Saturday, December 25, 2010
Earlier this month, the national carrier backed down from its demands that could have prevented the commuter project from taking place in central Florida. Amtrak wanted full liability protection in case it were to get into an accident with a SunRail train. The move now allows Florida to purchase part of rail line from CSX.
There are some who said that Amtrak was forced to back down once John Mica was selected as the incoming House Transportation Chairman. I tend to agree with those people because the Winter Park representative has been a fierce critic of Amtrak and has openly stated in the past that he wants to open up the Northeast Corridor and high speed rail up to private competition.
There is another reason why Amtrak's about-face is good news: It means that Amtrak won't use its bully pulpit to goad others into giving it what it wants. The national carrier has used the liability issue to skip out on bidding for the two MARC commuter lines in that CSX is giving up on in Maryland. Last winter, Joseph Boardman sent a letter to four congressional leaders demanding that states and private parties should shoulder the burden or see state-supported services shuttered. The move in Florida is an indication that Amtrak will not back into a position where it has monopoly control of high speed rail or state-sponsored corridors without a fight from its competitors in the HSR field, commuter agencies, or the states themselves.
Lynchburg, say what?
Last month, it was reported that the Lynchburg portion of a Northeast Regional route might not be able to continue after the end of next year due to a funding gap. This is despite the trains exceeding rider expectations and making something called a profit (I know, it's a dirty word among a lot of people in the rail community, but not me). Unlike most Amtrak routes that traverse the state, the Lynchburg route as well as certain Richmond routes is state-supported, so it is up to the leaders in Richmond to keep the money pumping.
I am just baffled that something that makes a lot of sense is in danger of being shut down due to financial reasons, and should be an example for other states that they need to make sure that enough money is allocated to train service if expectations are exceeded and to make sure that they contact other operators to see if they can cover any shortfalls or funding gaps.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Obama Administration redirects HSR money from OH and WIThirteen states are now the beneficiaries of almost $2 billion in stimulus funds that were destined for Columbus and Madison all thanks to the voters electing two anti-rail governors last month. I have no sympathy for the governors-elect or the people who voted for them in the first place. Everybody knew that Kasich and Walker specifically campaigned against rail extension in their states but they swept them in anyway. The only people that I feel sorry for are the folks who tried their hardest to educate the voters on the facts of rail travel.
Talgo is now following through on its pledge to leave the Badger State since Mr. "No Train" Walker has now cost his state jobs and money. Both governors in waiting were moronic for even suggesting that stimulus funds be used for highways when the administration explictly stated that the money must be used for passenger rail! So, if they are dumb enough to sue the president for the lost money, then a pox on their executive mansions!
Virgin recommits to HSR in the U.S.
After over a year and a half of being out of the spotlight, Virgin Trains once again expressed its interest in operating Florida's HSR route. It will be no easy task, given that Japan's JR Central expressed an interest almost a year ago to develop and operate the 84-mile route, SNCF last year drew up a detailed plan for the Sunshine State, and the Chinese are on everyone's heels with their own plans for Florida. But I do think that Branson's entrepreneurial spirit will make it a lot of fun for anyone who likes to see private involvement in rail.
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the west, Branson thinks that having a Las Vegas-Los Angeles train would be "great." Hmm, maybe he's looking at the Desert Lightning, which would also have an L.A.-Phoenix route as well as a Vegas to Phoenix route. If not, he could easily be the sixth hopeful to propose and eventually develop a route between the City of Lights and the City of Angels.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Jerry Brown's election means that there won't be any delays to the high speed route. It still remains to be seen if the Peninsula NIMBYs become just as irrelevant as Meg Whitman. Even though the feds mandated that recent money that it handed California be spent on the Central Valley alignment, the San Francisco-San Jose segment must also go ahead.
Whatever issues that the Authority may have with Caltrans and other rail advocates must be worked out because it the HSR route can save a lot of money along certain segments. The Tehachapi Pass segment could see the shared use of HSR and San Joaquin trains. Even if Amtrak has to switch engines in Bakersfield, cooperation may be needed to save costs for everybody. A rights deal between the Authority and Caltrans can be the way to go as many as three or four rail operators may end up using HSR tracks in the next decade.
Also, there is no reason for the HSR route to have separate right of way in Los Angeles.
Late in the campaign, Governor-elect Rick Scott backtracked from his initial stance of opposing the Tampa-Orlando route. He narrowly edged out fast train supporter Alex Sink last week. It's interesting to see what will happen next since the Obama Administration gave the 84-mile route more stimulus money--like $800 million more-- late last month.
If the project continues without delay, its western terminus will be a bit empty since voters in Tampa defeated a sales tax for a new light rail system and bus expansion. That's important because the planned Tampa Bay Intermodal Center is supposed to house high speed rail, intercity buses, express buses, and light rail.
