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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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

We must develop high-speed rails for NE Corridor - TheHill.com

We must develop high-speed rails for NE Corridor - TheHill.com

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

Of State Corridors and Amtrak

The February issue of Trains Magazine featured an article on California's success with intercity rail. However, the thing that I paid the closest attention to was the line that states have until October 2013 to pay Amtrak for their corridors by agreeing on a single formula or they risk losing those trains.
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.