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Wired Magazine has released a list of the four top Supercars - that is, cars that go at least 200 mph. Also, cars that have "the ability to attract a parade of local law enforcement." Hey, never hurts. Here's a quick recap of the list.
So, which one are you going to buy?
What, a sculpture depicting a man about to fall under a moving train is too much for you? Well, in that case, I guess it's now safe to visit England, where such a sculpture has just been cancelled in the plans of London's St. Pancreas station - which, by the way, is being renovated into the new home for Eurostar services to Paris and beyond.
The sculpture is actually of a man falling under a train car, being driven by the Grim Reaper. Its creator, Paul Day, says that it was meant to evoke the risks, challenges and fears that train drivers face during a typical day. While it is, I must admit, a rather noble purpose, I don't blame the train drivers' union and families of suicide victims for complaining that it is far too insensitive for public display. Station spokesman Ben Ruse said that while the company welcomed the "challenging" work, it would not be approved for final display in the station.
Amtrak's long-distance, full-service dining cars are something of an oddity in... well, just about every way. You have a skeleton crew trying to perform full restaurant-style service down the equivalent of an airplane aisle in the midst of light-to-moderate turbulence that comes and goes as it pleases. Since the dining car typically opens at a specified time for dinner, Amtrak's chefs have to cook and plate upwards of 100 meals in about an hour or so, in the same conditions.
And then there's the clientele that all this cacophony has to cater to: a very strange blend of relatively well-off Sleeping Car passengers combined with whomever from coach decides that they want to splurge on an upscale-ish meal. The interesting thing is that people get along. There's something about being on a dining car cruising across the open landscape that makes travelers want to mingle, chat, and generally have a good time. The whole operation is a remarkable experience to watch, if you're interested in that sort of thing, and - at least in my opinion - an absolutely delightful way to spend a meal. Where else can you eat good food, chat with your fellow travelers in a relaxed setting, and watch the beautiful countryside roll by?
I'll admit that I enjoy learning about mass transit, and I am probably what you might classify as a "rail enthusiast." This, however, is a trifle extreme. 43-year-old Darius McCollumn was arrested in New York's Penn Station Sunday night for "impersonating a transit employee." That was, indeed, his 26th arrest by transit police, the first of which occurred when he was 15 years old and involved him taking an E-line train full of passengers for a 6-stop joyride. More recently, in 2004 he was found by Long Island Rail Road police in its Jamaica, NY rail yards carrying several official transit keys and an employee uniform, while just earlier this year he was arrested for attempting to enter a restricted area in Columbus Circle, wearing another employee uniform.
Defenders of the man claim that he suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, though this has never been conclusively proven. He's never been jailed for long because, despite trespassing and other minor crimes, he's never hurt or put anyone in real danger. Meanwhile, in a story for the New York Daily News, McCollumn's mother (whom he lives with in North Carolina) says that she isn't surprised that he got arrested again, and that he went to New York on his own despite her warnings not to. See, now that's dedication.
That's according to the latest NYC Transit data, at least, which covers the past three years of service. The New York Post points out that while the days of broken-down cars and graffiti-filled stations, at least, is long gone, there is a significant trend downwards in the quality and reliability in subway services. Through June this year, the average number of delayed trains is up 24% from last year, and a whopping 71% from two years ago. Meanwhile, the average distance that rail cars travel between break-downs is down 7% from last year and 17% from two years ago.
NYC Transit blames the issues on more track work, rising ridership and decreasing income from federal and state sources. Unfortunately, none of those problems really seem to be going away - and NYC Transit is not the only organization battling the dangerous forces of system troubles. As gas prices increase, ridership on mass transit systems around the world is going up. Also, subway systems are not getting any younger. Many of the world's oldest transit networks have already passed the 100-year mark - some by a lot (London's Underground, the oldest subway system in the world, started service in 1863). Without adequate funding and support from the traveling public, mass transit systems will just keep getting less and less reliable.
If you are one of the two people who are members of Amtrak's Guest Rewards program, (hey, you and I can form a club!) then start riding those trains between now and the end of the year. Any Amtrak travel through December 12 will earn double the normal number of points, which works out to four points per dollar spent on train travel, or 1000 points if you travel on the high-speed Acela Express between Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston. To enroll for the extra-point-earning opportunity, log into your account at amtrakguestrewards.com and click on the "Register" button for the bonus offer.