If there is a delay, Scott and Florida officials should take my recommendation to heart by spinning off the HSR route to JR Central and letting the DOT provide a more suitable system for the Sunshine State.
Representative John Mica now thinks that the HSR route should be limited to the Orlando area. I already knew that the Express route will be nothing more than a tourist route but Mica is taking it to another extreme and may be unwittingly reducing the chances that the route makes a profit, especially if the Japanese (or Chinese or South Koreans) build the route by themselves.
Almost two years ago, passenger rail advocates were finally jubilant as the president gave a total of $16.5 billion to Amtrak and high speed rail in the economic stimulus. It was, quite frankly, the first time since the mid 1960s that most of these people could breathe and talk about how passenger rail will thrive once again in America.
Last Tuesday was the worst thing that could have happened to them because many of these same people have now gone back into survival mode, mostly thanks to pols like Walker and Kasich and also the anti-government Tea Party.
I, however, will stand by what I said in July because
- Democrats will still run the Senate
- Any anti-Amtrak and/or anti-HSR measures will either be squashed by the Senate or will be vetoed by President Obama
- The end of passenger rail in America will require the GOP to have 67 Senate seats or rely on a few anti-Amtrak Blue Dog Senators
As for all of the Republicans who rail (no pun intended) against Amtrak, they should put their money where their mouths are at the national and state levels. If they want to send a message to Amtrak, they would shake things up by tilting the field in favor of companies like DB-owned Arriva, First Group (owners of Greyhound), and Go-Ahead and against Amtrak. Then, they would order the state DOTs to select those companies to run the trains.
It would be advantageous in that the GOP would be unable to equate trains with "socialism," Amtrak would no longer be able to automatically get first dibs on corridors, and riders would be able to select from at least two rail operators in their states.
Scott Walker campaigned as the guy who would pull the plug on the Hiawatha extension to Madison. Last Monday, outgoing governor Jim Doyle signed a deal with the feds to go ahead with construction of the route. However, construction was halted days after Walker's win. Even stranger still was the governor-elect's plea to Talgo to stay in the Badger State even though he was the one to create an anti-train site. If Walker really wants to focus on highways and stop the rail project, he will have to deal with the consequences like lost jobs, passengers in southeast WI continuing to ride outdated and unreliable Horizon cars, and putting the entire Chicago-Twin Cities HSR route in jeopardy.
Ex-congressman John Kasich is even more serious about killing the 3C route than Walker is the Madison extension. The gubernatorial elections in OH and WI may have been more about the voters wanting to stick it to the president than anything else. Ergo, they should not complain when there's no dependable train service in their states in the upcoming years.
The fact that the Buckeye State's governor-elect was able to get away with calling the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati route a 39 mph project when it was continuously disproven completely baffles me. The starting speed is 79 mph with long-term plans to provide a 110 mph speed.
John Kasich is not the only person responsible for letting a very sensible rail project become stillborn--the Ohio Rail Development Commission also deserves blame because they were the ones who relied on an Amtrak report from 2009. If the officials in Columbus had done their homework, then they would have at least talked to one or two other operators for a different analysis. After all, the PRIIA allows states to talk to other rail companies. There are various companies that are lining up to run intercity train routes in the U.S.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The bad news? Winter Haven, Sebring, and Okeechobee would no longer be served by a train. Did anyone even bother to think about what kind of an impact that would have on the cities in question? Or did everyone just assume that the missing gap would be served by a bus, absent a Tri-Rail extension? Even more evidence of poor planning shows that 1) neither a Palmetto extension nor a supplemental Cross-Florida service between Miami and Tampa was considered by the state or Amtrak in the stimulus application and 2) the other alternatives would--in theory at least--enable Amtrak to keep the three stops mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph by continuing to have at least one Jacksonville-Orlando-Miami roundtrip. It is ridiculous that nobody could even think about the possibility of corridor service in other parts of Florida when there is clearly a market for it.
