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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Goodbye TIGER, hello BUILD

The grant program that aided many passenger rail projects and helped to build train stations is being replaced by a program that is tilted towards rural projects.

The only thing that is shocking is that it took this long for the TIGER name to disappear.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Tackling the Headlines 96

Ford may buy Michigan Central Station
Take: While having a dedicated tenant is better than having the absentee family, I am worried if the automaker gets MCS that passenger access will be permanently cut off.

Saratoga & North Creek is going out of business
Take #1: I'll start off with this quote: "So Ellis way be right about his new outfit, but he may also be wrong, and it's worth waiting a while before hailing his new effort as a success." I have to give this person a prize because I was way too optimistic about S&NC.

Take #2: This all stems from the railroad not being able to operate freight service, which is a real shame.

SNCF opposes Texas Central's plan
1. The French operator says that the spinoff of JR Central would "doom" passenger rail in Texas
2. Texas Central hits back at SNCF

Take: On one end, SNCF has a point about TX Central's routing but on the other end, it was the feds who imposed the restrictions on where TX Central could place its Houston station. It brings up some good points, but, ultimately, it may come off as sour grapes by others.

SNCF has to worry about its own backyard
Take: Just like everywhere else in EU countries, the French operator has to prepare for competitors.

Another year of profits
Finland and Germany

Take: This is the second year in a row now. At this point, anyone in the rail community who utters "no country in the world makes money on passenger rail" will be trivialized and then ignored.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Tackling the Headlines 95: Another All-Amtrak Edition

Tunneling the Hudson
It's really about the Gateway Project vs AIRNet-21

Take #1: Amidst all the talk over funding new tunnels underneath the Hudson River, most people are ignoring the latter solution to the nation's peril.

Take #2: Of course, Gateway is the wrong way to go. The reason? It forces Amtrak to spend countless billions while the rest of the system suffers. Also, other states may be more willing to look elsewhere if "America's Railroad" becomes Northeast Railroad.

Rockland update
Amtrak won't be running service along the old Maine Eastern route this summer after all.

Take: Oops.

New year, new president, same old hostility towards passengers  
1. Stations continue to lose staffing, checked baggage, and ticket sales
2. Business Class will be discontinued on the Auto Train and the Crescent on May 1
3. Eliminating other amenities systemwide
4. Outlawing private cars

Take #1: It clearly doesn't matter who's in charge of Amtrak--Boardman, Moorman, Anderson--because it's the management team and/or the Amtrak Board that's cutting back on these things.

Take #2: Business Class "failed" on Trains #19, #20, #52 & #53 because management wanted it to fail. The buffer between Coach and Sleeper was not marketed properly so it's going away after only two years.

Take #3: So, as Brightline is operating its route at brand new stations and offering all kinds of goodies to South Floridians, Amtrak wants to cut back like it's the late 1960s Southern Pacific. Way to go, guys. At this point, Washington needs to do an intervention by handing the long distance routes and all state supported routes outside of the NEC and the Chicago Hub to AIPRO members.

Take #4: A lot has been said about the ban of private cars, so I'll just say this: Losing out on revenue is the ultimate cutting of one's nose to spite his face.

Take #5: With the way things are going with Amtrak trying to become Greyhound on the rails--we're past the point of the company acting like an airline--it wouldn't surprise me that a certain segment of railfans would rather see Amtrak reduced to next to nothing than letting other operators succeed with enhanced amenities and overall improved customer service.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cascades #501 Crash & PTC

Last month's crash in Lakewood, WA has sparked a rash of overreactions nationally and a bunch of unnecessary "I-told-you-sos" from locals.

Let's Get Something Out of the Way

First off, the reroute was not a mistake, it was something that the state thought out in advance. As scenic as the Point Defiance route was, it was also single track.

Second, the blame for what happened last month can be attributed of a deficient safety culture inside Amtrak.

The PTC Bug

Certain members of Congress have urged the UDSOT to make December 31 a hard deadline for all railroads to install Positive Train Control (under the 2015 law, extensions to the end of 2020 will only be granted under certain circumstances).

