Things Go Back and Forth was uploaded to Flickr

Metra train, Ogden Avenue

embiggen by clicking

I took Things Go Back and Forth on May 21, 2013 at 11:58AM

and processed it in my digital darkroom on August 24, 2016 at 11:38AM

The big sell: Making people care about infrastructure repair

Waiting for a Rainy Day
Waiting for a Rainy Day

Continuing on the theme of the day, Mary Wisniewski writes:

In comic book movies, transportation infrastructure problems are easy to spot.

Bridges fall. Asphalt shatters. And unless Ironman funds the repairs out of his personal fortune, big public debt issues are ahead.

In real life, damage to roads and rails tends to be gradual, though ultimately just as ruinous to regional well-being.

With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.

It’s a tough sell — roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don’t, and politicians don’t like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it’s crucial to keep the system going the way it should.

(click here to continue reading The big sell: Making people care about infrastructure repair – Chicago Tribune.)

Nothing Can Go Wrong With the Blues
Nothing Can Go Wrong With the Blues

Infrastructure is ignored until there is a crisis, alternatively, we could invest in the country and its workers before disaster strikes. Or money gets left unspent because Governor Rauner has a different agenda…

For the Chicago Transit Authority, for example, the lack of state capital funding has meant $1 billion in federal money may get left on the table. The passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act last year made federal dollars available, but state matches are needed to access them.

“A capital program would be very helpful, or else those funds could be put at risk,” CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said. He said the money is needed for projects like the Red and Purple Line modernization, and rail and right of way improvements to prevent slow zones.

CTA needs a total of $13 billion in capital spending over the next decade to get the system in a state of good repair, Carter said.

Metra needs $11.7 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years. Because that’s a tall order, the board has made two programs top priorities — positive train control, a federally mandated computerized system to prevent train collisions, and new or rehabbed rolling stock. That would include 367 new railcars. (The agency currently has funding for 10.)

Some of Metra’s railcars are 63 years old. “They’re eligible for Medicare in a couple of years,” joked Metra CEO Don Orseno ruefully.

Besides new cars and locomotives, Orseno said Metra needs a better maintenance schedule for its old ones. Walking around a big, barnlike rail repair facility on 49th Street last week, Orseno and Metra capital projects manager Lexie Walker showed how cars are stripped down and rebuilt — with new floors, seats, toilets, air conditioning, outlets for plugging in laptops and wheelchairs, plus new wheels and brakes.

The Poem Remained Too Short
The Poem Remained Too Short

What about roads, you ask? They are as neglected, with no positive news forthcoming:

[Illinois] cannot afford to keep up the roads it has now. One of the pressing needs for the Illinois Department of Transportation is a rebuild of the aging and congested Eisenhower Expressway, similar to the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan in 2007, said Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit focused on regional growth.

“Money for that project isn’t even on the radar,” Skosey said.

He noted that no system is going to be in perfect shape all the time — it’s like your house, you want to keep it in a state of at least 90 percent repair, with a few projects on a to-do list. But Illinois’ state of repair is currently below 80 percent and could drop below 60 percent in the next five years, Skosey said.

Skosey noted that closed roads and bridges lead to gridlock, which already costs the region $7 billion a year. On an individual level, bad roads cost the average Illinois driver $400 to $800 a year in car repairs.

Amtrak Plans Long Overdue Union Station Makeover

Reign In Your Instincts
Reign In Your Instincts…

I’m pleased to note that Union Station is getting a rehab, a long over-due rehab, opening up hidden rooms and so forth. Can’t wait – Union Station is such an iconic Chicago building, yet it has been seemingly neglected for a while, probably due to the inexplicable animosity the GOP has towards Amtrak and passenger trains in general.

John Hilkevitch reports:

Amtrak is betting millions of dollars to transform Union Station into an entertainment and tourist destination, complete with restaurants and outdoor cafes, retail, a hotel and even a grocery store, Getting Around has learned.

Amtrak wants to open up thousands of square feet of space long closed to the public, literally throwing open the doors to the 90-year-old building in a bid to return the landmark station to its heyday in the 1940s and ’50s.

Hidden deep inside Union Station are palatial rooms with 33-foot-high ceilings and assorted alcoves that have been mothballed for decades. During the golden age of passenger rail, those spaces were filled with ritzy restaurants, coffee shops (including the fabled Harvey House), a dance hall, tailoring shops specializing in custom suits, law offices and more.

Behind locked doors is the former Women’s Waiting Room, adorned with murals dating to the station’s opening in 1925, a period when female passengers would take refuge from the rough-and-tumble of traveling alone and freshen up during a stopover in Chicago by using pay showers.