Monday, September 27, 2010
- The new route will be restructured to be a daily route between Phoenix and Orlando
- New and rehabilitated stations will be served along the line
- The new Sunset will be part of a public-private partnership
- There would be a marketing organization that will handle all promotion of the route
Saturday, August 28, 2010
- Before the dark days of the 1960s, passenger service was a natural fit for the railroads
- With BNSF going private, Warren Buffett could fire an opening salvo in the Class I railroads resuming passenger service as a business model
- Congress opened up a big Pandora's Box in 1970 when it created Amtrak. Not all host railroads—specifically, Union Pacific—would want to resume intercity service
- Passengers would have to change trains if an existing Amtrak route is on more than one railroad line
- Corridor service would be more expensive to run than longer routes
- Since most railroads opted to hand their trains over to Amtrak in 1971, they would have no experience of how to handle passenger crews. As a result, the Class Is would have to rely on foreign operators for advice since Amtrak would no longer exist in this scenario
- The hosts would be able to better coordinate long-distance routes with each other than with Amtrak
- The odds of a profit being made on overnight trains increase
- Frequencies can be added to popular routes like Chicago-Albuquerque-Los Angeles and New York-New Orleans and could easily lead to branch routes like Flagstaff-Phoenix or Meridian-Dallas-Fort Worth
- Amtrak would no longer be able to force states to pay up for overnight service
- The problems of passengers having to change long-distance trains would resurface
- There could be a potential monopoly in the HSR market, which would kill innovation. If that happens, the bidding process would become a big waste of time for not only Amtrak's various competitors but also for the railcar manufacturers
- Congress may get involved and demand that the hosts keep certain routes and harm any possible innovative measures the railroads could conjure up
- Some states would welcome the chance to work with another company because they would no longer feel that their voice is being ignored by a company that has its main focus elsewhere
- These competitors will be given the chance to revolutionize the U.S. Intercity rail industry
- Some hosts may like the foreign operators even less than Amtrak and could impose crippling restrictions
- Amtrak could retain a near monopoly in the overnight travel market with only a couple of hosts competing
- Amtrak may be subject to scorn from Congress over losses from certain long-distance routes
- Current Amtrak management has already stated that it has no plans to expand their long-distance routes. Even with predominately overnight routes, future management could still primarily focus on the NEC
- The move would randomly allow the world's best operators to demonstrate what they're all about
- Amtrak and its competitors would all be on equal footing
- This model is akin to the pre-1978 airline system as well as the current setups of cable and telephone companies where competitors are limited to specific regions
- The hosts would have to deal with many operators in particular regions like the Midwest
- Foreign operators may have route coordinating issues with each other and/or Amtrak
- Amtrak would be forced to demonstrate why it should operate new routes and why it should continue operating existing routes
- Monopoly rule would end as other companies innovate
- Competitors can freely select where they want to operate
- The best companies will stand out from the rest
- Via a consortium, the hosts would work out a partnership with other operators that outbid Amtrak
- There would be no congressional scrutiny over long-distance routes not operated by Amtrak
- Strange bedfellows—railfans and highway lobbyists—may squash this option mainly because it's the best of all solutions, and it may not fit their ideologies
- Based on the December 2009 article Don Phillips wrote for Trains Magazine, the hosts may pull enough strings on Capitol Hill to the point that Congress appoints them as the only operators of the trains. Such a move would avoid the hosts dealing with other passenger companies on U.S. soil
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
When it proposed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, Congress could have drafted the competition portion a bit better than it actually did. It seems that the process that Congress approved leaves it up to the states. I would have started the bidding process for all corridors next April and mandated that the states hand their HSR corridors over to their operator of choice by October 2013. This would also apply to Conventional routes that would be subject to speed upgrades. The move would make any transition from Amtrak to a new operator should a state or states decide to move in a different direction as smooth as possible.
As for long-distance routes, Amtrak would have been mandated to submit an evaluation of its top third, middle tier, and worst performing routes to Congress 18 months after the passage of PRIIA. Bidding for these routes would have taken place in October 2013 with the host railroads operating them a year later. Congress should give a subsidy and/or grant to the hosts running overnight routes in place of Amtrak. In return, the host would operate the route for five years. After the five-year period, the host railroad would have the option to either operate the route permanently if the entire route is on its rails or lease the route to another operator like Keolis for a decade. If the route is on multiple rails, then the Class Is would come together and select a new operator to run the entire route a part of a consortium.
Now, it seems that January's big winners scheduled to operate Emerging and Regional HSR as well as additional Conventional frequencies will select Amtrak as the operator. While, it seems to be a deterrent, other companies should follow SNCF's lead and begin developing their own alternatives--whether those include Express HSR, Regional HSR, or just a direct alternative to Amtrak that could possibly lead to an Express corridor.
I look at the Midwest, where the French rail operator has provided some interesting alternatives--all of them Express routes--since Amtrak will upgrade many of its existing Conventional lines to Regional status. First, a Chicago-Detroit route via Fort Wayne could compete with the Wolverine route. Second, its proposed Chicago-St. Louis route would be parallel to Amtrak's current Lincoln service. In the end, travelers between the two cities could end up choosing from three different rail companies since MWHSR has also proposed another Express route that would utilize Champaign and Decatur. The thing is that some companies could target specific travelers while others could cater to everyone.
