one Pete!

  6. Big Swede

    I’ll support your rail line-if you support mine.

    Fair enough?

    • carfreestupidity

      why wouldn’t I? Rail for everybody. The next step google should take after Fiber-to-the-home is Rail-to-the-home.

  7. Chuck

    Serious question for those in the know. If the numbers work what is stopping someone from leasing the track, building or buying surplus cars and starting this route back up and operating it as a private venture? I may be interested in helping get that accomplished and I think the delegation may be supportive.

    • carfreestupidity

      Most of the track is already used for freight by Montana Rail Link which is owned by the Washington Corp… good ol Denny.

      Essentially the lack of investment or leasing for passenger rail service comes down the fact that the numbers didn’t pencil until very recently. Rail has been in constant decline since the building of the Interstate Highway System.

      What has changed now is higher gas prices, costs of maintaining the highway system is every skyrocketing, and congestion alone is costing the nation hundreds of billions each year in wasted productivity, longer transit times, and spent fuel.

      The number needed to make the rail line ready for passenger service was recently revised down to $500 million rather than the billion originally thought.

    • problembear

      when the price of gasoline went up to 4.00 the ridership on mountain line climbed and when it went down again…dropped like a stone.

      nobody’s gonna pry our cold dead fingers from our cars and trucks until the price of gas shoots up again. and the saudi’s won’t let that happen again soon – they don’t want to awaken the threat of yankee ingenuity taking away their drug market for fossil fuels! far more profitable to sell as much as you can at 75/barrel than watch your market for it decline at 130/barrel.

      we are the junkies- they are the pushers. that is why gov’t should step in and tax 1-2.00/gal right now and use the funds to build a sensible and useable transportation infrastructure we can depend on. if gov’t doesn’t do something about this we will never develop better ways to live in this country. just plain fact without sugar coating- we are hooked and unable to get off the stuff until it goes high enough to make us consider alternatives.

      and make no mistake- the market for fossil fuels is no free market. it is monopolized and manipulated to keep us hooked.

      • carfreestupidity

        The University bus system continues to see record ridership even with the price of gas going down. Last year there were just under 400,000 rides during the school year and this year its grown by just under 20%.

      • John Wolverton

        Here-Here ! to the $2.00 gal gas tax! I
        I’m sure the Mountain Line ridership numbers dropped back as gas $ did; but as I recall ML is still seeing a substantial average annual increase in ridership.

  8. petetalbot

    Sorry, Swede, not fair enough.

    I assume you’re talking about the Tongue River line. This is a nonexistent rail spur that would cut through established ranches with the sole purpose of delivering high-sulfur content coal to market.

    The North Coast Hiawatha is an established line (granted, it would need some upgrades for passenger service) that would provide an alternative to driving I-90. Most major Montana cities would benefit.

    And Chuck,

    I’m all for the private business sector running a rail service through Montana but the initial start up costs are probably overwhelming. Some government subsidies might be in order, you know, the same way the government helps subsidize air and highway transportation.

    • Big Swede

      How ’bout offering free rail passes for Native Americans.

      Keeps them from driving impaired back to the Res..

      • problembear

        racist and hateful comments from you are something we regulars expect from you swede. i am just glad you are on record as being a tea-party right wing imbecile supporter of bush, mccain and palin…they can carry the stain of your support for all i care.

        i just wouldn’t want any casual reader to get the idea that your views are supported by anyone here. in fact i tend to come at racism pretty hard. so watch yourself accordingly…

      • petetalbot

        This comment from you is deeply disappointing, Swede. While I seldom agree with your philosophy, you usually remain civil, sometimes even informative and occasionally revealing a sense of humor. This latest comment, however, is unacceptable.

    • John Wolverton

      That proposed dirty-coal-train Tongue River spur-line would also cut through an important fish hatchery. It would mostly serve to extract more of Wyoming’s coal… Impact us, enrich them.

  9. There is also another practical consideration as regards mass transit v. car traffic. For a passenger rail line to be practical (or profitable) one must have the ability to get from the station to whatever location one is going in the hub towns. That will require community reinvestment and coordination of what often aren’t the most friendly or favored bus lines. Looking at rail without considering these things will lead to exactly the phenomenon that Pbear notes above. If it is expensive or even largely inconvenient to get from a Scott street station to South Brooks, most visitors from even as far as Billings to Mizzou will likely just say ‘screw it’ and take their cars.

    • carfreestupidity

      Thats why its important that development goes more toward Transit Oriented and walkable neighborhoods so that it is easy for people to move around without cars. A whole network scaled from the large to the small needs to be created to support such mobility.

  10. Chuck

    Large hotels cost 500 million bucks and are built all the time with private capital. Warren Buffet has 500 million bucks to invest in his infrastructure as long as he has a viable long term money making deal.
    What happened to going into a project knowing that it is truly sustainable? Why would we want to build another tax supported boondoggle only to see the next GW Bush ax it again. Build it to make money and it will be sustainable.
    It’s my understanding this route is projected to LOSE 31 million dollars a year on operations. Let me ask Pete if that is a business plan he would take to his banker? Surely a private entity can do better.

    • JC

      How much money is lost on I-90 through Montana? How much does Missoula Intl. Airport cost the locals? How much does security and air controllers cost TSA and FAA?

