Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

Amtrak Has Been Failing Spectacularly in Operating CT Trains: Cameron on Transportation

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I’m usually a huge Amtrak fan. But not today. Sure, I love to zip along to Boston at 145 mph on Acela, enjoy a land cruise through the western scenery on “The Southwest Chief” or even poke along for 27 hours from Chicago to New York on “The Cardinal.” If you’re a rail fan, what choice do you have but to take Amtrak? But Amtrak is also responsible for running commuter trains, including two lines in Connecticut. And here they have been failing spectacularly.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

In Connecticut: Lower Rail Subsidy, Higher Fares Than Elsewhere

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How much should it cost to ride mass transit? Are our fares too high? Would lower fares increase ridership? If so, why not make the trains free? As I’ve noted any number of times, fares on Metro-North in Connecticut are among the highest commuter fees in the country.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

Arrive in the Canadian Maritimes in a High-Speed Ferry from Maine: Cameron on Transportation

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There is perhaps no more beautiful part of the East Coast than the Canadian Maritimes: the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The problem is that getting there is a hassle. You have to take either an expensive flight with a change of planes or a two-day drive. But there is a third option: “The Cat,” a high-speed car and passenger ferry that runs daily from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. But it may soon move farther away.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

The History Behind the SoNo Switch Tower Museum: Cameron on Transportation

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Do you ever wonder how trains move on a busy line like the New Haven division of Metro-North? How do they switch from track to track, make their scheduled stops and try to stay on schedule? It’s all controlled by computer-assisted dispatchers working near Grand Central Terminal, handling 700 trains per day. But until the 1980s, the dispatchers were decentralized, working in one-man towers along the line. Each tower handled a section of track, manually throwing massive switches to send trains on their appointed routes following a master schedule.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

On Metro-North (and Other Commuter Lines) ‘On Time’ can mean Six Minutes Late: Cameron on Transportation

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Last spring, Japanese railroad officials apologized for a huge mistake:  one of their trains left a station 25 seconds early!  This was the second time such an egregious error had been made and I imagine that the offenders were severely disciplined. Meanwhile back on Metro-North’s New Haven line, the railroad’s latest OTP (on time performance) statistics stand at about 82% — a new low. To make matters worse, what the Japanese railroads and MNRR consider “on time” are two different things.  “On time” in Japan means the 7:12 am train departs at 7:12, not 7:11 (as in this horrendous incident which prompted the apology) nor at 7:13. “On time” means ON TIME. Metro-North, however, defines a train is being on time if it arrives or departs within five minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

These Are a Few of My Favorite Hacks for Grand Central: Cameron on Transportation

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There is possibly no more beautiful railroad station in the world than New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. As the destination of more than 55,000 daily rail commuters from Connecticut, it’s a place where many of us spend a fair amount of time. I’ve been riding in and out of Grand Central for more than 50 years. So to help you maneuver the station’s labyrinth of tunnels, ramps and stairs, here are some of the secrets of Grand Central. Underground access

Sure, you can enter Grand Central from street level, but in bad weather you can get there underground from blocks away.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

End the Summer With a Daytrip to the Danbury Railway Museum

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Looking for a summer day trip to find some fun that will teach your kids about transportation? Just hop a Metro-North train (or drive, if you must) to the Danbury Railway Museum. I usually find railway museums a bit depressing as they tend to be dusty monuments to the past. But not this one. In addition to a beautifully curated collection of memorabilia, it also still has a working railroad.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

Beware the ‘Automotive-Construction Complex’: Cameron on Transportation

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How did Americans develop their love affair with driving? Visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington and the transportation exhibit “America on the Move” will sell you on the commonly held theory that when Henry Ford made cars affordable, Americans loved them and demanded more and more highways. Of course, that exhibit is sponsored by General Motors, which donated millions to put its name on the collection. But University of Virginia history professor Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in American Cities contends that’s a myth. Just as outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial complex, Norton says an automotive-construction complex took over our country, paving from coast to coast.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

‘Hello Everyone. My Name is Jim Cameron, and I Am a … Rail Fan.’ — Cameron on Transportation

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True confession (as if you didn’t know): I am a rail fan. But don’t call me a “foamer!” People who love trains come in all shapes and sizes, but “foamer” is a term they universally hate. “Foamers” is how railroad employees refer to rail fans because they think we “foam” at the mouth anytime we see a train. To them, railroading is just a job. To us, it’s a passion.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

How to Save What You Can as the Flood of Train Prices Rises Around You: Cameron on Transportation

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Whether you’re a daily commuter, an occasional day-tripper or have friends visiting from out of town, everyone can save money when you go into New York City on Metro-North by following these tips:

TransitChek

Ask your employer to subscribe to this great service, which allows workers to spend up to $260 per month on transit using pre-tax dollars. If you’re in the upper tax brackets, that’s a huge savings. A recent survey shows 45 percent of all New York City companies offer TransitChek, which can be used on trains, subways and even ferries. Go off-peak

If your train arrives at Grand Central Terminal weekdays after 10 a.m. and you can avoid the 4 to 8 p.m. peak return hours, you can save 25 percent. Off-peak fares are in effect on weekends and holidays.

Cropped brightline BBT609 on Flickr via Wcommons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrightLine_Inaugural_Run.jpg

Where an American Railroad Is Making a Profit: Cameron on Transportation

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There has not been a profitable passenger railroad in the United States. Amtrak and commuter lines like Metro-North operate at a loss as a public service, their deficits borne by tax dollars. But that changed last month with the launch of Brightline, a privately owned, for-profit passenger railroad in Florida. Running between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, the railroad is owned by Fortress Investment Group. The group has ties to Florida East Coast Railways, which owns the freight tracks that the new passenger trains will use.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

Metro-North Commuting ‘Like Getting Hit With a 2-by-4’ — Cameron on Transportation

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“Commuting on Metro-North is like getting hit with a 2-by-4. Service is getting worse and now you’re hitting us with a 10 percent fare hike.”

Those comments came from Jeffrey Maron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, a usually mild-mannered, two-compliments-before-any-complaint kind of guy. But Maron’s tone changed, as he quizzed state Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker at the recent CCRC meeting in Stamford. The transportation czar outlined the reasons for pending service cuts and fare hikes, explaining the Special Transportation Fund is running dry and he has no choice but to cut expenses and raise revenue. Maron reminded the commissioner that council members offered fund-raising suggestions, but never received a reply.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

Hudson River Rail Tunnels Shoulda, Coulda Been Done By Now: Cameron on Transportation

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It should have been done by now: 2018 was the expected completion year of the new railroad tunnels under the Hudson River. When it was proposed in 2009, the $9 billion project was the biggest infrastructure initiative in the country. Now it’s just a footnote to history. Why do rail tunnels from New York’s Penn Station to New Jersey matter to us here in Connecticut? Because they are the weakest but most crucial link in the Northeast corridor, the $50 billion heart of the U.S. economy.

Jim Cameron Jim Cameron 8-2-16

Look! Up in the Air!! And on the Train!!! Another Disruptive Passenger!!!! — Cameron on Transportation

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We’ve seen a number of reports lately about “disruptive passengers” forcing a plane to divert after exhibiting some sort of frightening behavior. Imagine being along for the ride when something like this happens:

—An Air Canada flight to Tel Aviv lands in London after a female passenger starts randomly choking people on board. She is restrained in-flight and arrested upon landing. —A Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Houston detours to Corpus Christi, Texas, after a woman tries to open the emergency exit door mid-flight. Seen before departure screaming at people in the terminal, passengers wondered why she was allowed to board the plane.