I find this to be a bit of pretentious grandstanding by Congress since it created the problem by overreacting to another tragedy! For those unaware, the tragedy that sparked PTC in the first place was the Chatsworth disaster in 2008. The problem with the way it was implemented was that Congress told every railroad that it not only had to install the device but that said railroads would have to pay out of their own pockets. That demand reflects just how much of an anti-government attitude Washington has had since 1981. If Congress had taken the lead, it would have footed the bill instead.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 94

CAHSR will select DB to operate its line
Take #1 (Edited on 11/17/17): This becomes official tomorrow. CAHSR waited more than a month and made the announcement on 11/15/17.

Take #2: What a difference several years make! In early 2009, Virgin was the first operator to toss its hat into the sweepstakes. JR East expressed interest later on in the year. After playing catchup due to the Europeans and Asians garnering all of the attention for the Express HSR routes in CA and FL, Amtrak made a halfhearted effort to join the fray in the spring of 2010.

Take #3: Needless to say, Virgin eventually switched its West Coast route to Los Angeles-Las Vegas before disappearing from the U.S. radar completely, largely thanks to Rick Scott. Amtrak decided to solely focus its HSR aspirations on the NEC after the Tea Party Trio returned stimulus money to then-President Obama and the CA project became shaky. The Japanese operator may have been scared off by China Railway International.

Christie says he is confident new Hudson River tunnels will be built
Take: It's a matter of just who will be paying for it. I heard of a proposal that could make it easy on everybody.

Plans To Increase Amtrak Service Between Twin Cities, Chicago Move Forward
Take #1: Look at my previous takes on Google+ regarding the snail pace of what should already be in place.

Take #2: Also, go to the Trains Magazine forum.

Take #3: I agree with Andrew Selden about the states stifling themselves by not putting out their proposals out to private operators when the law has been in place for them to do so for nine years now. By continuing to solely rely on Amtrak, the costs go up, and long promised routes either get delayed or canceled.

Take #4: CMStPnP 's followup comment to Mr. Selden is pretty telling about the inner workings of Amtrak management and is yet another reason why companies like Virgin, Bombardier, and the AIPRO members must be given a chance to provide the public with an alternative ASAP.

Chattanooga-Atlanta bullet train could lure millions of air travelers to Chattanooga airport
Take #1: This is a plan that I could rally behind because of the backstory. A decade ago, Atlanta leaders considered building a second airport to relieve overcrowding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (aka the busiest airport in the world) but opted to go with the HSR line instead.

Take #2: Obviously, it never stood a chance during the stimulus era but it kept on going.

Take #3: If they're going to make this project come to fruition, maglev is not the answer, a Texas or California like project is.

Take #4: Anything that gets the long-stalled downtown station back on track gets the okay from me.

New station opens in Rochester, NY
Take: It might be pricey, but at least passengers actually have a real station than the old Amshack.

Port Huron, MI could be next
Take:The city not only needs a new station but more frequencies as well--and how about extending one or two of them to Toronto? Just saying.

A possible San Joaquin reroute in Sacramento
Take #1: It's doable but connections for Capitol Corridor, California Zephyr, and Coast Starlight passengers would have to be worked out.

Take #2: Multiple stations in the capital city means fewer people driving from afar and the light rail connections would make it easier for everyone.

Spanish airline getting into the rail business
Take: Amazing how things turn around in a matter of decades!

Here’s What Amtrak’s Fancy New Trains Will Look Like
Take: So after that, the company is sticking to the Acela name.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Brexit's Impact on UK Intercity Rail

In September 2013, the Labour Party leadership shelved plans to discuss renationalizing passenger rail. However, that was not to last as Jeremy Corbyn's ascension to the party's leadership two years later eventually resulted in the topic being a part of the platform during this spring's elections.

The European Union has wanted its members to open intercity rail to up to competition by the next decade. Things were moving steadily until the surprise 2016 vote which saw 52 percent of Britons wanting to leave the Union. 

It is possible that in an ironic twist, Great Britain's impending exit from the EU has the potential of finishing what this June's results started: Ending competition and restoring British Rail. Here are the reasons why:

  1. The fragile Conservative-Democratic Unionist alliance isn't going to survive the next election now scheduled for 2022
  2. "Old Labour's" ideas have sustaining power and aren't going away, hence, more calls for renationalization and fewer people speaking out on the virtues of competition
  3. Once the UK is out of the EU, a competition averse Parliament is unlikely to let domestic entities like Virgin continue to run trains let alone foreign ones like MTR
Now is the time for more voices of intercity competition to speak out. Even though Britons complain about paying the highest fares for rates, here is a newspaper article that speaks out about what's gone right and where there's room for improvement.


