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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

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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Empire State happenings 2

NYC Regional Rail/A new station in Queens?

The first real crime is the fact that no one thought of connecting Hoboken to Lower Manhattan early last century when it didn't cost an arm and a leg. The second one is that no one in charge has even considered third primary NYC commuter station (sorry, 125th Street). The Sunnyside station could go a long way in relieving some congestion, and it won't cost as much money as the proposals to reroute selected LIRR trains to Grand Central.


The Second Avenue Subway's costs


This definitely goes in the "this is why America can't have nice things" department.



Reduced service for upstate residents


Bad news that matches everything else Iowa Pacific has gone through since the calendar changed. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Empire State happenings

In selecting a downtown location over Central Terminal, a Buffalo panel decided to go with cronyism over logic. 

When the Canalside location was withering on the vine, the well connected came up with a last minute location to save their flailing vision and the elites once again prevail over the will of the people. Ergo, the fix was in, especially due to how secretive officials were in the end.

"This is really a transportation decision first and foremost, and from that standpoint downtown is a clear winner."
Yeah, right Zemsky. This was an absolutely political decision.


But the mayor also said everyone on the committee shared the view that something needs to happen with the Central Terminal, too.
"I think we will work as a community to make sure that is accomplished," Brown said.
First, the mayor wasn't as neutral as the paper portrayed him to be.

Second, a historic station will never be used for its original intent ever again. Thanks for absolutely nothing, Buffalo Train Station Selection Committee.


Third, we all know that Central Terminal will once again be ignored by the city once the new station is up and running. 


Finally, Thursday's decision once again shows that Amtrak should have never left BCT in the first place. Just ask St. Louis Union Station. I mean, the national carrier left that location a year before it left BCT and it ended up at Gateway Station, which is derided by a number of transportation activists. STLUS has only recently been partially restored to its original use but only if you're willing to shell out thousands of bucks.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 92

Section 207 of PRIIA declared unconstitutional
Take: It's finally over. One hurdle for Amtrak's competitors has been obliterated.

CATS Blue Line Extension delayed
Take: Facepalm! I was hoping to catch the train from North Charlotte to the Arts District and Uptown this summer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 91

Amtrak to MIC next winter
Take: So, it looks like the national carrier is going to make the move after all. Also, check the last comment in this post.

Brightline latest



Take: Even with the nonsense going on in Tallahassee, AAF perseveres.

TX HSR
Take: This measure is exposing the legislature's true colors on rail in general.

L.A. Metro Orange Line
Take: It will finally revert back to its original use.

Edited on 5/17/17: So, there's yet another twist in the Amtrak-MIC saga. So, this now means that everything I said the day after Christmas once again stands. Oh well.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 90: International Edition

Did someone just say a dirty word? (Hat tip James Coston)
Take:This goes against everything I constantly read from Amtrak apologists, people on online forums, and rail groups. I have read elsewhere that Japanese operators make money on running trains. If enough people do the research from themselves, then, the "no country makes money on passenger trains" narrative either goes away or it should primarily be looked at as an Amtrak problem vis a vis other operators.

A person with a rational mind has to question just how ultra egalitarian Sweden is able to deal with a Hong Kong company competing against SJ and a third operator between Stockholm and Goteborg while a much bigger America continues to have a monopoly operator that is making the passenger experience less and less pleasant as the days go by--closing stations, stripping overnight routes of dining cars, cutting back amenities on other overnight routes.

If NARP and other True Believers stopped putting all of their eggs in the Amtrak basket and were much more proactive, this country would once again passenger train service that the rest of the world envies. 

Rocky times in New Brunswick
Take: I hope everything works out and VIA service is expanded along the line.