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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, August 2, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 16

Washington State goes to work
This fall, work will begin to build bypass tracks along congested stretches of the Cascades route between Seattle and Portland. The move would allow Amtrak to avoid a single-track bottleneck between Tacoma and Olympia-Lacey. 


Take: Kudos to Washington State's DOT and BNSF.


It may be baby steps, but it's something
After a few delays, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway is finally up and running. Revenue service began on July 21. The 56-mile route has five flag stops between the endpoints. The Saratoga Springs station now houses two intercity rail operators as it's also home to Amtrak (the predecessor was an excursion operator that only ran trains between Corinth and North Creek).


Take: Even though SNCR owner Iowa Pacific recently took Amtrak to court over the Ski Train controversy, the connections between SNCR trains and the New York-Rutland, VT Ethan Allen Express are definitely a positive gesture.


SNCR is already looking ahead
I caught this blurb from Iowa Pacific president Ed Ellis:
We will run additional trains for ridership demand, or if one or more units of government will pay for additional trains. As you may know, New York State DOT is paying for a second track on the CP at Ballston Spa (about two miles, connects two long sidings yielding maybe five miles of double track) and between Albany and Schenectady. It’s no secret they would like to have two more pairs of trains between Albany and Saratoga. We would be willing to consider operating trains such as those under contract, and would be willing to add whatever qualifications and insurance that would be necessary to do so. That could also yield a year-round operation to North Creek.


Take: Let the speculation begin. Assuming that Mr. Ellis deems such an extension financially feasible, things could get really interesting in the Empire State. Suppose the state actually hands a contract to SNCR for one or both roundtrips, what kind of impact would that have on Amtrak? It would technically be in Amtrak president Joe Boardman's backyard but it wouldn't be that damaging unless the company has long-term plans to either add Adirondack or Ethan Allen Express roundtrips.


Now, if SNCR wins the Saratoga Springs-Albany contract, there could be some difficulties with the extension. But if it happens, what's to prevent the shortline railroad to extend it even further southward to NYC? The only thing is that Iowa Pacific would have to buy electric engines and switch in the capital city so the train could comply with NYC regulations. 


When it comes to the stations, the train could stop in Albany instead of the current Rensselaer station served by Amtrak, but where? Union Station was moved from its original location and tracks and its old site removed to make way for an I-787 ramp. As a result, no tracks are at its current location. Central Warehouse was badly damaged by fire last year and might be costly to rebuild and replace. The ultimate solution may be a proposed transit center in downtown Albany. If SNCR wants to call the Big Apple home, Grand Central Terminal would be a better fit than Penn Station because of overcrowding.

4 comments:

  1. The SNCR folks should publish their schedule to Google (and anyone else who wants it) with a GTFS data pack. Getting those little train station icons in towns along the route would be a good way to advertise the company's presence.

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  2. I agree. The symbol still has the Saratoga Springs station listed as Amtrak and I couldn't find SNCR on any of the other maps that I used, so that's something that the railroad has to take care of.

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  3. It's worth recalling that Ed Ellis's resume includes being the first head of Amtrak's Mail & Express business. Not until his successor undid nearly all of his contracts did M&E start to thrive, although it did so too late to dodge Gunn's decision to kill it off. So Ellis way be right about his new outfit, but he may also be wrong, and it's worth waiting a while before hailing his new effort as a success.

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  4. One of the ways that the Colorado Ski Train differs from SNCR's project in New York is that the project in New York has government support.

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