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Boston's Big Dig project clears downtown highways, clogs suburbian arteries

The Central Artery project in downtown Boston - also known as the Big Dig - has been more than a decade in the making and cost the state and federal government upwards of $15 billion. Basically, the Big Dig took Boston's primary downtown highway, Interstate 93, and moved it underground. This had the benefit of unclogging what some called the worst bottleneck in the national highway system, and freeing some valuable real estate on the surface of downtown Boston. On the other hand, the project was also the most expensive single highway project in history, and it has been plagued by cost overruns and a severe engineering disaster.

Evidence has been mounting lately that, while downtown Boston highways are now speedy and frequently not crowded at all, the traffic jams have instead moved a few miles away to the outskirts of the city. It's faster to get through downtown, but getting into downtown is much, much slower. The interesting thing is that transportation officials that were in charge when the project was started have said that they fully expected this to happen, but they went ahead and did it anyway. I have to ask you, at $15 billion, was it really worth it? $15 billion could get you a brand-new highway from New York to Boston. A new airport would only be slightly more, at around $20 billion. Amtrak estimates that $10 billion would modernize the Northeast Corridor and slash train travel times enough to move a couple hundred thousand cars off the roads. Now, it's just my opinion, but there are so many other ways to spend that money - was the Big Dig really worth it?

Want to leave a mark on the world? Name an Amtrak train

Yes, that's right, in the near future you lucky Gadling readers can begin riding the "David Breisch Express." What, not catchy enough for you? Oh, fine, I'll think of something else. In the meantime, you too can have a chance at naming Amtrak's Kansas City - St. Louis service. The line, consisting of two daily round-trips, currently is celebrating 30 years of continuous service. The two existing trains are named the Ann Rutledge (who?) and the Kansas City Mule. Now, I'm pretty familiar with Amtrak's national rail system, and I've always thought that the Missouri services needed new names. Why on earth would you name a transportation method that's supposed to evoke speed a Mule? Okay, actually, I take that back. I think the Mule is named after something, but since neither I nor Wikipedia can come up with the answer, my complaint stands.

Anyway, if you're interested in entering the contest, check out the Missouri Department of Transportation website and submit your ideas by December 10. Judges will select the five finalists, and then the public will be able to vote on the best brand name between December 16 and January 16. The rebranding effort comes at a time of revitalization on the line, with a brand-new St. Louis terminal and renovations at a couple of other stations. So what are you waiting for? Get voting!

Live too far from a train station? Build a new one!

Jimmy Gierczyk is not your typical real estate developer. As a resident of Buffalo City, MI, Gierczyk has been hard at work helping build this little town into a getaway location for bored Chicagoans. It's about an hour away and, interestingly enough, Buffalo City already has an Amtrak station - but only on one of the two lines that go through the town, and it's on the outskirts. The other line passes right through downtown, but there's no station to stop at.

Enter Mr. Gierczyk. Instead of waiting for Amtrak to try and find the money to build a new station, he decided to just do it himself - at a cost of over $1.5 million. His overall goal is attracting more Chicago tourists and real estate buyers to the area, and if it works, it'll pay off for his business nicely.

Amtrak, of course, is perfectly agreeable to creating a new station stop now that a shiny new station exists there. As for Gierczyk, he now has a train station in the middle of downtown. It'll create tourism, it'll drive the economic growth of the downtown area, and it's also right at the front door of his condominium complex. How convenient!

[Via Chicago Sun-Times]

France's rail system plagued by attempted sabatoge incidents

The TGV, France's high-speed rail network, was plagued over the weekend by a series of unexplained - and most likely related - attempts to derail several TGV trainsets loaded with passengers. The attackers apparently jammed iron bars into the overhead power cables at four different locations around the city of Paris, forcing SNCF (the national rail operator) to suspend or delay hundred of trains. French authorities believe that the attacks were related and performed by technically-savvy sabatoeurs. After all, I don't know about you, but I don't think that I know how to neutralize a 25,000 volt power line long enough to stick a metal bar up there. Nor would I want to try.

In a seperate incident on Sunday afternoon in a different region of France, a TGV train traveling at 90 mph slammed into a couple of concrete slabs that had been placed on the tracks. The train did not derail and suffered only minor damage, and police are investigating whether that incident was related.

[Via The Gulf Times]

Election brings new transit projects, transportation spending galore

It's U.S. election season, and that can only mean one thing: multitudes of new things to spend taxpayer money on. Whether it be building a new school, closing budget gaps, or a new car for the mayor, everyone seems to want more public funding. Well, kids, transit and transportation projects are no different, and there were lots of them on ballots across the country. Funnily enough, with the sting of record-breaking gas prices still in the air, voters more often than not chose to bump up their taxes slightly to pay for more mass transit. Here's a round-up of what our U.S. readers can expect in the coming months and years. Everyone who is not a U.S. reader... read my post anyway and leave an encouraging comment.

To start us off, I'll go with the general prediction that an Obama administration may begin investing heavily in the federal transportation network in order to fight off a stagnant economy. Bloomberg reports that Obama has been pushing for an economic stimulus plan that plows money into roads, rail and airports. Earlier this year, he proposed a $60 billion "infrastructure bank" that would bring many needed jobs to areas around the country.

Amtrak opens rail pass sales to US residents, makes it hardly worthwhile

Perhaps some of you are familiar with European rail passes that are available for sale - they are sold to non-European residents in varying numbers of quantities and lengths - but the general idea is that foreign tourists can purchase these passes and ride around on the European rail network for cheaper than if you purchase a handful of train tickets separately. Amtrak has also maintained a USA Rail Pass program for non-US residents, for the, you know, person-and-a-half that visits the US for the sole purpose of riding our stellar train system.

