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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, January 16, 2012

Random thoughts #4


  1. File this one in the "too good to be true" folder. Seven months ago, I praised the virtues of Scotrail's sleepers. However, the London-Scotland trains are in jeopardy of going away by April of 2014 once First Group's contract is up. The Scottish government is more interested in producing intra-Scotland services. What a sad situation if this holds up.
  2. This explains a lot about NARP. The group used to be aggressive, but once that 1974 court ruling was issued, it has been relegated to being a cheerleader for Amtrak and posing only a token challenge whenever Amtrak management has decided to discontinue or truncate a route.
  3. As the state of Florida continues negotiating with Amtrak over rerouting a Silver Service train, some are aghast at the reroute's increasing costs. Contrary to what I said in October 2010, the Silver Star's Orlando section would continue to use the idiotic Tampa dogleg where Trains 91 and 92 backtrack before continuing on to Miami and Jacksonville respectively. The criticism is well-founded mainly because another major hangup is that Amtrak wants the same type of no-fault liability for operating on the FEC line that it unsuccessfully sought for SunRail two years ago. The state should just go ahead and hand the route to either FEC, Veolia, or Virgin--all of whom could run the trains at a much lower cost than Amtrak. The other plus is that another operator won't shove liability demands down Floridians' throats.
  4. There's finally some recognition that business as usual is a losing strategy. The problem is that most rail experts are trapped by inside-the-box thinking. Rather than imagining a world where Amtrak has to deal with a number of qualified competitors, these experts would rather preserve the current monopoly. I hate to break it to these folks, but Amtrak management has pretty much bet its future on the Northeast Corridor, so other states will be on their own to promote train travel because future Amtrak management won't do any promotions for them. As I have said, Amtrak would be better off losing more than a few routes so it can focus on its strengths and so someone else can properly promote state-supported and overnight routes. The True Believers' favorite fallback line of why Amtrak was formed in the first place no longer applies because independent operators are chomping at Amtrak's heels, shortlines are asserting themselves with plans to run passenger trains, and PRIIA deadlines are fast approaching.
  5. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that there's been a virtual blackout of AIPRO by the people who are supposed to be representing passenger rail's best interests. I have seen very little mention in Trains Magazine (and that was via Fred Frailey's blog). Meanwhile, Railfan & Railroad and NARP have not mentioned the organization at all. NARP has been one of Amtrak's biggest cheerleaders from Day 1 so it's not surprising that it and various message boards and state advocacy groups are ignoring an organization that represents Amtrak's commuter competitors. I don't expect anything from the mainstream media, so they're excluded from this conversation. However, I do expect that the two publications of record actually tell the public that alternatives to Amtrak are on the horizon.
  6. Birmingham, AL's Railroad Park could give NYC's High Line a run for its money.



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