My Bio and This Blog's Purpose

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I'm here to spread my ideas on how passenger rail can be improved in America without telling the same stories most people in the rail community have told for over 43 years. I offer a different perspective on passenger rail because things need to change in a hurry given divided government in Washington and an interest from outsiders to operate intercity service.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tackling the Headlines 76

Tri-Rail rolls out service at Miami International Airport transit hub
Take: It's now up to Amtrak once the road work is complete.

Dallas’ new streetcar begins service between downtown, Oak Cliff
Take: Perhaps, the folks in the nation's capital ought to be taking notes on how it should properly plan a streetcar.

Railroad losing $1 million plus annually on Warren County line 
Take: The story points out how the tracks were unused for three decades and that Iowa Pacific had to rebuild them for Saratoga & North Creek. How anyone on message boards be gloating about S&NC unable to make a profit is upsetting to this writer.

Senate Bill Targeting Bullet Train Project Advances
Take: Chalking this one to ignorance and the Lone Star State's anti-auto alternatives attitude.

Portland-Eugene Cascades Service May Disappear
Take: If Oregon can't figure this one out, then passenger service just may be doomed.

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's a draw

The Supreme Court delivered its ruling on Monday...just not on the Section 207 metrics. Instead, the high court ruled that Amtrak is a public organization.

I agree with those who say that SCOTUS punted and is setting up a much bigger battle later on. All of the buildup ends in a whimper. One would hope Congress will clarify the metrics in the upcoming rail bill but we'll see.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Is the end really near for the Hoosier State?

I'm still trying to rack my head over yesterday's jaw-breaking announcement that the Hoosier State will be discontinued after April 1. At first glance, the story seems straightforward, but upon another review, it becomes clearer that a cancellation isn't the issue but rather, an unnecessary power play from Washington.

I will dissect how the FRA's classification of states as rail carriers impacts the following organizations:

While the state has badly botched the contract of the Hoosier State--see the Corridor Capital situation--I hesitate to blame the INDOT on this one. How in the world can Indiana be labeled as a rail carrier when the 196-mile stretch of the Hoosier is in the hands of multiple railroads with crappy tracks along the way?

Iowa Pacific

A quote from IP's Ed Ellis on Train Orders:

INDOT is working very hard to preserve this service, and I can assure you a lot of lawyer time has been spent trying to get FRA to back down from this. 
And there is no FRA guideline. There was no "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking." There was no comment period. There was no record of decision on the question of whether FRA can require a state to be a railroad. 

It's a shame that yet another contractor is getting the shaft. Just when a route is about to be covered by a vendor who really wants to improve the service, the rug is pulled from under them by the feds.


There's this gem from the Amtrak head honcho:

Daily Amtrak service to Indianapolis does not have to end in April. Amtrak has offered to continue to operate the train on a month-to-month basis.
Amtrak is ready, willing and able to continue to provide safe and reliable service using one of the proven models we’ve used in other states.
We have shown how the quality of the passenger experience can be improved by demonstrating modern Wi-Fi and business class seating. We have the expertise in working with the host railroads and have repeatedly offered to be the state’s and the communities’ partner in advancing plans to improve the travel time and the reliability of the service. 

He's really acting like the superhero here when in reality, his company has been desperate since June. Hello, that free stuff was done in an effort to keep the Hoosier State from going to Corridor Capital--and it worked. It looks like Amtrak is trying to preserve the Hoosier State status quo rather than improving the route, and it can't stand the idea of Trains #850 & #851 being Amtrak trains in name only.

The agency's blindsiding of Indiana was even more proof of what I said over three years ago: the FRA is the #1 barrier to innovation (want more examples? Then, go here). So, to tell me that the same agency that couldn't be bothered to enforce the Pilot Program requirement of PRIIA (aka Section 214) for other operators to operate an existing Amtrak route is now taking it upon itself enforce new regulations on any state that wants to replace Amtrak!

This looks like the folks in D.C. are determined to preserve the Amtrak monopoly because the real target is not Indiana, the real targets are Washington state and Oregon because there's a better chance that those two states could dump Amtrak in favor of another operator. If that happens, then California will look at it and wonder if that extra $19 million to "America's Railroad" was really worth it when it could have gone with an independent operator almost a year and a half ago. Since most people see the Golden State as the trendsetter, the dominoes would start falling for Amtrak if two of the three corridors--likely the Capitols and San Joaquins since the Surfliner Cars are primarily Amtrak-owned--were to go to other passenger operators.

There truly is something rotten in the state of Denmark when the states are not allowed to freely select other operators in an effort to improve their services. As a matter of fact, this overbearing by the Federal Railroad Administration is just the latest in recent memory. I have a list of their other idiotic actions here. And if what's happening to Indiana spreads to other states, then, it needs to be smacked down by Congress and the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tackling the Headlines 75

Passenger train service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City being discussed
Take: Should the study get the green light, the shortline operator should be tapped to run trains along the route.

