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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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Year In Review Part 1

I'm doing a wrapup of the year in rail the only way I know how--evaluating certain stories that I initially spent only a few paragraphs on, and I will also analyze other stories that I missed. 


1. After a yearlong evaluation, Housatonic Railroad executives gave a proposed Pittsfield-Danbury-Grand Central route the thumbs up.


This means that residents of northwestern Connecticut and western Massachusetts are one step closer to seeing revived passenger service. When that train finally gets going, Northeastern passengers will have not only their own railroad but also an (albeit longer) alternative between NYC and MA. This proposed route would produce a nice matrix for rural residents who need to catch an Amtrak train without having to go to New York. The Pittsfield Transportation Center would be the perfect place to transfer from a Berkshire Train to the Lake Shore Limited.


The bottom line is that it will be up to the regional and shortline railroads to beat the drum for private passenger service (I am not including the various independent entities like First Group or AIPRO members, only railroads that actually own infrastructure) because the Class I railroads are just like old-time corporations like Kodak that fail to adjust to technological changes. Given the news out of upstate New York, Saratoga & North Creek may be the template Housatonic and others follow to provide regional service while also providing connections to national routes. 


2. This commentary from RailPAC's Russ Jackson was informative and disturbing. It more or less deals with the dilemma of Amtrak's long-distance trains and it also cited this article from Trains Magazine's Fred Frailey that speculated how Amtrak could get rid of in reaction to Congress cutting its FY12 budget. 


Frailey was being kind because commuter trains were actually above long-distance trains in Amtrak's latest report. As for him not questioning Boardman's nonsense about the overnight trains bleeding Amtrak dry and that those trains are actually more beneficial to Amtrak's bottom line than shorter distance trains, I can only chalk it up to his publication being in the True Believer camp for decades.


For the people who actually want Amtrak to improve, it may be a case of too little, too late. On the touchy topic of Union Pacific demanding at least three quarters of a billion dollars for a daily Sunset Limited, it is an ABSOLUTE DISGRACE that Amtrak management has not even bothered to call the railroad on its B.S. or take the matter to the Surface Transportation Board. UP is getting away with extortion and Boardman is doing nothing to remedy that problem.


Since the Amtrak-host relationship has become frostier,Congress may have to step in sooner rather than later. Long-distance train travel is not going away--it just may have to be forced onto other companies by legislative force.

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