Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Conor Friedersdorf has been reporting on Amtrak passengers getting the DEA shakedown:

“I found my backpack moved and open, and my wallet, which was set down on the room table, had $60 missing,” he said. “I told one of the dining car attendants that I felt Amtrak and the DEA violated my rights. She told me that Amtrak is forced to give passenger info to Feds, that the DEA comes on every trip, usually arresting someone in the sleeping car or taking all their money.”


Last year, the Associated Press reported that the DEA “paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network.” (This was reportedly done so that the DEA could avoid sharing seized assets with Amtrak police, which hints at how lucrative such seizures are.)

The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request, to determine the scope of the problem.

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If you are planning to board Amtrak buses in San Francisco, be prepared for some insane TSA-style security checks:

Security Check

Upon entering the facility, passengers must show your Amtrak ticket or photo I.D. to the Greyhound Security Staff. Greyhound security will also inspect bags and wand passengers for metal contraband who enter the building. Please allow additional time arriving for this process.

So now you can’t even enter a bus terminal without a security check.

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Assault on Amtrak

assaultUrban Shield, the SWAT team and arms manufacturer trade show, was recently held in Oakland. The event, funded by the DHS and organized by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, featured a number of training scenarios. Here is one event, the Assault on Amtrak (starting 50 seconds into the video clip):

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer has been covering the event — or at least trying to. The Sheriff’s department kicked him out of the convention center:



The Alameda Sheriff’s department is one of the biggest proponents of militarization, including the use of unmanned drones and a gunboat.


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The NEC is a legacy 100 year-old infrastructure, whereas the Calfornia high-speed rail project is clean-sheet design. There was never a rational explanation as to why California should use NEC-compatible equipment when the corridors are so completely different. And now, thankfully, sanity has prevailed:

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

“The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs,” she said. “We’d hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both.”

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would “move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with its California partners (Caltrain, Metrolink) on really basic things, like compatible platform heights and signal systems — while at the same time design its high-speed trains to be compatible with a rail line 3000 miles away. The NEC requires high-platform trains, which precludes Caltrain and CHSRA from sharing platforms. Hopefully, with this decision, Caltrain and CHSRA can at least use trains with the same platform height.

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Bike Accommodation On CAHSR Trains

When California voters approved funding in 2008 for their high-speed rail project, one of the promises was that the trains would not be like Amtrak. So here we are 5 years later, and it is Amtrak developing the trains. This will be a joint procurement between California and Amtrak (for its Acela service).

Amtrak just released the Draft Trainset Spec that goes into the things like the interior layout. The (sort of) good news is that the spec does require bike accommodation. California trains will have bike storage for a minimum of 8 bikes per trainset. Those of you on the East Coast will be shit out of luck as the requirement only applies to CHSRA trains:

For the [CA HSR] Authority, a bicycle storage area shall be provided, and designed to accommodate a minimum of 8 bicycles per Trainset. A dedicated bicycle storage area shall be provided, thereby reducing inconvenience to passengers. Bicycle storage areas shall be separate from wheelchair spaces and shall not block or otherwise impede emergency egress and access.

Special attention shall be given to the ease with which bicycles can be placed in the bicycle racks. It is expected that the final design shall include guide rails to help steer the bicycle into the correct position with minimal effort. Bicycles shall be secured as low as possible and designs requiring the lifting of bicycles over fixed objects shall be avoided.

Suitable graphics shall be provided on the exterior of the Vehicle, identifying the doors to be used for bicycle access. Interior graphics shall also provide instructions for using the bicycle racks.

To put in perspective, the existing Amtrak San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor services permit 22 bikes per train. So 8 bikes per train isn’t great, but better than nothing.

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Hispanics make up half the population of California’s Central Valley. Los Angeles has 5 million Hispanics (9% of the nation’s population). And 23% of the Bay Area population is Hispanic. So why does Amtrak California struggle to attract Hispanic riders? Hispanic ridership on the San Joaquin service is only 20%.

Larry Miller, who served on the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, says there are several reasons. First of all, Amtrak has not done much marketing of its services in Spanish. He notes a recent “Companions Ride Free” promotion that had coupons printed only in English:

When I asked about the Spanish versions with coupons in Spanish, we were told that they had only printed these in English. At this point my elected counterpart, Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case, became upset, reminding them that roughly 70% of her constituents were Hispanic.

But the really big problem is the TSA, and the legally-required ID checks:

Amtrak complies with Homeland Security laws, instituted in the wake of 9-11, requiring riders to show government-issued photo identification — very much as airlines do. Amtrak diligently informs ticker buyers of this requirement, even though it intimidates prospective riders who are not legal residents and offends sympathetic friends and family who are legal residents.

This is yet another way that TSA security policies actually make us less safe. By discouraging train travel, it results in more car trips — and more road accidents. Larry Miller hopes that California’s new non-resident driver’s license law will help attract more Hispanic riders. That seems implausible. Travelers afraid of getting deported aren’t going to submit travel plans to a government-run train service. Not when they hear news stories of VIPR and ICE patrols on buses and trains.


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Measure Once, Cut Twice

As the old saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.” For the new Miami train station under construction, they did the opposite: Measure once, cut twice:

FDOT engineers and consultants blame Amtrak, the federal passenger rail agency, for the design mistake, which means that platforms at the new station will be as much as 200 feet too short to accommodate some of the long trains the service sometimes uses on its Miami routes. Amtrak runs those long trains to Miami up to twice a day during the winter tourism season.

FDOT says Amtrak failed to tell the agency of those longer trains and raised no issues with platform length during extensive design-plan reviews that preceded the start of construction in May 2011 — something Amtrak denies.

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