Other hidden spaces, tucked behind the station’s marble walls and ornamental iron bars that cover part of the building’s facade, collect dust. Some of Union Station’s doors fronting Canal Street, potential portals to outdoor cafes, haven’t been cracked open in years, officials said.

Sanders said a well-known high-end grocery chain has expressed interest in opening a food emporium at Union Station. Sanders also said he envisions a hotel on the station’s second floor, with the hotel entrance and marquee on Adams Street between Canal and Clinton streets. He’s already dreaming about reinstalling canopies that once gracefully draped the entrances to Union Station, he said.

(click here to continue reading Amtrak plans Union Station makeover – Chicago Tribune.)

Ready to Take That Night Train To Memphis
Ready to Take That Night Train To Memphis

Either Whole Foods or Mariano’s, I’d guess, even though both have stores nearby on Halsted. 

Got the Wine Country Blues
Got the Wine Country Blues

And I should pop over, and snap a few photos of the staircase in its current worn condition, just for posterity.

In the meantime, the Canal Street entrances will be closed for more than two months starting around July 15, when work is scheduled to begin to replace both sets of the worn marble steps connecting the Great Hall to the station’s main entrance on Canal, where CTA buses stop. The combination deli and bar under the steps has closed in preparation for the work.

The friction from countless pairs of shoes over the years has effectively sanded down the marble, creating indentations on the treads of the steps, which display the most wear and tear near the brass railings.

The grand staircases are famous in their own right, having been filmed and photographed repeatedly in images seen around the world. There’s a dramatic scene in the 1987 film “The Untouchables” where Kevin Costner, playing mob crime fighter Eliot Ness, exchanges gunfire with Al Capone’s gang while a runaway baby carriage rolls bump by bump down the marble stairs.

New marble for the steps was recently cut out of the same quarries near Rome where 100 years ago the marble for the original Union Station steps was mined, Sanders said.

300 S Jackson - Ilford Delta 100
300 S Jackson – Ilford Delta 100

I Gave You A Thousand Reasons was uploaded to Flickr

Amtrak bridge near 18th St

embiggen by clicking

I took I Gave You A Thousand Reasons on May 10, 2014 at 07:10PM

and processed it in my digital darkroom on May 11, 2014 at 06:47PM

National Train Day In Chicago

300 S Jackson - Ilford Delta 100
300 S Jackson – Ilford Delta 100

It might be fun to attend this, but on the other hand, I like to sleep in a bit on Sundays.

Union Station 225 South Canal Street, Chicago, IL 60606

When: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Saturday, May 12 General Admission: Free

Now in its 5th year, National Train Day is back to celebrate train travel and the ways trains touch the lives of people with events across America. This year, festivities will highlight the unique perspective passengers enjoy as they take in the vastness and beauty of the American landscape, from cities big and small, to country vistas and everything in between, when traveling by rail. As part of National Train Day, each major market event features live entertainment, interactive and educational exhibits, kids’ activities, model train displays and tours of Amtrak equipment, freight and commuter trains, and notable private railroad cars.

(click here to continue reading National Train Day In Chicago.)

Got the Wine Country Blues
Got the Wine Country Blues

Rejected Train Windfall by Florida

Leaving Train

One the one hand, as a resident of not-Florida, I’m amused by this:

After Gov. Rick Scott of Florida thoughtlessly rejected $2.4 billion in federal aid for a high-speed rail line, he claimed last month that he was doing a huge favor for the national Treasury, which he expected would give away the money in tax cuts. That was nonsense, of course; Mr. Scott was really doing a favor for train passengers in the Northeast, Midwest and California, which were given $2 billion of his money on Monday for better service.  Florida voters might want to think about that decision as they sit in traffic jams, burning up $4-a-gallon gasoline. In fact, some of them clearly have thought about it because Mr. Scott now has some of the worst approval ratings of a Florida official in the last decade.

He has joined other newly elected Republican governors so rigidly opposed to the Obama administration that they are willing to harm their states to score points. The result is a crazy quilt of state relationships with Washington, stitched more with ideology than reason.

None of the money in Monday’s announcement will be going to Wisconsin, for example, where Gov. Scott Walker has also decided that his strapped state could do without rail improvements and the construction jobs that go with them. Nor will it go to Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich preferred rejectionism to the improvement of rail service among the state’s largest cities, which could have produced 16,000 jobs.

Instead, it will go to 15 states that have more farsighted leadership, who understand the important role federal dollars can play in stimulating the economy, moving people quickly from place to place and reducing tailpipe emissions. Some of those states are led by Republicans: Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan happily stood beside Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday to accept nearly $200 million to upgrade the rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo, the bulk of the Chicago-Detroit corridor.

(click here to continue reading The Rejected Windfall by Florida –

but the whole point of having a national train network is that you can travel to any other point in the country reasonably quickly, and these teabagger morons are ruining this possibility.

