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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

Monday, June 13, 2011

More random thoughts

  1. For the Amtrak president to make his anti-long-distance trains statements is one thing, but for people in the rail community (mainly those on message boards) to utter the same propaganda is sickening. For the latter group to dismiss the importance of routes like the Empire Builder not only shows that they're out of touch with common Americans, but it also demonstrates that they can do as much harm to the National System as opponents of passenger rail. Furthermore, these phony advocates reinforce some of the worst stereotypes, namely that rail advocates treat passenger service as a transit operation rather than a business and that they are a bunch of elitists who only care about big cities. That kind of propaganda has absolutely no place in today's discussion on train travel because a train travel revival is not a liberal-conservative issue even though the discussion is endlessly presented as a two-sided showdown as True Believers (endless subsidies for Amtrak) vs the "drill, baby, drill" crowd. People in rural states need travel options just as people in major cities do and to take away overnight trains just because they aren't fast as TGVs and Shinkansens means those residents are deprived of an alternative to driving their cars in the middle of nowhere.
  2. Last year, Marcus Garnet wrote this spectacular blog entry for Progressive Railroading where he spelled out the benefits of sleepers on Via Rail's Ocean. The overall point was that a market for long distance travel not only exists but with the proper kind of marketing, overnight trains can prosper in a world of discount airlines, superhighways, and the instant gratification mentality that currently demands "high speed rail or bust." Another thing that benefits long-distance trains is the aging baby boomer population, which was brought up by Ole Amundsen, go to the third to last comment. Graham Claytor's administration showed that long-distance routes were marketable. That is something that has been lost on everybody who has succeeded him. Of course, it helped that Claytor was the president of a private railroad before he ran Amtrak.
  3. For all of those people who continue to dismiss the hosts resuming passenger service, my point in various articles was that any transition would be difficult but not impossible. Enforcement of PRIIA Section 214, evolving business plans by the big boy railroads, possible congressional legislation easing liability caps and other laws that render the AAR's stance that only Amtrak is allowed on its tracks moot could all result in the Class Is resuming passenger service sooner than anyone thinks
  4. The recent URPA article on the business side of passenger rail is, to say the least, thought-provoking. The author brought up some good points, but I just don't see Republicans as champions of a passenger rail renaissance as long they continue to be controlled by the anti-train Tea Party caucus. Maybe, a new party would be able to take care of things, but we're talking about four or six years from now.
  5. The Hill recently published articles by Representatives Bill Shuster of PA and Nick Rahall of WV. Since I've already tackled Shuster's view, I will only deal with Rahall's. The WV congressman has bought Joe Boardman's line about the long-distance trains being money losers. He's already off to a bad start. Then, he repeats the old tired line about why Amtrak was created in the first place and shows pessimism for the host railroads' interest in reviving passenger service. Rahall fails to think about the big picture and does not take into account the fact that Washington has abdicated its duty to set up a bidding process for all routes under PRIIA. As for this comment:
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation invited proposals from private companies to develop high-speed rail in the United States. Not one single proposal was submitted by the private sector for developing high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. Not a one.

That is PATENTLY FALSE! First of all, the Northeast Corridor was not eligible for stimulus funding until the Florida Supreme Court upheld Rick Scott's right to kill his state's HSR project and the Obama Administration gave Amtrak the go-ahead to submit the NEC for ARRA money. Second, if the Congressman from West Virginia had been paying attention almost 27 months ago, he would have seen this article where Virgin Trains expressed an interest in running the NEC. A Korean Consortium, and Peter Pan also expressed explicit interest in the NEC while First Group America showed an interest in operating any corridor in this country.

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