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. 

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.

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.

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.

Tackling the Headlines 89

Caltrain grant blocked
Take: Despicable move by the state's Republican congressional delegation.

Latest Tri-Rail news
Take: Just get that contract situation straightened out, guys.

Brightline critics beginning to face the music
Take: Even though the bashers are trying shenanigans like attempted regulations, it's a foregone conclusion that trains will not only run but will also be extended northward and westward.

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.