Another Leaving Train

I’ve never heard a rational argument against upgrading our train infrastructure, other than mouth-dribbling anti-Obama spewing from the Republicans. Is it the asphalt industry? Automotive? Which corporate organizations are funding the Republican opposition? Curious.

Wouldn’t think it would be the energy companies, because trains need fuel too, but maybe ExxonMobile is afraid that if too many commuters don’t drive cars, their profits will be dinged?

House GOP Slicing Federal Budget

Variations on a Theme

I haven’t read the bill, and of course, it probably won’t be passed in quite this form, but why is defense spending not part of the budget cuts? There is zero money for Amtrak, zero. Assholes.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, will unveil the bill in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday morning.

Jordan’s bill, which will have a companion bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, would impose deep and broad cuts across the federal government. It includes both budget-wide cuts on non-defense discretionary spending back to 2006 levels and proposes the elimination or drastic reduction of more than 50 government programs.

Jordan’s “Spending Reduction Act” would eliminate such things as the U.S. Agency for International Development and its $1.39 billion annual budget, the $445 million annual subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the $1.5 billion annual subsidy for Amtrak, $2.5 billion in high speed rail grants, the $150 million subsidy for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and it would cut in half to $7.5 billion the federal travel budget.

But the program eliminations and reductions would account for only $330 billion of the $2.5 trillion in cuts. The bulk of the cuts would come from returning non-defense discretionary spending – which is currently $670 billion out of a $3.8 trillion budget for the 2011 fiscal year – to the 2006 level of $496.7 billion, through 2021.

Other cuts in the Jordan proposal include putting the $45 billion remaining in the stimulus toward deficit reduction, eliminating federal control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the tune of $30 billion in savings, and clawing back $16 billion currently scheduled to go toward helping state governments pay for Medicaid recipients.

There are clear cut significant costs to such a proposal. Getting rid of the $6 billion or so in stimulus that is reserved for state governments in the upcoming fiscal year, along with the $16 billion in state Medicaid payments, would compound what is already set to be the worst year of fiscal problems yet in this economic downturn for state governments. They face their biggest deficits of the recession already because stimulus money has for the most part run out, and are in the process now of figuring out what services they will have to cut.

But Jordan said Wednesday that the nation must endure short term pain of its own choosing to avoid long term pain that it is far more serious and beyond its control.

(click to continue reading House GOP conservatives set to unveil $2.5 trillion in deep spending cuts | The Daily Caller – Breaking News, Opinion, Research, and Entertainment.)

So America, are you ready for some pain? Get ready as your newly elected Rethuglicans gut every domestic program in their quest to return us to the Robber Baron era. You know, child labor, no pollution controls, mandatory 70 hour work weeks, etc. A good time to be a banker, an insurance CEO, or an industrialist, not so good for the rest of us.

Wisconsin and Ohio Get Their Way and Lose Rail Money

Dreams of Industry dashed

Morons. Even worse, morons getting their way. What’s funny is that I always thought the Republican goal was to take the country back to the Robber Baron era1. If they studied history at all, they’d remember that trains were the main transportation option back then.

Gov.-elect Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Gov.-elect John Kasich in Ohio campaigned on pledges to stop passenger-rail projects in their states. On Thursday, they got their wish.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rescinded nearly $1.2 billion that had been allocated to Wisconsin and Ohio for new train lines. Wisconsin, which received $810 million for a passenger train between Madison and Milwaukee, will have to forfeit the entire amount. Ohio must give up $385 million of the $400 million allocated for a train connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

The funds will be redirected to train projects in 14 states. California and Florida will receive the largest portions, up to $624 million and $342.3 million, respectively. Wisconsin will retain up to $2 million for the Chicago-Milwaukee line.

(click to continue reading Wisconsin, Ohio Off the Rails –

  1. no federal regulation, tiny taxes, return to the gold standard, yadda yadda. You know, like Somalia or something []

Fast Trains

Jon Hilkevitch writes about a topic dear to my heart: the new push to have a national rail system that is worth riding, and is fast enough to replace air travel.

View from the Hiawatha
[View from the Hiawatha]

Milwaukee Road rail line coal-burning locomotive was clocked going 124 m.p.h. on a stretch between the Twin Cities and Chicago — in 1939.

Bringing up the rear of the Art Deco-style Hiawatha train was the “Beaver Tail” parlor-observation car (so-named for its downward-sloping shape), where passengers lounging on recliners and couches watched the countryside pass by.

Such long-distance trains routinely barreling across the Midwest at speeds exceeding the century mark may have been far ahead of their time 70 years ago. On the other hand, today’s back-to-the-future plans by the federal government to encourage development of 110-m.p.h. train service in parts of the U.S. may simply lack the spirit and forward-looking approach that was alive back then, or even as recently as the 1960s, when 200-m.p.h.-plus “bullet train” systems were built in Asia and Europe.