Furthermore, there are openings in Wisconsin and Minnesota as there are some uncertainties over where the Madison-Twin Cities portion of MWHSR will stop. Hypothetically, a rival organization can fill in whatever gaps that aren't covered by either the U.S. or French carriers. Amtrak may be tapped to operate the Hiawatha extension in 2013, but there is an opening to provide a Madison-Chicago alternative by way of Rockford that companies like Deutsche Bahn, RENFE, Virgin Trains, and others could take advantage of. Also, one of these companies could negotiate with NEWRails to run trains between Milwaukee and Green Bay.
Monday, July 26, 2010
After thinking it over, I have decided to go ahead and publish this viewpoint.
During the Amtrak Era, many rail advocates have tied the future of intercity rail travel to one party. However, overconfidence with Democrats controlling two branches in D.C. has resulted in Amtrak service being slashed within a 2 1/2 year span--the Carter administration ordered the 1979 cuts while Tom Downs took consulting firm Mercer's advice 16 years later and reduced the system to almost nothing while Clinton did nothing to stop the systematic destruction of passenger rail.
Now, I don't think that President Obama will allow any gutting of the Amtrak system--even with the fear of what could happen in November. Even if the GOP does win one or both chambers of Congress, they wouldn't have the necessary 67 votes to kill Amtrak (a veto-proof majority in the Senate is what we should really be talking about). After all, Obama can veto any anti-rail measures that a transit-hostile legislative branch throws at him. Furthermore, does anyone think that a President Palin or Romney would even have 60 Senate votes to do away with the national carrier if either one wins in two years? I certainly don't think so.
Instead, the absolute worst thing that can happen to Amtrak is for its system to be gutted by competitors. How? Amtrak could strike out on much of the HSR bidding by watching foreign operators and domestic transit agencies outbid them, lose some of its long-distance routes to friendly host railroads like Norfolk Southern, and watch new companies experiment in other areas of intercity rail travel.
So, a future lineup would leave Amtrak with the following: the NEC, every other Northeastern route, Midwestern routes that qualify at the Regional HSR level and below, existing California Conventional service, Cascades service, Carolinian, all Silver Service routes, Cardinal, the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle's successor, and Coast Starlight, with its only pickups being the northern portion of SEHSR (with which the present-day Piedmont will be integrated into) and part or all of the Ohio Hub. The short story being that everything else would go to the hosts, transit agencies, and foreign operators, but in the end, Amtrak would still operate the most routes in the U.S.
If anyone doubts anything I said in the preceding two paragraphs, I can only tell you that it would only take one member of Congress. For argument's sake, let's say that Amtrak runs the 3C route and Spain's RENFE operates the Chicago-Cincinnati and Columbus-Cincinnati routes. A congressman or congresswoman from the Cincinnati area could threaten to hold up funding for Amtrak unless the Spanish carrier is included in future funding plans. Suddenly, Congress--regardless of which party has control--would have to evenly spread out the money to anybody running a railroad in America.
The president could have given $16.5 billion to Amtrak, but he gave $8.5 billion to the states to develop their high-speed rail plans last year. That move should say something to the Amtrak higher ups: The most Amtrak-friendly president in history diverted more than half of the economic stimulus money intended for intercity rail away from the national carrier! I have said for some time now that Amtrak can only get better if the likes of East Japan, DB, and SNCF beat it out for many of the nation's high speed rail corridors. Being cornered by multiple operators would mean that Boardman and Company would have to reinvent itself rather than be complacent.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Mica's statements are in italics while I provide a response in the paragraphs thereafter.
Nowhere is the lack of investment in true high-speed more glaring than in the Northeast Corridor. This is, in fact, the only corridor owned by Amtrak. Amtrak continues its Soviet-style control over this vital transportation asset linking our nation’s financial and political capitals. Amtrak’s supposed high-speed service, the Acela, is an international joke. While high-speed trains in Europe and Asia speed along at an average of 150 mph or faster, Acela averages only 83 mph and is little more than a nice looking train that just makes fewer stops than the Amtrak regional service. The Acela simply doesn't compare to any true high-speed international service.
Mica's had this obsession of opening up the NEC to private competition since 2002. Perhaps, a separate express HSR line between Washington and Boston is needed, but only after Florida and California have their shots at running trains that are on par with trains in Europe and Asia. There's nothing wrong with opening the 456-mile corridor to private competition. But, the congressman has to realize that the Northeast has gotten preferential treatment from Amtrak for decades and that the congressional delegation will go out of its way to bar any competitors that could outshine Amtrak.
