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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, May 14, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 11

Florida's funds get redistributed
This past Monday, the Obama Administration reallocated the $2.4 billion that Florida would have used for its HSR route had Rick Scott not killed it. The Northeast Corridor, previously ineligible for stimulus money, was the big winner by getting almost $800 million. Another big winner was the Wolverine route, which got just under $200 million to upgrade its service in the state of Michigan. California also won big money as it is one step closer to providing true high speed service. The big loser not named Florida was Wisconsin, which wanted $150 million for upgrades to Hiawatha service--the same Hiawatha route that was supposed to be extended before Walker killed it four months ago.

Take: My comments on Walker's just deserts can be found here. My home state didn't get much--just $4 million for an environmental analysis for the missing link between Raleigh and Richmond. I JUST WANT THE ROUTE TO BE REBUILT ALREADY! After all, based on Amtrak's own research, the Carolinian, which is parallel of the planned SEHSR route, had the worst on-time performance among all routes in 2010. That is due to the bottlenecked A-Line between Petersburg and Rocky Mount.

NM's about face on buying route from BNSF
New Mexico governor Susana Martinez recetnly canceled the purchase of a route known as the Raton Pass. She cited that old favorite "cost" as well as blaming the Class I railroad for not "formally closing the deal" that was conducted by her predecessor, Bill Richardson, who wanted to use the rarely used line to extend commuter services.

Take: This is shaping up as one huge missed opportunity. Not only should the state have bought the line, but it should be planning a future Albuquerque-Denver intercity route--even one that would allow the state to exercise PRIIA guidelines to select a different operator. There has been some discussion about Amtrak either buying the line or rerouting the Southwest Chief via Amarillo since BNSF no longer uses the Raton Pass Route between Albuquerque and Hutchinson, KS. So far, Amtrak is content with its current route and shows no interest in buying the line. The aforementioned link lets it be known that small towns along the affected portion don't even have access to Greyhound, so it'd be a big loss if the line is abandoned. 

Regional/shortline railroad holding companies like Rail America, Iowa Pacific or Genesee & Wyoming can and should step up to operate the line and provide passenger service via an independent operator.

Texas is officially in the rail game
The Lone Star State got $15 million from Florida's returned funds. That money will go to planning an Express route between Dallas and Houston. Less than a week after getting the money, there is an uproar over the routing.

Take: Given that state leaders are arguing over whether the trains should serve the Dallas-Fort Worth airport or the downtowns of the two cities means that Texas is finally serious about intercity rail. Personally, the Dallas-Houston Texas Eagle segment should have never been eliminated 16 years ago. Furthermore, Texas officials should be trying to build up not only that Dallas-Houston route as an Emerging HSR corridor, but they should also be trying to do the same thing for the current segments that serve San Antonio via Dallas and Houston. Be as it may, the Texas Triangle, combined with efforts from the private Triangle Railroad Holding Company, is a much better choice than the T-Bone option that was passed over for stimulus funding twice last year.

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