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.

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.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

DOT vs AAR

I don't even pretend to understand the minutiae of PRIIA Section 207 but the case that was recently discussed may in its own way alter the future of passenger rail. The thing is that I'm not sure if I'm supposed to side with the USDOT the way NARP has given that its friend of the court brief was the only one that supports the DOT's effort to overturn the Court of Appeals ruling.

The AIPRO filed its own friend of the court brief, asking the high court to uphold the appeals court ruling. The case could be made that keeping Section 207 of the 2008 law could actually be a bigger detriment to the future of passenger rail than striking it down.

Some excerpts from the brief:

ARGUMENT
SECTION 207 OF THE PRIIA IMPERMISSIBLY CONFERS
ON AMTRAK REGULATORY AUTHORITY OVER ITS COMPETITORS
IN THE PASSENGER-RAIL INDUSTRY.
A. The Provision Of Passenger-Rail Service
Is A Competitive Industry In Which
Amtrak Is But One Competitor. 
The first important move toward this new competitive
regime was Congress’s enactment of the
Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, Pub.
L. No. 105–134, 111 Stat. 2570, which terminated 
Amtrak’s monopoly over intercity service.
Section 217 authorizes States to select “an
entity other than Amtrak to provide services
required for the operation of an intercity passenger
train route * * *.” PRIIA § 217, 49
U.S.C. § 24702 (note).
 Section 301(a) authorizes the Secretary of
Transportation to “make grants * * * to assist
in financing the capital costs of facilities,
infrastructure, and equipment necessary to
provide or improve intercity passenger rail
transportation.” PRIIA § 301(a), 49 U.S.C.
§ 24402(a)(1). A State that applies for a grant
must either “select[] the proposed operator of
its service competitively” or “provide written
justification to the Secretary showing why
the proposed operator is the best, taking into
account price and other factors, and that use
of the proposed operator will not unnecessarily
increase the cost of the project.” PRIIA
§ 301(b), 49 U.S.C. § 24402(b)(3). 
Section 214 directs the Federal Railroad Administration
to establish an Alternate Passenger
Rail Service Pilot Program, under
which “a rail carrier or rail carriers that own
infrastructure over which Amtrak operates
a[n] [intercity] passenger rail service route”
may “petition the Administration to be considered
as a passenger rail service provider
over that route in lieu of Amtrak * * *.” PRIIA
§ 214(a), 49 U.S.C. § 24711(a)(1) (emphasis
added). 

Translation: The days of only one company operating trains are over because Congress said so--twice. The best way for passenger rail to progress is to let each route be open for bidding.

B. Section 207 Unconstitutionally Delegates
To Amtrak Regulatory Authority Over
Amtrak’s Direct Competitors In The Passenger-Rail
Industry. 
1. Amtrak’s Section 207 standards expressly
apply to all intercity passenger trains, not
just to Amtrak’s trains. 
Adding to the unfairness is the fact that, although
Section 207 directs Amtrak and the FRA to
consult with certain other stakeholders in developing
the performance standards, the statute does not afford
even this limited right to Amtrak’s competitors
in the provision of passenger-rail service before permitting
Amtrak to impose regulations on them. See
PRIIA § 207(a), 49 U.S.C. § 24101 (note) (listing
stakeholders with consultation rights). Thus, when
Amtrak and the FRA initially proposed the Section
207 metrics and standards in March 2009 (see J.A.
11), they solicited comments from the stakeholder
groups specifically identified in the statute (see J.A.
75) but did not afford Amtrak’s competitors in the
passenger-rail industry any opportunity to comment—even
though these competitor passenger railroads
would be directly subject to the new regulatory
standards. 

Translation: That the feds did not allow Amtrak's competitors to even comment on the metrics as laid out in PRIIA is disturbing. How was this any different than what the Senate attempted to do to private operators in 2012 (Hint: It's the same thing)?

2. Amtrak’s Section 207 standards may trigger
STB investigations and enforcement actions
against Amtrak’s competitors.
Section 213 of the PRIIA provides for investigation
and enforcement actions by the STB any time
that “any intercity passenger train”—not solely those
operated by Amtrak—fails to achieve 80 percent ontime
performance or fails to meet the Section 207
service-quality standards for two consecutive quarters.
PRIIA § 213(a), 49 U.S.C. § 24308(f)(1).

Translation: The idea that other operators could be penalized by the STB for delays even if they were caused by Amtrak is akin to some of the battles that took place in Florida earlier this decade when SunRail was held up due to liability provisions Amtrak initially found objectionable.

Final thoughts

  • The dueling briefs by NARP and the AIPRO could actually be a clash of the past vs the future since the former posits itself as an advocacy organization while the latter is a trade group for other passenger carriers in the same manner that Airlines for America is for the airline industry
  • The USDOT's attorney did its side no favors with the way he argued its case--even sympathetic justices were a bit perplexed
  • We will find out next June just what SCOTUS will do
  • Eventually, the new Congress will have to redraft the metrics in order to avoid a repeat in the future

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tackling the Headlines 73

Via Rail eyeing private capital to build its own dedicated rail lines
Take: Well, after almost four decades, Canada's operator is actually showing a sign of progress.

From tomorrow on, high-speed rail will take you from Shanghai to Guangzhou in 7 hours!
Take: Thirty-two routes? Meanwhile, it seemingly takes an eternity for just one conventional rail line to be launched on this side of the Pacific.

Trains, buses and automobiles: Passenger rail coming next year
Take: The ball's in the FRA's court now.








Friday, November 28, 2014

Yet another twist in the Hoosier State saga

As it now turns out, that former "executive" of Corridor Capital had no connections to the company and was a saboteur. Indiana has a lot of eggs on its face for its role in sabotaging CorrCap's efforts to operate the Hoosier State. As far as Amtrak goes, this is more evidence that it is trying to pull a Herzog with the Hoosier State.