Unfortunately, 76 of the 78 stimulus grants the administration awarded under the $8 billion in the Recovery Act are for incremental speed improvements for Amtrak and do nothing to advance high-speed rail. Most of the projects selected are designed to allow passenger trains to operate only slightly faster while continuing to commingle with slower freight traffic. Much like their plan for the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak supports these projects out of self-interest — there is little doubt who will be the service provider in these new projects over routes where Amtrak currently operates.
As far as the field being tilted so heavily in Amtrak's favor, this is the one area where I agree with the congressman given that I am worried about Amtrak being the only operator of high speed rail. It would be criminal if the president didn't allow qualified operators like JR Central of Japan or SNCF to have the chance to run HSR trains because that would force Amtrak to step up its game with the NEC. If anything, Congress should subdivide Amtrak's funds into NEC and non-NEC so Amtrak can use the money wisely for other parts of the nation.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Given the current dire situation most states have with their budgets, several state legislatures have threatened to end funding for certain state-supported routes. For now, nothing has happened, but suppose that the economy doesn't get better in 32 months, what would the Amtrak system look like? Furthermore, would the states even care enough to keep these conventional, 79 mph services running, or will have most of them jumped on the high speed rail bandwagon? If the bulk of the states choose the latter, they risk stopping the upcoming passenger rail renaissance dead in its tracks (for the lack of a better term).
Back in 2003, the Missouri legislature came very close to handing its trains over to Herzog. Now, if Herzog were running the Missouri River Runner trains today, it might have been able to not only have a better working relationship with Union Pacific, but, it could have also been able to add frequencies between St. Louis and Kansas City!
I really hope that President Obama encourages competition for not only the fast trains but also the conventional speed trains--regardless of whether they're long distance trains or short runs. So, I would like to see him persuade the companies currently bidding for HSR corridors to operate some of these corridors in the event that Amtrak cuts off ties with a state in the fall of '13. Such a goodwill gesture could potentially put an end to the annual begfests that we all read about in a handful of states. After all, if passenger rail is going to prosper, we can't have certain states taking the hostile view that rail service is expendable.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Think it's a silly idea? There at least three good reasons why the private sector would want another shot at running passenger trains:
1) The hosts may want more control over the route (it is not at all outside the realm of possibility to think that Warren Buffett could use a privatized BNSF to run passenger service in the near future)
2) Various companies domestically and internationally currently bidding for high speed rail routes. If these companies lose to Amtrak or to each other during the bidding process, long distance routes could be a part of a business plan
3) Someone else wants to run trains for special purposes
As MBA student Jon Fostik pointed out, there are ways that intercity rail travel could be promoted in an era of multiple operators. I have divided his suggestions--and mine--into two categories:
Enhanced Intercity Rail Service
Fostik's Autorail USA should be part of my planned Rail Consortium or service could otherwise be handled by the host railroads. Complementing Amtrak's eastern-based Lorton-Sanford route would offer even more options for automobile riders who want to carry their vehicles on the train to their destinations. Untapped markets are Midwest-Florida (which in fairness, was covered by the original Auto Train Corporation in the 1970s), the Southwest, and National Parks. Unlike Auto Train Corp's tenure, the time is ripe given that we had $4/gallon gas prices in late summer 2008 and that we may see gas go well past the $3 mark by the time summer's here.
International travel is another area that could be covered by another company. I hereby propose Railroad International Lines as a company that can be set up as a multiple-entity partnership involving the governments of the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the host railroads, Via Rail Canada, and an independent organization that actually operates the trains. All customs issues would be handled at the stations and would only apply to passengers who are traveling outside of the country. What it means is that there would be no busing cross the border to catch a train an hour later as there would be an agreement to handle inspection costs.
As a stater, RRIL would start out of Detroit and serve Toronto via Port Huron, Sarnia and Kitchener, Toronto via Windsor and New York via Windsor and Buffalo with a possible westward extension to Chicago. For the most part, RRIL would serve existing Amtrak and Via Rail stations but RRIL could set up separate facilities if the situation warrants it. However, in the cases of Detroit, Chicago, and New York (and possibly, Buffalo), either historic or alternate stations would be served. Initially, there would be limited stops along these routes, but once the trains prove to be popular enough, stops can be added. Future expansion would result in a Chicago-Winnipeg route, and Mexican destinations would be part of a long-range plan once things have improved in that country.
Themed Rail Travel
Fostik brought up an organization he called American Special Trains that would serve certain areas that are not currently served by Amtrak and even brought up partnerships with the states and/or Amtrak. I would differ with him where the hypothetical organization would have nothing to do with Amtrak.
