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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, October 31, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 23


Take: It’s a good move and a precursor to what the future could look like in northern California. I don’t have an opinion either way on the Altamont vs. Pacheco Pass options, but if costs continue to bleed the CAHSRA dry, then it should strongly consider moving their route onto the Altamont alignment.

Take: This is a way of preserving rail corridors along rural parts of this country. It's criminal to me that a stretch of what used to be the Panama Limited's route is in danger of being abandoned. Mississippi leaders should take the next step in buying the corridor.

Then, they should restore the route so a mix of freight and passenger services could use the route. On the freight side, a shortline or regional could do what Grenada didn't--make a profit. Regarding passenger use, a mix of excursion and unconventional passenger services should be strongly considered. The excursion runs could cover only the areas that are in danger of losing rail service or more parts of the route. For passenger services, Special Themes and limited stop Cruise Trains would run between New Orleans and Chicago's Millennium Station along the Grenada Railway line between Jackson and Memphis. The Fun Trains route would be from New Orleans to Memphis and back. 

The state, of course, would have to work out track agreements with Canadian National.

Take: Out west, the saga of whether BNSF will abandon its line between Newton, KS and Albuquerque, NM continues. However, the RP/SWC Coalition has been formed to react to any potential abandonment. If small communities are to keep rail service, groups like the RP/SWCC need to make their voices heard. Should Amtrak and the Class I railroads have no use for questioned segments, then, it's up to these groups and legislatures like the one in the Magnolia State to contact Class II or Class III railroads and private passenger operators to run these routes.

Take: Whatever rocks SFRTA's boat on selecting Tri-Rail over FEC. Anyway, it's something that is sorely needed. I just hope that this move does not put Tri-Rail into the kind of financial trouble Caltrain has had to deal with recently.

Take: Get it moving so Capitols can be extended eastward.

Take: Hopefully, this will put the state one step closer in achieving Regional HSR. On the other hand, the move could be a blow to SNCR, who might have future plans for southward expansion.

Take: Eventually, I'm thinking that the Thruway buses will either be limited to Virginia Beach or even ended. The next step that VA needs to do besides adding frequencies is to add a Suffolk stop. The South Hampton Roads area is too big for train service to not be spread around.

Take: That was quicker than I thought. Let’s just hope that the Hawkeye State eventually gets around to implementing new rail service.





Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 22




Take: While it'll be quite sad to see him go assuming that President Obama wins a second term, the Transportation Secretary is to be commended for his role in getting high speed rail off the ground and for standing up to anti-train politicians in recent months. The executive branch should find a person who is just as committed to advancing rail travel in America.

Windy City choke point's days numbered
A big step was recently taken as ground was broken on a major component of the CREATE project. The Englewood Flyover will make things easier for Amtrak, METRA and Norfolk Southern trains to navigate a part of Chicago that once had its own suburban station.


Take: Anything that will end congestion gets big thumbs up from me. And to think that some politicians are oblivious to something that will benefit everyone.

Private operator running trains in France
The country that brought us the TGV will now see a private operator run a train on its tracks. Thello will run an overnight route between Paris and Venice with a stop in Milan. Passengers can transfer to Trenitalia trains once they are in Milan or Venice. The booking is done over the phone or online, and passengers can give their reservation numbers on the train.

Take: Even though the European Union has mandated the the national railroads open up their routes to competition, France is known as a country that has proudly embraced public ownership of SNCF. As far as ticketless travel goes, it seems that Thello is the rail equivalent of Megabus or one of the so-called "Chinatown buses." In any case, the whole thing is quite interesting.



Speaking of competition among European rail carriers, the national carriers are essentially the hurdles to anything meaningful. The author brought up the paradox of national carriers developing new services in other countries but not allow other companies--public or private--from setting up new services in their home countries. Due to the endless conflicts, a regulator group has been set up by the regulators of 15 EU member states. It is hoped that things will make it easier for private companies to run rail routes on the continent.

