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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.



1 comment:

  1. If any firm believed they could build and profitably operate a private rail route in the Northeast, they would. The logistics of finding a new route through the Northeast are formidable, and the politics of it are even more complicated.

    The idea of private operation of the existing Northeast Corridor runs into very dense complications, too. No one wishes to operate the commuter services, or even the regional trains - what they might wish to operate is an Acela-style service or even one that is superior. For any entity to make the necessary investments to operate a train faster than the existing services, they will run into very complicated allocation fights with the existing operators (MARC, SEPTA, NJT, LIRR, MN, ConnDOT, MBTA). No other operator will benefit from changes related to top-speed improvements, so they will argue they should be permitted to operate over the upgraded rails without paying for any portion of the improvements.

    To permit a private operator to take over the Acela trains would deny Amtrak 25% of their annual revenues. This would be a mortal blow to Amtrak trains throughout the system.

    Mica's conception of private NEC operation is fantasy. A smarter move would be to consolidate the various commuter operations within Amtrak, and restore consolidated control to the corridor, with a port authority-like multi-state group in charge, freeing the corridor from its national political woes.

    The labor implications of such a move make that a non-starter, too. Ultimately, the corridor is mired in a morass of the Feds' creation, and nothing will change that any time soon.

    More power to FL and CA - I will believe it when I see it.

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