An entrepreneurial person could stand out by providing special themes and/or special cars to really sell the public on train travel. The unofficial theme could be "Train travel for people who don't ride trains." This company would also specialize in catering to markets and routes that haven't been utilized since the Dark Ages of the 1960s as well as routes that were recently discontinued by Amtrak (the Desert Wind, Pioneer and Three Rivers all come to mind). In North Carolina, an Asheville-New York train would utilize the old Southern Railway route via Winston-Salem and would be an example of old markets being reintroduced to rail as no trains have served the city in four decades and a direct route would alleviate fears of a commuter rail connection to SEHSR in Greensboro possibly being canceled due to low demand for mass transit. The same thing could go for service along other routes like the old South Wind route via Evansville, IN. If speed is an issue that causes Rail Consortium Central to utilize Indianapolis and Nashville as stops for its Chicago-Florida route, the owners of AST might negotiate a lengthy agreement with the hosts. In this scenario, CSX would allow AST to operate on the slow route in western Indiana, but travelers would be notified about it by the latter group and primarily ride the train for scenery along the route. Who says that all trains need to be 200 mph speeding bullets?
Cruise Trains are something that I've pondered on and off for a few years but didn't think much about them outside of Alaska Railroad's partnership with Holland America Line. Like Fostik, I truly think that Florida is an obviously easy choice. Even though he brought up Disney when he replied to my posting and mainly focused on Carnival, this business plan could extend to any cruise line that uses a port in the Lower 48. Even more, the cruise industry can work with the hosts and have the hosts haul specially marked trains with the cruises' logos to the ports. Just like the previous idea, the cruise companies would provide special themes to their passengers between the train station and the port of call. This would also be a case of providing train service for people who don't ride trains.
An Interesting Tie-In
Something that few people have pondered is how new life can be breathed into Detroit's beleaguered Michigan Central Station. My solution is to provide intercity, themed and high speed rail services at the historic location. Last fall, SNCF mentioned in its letter to the FRA that it likes historic train stations as its facilities, so, they'd get first dibs on the place. Rail Consortium's East and Central Subdivisions would provide intercity service alongside Auto Train-like routes being operated by the consortium or the hosts. RRIL would operate here with its passengers receiving special attention. Special themed trains operated by private companies and cruise trains partnered with host railroads would then follow.
Amtrak and whoever operates the Detroit-Columbus portion of the Ohio Rail Hub would stop at Amtrak's current location. Transfers between Express HSR and the Wolverines/Ohio Hub trains would be made at the Detroit airport. Those transfers and shuttle transfers between the two Motor City train stations concerning passengers traveling with Amtrak/Ohio Hub operator and SNCF/Consortium/AST/RRIL/Cruise Trains/Hosts would be handled by state officials affiliated with MWHSR.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Union Station: Amtrak consolidated service here on March 5, 1972. While it may be a major landmark, Union Station has major overcrowding issues. Unless Amtrak wins bidding for every single route passing through Chicago and the station undergoes further renovations, Union Station would be very unsuitable for more than 400 trains a day since METRA commuter trains (and the bulk of its lines) also use the facility.
Ogilvie Transportation Center (was North Western Station): The Madison Street facility currently holds four METRA lines and almost 200 trains daily.
Millennium Station (was Randolph Street Station): Two agencies call this station home--METRA and the South Shore Line. Both companies operate electric train routes.
La Salle Street Station: METRA's Rock Island Line serves the facility. The Rock Island called this place home until it went out of business three decades ago.
There is some talk of a West Loop Transportation Center that would combine Union Station and the OTC. The issue that I have with this is that such a move would only be a short-term solution. I mean, what if HSR gets so popular that more trains need to be added but the facilities quickly reach capacity? And I haven't even mentioned the possibilities of METRA expansion and long-distance service by entities other than Amtrak.
A second proposal would result in an entirely new HSR station being built just blocks southeast of Union Station. The station would be located next to an old post office. This location looks too small for high speed service and could easily run into the same crowding issues as Union Station.
The MWHSR needs to come up with something better. As a result, I'm recommending that O'Hare be turned into a second main Chicago station alongside Union Station with the other three playing major roles in intercity rail travel as well. Why not have a stop at one of the world's busiest airports? It would provide air travelers and locals another option.
SNCF seems to understand the possibility of an alternative station in the Windy City as they propose the airport as one of the city's two stations and it's time that commissions like MWHSR understand it as well. Instead of trying to consolidate all intercity train service into a cramped facility and relocating METRA routes to less crowded locations, MWHSR should spread the trains around. Here's how it can be done:
1) Union Station: Amtrak would keep all of its routes here as it revamps the facility. The only catch is that the other four stations listed here would be homes to new operators so once any existing routes move out of Union Station, Amtrak would no longer operate them!
2) O'Hare Airport: This would be the only brand new station to be built at a new facility. SNCF (or whichever foreign entity) operates Express HSR would run the trains here. Furthermore, express trains would enable passengers to travel between Cleveland/Detroit and the Twin Cities, Cincinnati and St. Louis either directly or with an easy connection.