      Put up some figures, and we can compare them. Otherwise, you’re just singling out one transportation modes to contrast a privatized model against one that has private/pubic partnerships like air and highway.

      The republican and conservative drive to privatize services that are already handled, or should be handled by the feds and/or a fed/private alliance is just crazy.

      What does exorbitant motels built on private land have to do with transportation that anybody can use, and is built on public right of ways, or piggy backed on existing corporate owned corridors?

      MRL isn’t in the business of moving people. If there was a lucrative market there to exploit and profit from, they already would have done so. Nobody sane questions that most rail transit projects can only happen through public investment.

      Of course, people like Chuck might rather that the U.S. cedes a leadership role in high-speed rail to a country like China (that invested near $100 billion dollars last year in high speed rail, and will increase that by nearly 50% this year). Then we can buy our trains and technology from them for our needs, too, just like our cars, and our electronics, and our…

      Best we keep borrowing money from the Chinese and japanese to fund our own investment in infrastructure, instead of letting them develop the technology and sell it to us directly.

      • JC, though I poorly stated it, that was what I was intimating. Private or public rail will not evolve into a solution without cooperation from public resource. It simply won’t happen. It isn’t just getting from A to B. It’s getting from A to B to C to D. You don’t do that without cooperative structures. Just ask airlines.

        • JC

          Yep. Sometimes I think conservatives and republicans just view train and bus services as something for the little people. And they hate subsidizing it. Yet when it comes to subsidizing airlines, they’re all for it.

          After all, those Gulfstreams and Lears need a nice runway to land on, and flight controllers to keep the big jets at bay, etc…

          More hypocrisy.

          • carfreestupidity

            You make travel by these means enjoyable and hassle free and people will use them. Right now bus service isn’t like that. But in the North Bay area a private company has started a luxury bus line into San Francisco and connecting with the ferry system and a lot of executives and high income business people are using it

  11. Also check out http://bringbackamtrak.com to track efforts of restored passenger rail sevice to southern Montana and the entire North Coast Hiawatha route. Also, feel free to contact me directly at dstrohmaier@ci.missoula.mt.us.

  12. beenthere

    I read about the two bridges of Madison County costing more than twice as much if the Federal government gives money.

    That’s just it, the rules governing federal money make the federally subsidized trains astronomically expensive.

    The Burlington northern and the unions massacred the North Coast Hiawatha. I was there and I saw how it worked.

    If we are to “bring back” rail travel, it needs to be exempt from all Davis Bacon-like rules and “overtime for required inspections” and all the rest of the union nonsense. The cost of labor cannot be taxpayer subsidized; the workers have to understand their jobs are tied to the financial sustainability of the enterprise. (There’s that “sustainability” mantra!!) It needs to be with a financially sustainable agreement with BN and Washington on rates and schedules.

    Then it probably needs a subsidy from the towns and cities who want stops. It is NOT TRUE that the infrastructure is there already; haven’t you read the report? New depots are required at many stops along the way. If these are stuck way out in the burbs, like airports are, then it’s not the european or japanese model of train traffic, but more of the ” american airplane” model.

    It won’t go thru Butte anymore, either.

    What is it that the train will replace? Car travel or airplane travel? I doubt much of either. Will it be incrementally increased travel? Then a case can be made for a local subsidy. (but incremental travel isn’t really “green”!) I thought the report’s ridership was optimistic, and not a good return compared to high speed upgrades for the east coast corridor, for example.

    People complain about the high cost of flying into Missoula or Bozeman. I say that higher return keeps the airlines’ planes arriving and departing from here. I’m glad to pay it, because I’m glad to have the service. If we want a passenger train, then make it a priority, and be willing to pay a large price for a ticket. Train tickets were expensive then!

    I’ve ridden trains all over this country; that does include many a trip in a boxcar or on a flatcar or squeezed into the end of a hopper, as well as many transcontinental trips on passenger trains. I doubt any of you could match my experience with trains. But I don’t see this happening because you all think it’s gonna be cheap, and it isn’t and because you think it’s gonna be green and it isn’t, and it seems more nostalgia than practical. It used to be the sale of land, and the mining and timber subsidized the building and operating of railroads. That subsidy led to a lot of inefficiencies that still exist today.

    Track is every bit as important a national infrastructure as interstate or airports, I agree. If we all agree on that, it should be a very high priority in our spending, even now. But it wasn’t then, and isn’t now. People constantly complain about trains!! They’re noisy, the stop traffic, they blow their whistles at night, the switching yard’s banging is too loud, the crossings are rough, blah blah blah.

    There needs to be a sustainable business model and frank discussions about what that means before I can sign off on something that right now just seems to be a bit of nostalgia.

    Hell, I’m nostalgic for that youthful hobo I once was. Watching the backyards of america go by, and the freight yards full of old men who’d let me in the car shack to warm up, and the graveyards of rusty automobiles, and the back doors of industry, the old wooden trestle in Cincinnati was amazing, the trip through tunnels and along the Feather River can’t be seen from a car. Running across the street to the Long Branch and buying three cases of beer for the 18 yr old recruits going to Chicago for basic, lots of good stories with trains. We won’t bring that back anyway.

  13. Chuck

    I am for all forms of sustainable transportation systems.
    Also , I was not aware that we were talking about a public investment in High Speed Rail technology for the North Coast Hiawatha. I’ll study up.




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