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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

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 8

Bad rail bill derailed in NC
On Friday, a bill that would have prohibited North Carolina from receiving $422 million in stimulus funds was withdrawn. The bill was horrible from the beginning and deserved to die.

More info on Norfolk Southern-FRA negotiations
I may have jumped the gun on singing the Class I's praises because at the last minute it wanted the NCDOT not to penalize it for future delays to passenger trains. The state and feds responded by stating that NS would lose funding for planning its Crescent Corridor between Alabama and Pennsylvania. On that front, the railroad got what it deserved because NC is one of the few places that has actually planned its rail service in advance and stands to reap rewards soon.

High speed mischief in China
These days, fast train advocates are astounded over how the world's most populous nation is producing HSR at an ultra rapid pace while America continues to be stuck in neutral. However, they'd be wise to cool their jets a bit because of recent setbacks. Two months ago, the government fired its rail minister after it was discovered that he was taking money while he was handing out HSR contracts. Also, several rail lines were discovered to have been constructed poorly. Now, this article pretty much points out that the fast trains have a dark side--class division. The writer saw well-off Chinese traveling on the white bullet trains while their poorer counterparts travel on green trains that were cramped, extremely slow, and hadn't been updated in ages. My take is that while China's scenario is extreme, Florida would have easily resembled it had that state's Supreme Court not killed the FLHSR project because as long as it was a Tampa-Orlando project, only the well-to-do and tourists would have ridden the 84-mile train line. It would have been the glamour of the fast train versus Floridians taking an Amtrak train with aging Amfleet and Heritage components that may or not be late--a point the media would have picked up on to bash any train service that does not resemble the European definition of high speed rail.

CSX chief comes out swinging against HSR
In New York, CSX CEO Michael Ward said that he can't be part of Obama's HSR plan because his company "can't make money hauling passengers." The focus is on a dispute the railroad has with the state of New York over how fast trains will be between Albany and Buffalo. The state wants trains to go up 110 mph, upgrading Empire Service to Regional status but the freight carrier wants a 90 mph cap, claiming that faster Amtrak trains will force CSX trains to slow down. A second or third track should be built, but at the same time, the state should try to buy passenger-only ROW where it'd be possible to develop a parallel route for faster trains.

HSR funding and government shutdowns
Congress decided to reduce funding for high speed rail as part of the budget battle that almost resulted in a government shutdown.. If the president isn't committed to HSR as he stated two months ago, then, it's time to scrap European style rail (Express HSR) and focus on improving conventional rail (Regional and Emerging HSR) by adding more frequencies on popular lines that already exist and reviving other routes that haven't seen service in years or decades.

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