3) Ogilvie Transportation Center: Alternative service to Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and Green Bay. Also, another operator could choose to serve alternate stops between Chicago and Milwaukee like Kenosha and Racine.
4) Millennium Station. The new home for Illini and Saluki routes would also be the home for Express HSR service to St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland. Also, on the long-distance front, The City of New Orleans would be relocated here if Canadian National shows any interest in operating passenger service. Trains to Florida would also be an appealing choice for this location.
5) La Salle Street Station: Quad Cities/Iowa/Omaha service if another company were to outbid Amtrak. Conventional or Regional HSR Cleveland service would call this station home. The Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited would be relocated here and would be joined by a Florida-bound train that would follow the latter route to D.C. before being extended southward.
To alleviate the problem of changing trains and operators, HSR authorities like MWHSR should work out a special transfer program for passengers if they have to transfer from one station to another operator at a different station in the same city. That would guarantee passengers a connection. Unlike the Grand Central Terminal-Penn Station transfers of the past, these transfers would be free.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
1) Distance. Separate stations exist to handle corridor and
long-distance trains. In the July 27 TWA, Mr. Lindley provided an
example of what could happen in the future when he brought up Phoenix.
If everything played out as he described, a new Airport Station would
serve commuter trains, intrastate express trains, and intercity trains
while Union Station would remain in place for commuter and express
2) Size or Company. Overcrowding forces a company to move to a less crowded station or to a new location. In big cities like Chicago (I'll address the city in my next entry), this means that there are multiple major stations. For other locations like growing Sun Belt communities, this may result in the company outbidding Amtrak building a new train station at a whole new location;
3) Speed. Different stations are set up to handle fast and
conventional train speeds. The stations between Tampa and Orlando
would be examples of such a unique experiment. The older facilities
would handle Amtrak and intrastate service while the new buildings
would cater only to high-speed trains.
Florida leaders have decided to separate its HSR stations by providing the (likely) foreign operator with stations north of the Miami area that will only handle high speed trains. Between Tampa and Orlando, only suburban locations and the Orlando Airport will be served. There'll be little or no connection to local transportation, the planned Sunrail project in central Florida, or Amtrak along the I-4 corridor.
On the other hand, Cincinnati's situation makes little sense because the Cardinal is not even a daily train and it's likely that Amtrak will run the 3C Route. As a result, there will be no connectivity with the 3C and the Cardinal. How the city can renovate a station and still not have any meaningful train service is beyond me! I would only hope that the Chicago-Cincinnati
HSR route would serve Union Terminal, but that is more long-term, regardless of which station the high-speed line calls home. The only way this makes any real sense is if there are separate operators for the 3C and the Chicago Hub routes. In essence, Cincinnati, fails the smell test because it doesn't meet any of the criteria listed above.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
There are currently 11 federally designated high speed rail corridors with some segments that are more ready than others (e.g., Washington-Charlotte starting before Raleigh-Jacksonville). For the segments that aren't as likely to start by the end of the Teens, conventional service is best--assuming that Amtrak runs trains along that corridor).
Last February, The Transport Politic pointed out seven segments that would be hit with low ridership and 10 others with some connections that the original FRA HSR map missed. In order to solve the former problem is to provide conventional train service. Do the Coast Daylight and daytime Raleigh-Columbia-Jacksonville routes ring bells? The planned Daylight is the result of a partial revision that removed the coastal San Francisco-Los Angeles route from HSR consideration.
Once Amtrak loses some of its existing service to other companies, it should shift some of its equipment to other states for conventional Florida service to Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. Horizon Cars in the Sunshine State may be weird, but if Amtrak loses big time in the Midwest, it would need to add and expand service in the areas that it retains corridor and long-distance routes. Eventually, the state would order its own cars to expand service.
Any company that outbids and/or replaces Amtrak leaves an opening for the national carrier in which it could capitalize. Say that Spanish-based RENFE outbids Amtrak on the Milwaukee-Madison-Twin Cities extension while the latter company begins operating SEHSR service. No one can tell me that it's out of the question that Amtrak could provide a conventional daytime route between RGH and JAX. Such a route would serve three purposes: 1) it would relieve the Silver Star of overcrowding; 2) as a daytime balance, the times are more marketable with connections to and from local and express SEHSR routes in RGH; and 3) such a route would serve as a warmup for HSR service along the S-Line between the two endpoints.
Provided that Florida East Coast doesn't get tired of waiting for Amtrak and operates the route itself, Amtrak could get a California-like system going that could lead to a long-distance route using the JAX-MIA east coast segment that local, intrastate service would initially utilize.
