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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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Station Issues Part 1: Handling Multiple Operators

Based on the controversies over station locations in Florida and Cincinnati, it's worth evaluating the sensibility of having two primary train stations in the same city. In the pre-Amtrak era, such stations existed due to multiple railroads stopping in different parts of town. Now, some states will select new operators for high speed service. The location of where these trains will stop should depend on the operator, whether the station provides any connections to local transportation and other intercity trains and whether these three criteria can be met:

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
trains;

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.

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