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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, December 25, 2010

Tackling the Headlines 2

Amtrak-SunRail dispute over
Earlier this month, the national carrier backed down from its demands that could have prevented the commuter project from taking place in central Florida. Amtrak wanted full liability protection in case it were to get into an accident with a SunRail train. The move now allows Florida to purchase part of rail line from CSX.

There are some who said that Amtrak was forced to back down once John Mica was selected as the incoming House Transportation Chairman. I tend to agree with those people because the Winter Park representative has been a fierce critic of Amtrak and has openly stated in the past that he wants to open up the Northeast Corridor and high speed rail up to private competition.

There is another reason why Amtrak's about-face is good news: It means that Amtrak won't use its bully pulpit to goad others into giving it what it wants. The national carrier has used the liability issue to skip out on bidding for the two MARC commuter lines in that CSX is giving up on in Maryland. Last winter, Joseph Boardman sent a letter to four congressional leaders demanding that states and private parties should shoulder the burden or see state-supported services shuttered. The move in Florida is an indication that Amtrak will not back into a position where it has monopoly control of high speed rail or state-sponsored corridors without a fight from its competitors in the HSR field, commuter agencies, or the states themselves.

Lynchburg, say what?
Last month, it was reported that the Lynchburg portion of a Northeast Regional route might not be able to continue after the end of next year due to a funding gap. This is despite the trains exceeding rider expectations and making something called a profit (I know, it's a dirty word among a lot of people in the rail community, but not me). Unlike most Amtrak routes that traverse the state, the Lynchburg route as well as certain Richmond routes is state-supported, so it is up to the leaders in Richmond to keep the money pumping.

I am just baffled that something that makes a lot of sense is in danger of being shut down due to financial reasons, and should be an example for other states that they need to make sure that enough money is allocated to train service if expectations are exceeded and to make sure that they contact other operators to see if they can cover any shortfalls or funding gaps.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tackling the Headlines

NOTE: This is a new feature where I will dissect the fallout of the most noteworthy news events.


Obama Administration redirects HSR money from OH and WI
Thirteen states are now the beneficiaries of almost $2 billion in stimulus funds that were destined for Columbus and Madison all thanks to the voters electing two anti-rail governors last month. I have no sympathy for the governors-elect or the people who voted for them in the first place. Everybody knew that Kasich and Walker specifically campaigned against rail extension in their states but they swept them in anyway. The only people that I feel sorry for are the folks who tried their hardest to educate the voters on the facts of rail travel.

Talgo is now following through on its pledge to leave the Badger State since Mr. "No Train" Walker has now cost his state jobs and money. Both governors in waiting were moronic for even suggesting that stimulus funds be used for highways when the administration explictly stated that the money must be used for passenger rail! So, if they are dumb enough to sue the president for the lost money, then a pox on their executive mansions!

Virgin recommits to HSR in the U.S.
After over a year and a half of being out of the spotlight, Virgin Trains once again
expressed its interest in operating Florida's HSR route. It will be no easy task, given that Japan's JR Central expressed an interest almost a year ago to develop and operate the 84-mile route, SNCF last year drew up a detailed plan for the Sunshine State, and the Chinese are on everyone's heels with their own plans for Florida. But I do think that Branson's entrepreneurial spirit will make it a lot of fun for anyone who likes to see private involvement in rail.

Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the west, Branson thinks that having a Las Vegas-Los Angeles train would be
"great." Hmm, maybe he's looking at the Desert Lightning, which would also have an L.A.-Phoenix route as well as a Vegas to Phoenix route. If not, he could easily be the sixth hopeful to propose and eventually develop a route between the City of Lights and the City of Angels.