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 44 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, August 3, 2015

Resolved: The Hoosier State

On Friday, the neverending Hoosier State saga finally came to a conclusion when it was announced that Iowa Pacific would take over Trains #850 and 851 effective August 2, and it has a two-year contract with the Indiana DOT that could be extended to 2021.

I could never get why Amtrak was trying so hard to keep a train that they had no concrete plan to improve, no did I get why the feds wanted to impose hurdle after hurdle for IP.

Now, it's up to other states to start thinking outside of the box and not rely so heavily on just one operator.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Over the last few months, I've wondered about where I should take the direction of this blog amid stories that blogging in general was obsolete due to advances in social media.

After a lot of reflection, I have decided to do a serious restructuring.

Here's a list of what's staying

  • Tackling the Headlines 
  • State and national news with intercity routes 
  • Maps 
  • Schedules 
  • Reactions to magazine articles

What's gone (i.e. what's shifted to social networks)

  • Random thoughts (Google+)
  • Specific news items (Google+)
  • Detailed analysis on a major topic as it relates to passenger rail (Tumblr)
  • Personal advocacy (Tumblr)
  • Interesting links and stories (Tumblr)

I have been posting entries on this blog for the last 66 months straight and I've been proud to do so but at the same time, if there's the chance that i'm not keeping up, then I won't be afraid to change things up. I will take some time off in the summer depending on how the Hoosier State situation plays itself out. 

Nothing on this blog will appear on Tumblr and vice versa. Speaking of Tumblr, here's my new page.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Tower 55 reroute

The Texas Eagle's Tower 55 reroute from its current Union Pacific tracks to Trinity Railway Express tracks has been in the news recently

Reasons for the reroute
  • It saves time
  • No more backing move at Fort Worth
  • The projected TEX Rail could transform the Dallas-Fort Worth area into a rail hub

Reasons against the reroute
  • The effort to reroute Amtrak trains onto TRE tracks was purely political
  • Amtrak delays north of Dallas or south of Fort Worth thanks to Sunset Route misadventures could adversely affect TRE trains
  • Removing the Eagle from the UPRR tracks could permanently result in the loss of access for future intra-Texas rail service

My personal thoughts
Although I do favor the separation of passenger and freight rights of way, I generally tend to support it in wide open rural areas as opposed to the Dallas-Fort Worth megaplex, which has sprawling suburbs.

The liability issue is doubly tricky since the T will be picking up the tab without any support from its TRE partner DART after the Fort Worth agency agreed to assume liability for accidents that involve the Eagle along its tracks.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Some front office news from Indiana

Last Friday, the INDOT commissioner resigned. This was the guy that put the kibosh on Corridor Capital's efforts to be the vendor of the Hoosier State after the person who was responsible for awarding CorrCap the original contract fell ill.

I smell a possible scandal with Browning. In any case, his presence will not be missed since he was cool to the idea of even keeping the Hoosier around.

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.