Thursday, August 30, 2007

V Tech and Trains

August 30, 2007, 7:20, 9:40 a.m.

Campus Security

Given President Mason's and other UI administrators' obvious priority on campus security -- spurred on by their having received their third email regarding bomb threats [Kurtis Hiatt, "String of Bomb Threats Continues," The Daily Iowan, August 30, 2007, p. A1] -- I'm sure they are, or soon will be, all over the Virginia Tech report. But they won't find it in the local papers.

Here are links to the New York Times' story and the entire Review Panel's lengthy report, broken down into pdf files, including its 70 recommendations -- all presumably of at least interest, if not direct applicability, to all U.S. colleges and universities.

Ian Urbina, "Virginia Tech Criticized for Actions in Shooting,"
New York Times, August 30, 2007.

The full Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, August 29, 2007, is available from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's Web page.

Note, as I've blogged here before, that Virginia Tech's campus police are armed and yet -- as would often (if not near always) be the case in an unanticipated random shooting -- that made no difference in their ability to prevent the tragedy and deaths. At least one UI student, in a letter to the editor, has expressed the view of many that she would feel very much safer if the UI campus police were not armed than if they were.
Thalia Sutton, "Arming Campus Won't Reassure Me," Des Moines Register, August 27, 2007.

Meanwhile, this morning's DI has a professionally balanced and well written review of campus opinion on the issue prior to the Regents' discussion at their regular meeting September 18 -- including what appears to be President Mason's leaning toward arming campus police while recognizing that "I'd feel safer if no one had guns" and "I'm not a fan of guns." Ben Fornell, "People Split on UI Police Guns," The Daily Iowan, August 30, 2007, p. A5.

Iowa's Back in Train - ing

I have a vague recollection of seeing railroad trolley car rails embedded in Iowa City's streets when I was a little boy. (No trolleys; just almost totally covered tracks). But that memory may come from another town. I certainly remember the CRANDIC ("Cedar Rapids and Iowa City") interurban line, with its depot down by the east side of the Burlington Street bridge, on the south side of the street, across from what was then Nagle's Lumber. The Rock Island Line was my usual means of getting to Des Moines or Chicago as a high school student when attending student organization meetings. I occasionally came home to Iowa City from Austin, Texas, during the 1950s on the "Katy" railroad. And I remember regularly commuting by trolley car in Washington, D.C., during what must have been the summer of 1957.

So it's not like passenger rail is new to me -- or to Iowa. But what's only been history may now be on the verge of coming back. (As Johnny Cash used to sing, "I hear that train a comin.'") A local group of railroad enthusiasts took the CRANDIC out of mothballs and rode it up and back to Cedar Rapids the other day. The local papers editorialized that it was a good idea.

Editorial, "If You Want Rail Service, Speak Up," The Gazette, August 28, 2007, p. A4.

Editorial, "Time to Jump on Board for Interurban Rail,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 28, 2007, p. A11.

From a tiny village in Switzerland my wife and I discovered we had access to two passenger rail services, both of which seemed to run every 20 minutes or so. In fact, our former U-High school mates who live there don't even bother to own a car. It's like they were living in downtown Manhattan and relying on the subway. (I had similar experiences traveling in Japan years ago, with trains criss-crossing that entire country on regular schedules.)

The entire country of Switzerland is only 15,940 square miles. Iowa, by contrast, is is 3.5 times that size: 56,276 square miles (26th in size among the 50 states). And yet Switzerland has 3145 miles of railroad, mostly for passenger trains. If Iowa had the equivalent amount of rail per square mile we'd have 11103 miles of rail criss-crossing our little state. It may surprise you to know, but we had almost that much about 1910. With the popularity of the automobile -- encouraged by the lobbying pressure of the auto, oil, contracting and cement industries (General Motors bought up Los Angeles urban rail, destroyed it, and replaced it with auto dealerships) -- we permitted Iowa's rail to decline over the years to the point that 10 years ago (the latest figures I could quickly find) it was 38% of that, at 4275 miles (almost exclusively used for freight). (Prior to that -- and General Motors' efforts to kill off rail -- most cities of any size were served by electric rail systems.)

Would it be expensive for America to go back to passenger trains? Of course. Everything's expensive. It all comes back to benefit-cost. And "compared to what"?

1. It's never going to be any cheaper to do than it is now. As big a fan as I am of "rails to trails" (for hiking, jogging and biking), a few "rails to rails" might not be a bad idea either.

2. Have you ever taken a look at the total taxpayer support provided the auto industry with our multi-billion-dollar road system (Interstates, state, county and city roads)? Or the locks along the Mississippi for the barge business?

Or the airline industry -- runways and airports, air traffic control and TSA, the 9/11 bailout, and the defense contracts (originally producing war planes, but inventing technology that then finds its way for free into commercial aircraft) -- which ends up benefiting a relatively small proportion of the American people? (The "externalities" associated with the fact that jet planes are a major contributor to global warming and the hole in the ozone makes the industry's claim on subsidy dollars even weaker.)

I used to time those Swiss passenger trains (and their big clocks on the depots). I keep my watch set to the atomic clock time, accurate to the second. So, apparently, do they. It was a rare occurrence for a train to vary by more than 10 seconds either way from the very minute it was scheduled to arrive.

