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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, 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.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting post, thanks.

    1) If a state lacks the money to continue conventional service, then surely they won't be able to fund the jump to HSR. right?

    2) Herzog and Amtrak are both subject to a fundamental fact that adding frequencies requires not only good relations with a host railroad, but also equipment. Herzog or any other operator is no silver bullet for this equation, unless they bring access to sufficient capital to expand their rolling stock.

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  2. I appreciate the response. On that first point, I wouldn't think so, but with the stimulus money that some states received, it just might happen. It's possible that a state could sacrifice its conventional speed service to hop on the bandwagon that is high speed rail due to its ARRA funds.

    As for the second point, it depends on whether any good supplier like Siemens or Talgo is out there as well.

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