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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Not Post-Amtrak, Just Something Better

In an effort to promote long-distance train travel, the federal government should set up a special consortium with the freight railroads. This would be based on Division B, Title II, Section 214 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which says:

"Within 1 year after the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration shall complete a rulemaking proceeding to develop a pilot program that--
`(1) permits a rail carrier or rail carriers that own infrastructure over which Amtrak operates a passenger rail service route...to petition the Administration to be considered as a passenger rail service provider over that route in lieu of Amtrak."

The consortium would only operate certain long-distance routes that have multiple railroads along each route's stretch, and it would only apply to railroads that outbid Amtrak, since it would prevent the pre-Amtrak era practice of forcing passengers to change trains due to a route's host railroad changing hands. The host railroads would not be prevented from reinstating passenger service on their own tracks. Companies currently bidding for high speed rail routes could be also be a part of the consortium and would likely staff the stations. Daily service would be mandated on any route that is not seasonal in an effort to boost rail travel.

As for the consortium's setup, it would be subdivided four ways and each part would be operated as separate units.


  1. The Transcontinental Subdivision would handle coast-to-coast routes, and Midwest-West Coast routes.
  2. The Eastern Subdivision would handle long-distance routes that stop in Southern cities as well as Midwest-Florida routes that travel via Washington, D.C.
  3. The Central Subdivision would handle Northeast-Midwest routes, north-south routes between the Midwest and the South, Midwest-Florida routes via Southern cities, and east-west routes between the South and Florida.
  4. The Western Subdivision would handle routes between the Mountain West and the South and Mountain West-West Coast service.


As the first act of this proposal, Congress would transfer the troubled Sunset Limited route from Amtrak to the consortium's Transcontinental Subdivision. This way, the bi-coastal route would return to its Los Angeles-Orlando routing. The schedule would change so it wouldn't interfere with Amtrak's plans to convert the Texas Eagle to a daily route west of San Antonio. The Sunset's Jacksonville stop would also be moved to a suburban location in the western part of the city until Union Terminal is fit to serve trains once again, and it would stop in Phoenix and other towns along a restored route.

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