Our Amtrak passenger train (from San Francisco to Chicago, by way of Mt. Pleasant) may arrive as much as four or five hours late by the time it gets to eastern Iowa.

But note: That's not all Amtrack's fault. It's been deliberately set up be a rail fail. It has to travel on rails owned by railroads in the freight business. And with a policy that puts freight profits over passenger punctuality, Amtrack trains have to find and sit on a side track waiting for the freight trains to pass.

I'm reminded of a joke in a collection from the 1920s called "On a Slow Train Through Arkansas." "How come the train's stopped?" a passenger asks the conductor. "Guess we must have caught up with those cows again," he's told.

For rail -- or any other public transportation system -- to work there has to be lots of it.

If you're within a walk of a Metro station in Washington, you can enter that underground system there, transfer at Washington's Union Station, get off the train at Pennsylvania Station in New York City, and take a subway to your ultimate Manhattan destination without ever exiting this point-to-point rail transportation system.

You can't count on people driving to Mt. Pleasant to wait 4 hours for a train to Chicago when they could have driven in less time than that. The trains need to meet people's schedules rather than people having to meet the trains' schedules.

And all that goes for Corridor trains between Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and maybe Amana.

To do it right we'd need to start by putting rail between Iowa's major population centers, and out to the primary locations where the employees in those urban centers live. And we'd need to have additional transportation from depots to ultimate destinations. And the trains would have to run with sufficient regularity that people would be willing to accept their benefits in exchange for the additional flexibility offered by the automobile. (We might also want to take a second look at the Swiss roadbeds that produce the super-smooth rides, in part, by attaching the rails to the ties with six heavy nuts and bolts rather than a single spike.)

The benefits would be enormous in terms of economics, consumption of energy with its attendant seeming need for Middle East wars, global warming, and commuters' increased productivity and reduction of stress.

We did it once. Will we do it again? In my lifetime? I'm watching -- but I'm not going to be selling my primary form of transportation, my old bicycle, anytime soon.

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5 comments:

John Neff said...

It is very unusual for Johnson County Police and Sheriff's deputies to fire their weapon at a person. Their most common use of a firearm is to kill an injured animal. Review the ICPD use of force reports they post on the web to get an idea about the frequency and types of use of force.

If you listen to the officers and their families their concerns are about the officers ability to protect themselves against an armed offender. I think they have a point, that risk is significantly larger than it was in the past and the consequences are large.

UI officers have to take the same training and pass the same rectification tests as other police officers. The risk to the public from an armed UIDPS officer is the same as the risk to the public from any armed police officer.

We all have to face the fact that Johnson County has changed and there are more crimes against persons than there were in the past. It is an interesting experience to live in a neighborhood where you are woken by gunshots. It is a good day indeed when you move out of such a neighborhood.

Mark Wyatt said...

Good to hear your support for bicycling. If they are smart, they will integrate public transportation and bicycling to allow for a system with mobility. Bring your bike on the train, get off and ride it to your destination. Bicycling, can be much more efficient than walking.

I hope they do not fall into the farebox problem the greets buses. It seems the only way to raise revenue for buses is through the user, but raising fares lowers ridership and creates a net loss. Experiments in South Carolina are being considered, where removing the farebox increases the speed of passengers boarding and thus the efficiency of the buses. We really need to have a comprehensive discussion about transportation and -gasp- a metro or regional system to make it work efficiently.

Anonymous said...

I second any reservations about campus security carrying weapons. If the most common use of a weapon is to kill an injured animal, then campus security does not need to discharge that duty. Call Iowa City.

A generally safe college campus is no place to introduce deadly force. That simply escalates the amount of potential violence.

If one looks at saving lives, the largest loss of life at a college campus in the academic fiscal year of 2007 was at Va Tech. No amount of arms in Va Tech campus police would have saved more lives. The recent report however, suggests that prudent policies and prudent communications would have saved lives.

Obviously at a certain level, law enforcement needs weapons; however that level is not at the university level. Where is the threat?

If officers are worried about their safety, better communication and increased patrol numbers would be a better solution than increasing the arms race.

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with trains, unless the segway is 'who is driving the locomotive', but this blog might check out the new governance at the UIHC.

In an in-house update, the new governance was diagrammed out. This new reorganization makes it official: the UIHC has more governing models than small Central American republics.

At the top of the org chart was Michael Gartner. Does this mean Gartner is czar of all academic state institutions? Do all presidents report to Gartner? ( a very frightening thought)

Next is President Mason. Then comes John Robbiard. He now is VP for medical affairs and Dean CCOM.

Former Hospital CEO Diane Bahensky is well down the structural chain. Formerly (in the days of Kelch and Howell) the Dean and the CEO were equal partners. Now, the CEO is well below the VP and 5 of his office minions. The CEO shares a role with a CFO and 2 others.

The written announcement names any number of VPs, but the org chart reads differently.

This is a significant change, done without a real sitting President (unless one considers the Interim Pres).

It is surprising such a bloodless coup took place in the absence of a U of Iowa president.

Secondly, the UIHC says it will become more nimble, which is a laughable idea that to become flexible and nimble they increase the complexity of the bureaucracy.

There must have been a reason for all this? What does the leadership have up it's sleeve? Who is the driving force for all this? And with a significant demotion for the UIHC CEO, why was nothing much mentioned in the media?

s.j.simon said...

:) You know, the swiss were very late to lay rail tracks. check this out