My Bio and This Blog's Purpose

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After 45 years, it's time for the rail community to advocate growth rather than just mere survival. My views are to nudge the discussion toward expanding the passenger rail network rather than just relying on one company to do everything. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 88

More Nippon-Sharyo Woes
Additional layoffs and a hard pressing deadline without any cars to show.

Take: How did the Midwestern states not have a viable backup plan?

Iowa Pacific to Cede the Hoosier State
In a really shocking turn of events, IPH will hand the Hoosier back over to Amtrak on March 1. There are rumors that IPH is facing extreme financial difficulties that may bankrupt it--and it canceled an overnight excursion in upstate New York--but I won't speculate on that until the source confirms or denies them. 

Take #1: All of this could have been avoided if INDOT had selected either Corridor Capital or Herzog. The former had available cars while the latter offered to operate the train, not just being a vendor while Amtrak crews still operated the train.

Take #2: This is really regrettable and I really hope that this doesn't dampen any other states seeking to use private operators.

Take #3: I see that some of the jackals are already gloating over the demise of Iowa Pacific as if it's supposed to be the example of keeping private operators out of the intercity market. You guys are just disgusting! Way to support increased passenger rail, guys!

Take #4: Indiana needs to mandate an increase of frequencies when it rebids this train. There is no excuse for Trains #850 and #851 to still be quadweekly with nothing on the horizon (no pun intended).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Obama Legacy on Rail & the Next Four Years

Looking Back
In a matter of days, the POTUS who was the friendliest towards Amtrak will be leaving office and along with will be carrier's #1 fan, Vice President Biden. The stimulus funding was a much needed boost, but it should have only been the beginning as passenger rail has been underfunded and undermined for decades. In retrospect, all of the HSR portion of the stimulus money should have been allocated to California, and on the Amtrak front, Obama should have appointed Biden to assist the rail company.

Two other things about the Obama Administration that I lament are: 1) overcompensation and 2) Buy America. When I talk about overcompensation, I'm talking about Obama being too friendly towards Amtrak to the point that he awarded 97.4 percent of the stimulus projects to the national carrier. The competition portions in PRIIA should have been enforced. As for Buy America, the FRA has been the biggest barrier to moving forward by forcing commuter and intercity carriers to adhere to those provisions and to build heavy railcars. This country needs more railcar manufacturers so we don't end up with fiascoes like Nippon-Sharyo's Midwestern car order. I just don't think the way the current path is the way for diverse railcars.

Looking Ahead
Rail advocates may be fretting the next four years since Congress and the White House are in the hands of the same party that has historically shown hostility towards Amtrak. 

If some of their fears come to pass, then, most of them should take a look in the mirror because they didn't take my Grand Bargain advice after the collapse of the Florida HSR project and two Midwestern governors returning stimulus money to the White House (as well as Rick Scott). 

As far as being advocates for all rail carriers is concerned, what I've seen from most of these people isn't promising so far. Other than some praise for Brightline, the attitude towards other non-Amtrak carriers has ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. Their silence (and NARP's support) towards a 2012 Senate measure that would have driven other companies out of the U.S. market is an indicator that they should not be picking sides unless they want to be on the outside looking in whenever the rail renaissance happens.

On the other hand, a Congress and president who have far less faith in government's role could be a boon for independent operators. For starters, the True Believers have to get used to the fact that Amtrak is not going get anywhere close to a quarter of the $117 billion it says it needs for a brand new Northeast Corridor.

Some Consistency Please
In any case, the Trump Administration and Congress need to get the message that the passenger rail model as it's currently set up is broken and needs to be fixed because this stasis that has been in place since 1971 cannot continue. 
Consider what former Amtrak Reform Council Board member Bruce Chapman once said
The Bush folks knew we needed reform, but couldn’t deliver it, and wouldn’t fund the transition to a public-private partnership. The Obama people are prepared to spend plenty, but not to reform the system.
The previous president realized that the passenger rail model was broken beyond repair but was unwilling to fix it beyond talking about privatizing Amtrak. The current president spent tens of billions of stimulus and TIGER grant money so Amtrak could basically get a facelift (the CAHSR project and future NECR conventional service being the only non-Amtrak intercity routes to be funded) while paying no attention to Virgin or JR East on the HSR front nor to AIPRO members on the conventional rail front.