Contrary to my previous verbal jabbing, the Guest Rewards program is actually very popular among business travelers along the DC-NYC-Boston Northeast Corridor. You can earn points through Amtrak travel, staying at a number of popular hotel chains, and through the associated Chase credit card. Guest Rewards points can also be redeemed for (besides Amtrak travel) hotel nights, car rentals, and gift cards to a variety of restaurants and retailers. Unlike the increasingly-stingy airline frequent-flyer programs, a mere six Acela trips (or three if you take advantage of this bonus offer!) will earn you a free unreserved coach seat on any non-Acela Northeast train. Also unlike airlines, Amtrak does not restrict the number of award seats on a particular train. If a seat is available, you can reserve it with points. Not too shabby.
Highways are, of course, an essential part of our national transportation system. Trouble is, at least in urban areas, they seem to go right through the areas that you would rather not see them go through. For instance, Seattle's Puget Sound coastline. Now, I've been to Seattle, and while I was there, I stayed in a hotel about a block away from the bustling waterfront, busy shopping areas and active nightlife. The only thing between me and the sights was a giant, towering road known as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It's elevated, so getting across it wasn't a problem. That's not the point. It's big - about five stories. It's loud. It's a mass of bright lights at night. And, if it weren't there, I would've be able to see across Puget Sound from my hotel room.
Thus, you can imagine my delight when I discovered that the Alaskan Way Viaduct is, in fact, number one on the Congress for the New Urbanism's "Freeways Without Futures" - a list of the top ten freeways in North America that we really could just do without. And they're not roads that people are just running around complaining about - these roads actually have pleasant, viable alternatives that would free up valuable urban real estate and drive economic growth. Check out the article for the full list of roads, and if you live in one of those areas, consider adding your voice to the growing number of people calling for reasonable alternatives.
(Via Wired Magazine)
Train stations are not frequently thought of as a hub of transportation and commerce - in a lot of cities, they're worn down, dilapidated, built in what has become the bad part of town, and in many cases, abandoned. Thanks to the past couple of decades, though, and a remarkable public-private partnership of a number of organizations, Washington D.C.'s Union Station has become the antithesis to that mold. Now, it's a thriving hub with high-end shops and restaurants that sees 32 million people passing through every year - including 56% of all air/rail traffic between Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Completed in 1908, the building, like multitudes of other train stations, fell into disuse after World War II and eventually was all but abandoned. Amtrak passengers used a makeshift terminal behind the main building for many years during the 70s and early 80s. Thanks to a mammoth public-private partnership, however, WUS received a $160 million face lift, completed in 1988, that brought high-end retail, shops and restaurants to the storied building. This weekend (and, in fact, all year), the building is celebrating both the 100-year anniversary of its construction and the 20-year anniversary of its rehabilitation. Events this weekend include an exhibit of both modern and historic passenger rail equipment and a display of archival photos of the station. If you can't make it in the near future, though, check it out the next time you're in the city; it's a building worth seeing.
The race is on, so to speak, with a number of countries and companies recently announcing their plans for the next-generation of high-speed rail travel. While France set the railroad world speed record in 2007 at 575 km/h (357 mph), Japan and most western European countries have set their revenue speed limit at 300 km/h, or around 186 mph. It looks like eager train-travelers (and possibly former air travelers) will soon be traveling a good deal faster in almost any of the above-mentioned countries. Read on for details on some of Japan, China and France's high-speed ambitions.
Are you looking for a relaxing ride and some spectacular scenery? Look no further than the Northeast - more specifically, Amtrak's Adirondack between New York City and Montreal, Canada via Albany. Conde Nast Traveler names the Adirondack as the most scenic rail trip in North America, and at 11 hours for the full-length, it's really not one of the more boring ones either. You'll get to see the beautiful Hudson River and Champlain valleys, and thanks to the National Park Service's Trails & Rails program, informative guides give presentations on the area's history during the trip.
Does this sound like a commercial yet? Okay, I guess it sort of is, but if you want to go then you should go now. Trains magazine reports that Amtrak will be operating its single remaining dome car along the route for the rest of the fall season, beginning on October 2 through November 11. The car has 90 seats available on a first-come, first-serve basis and will operate northbound from Albany to Montreal on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays, and southbound on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays. All right, so what are you waiting for? Get packing and go see those sights!
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