Well, fear not, loyal US readers, because you too can now experience the joy of owning a USA rail pass. You can buy a pass good for 15 days or eight travel segments ($389); 30 days or 12 segments ($579); or 45 days or 18 segments ($749). A segment is defined as getting on and off one train or Amtrak-operated bus. The pass is good for coach travel only, although you can upgrade for a surcharge if space is available. Also, you can't just ride a train with a pass; you must also get a ticket from an Amtrak ticket office. Finally, the pass can't be used on the Auto Train or high-speed Acela Express.

So that's the sum of the deal - but would it ever be worth it for anyone? Read on for my incredibly detailed and researched (well, not really) analysis.

See the world's largest cruise ship (again)

Man, it seems like just a couple years ago that Royal Caribbean took home the "world's largest cruise ship" award (oh, wait, it was.) Well, they're at it again, with construction of the new Oasis-class of cruise ships. Ships, in case you didn't know, are measured by their gross tonnage. Back in 2006, Royal Caribbean held the aforementioned title with the Freedom of the Seas, which weighed in at 160,000 gross tons. And actually, I went on a cruise in (if I recall correctly) 2001 on a Royal Caribbean ship called Voyager of the Seas, which at the time was billed as the "world's largest cruise ship."

Well, kids, they're at it again, only this time the ship - the Oasis of the Seas - weighs in at 222,900 tons. That's a horrifying 39% bigger than the Freedom, in case you didn't feel like doing the math yourself. (Well, horrifying depending on your point of view, I suppose.) Now, Royal Caribbean has a lot of practice with this whole "biggest ship" thing, and as is typical with a new launch, they're debuting a number of "firsts at sea" on-board amenities. There's Central Park, a six-deck-tall open-air atrium. The Boardwalk features a full-sized carousel. The Sports Deck has pools, basketball and volleyball courts, a rock climbing wall and a mini-golf course. And, oh yeah, there's apparently a zip-line ride over the Boardwalk.

Now, I'm not as opposed to cruises as other Gadling bloggers, but this is a pretty ridiculous ship.

Paris says no to crime, going to quadruple number of CCTV cameras

Paris, in an apparent effort to reduce crime, has taken a page out of London's book and decided to step up installation of CCTV cameras around the city. According to the Telegraph, while the Paris metro and rail networks already operate over 9,500 cameras, police apparently only have access to about 330 of them. They hope to install bunches more to bring the total up to over 1,200. (France's 340,000 cameras still pale in comparison to Britain's estimated total of four million.)

Officials want to beef up security outside Gare du Nord, where the London-Paris Eurostar arrives, where there have apparently been a number of gang battles over the past few months. Also on the target list for more camera coverage include Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. Interestingly enough, French security officials also hope to deploy a mini spy-in-the-sky drone to track rioters and fight crime. Hopefully we'll get more on that story soon.

Amtrak celebrates Auto Train's 25th birthday, has (very limited) fare sale

Ever heard of the Auto Train? Yeah, I didn't think so - it's not too well-known outside of railroad and frequent-Amtrak-passenger circles. The Auto Train is actually Amtrak's most unique long-distance route. For one thing, it doesn't make any stops between its terminals in Lorton, VA (suburb of Washington, D.C.) and Sanford, FL (suburb of Orlando). It's solely an overnight trip, meaning that you board in the evening and, if it's on time, you arrive at your destination in the morning. Both dinner and continental breakfast in the recently-revamped Dining Car are included, no matter what class of service you travel in. And, oh yeah, there's the small matter of bringing your car with you. That's right, you get to store your automobile in a special car-carrier rail car and bring it with you, so you can use it on the other end.

It normally runs about $100 per person in off-peak season for coach tickets - plus the $200 vehicle charge. But, to celebrate 25 years of Auto Train service, Amtrak is selling 25% off tickets. Not too bad, eh? Oh yeah... the catches. First of all, your travel must begin on a Tuesday or Wednesday in February 2009. Additionally, you must purchase your tickets on October 25. (That's on October 25, not "around" or "by" October 25.) And, the sale is on the ($100 per person) rail fare, not the $200 vehicle charge. So you really save about $25 per person. Which isn't chump change, I'll admit... if you're already planning on traveling on a weekday in February and you are going to finalize your travel plans by Saturday.

Ah, well, maybe we'll just have to wait for the 100-year anniversary and snatch up the discounted tickets then.

Chicago's CTA to launch new transit fare card - ride the rails and... rent a car?

The board of the Chicago Transit Authority last week approved a new partnership with I-GO, ironically enough - it's a Chicago-based non-profit company that rents short-term, fuel-efficient cars by the hour to people who don't own a car, but may need one temporarily. The idea is to create a combo fare card that allows you to use your pre-loaded fare money to also rent cars from I-GO.

Actually, it seems like a pretty good idea, in theory - it gives urban-dwellers an additional way to live without actually owning and driving their own car everywhere. According to the I-GO website, once you sign up, you can reserve a car by phone or online. There's even a nifty Google Maps mashup of all the vehicle locations. To actually pick it up, just take your smart card, swipe it over a reader on the actual car, and then grab the keys out of the glove box. And then you are billed by the hour. Seems pretty simple.

Live in Chicago? Maybe you should consider ditching your car. Ride the CTA around, and if you really need a set of wheels, rent one for a few hours. It apparently takes 3-5 business days to register as a member - so I suppose it would take a bit more planning - but with some tweaking it sounds like the system would work quite well with the leisure traveler as well. Not a bad idea...

(Via Chicago Tribune)

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