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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Acela = Place under the first floor

I love trains. It's one of the few civilized ways to travel, so I'm naturally concerned whenever the administration suggests zero funding Amtrak's budget. The role of government is to build and sustain infrastructure. When was the last time roads were required to break even or make money? European countries recognized decades ago that moving people around inexpensively, quickly and efficiently benefited everyone and helped to push economic growth. I'm afraid that President Bush seems to want only to fund initiatives that benefit his friends and family. I suspect that if he had a financial stake in railroads, his position would be much different.

I'm also a fan of privatization, but it seems to me that some form of compromise similar to aviation and highways would be in order. The land under the rails was given to the railroads. I suggest the government take over maintenance of the rail system as it does with roads and lease it to whatever company provides the best service, even competing services be they passenger or freight.

There is a well-researched article in today's New York Times that details some of the mistakes and problems in the implementation and design of Amtrak's high speed line that runs between Boston and Washington and that was just taken out of service because of cracks in the brakes. It was a classic case of trying to do too much with too little and too much political interference. The federal mandates for crash worthiness required the builder to make the cars much heavier than European counterparts which may have cause the over-stressing of the suspensions and brakes.

There have been humorous missteps along the way. One Acela ad campaign showed a man with an overcoat around his head and the caption, "Depart from your inhibitions." Viewers thought it was a flasher.

Originally, the train was to be branded, "The American Flyer," which, of course, conjured up images of a little boy with a little red wagon in front of a white picket fence; not a particularly speedy vision. They settled on Acela, a combination of "accelerated" and "excellence." Regretfully, the president of American now begins speeches by asking, "What is Acela? "The floor place under the first floor."

Too bad. We'll just keep falling further and further behind.
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