The question is whether that transportation system will be the envy of the world, or barely exceed speeds and travel times delivered by past technology.

“I am shocked by the timidness of America. If billions of dollars are going to be spent, why end up with a rail system that is only half as good as what the rest of the world has?” said Andy Kunz, president and chief executive officer of the US High Speed Rail Association. The non-profit association was created in July after the Obama administration announced $8 billion in economic stimulus funding to start construction of a high-speed rail network.

The association’s goal is to advance and coordinate a state-of-the-art system connecting major U.S. cities by 2030. The vision includes building track dedicated to serving 220-m.p.h. electric-powered trains, advanced control systems, top-of-the-line passenger coaches and elegant stations.

[Click to continue reading Are 110-m.p.h. trains on the right track? —]

Willingly Walk on the Crookedest Paths

Trains routinely went quite fast:

The U.S. government did not regulate train speeds in the early 20th Century, effectively encouraging manufacturers to build lightweight, streamlined trains and prompting railroads to rehab their tracks with heavier rails.

In his book The Hiawatha Story Jim Scribbins, who spent his career working for the Milwaukee Road, described Hiawatha equipment designed to cruise at 100 m.p.h. and reach speeds of 120 m.p.h., with reserve power if needed. “Ninety-one m.p.h. seemed like 45,” Scribbins said about a run on May 15, 1935, between Milwaukee and New Lisbon, Wis., during which 112.5 m.p.h. was maintained for 14 miles.

“At 100 m.p.h., a shout erupted from the mechanical department personnel doing the timing — 103.5 … 105 … 105.5 … 109, and still comfortable. Finally came 112.5, and the train rode like a dream. In the diner, a full glass of water held every drop.”

High Speed Rail proposal
[High Speed Rail Proposal – click here for larger view]

Is there hope? We’ll see, but unfortunately, we’ll all probably be too old to enjoy the Super Trains…

Reading Around on April 15th through April 16th

A few interesting links collected April 15th through April 16th:

  • The White House – Blog Post – A Vision for High Speed Rail – "The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service:"

    Sign me up!

  • Broward Palm Beach – The Juice – Fort Lauderdale, You Have Tea On Your Face – "And I'm a reporter, I took an (imaginary) oath to comfort the afflicted.

    "What freedoms have you had taken from you?"

    She looked confused. I thought, perhaps in the places Jane gets her news (cough cough Fox News cough) reporters don't worry about those pesky follow-up questions. There was a long pause.

    "Uh…uh…the freedom to choose…the…uh…" Awkward moment"

    idiots – protesting without any clue what they are even protesting.

  • honoria in ciberspazio – Proposal for Live Art Blogging Interactive Austin 2009 – "Problem: After a stimulating conference, attendees' notes lay black and white and sometimes unreadable on the page while vital insights are bright, yet fading in participants' memories.

    Solution: Honoria Starbuck creates live colorful abstract artworks that zing with the high energy in the conference room. Honoria's drawings highlight epiphanies and explore expanding new directions with dynamic aesthetic gusto. These abstract drawings keep the open nature of inquiry buzzing in the wake of the conference."

Reading Around on February 26th through February 27th

A few interesting links collected February 26th through February 27th:

  • There Is No Social Security Crisis | The American Prospect – When does the Social Security trust fund run out in that case? Never. It never runs out (here’s the graph, if you’re interested).

    The Social Security trustees aren’t the only ones who have tried to crunch these numbers; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the trust fund will be exhausted in 2049, not 2041, and that at that point tax revenues will cover 84 percent of benefits, not 78 percent. But looking at all the various projections, one has to conclude the following:

    At some point, somewhere between 30 and 70 years in the future, the Social Security trust fund may be exhausted. If it is exhausted and taxes are not raised, beneficiaries will see a reduction in benefits that will be meaningful, though not catastrophic.

  • Chicago Closer to High-Speed Hub Reality? – Chicagoist: Chicago News, Food, Arts & Events – Awesome, let’s hope this happens. “it seems like a battle is shaping up for who will get the biggest slice of the transit pie as U.S. Senate Leader Harry Reid (of Nevada) will be making a play for his area, but he’ll be going up against Illinois’ own…President Obama. The Midwest line also has the Federal Railroad Administration on its side thanks to a layout that would connect up to 11 major metro areas (St. Louis, the Twin Cities, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, etc) within a 400 miles of Chicago, the proposed hub. As for what kind of train would be used, while Amtrak was batted about for the Midwest, the “Sin Express” folks are looking into maglev technology, a system which uses magnets to cause trains to levitate that is currently in use in Shanghai.”