Take: The sooner that the EU can tell the national companies to cut out the silliness, the better. Furthermore, the fact that DB is the only company that has taken advantage of the EU's original intent of providing international services defeats the purpose of providing competition. If other agencies would mix domestic and international services, then, the EU mandate would work.

Canadian study
A study released Monday reveals that the Quebec City-Toronto portion of a corridor that is extended to Windsor not being viable for high speed service. To no one's surprise, Windsor politicians are up in arms over their region being considered financially infeasible. The kicker is that they provided their own solution in which the corridor is extended to Chicago. 

Take: The only country that has it worse than America on HSR is Canada. The X factor is the Prime Minister, who has remained silent on the report. Nobody seems to know what PM Harper has to say on train travel in general let alone high speed rail. At least the Windsor politicians are more forward thinking than their leader although, I'd like to see a Eurostar-like arrangement in the event that we once again have a Quebec City-Chicago corridor in which there's a joint operator running the trains.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Station Issues Part 4: The Future in Los Angeles

This article from RailPAC two months ago brought up something that I've been thinking about for a while: A second main train station will be needed in Los Angeles sooner or later. I have never been able to pinpoint exactly where such a facility would go but I'm glad someone has come up with something.


First, some background: There are currently 12 stub-end tracks and the four tracks that were taken out of service are being restored. Backing out of the station is a major issue for any train that doesn't terminate in L.A. Through tracks are also being built to handle future train traffic.


Mr. Braymer brings up the possibility of building a temporary station near First Street. This proposal would result in relocating through trains to the facility and passengers using the subway to transfer to Union Station.


From the way that I see it, a mini-station could be the beginning of a second main station as Metrolink's Cal State-Los Angeles stop is too small for any meaningful intercity service. The momentum to restore Tracks 13-16 could in time shift over to building a new permanent station in the city as a way of relieving overcrowding at LAUS. The sticking point could be whether to build a longer lasting building at the same site as a temporary station or somewhere else. No matter what, LACMTA would be crazy to not advocate such a plan and provide passengers seamless transfers between stations.


I can also think of two last reasons to build a new station in L.A.:

  1. Within the next 20-30 years, as many as seven intercity operators--Amtrak, the CAHSR operator (likely to be European or Asian), Virgin Trains (HSR to Las Vegas), Pullman Palace Car Company (to Las Vegas via Pomona), the X Train (to Las Vegas via Fullerton), Desert Lightning (HSR to Las Vegas and Phoenix via Palm Springs) and an extended DesertXpress--could make LAUS a logistical nightmare alongside Metrolink and LACMTA trains. Plus, who's to say that some of these companies or future operators would want to deal with crowding and space issues since LAUS is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places? The planning for a new station for anyone of these operators as well as others not listed has to begin now.
  2. For any Auto Train route, an operator will need open space. Currently, the only place that would be appropriate would be in the suburbs. A new Los Angeles station should be built with Auto Train accessibility in mind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 21

From the CAHSR Blog

Take: It was not that long ago that DesertXpress officials were crowing about how they were going to build the route without any federal money. Two and a half years later, they are singing a different tune. Unlike the skeptics, I have never had any problem with the train terminating in Victorville because I've been under the impression that the train would be extended to Los Angeles via Palmdale since DX officials have always cited environmental concerns. Rather, I am upset that the company has been unable to keep its pledge to fund the service entirely because the request falls into the hands of HSR opponents who do nothing but yell "boondoggle."

State examines a rail alternative to the I-10

Take: Arizona is a state that gets it--population growth that shows no sign of slowing down requires alternatives to widening interstate highways when gas will be even costlier in the years to come. As one of the things discussed in the state's rail plan, reestablishing direct Tucson-Phoenix route should be the first line of business. The report talks about the lack of ticket machines and decent amenities at the stations along the Southwest Chief's route. The solution is simple to me: Hire special employees to work at certain stations assuming that Amtrak operates an intrastate Arizona system. These workers would sell tickets for anyone using intrastate trains but anyone traveling via the Chief or the Sunset would have to use the Quik-Trak machines.


On high speed rail, it can be planned but I'd let the various private companies currently planning routes handle most of the work.