Some passengers may roll their eyes when they read this based on their own experiences but last month’s National Rail Passenger Survey shows that many of these ambitions are now being delivered – on just one main line. At London King’s Cross the main train franchise, Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), faces stiff competition from two non-franchised high-speed ‘open access’ train operators on inter-city services between London, Yorkshire and the North East.
What Mr. Lodge is saying is that open access is needed, not just multiple operators bidding for the right to run on a route the way it's currently done for commuter routes.


Grand Central and Hull Trains also came top on value for money, reliability, punctuality and getting a seat. The message is clear; when passengers have real choice, and train companies face competition on the same track, then operators raise their game. It is a clear and unarguable fact that they deliver better services at competitive fares because they have to fight for passengers. This rivalry has also delivered innovations such as free wi-fi, special flexible ticket deals and new routes as operators look to serve extra towns and cities to boost their offering.

I like to see all of the Amtrak apologists who are quick to point out all of the UK's flaws quip about the three-way among the operators serving the London-Yorkshire route. They need to stop defending the entity that is slow to adapt to changes and has made the passenger experience less comfortable over the last couple of years and begin thinking of what other operators could do to boost passenger service if they are only given a chance by the federal government. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 93

No anti-HSR laws passed in Texas
The legislature only meets in odd-numbered years so Texas Central can largely continue building its line unabated.

Take: It's a very good thing that the yahoos in Austin aren't around to sabotage a privately operated rail project.

Trains running on renewable energy in Europe
Germany will roll out a train that's powered by hydrogen and only emits water while the Netherlands has all of its trains running on wind power--a year ahead of schedule!

Take: Meanwhile, this country is wholly incapable of having electrified rail lines outside of the Northeast. 

Woes for long distance travel in Germany
Locomore's failure once again exposes that the playing field for intercity competition is still heavily tilted in favor of the national railroad and is something that needs to be fixed.

Take: Rather than pointing to Locomore's situation as some kind of alleged "proof" about competition's shortcomings, True Believers should be trying to see the whole picture. Furthermore, German regulators need to remove restrictions imposed on private operators so they can provide the public with more choices rather than letting DB have a such a lock on everything. 

A commentator's take on the latest NEC mess
Singer's response to the New York Newsday's article is worth a read.

Take #1: I've wondered at the back of my head if the Amtrak Board would let Moorman clean up the mess his predecessor left behind or if it would attempt to sabotage the former Norfolk Southern boss. At least I'm not the only one who wonders that way anymore.

Take #2: The whole thing going on with Penn Station right now would have never been a full blown crisis if the former Amtrak president, NARP, and Northeastern congressmen and senators hadn't yelled "privatization" and stifled any debate six years ago when there was a plan to hand the NEC infrastructure to a new government-owned company.

They're getting restless in southern Idaho
It's been 20 years since the Pioneer left for the last time and almost eight since the infamous Amtrak study.

Take: It's important to note what the story omitted. The fact is that the Cascadia Center conducted its own study with the conclusion that a private operator could restart the Pioneer at a much lower cost than Amtrak. An organization was set up partly due to the original study. It's also worth noting that local and state officials promptly ignored the Cascadia Center's recommendations. 

Let that be a note to all communities seeking restoration of their long distance services: By continuing to put all your eggs in the Amtrak basket, you will never see any service restored. Oh, by the way, Magliari is being absolutely preposterous by telling Idaho and the other states to pay for a train that was once part of the national system. The new government in D.C. really needs to enforce Section 205 of the FAST Act so other operators can save the long distance network from Amtrak's inertia.

Two more train stations lose full Amtrak access

This time, the victims are Sebring, FL and Greenville, SC.

Take: Maybe, some of Joe Boardman's leftovers still hold some kind of sway in Amtrak management. Maybe, Moorman's treating these station destaffings the same way he's treating the loss of the dining car on the Silver Star: a low priority. Whatever the reason, it's a situation that continues to be unacceptable. In the case of the latter city, this now means that there will be no Amtrak staff to assist passengers between Charlotte and Atlanta and that South Carolina as a whole is now down to three staffed stations--Charleston, Columbia, and Florence.