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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

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.

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.