Both of these examples would also put Amtrak in a better position to win other segments of a corridor when those routes finally meet HSR standards. Of course, that will also require a drastic change in Amtrak culture and for them to learn from any and all upcoming losses to foreign operators.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
It's almost been two weeks since it was revealed which states would get the stimulus funds for high speed rail service. Now that I've had a chance to reflect on President Obama's allocation of the $8 billion of HSR money, the funding is a good start that must be continued on an at least yearly basis. Based on the allocation of funds, it looks like every funded incremental HSR route like the 3-C route will be operated by Amtrak.
For those people who thought that I was being too harsh on the Sunshine State, it was for good reason. Florida deserved stimulus money for restored East Coast service via Daytona Beach and the central Florida SunRail commuter project--but not high speed rail! Everyone in the rail community--ranging from the keep everything public camp to those who want passenger rail to be run like a business--has pointed out the HSR route's flaws.
There is little to no connectivity along the Tampa-Orlando leg. I've already pointed out the flaws between Tampa and Lakeland. When it comes to the Orlando situation, I don't know if anyone wants to do a lot of transferring. As for locals, the airport might as well be in another city when it comes to its proximity from the Amtrak station and also downtown Orlando.
The state doesn't have good conventional service. Two routes in the entire state (because at this point, we can easily dismiss any idea of Amtrak wanting to resume Sunset Limited service east of New Orleans)? How can anyone justify the nonsensical routing to and from Tampa? This brings me to rail advocates in the state. How on Earth did most of these advocates just sit on their hands and watch their once-proud train service dwindle to just two measly routes? Did most of these people just put their eggs in the HSR basket back in 2004 while ex-Amtrak president David Gunn was busy eliminating S-Line service? Why did so few people in Florida push for better Amtrak service in their state? Complementing frequent service would have alleviated any overcrowding on the Silver Service trains.
There's a right way to advance frequent rail service, and there's a wrong way. Ideally, the long distance network would be used to produce more frequencies between two major cities. The practice would continue until the route becomes saturated. At that time, regional service would be implemented with more stops being added along the line for the regional routes. Once the regionals become saturated, then high speed rail would be implemented.
There has been a lot of bandwagon jumping by states that have little to no Amtrak service. Seriously, how can the Gulf Coast even be considered as a corridor when the Houston-New Orleans doesn't even have daily service? These states should have focused on more long-distance routes and starting up regional routes.
As a matter of fact, I would have cut off how many corridors were designated if I were in charge of the FRA. If a corridor walked away empty handed from the stimulus funds, it would have lost its designation. Based on this news, the Gulf Coast, South Central, and the Texas T-Bone routes would have gone back to the drawing boards.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Based on the Wall Street Journal article that the CAHSR blog picked up on, it looks like the feds have finally made up their minds on who will be receiving the high speed rail funds and will let it be know on Thursday. However, it won't stop me from weighing in before.
This is who I think is the most deserving of the stimulus funds:
1. Midwest/Ohio Hubs. Operators: Multiple. This is obvious since it's in the president's backyard, but it is a reflection of all the work the area has done throughout the years.
2. California. Operator: DB, SNCF, or Virgin Trains. They were the leaders until recently, when NIMBY backlash and the state's money woes slightly dented things for the Golden State.
3. Southeast. Operator: Amtrak for existing Piedmont and Newport News routes and for the planned D.C.-Charlotte route. Operators for other legs of the SEHSR system to be determined later. This area like the other two has done enormous work to be in a position to qualify for the money.
4. Cascades. Operator: Amtrak. This is another area that has used conventional rail to its advantage. It's a lesson for anyone jumping on Florida's bandwagon.
Everyone else not listed would have to wait for Round 2 because these four parts of the country are the only ones deserving of President Obama's stimulus money. If anyone thought Florida should be front and center, consider this latest bit of news from the Sunshine State. That's right, Amtrak is threatening to derail--no pun intended--the SunRail commuter project in central Florida. This is reason enough for the president to reconsider his plans and not give one penny to that state. If this is an effort by Amtrak president Joseph Boardman to bid for the HSR route in that state, it shows that Amtrak isn't as dedicated to rail system as it claimed in the stimulus application. If the move against SunRail ends up destroying the HSR project, it will be a while before Florida even gets considered by the feds for a project this big. Either way, Boardman will end up destroying any good chance the state has to build a productive passenger rail system.
With all that said, here's how I think where the funds will go based on who will get the most money:
4. NEC (even though they were ineligible for stimulus funding, Amtrak still has enough buddies in Congress to back them up, and the vice president also plays a factor since he used to ride the train frequently)
5. Empire Corridor (because Boardman used to work in NY)
8. Keystone extension to Pittsburgh