The bottom line is that we now need leadership in Washington to realize that both the public and private sectors are needed to boost passenger rail to the next level--from surviving to thriving, from just Amtrak to a number of different operators providing their special spin on service. Like I have said in the past, there are some routes that would be better off operated by someone other than Amtrak.

Trump, Shuster, and company need to realize that a separation of operations from infrastructure can be done while Amtrak apologists need to realize that efforts like AIRNet-21 will result in a separate public owner of infrastructure along the NEC, which would allow Amtrak to run its trains without worrying about the costs of tracks and bridges along the 457-mile route.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sunshine State musings 5

The latest with the Miami Intermodal Center is that the 28th Street bypass work was completed on August 12 but it doesn't look like Amtrak will move there anytime soon. My guess is that the carrier may be disinterested in relocating because it doesn't want to do 14 miles of backup moves each day.

It is worth noting that the MIC was built primarily with high speed rail in mind. Given that the Florida HSR has been dormant for almost six years, it is unlikely that the project is coming back--even with a pro-HSR governor in 2019. Another factor is that the previous Amtrak leadership and FDOT officials clashed over platforms, it's unlikely that a new Amtrak administration is going to be any more receptive to leaving the current station in Hialeah, nor that it's going to revive talks with state officials.

So, the end result is that Miami will end up with three separate train stations: Hialeah for long distance trains, an oversized airport location for Tri-Rail, and a grand downtown station for express intercity trains and select Tri-Rail trains.

The only possible thing to alleviate the MIC's potential under-utilization is for the FDOT to step up and implement corridor service in the vein of Sunrail and California Corridor and having such trains using the Airport Station.

Of course, to get to an intra-Florida passenger rail system, the current government has to either be voted out or step down in less than two years' time because as it turns out, Amtrak was the one to reach out to Florida on providing in state service but the state said no thanks.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Addendum: Updated Gulf Coast Schedule

Gulf Wind
New Orleans
Jacksonville-Naval Air Station
Orlando-LYNX Central
Orlando-Sand Lake Rd.
West Palm Beach-S. Tamarind Ave.2
Miami Airport2

  1. This excludes future planned New Orleans-Mobile routes that extend to Birmingham as well as local services
  2. No local passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami

A twist to Gulf Coast service

Here's something no one's thought about: Extend the Gulf Coast Service to Miami.

That move alone would take it out of the PRIIA 750 mile requirement by making the route 1,033 miles long. A Tampa extension is doable but at 787 miles long, it's barely outside of the area where the four states would have to fund the route.

As I have said before, Amtrak would not operate this version of the route. Instead, it would be in the hands of an independent operator because it would be able to run the route at a lower cost and out of pride rather than the reluctance that has emanated from Massachusetts Avenue ever since PRIIA mandated the company to study restoring the missing link between New Orleans and Orlando. This would not preclude local routes from being operated by Amtrak in partnership with the Southern Rail Commission or regional service by Corridor Capital.

When it comes to Florida, I have the train stopping in two different locations in Jacksonville--the Marietta neighborhood in the west side of town and the Naval Air Station in the southwest portion--in order to avoid backup moves at Union Terminal. However, the Gulf Wind will be complemented by two Jacksonville-Pensacola roundtrips that will stop at the historic terminal as well as the Marietta stop. In Orlando, the trains will call the LYNX Central and Sand Lake locations home. For its eastern terminus, the Miami Airport will host the trains, which would really turn that station into an intercity hub for trains in addition to intrastate Florida service.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tackling the Headlines 86: The All-Amtrak Edition

What Gulf Coast hurdles?
Take: Yet another reason why an independent operator, not Amtrak should be running the New Orleans-Orlando route.

Amtrak considering eliminating QuikTrak machines
Take: What other boneheaded moves did the outgoing Boardman Administration saddle the public with that we don't yet know?

Late Saturday Hiawathas to continue
Take: The company's thinking outside of the box for a change.

Court denies Amtrak a role in setting OTP standards
Take: Hopefully, this is the end and the USDOT balks on appealing to the Supreme Court because in the wake of other passenger operators expressing their issues with the feds' pro-Amtrak bias.