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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, November 19, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 26

Federal regulations stifle would-be private operator
A luxury rail operator has been derailed by the FRA--no pun intended--due to onerous regulations. The Greenbrier Express was supposed to have begun operations next July from Washington, D.C. to the Greenbrier Resort in WV.

Take: The FRA’s slogan should be "We are the #1 Barrier to Innovation" since it continues to require passenger operators to use bulky cars that don't stand up to snuff in crashes. Not only do liability guidelines need to be overhauled but the entire Federal Railroad Administration has to be as well.


Minnesota news
The existing Empire Builder route via La Crosse, WI has been selected as the choice for the Twin Cities-Chicago Regional HSR route. Also, the MNDOT will begin developing the Zip Line Corridor between the Twin Cities and Rochester.


Take: For the Regional route, it sounds like it was a case of playing it safe after neighboring Wisconsin pulled the plug on the Milwaukee to Madison Hiawatha extension. The move upset northern Wisconsin residents who had hoped that the route would stop via Eau Claire. These fine folks should enter into a PPP with SNCF or anyone else interested in running trains to their part of the state. The fact that the route will skip WI's capital city is nonsensical, but again that's due to Governor No Train.


As for southeastern Minnesota, the Express route should serve as the beginning rather than a be all-end all. MN officials would be wise to extend Zip Rail eastward to Winona--or even to Madison--as part of a route matrix connecting Zip Rail with the Amtrak and MWHSR systems.


No HSR funding for FY 2012
It's official: The heralded HSIPR Program will get no money from now until next fall.


Take #1: High speed rail is now 0-for-3 this year in regards to funding. As a result, it is time to pull the plug on any region that is planning to operate trains below 110 mph being a part of a national HSR network. In other words, only the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, California and the Northwest can support anything that remotely meets the Obama Administration's definition of Regional HSR. Other states should leave the fast train planning to the professionals and focus on building a good conventional network that will gradually lead to 110 mph service.


Also, I am disappointed that neither the Administration nor the Senate had enough courage to tell the oil-aligned Tea Party where to go. If a high speed rail network was supposed to be a part of 44's legacy, then, he should have put up much more of a fight at some point earlier. In addition to this week's final outcome, HSR funding was sacrificed during the government shutdown showdown in March and the debt ceiling deal in the summer.


Take #2: The headline is quite misleading because when it comes to funding, we are really talking about not funding HSR until FY 2014--two years from now...if that early. Given the electorate's dysfunctional mood, absolutely nothing is a slam dunk regarding next year's elections. Also, no one in his or her right mind should expect Congress to do anything next fall because they will all be focused on the elections.

1 comment:

  1. I think you have accidentally come up with a much better name for the line to Rochester by calling it the "Zip Line". "Zip Rail" always seemed awkward to me (can you believe they actually held a contest of sorts to get the name? I have a lot of trouble believing that was the best thing that came from the public).

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