Study to extend Keystone Service to Pittsburgh
There's a lively debate over at Trainorders concerning the cost.

Take: It is ridiculous that it should come anywhere close to $1 billion let alone $10 billion to just produce additional frequencies especially when host Norfolk Southern concluded a decade ago that it would only cost $140 million for two additional frequencies. One has to wonder what the previous administration in Harrisburg was up to with the extremely high cost of that feasibility study.

Oklahoma’s Amtrak service facing funding shortfall
Take: Uh, what happened to the state and Texas possibly contracting this route to another operator? The hosts only want Amtrak on their rails argument is being used by a copout by Oklahoma.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Yet another Hoosier State extension for Amtrak

The only news out of Indiana is that the status quo will hold form for another two months:

Amtrak will continue to operate the Hoosier State train between Indianapolis and Chicago under an Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) contract extension through April 1, 2015. A previous extension expires on Jan. 31.
Remember all that free stuff? Amtrak has discontinued it.

Hoosier State Trains 850 and 851: AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi and Other Services Discontinued
Effective February 1, 2015
The AmtrakConnect® Wi-Fi, Business class seating and light refreshments will be discontinued on the Hoosier State, as scheduled, on February 1, 2015.
In October 2014, Amtrak announced its demonstration of Wi-Fi capabilities and other services aboard the Hoosier State through January 31, 2015. The State of Indiana has chosen not to fund the continuation of these services.
Funny for Amtrak to pin the blame on Indiana when it only implemented Business Class, Wi-Fi, and snacks when it looked like a done deal that it was going to lose most functions of the service. Now, that Corridor Capital has been kicked to the curb, it has acted like a true monopoly.

Tackling the Headlines 74

It's a tale of two proposed Miami passenger stations

The downtown location is about to begin construction while the airport hub continues to be delayed.

Take: All Aboard Florida will take much less time to complete its hub than the state of Florida will with its version. The miscommunication between "America's Railroad" and the Sunshine State and various money issues plays right into the hands of libertarians who want full-on privatization of passenger services.

New Cleveland intermodal center is on the way

This has been in the works for years but has been delayed due to cost.

Take: I'd like to wish city officials good luck since Union Terminal has only accepted electric trains throughout its history and hasn't had commuter service since 1977.

SNCF expresses interest in operating HSR in Texas

This bit of news is actually a reiteration of its plans over five years ago.

Take: If the French operator can actually launch this plan and keep the slimy lawyers at bay, then, this will provide Lone Star State passengers with alternative travel options and SNCF and Texas Central will provide their own type of matrix effect for high speed systems.

Minnesota getting serious about Zip Rail

There are some links in this story to get you going.

Take: I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this project as Gopher State officials are planning for the future--unlike some of their Midwestern neighbors.

Chinese proposing HSR in Canada?

The route would be between Toronto and Windsor.

Take: This is a long ways away--no matter who operates it--but another player has entered the game. Also, this route should be taken north along the Detroit River to link a potential Detroit-Chicago Express HSR route at a revamped Michigan Central Station so passenger can travel between T.O. and the Windy City either nonstop or with only one transfer in Motown.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Real Rail Agenda for the 114th Congress

As a new Congress begins its session, here are some areas it should tackle when it comes to passenger rail re-authorization:

State corridors and competition
I sincerely hope that Congress is serious about letting the states the freedom to select other operators. The new bill has to figure out how state corridors are handled, and there are two options: Uphold the Section 209 measures as laid out in the 2008 law or strike down the measures. 

If Congress decides to leave the provisions as they are, states should be allowed to have greater flexibility if they want to dump Amtrak so there won't be a repeat of the 2013 scarefests.

On the other hand, if the feds decide that funding state-supported trains is their responsibility, then, Congress has to look to Germany as an example on how to protect the states.

When it comes to bidding for passenger routes, Congress would be wise to consider setting up separate processes for corridors and long distance routes.

Northeast Corridor
The 2011 proposal that Ignacio Jayanti put forward to the 112th Congress was practical but got muddled by cries of "privatization." Having someone else fix up the crumbling infrastructure will solve the "Hudson River Tunnels will collapse in 20 years problem."

National outlook
Letting public and private entities compete against Amtrak should be a top priority for a Congress that purports to advocate smaller government. Grand bargaining could result in the the spinoff of NEC infrastructure from operations as mentioned above but could keep other operators off Amtrak's prized jewel while the national operator has to give up routes in other parts of the country.

Finally, Congress and the White House should lay the groundwork for a new national rail network because it would far more practical, connect far more parts of the country, and may cost much less money than having 10-15 separate, disjointed corridors.