My Bio and This Blog's Purpose

Saturday, March 24, 2012

FEC plans its return to passenger service

A day and a half ago, FEC announced that it was getting back into the people carrying business.


I'm no longer speechless, but I'm still pleasantly surprised that the Class II railroad has done this. Previously, I suggested that FEC would eventually tire of Amtrak and the Florida DOT dragging their feet--the former still demanding no-fault liability and the state continuing to slack off--and implement passenger service themselves.

Who knows what will become of the proposed Amtrak FEC service? Perhaps, the people in D.C. will be more motivated to implement that route since FEC is planning to serve Orlando before Jacksonville since the Class II will take a westward detour. How about the state? Maybe, this private venture will force Tallahassee officials to seriously consider corridor service.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Connecticut update

New England Central is interested in operating service (check out pages 2 & 3) between New London, CT and Brattleboro, VT on the Central Corridor. I talked about this a bit last spring, but what I didn't discuss is that the leaders who wanted New London's mayor to be quiet were more interested in securing money for the Knowledge Corridor between Springfield, MA and Brattleboro to reroute the Vermonter. 

As MA and VT get ready to reroute the Vermonter, residents in the college town are up in arms over the pending loss of Amtrak service. The NECR move makes sense because residents and students from five colleges and universities would see passenger service continued, albeit with a different operator. 

NECR's possible path
The Class II railroad will be free to add frequencies and staff stations like Amherst and Brattleboro because it wouldn't be subject to the same limitations as Amtrak. Also, NECR is very likely to use refurbished Budd Cars so there'd be no issues with equipment.

NECR's motives
Some have raised the possibility that NECR could be using passenger service as a way to improve its infrastructure between New London and Amherst. In my humble opinion, the move justifies my point that railroads are businesses first, and if it's a business decision that leads to the Central Corridor having restored rail service, so be it (old time riders of the now-defunct Montrealer often complained about bumpy tracks by NECR's predecessor when the train used that routing). 

An important segment of riders won't be left behind once Amtrak's stimulus improvements are in place. It is also worth pointing out that the University of Connecticut and the Mohegan Sun Casino are also along the route, so having passenger service restored is no small deal.

Knowledge Corridor improvements are expected to be done by late 2013. Theoretically, Amtrak would shift the Vermonter to serve Northampton and Greenfield in MA in the spring of the following year unless the operator says otherwise. Perhaps, a six-month overlap could take place--both Amtrak and NECR run trains between Amherst and Brattleboro, then the regional railroad takes over once Amtrak shifts westward.

Sharing stations
Of all the stops that would host both Amtrak and NECR trains, only New London is currently staffed by Amtrak. No problem, the Class II railroad would staff the facilities with its own employees or contract such duties to volunteers who would be able to sell tickets and check baggage. Palmer, MA is a place where the NECR and CSX lines--the Lake Shore Limited--intersect. The city's Union Station is currently a restaurant but the tracks of both railroads are right at the station. So, the end result is that MADOT building a platform on the south side for NECR and a platform on the north side for Amtrak. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tackling the Headlines 31

Greenbrier Express gets the green light after all
Take: Good news that the service will get under way, however, the price is too much for me and the fact that the Buckingham Branch is single-tracked with apparently no plans to add more trackage on the old C&O line.

Electrification in the Bay on the way
Take: It only makes sense. Just get it done already! This is reason #1 why CAHSR does not need its own tracks in the Bay Area.

PTC could get a five year extension
Take: In an effort to pass passenger rail reform in the wake of the Chatsworth disaster, the requirement was a bit hasty (after all, the railroads are paying for Positive Train Control out of their own pockets thanks to Congress deciding that megabanks were more important to give money to). Hopefully, by 2021, we will see more passenger trains once the Class Is have gotten their act together.

Take: As bad as things have been in this country with Amtrak throughout the decades, they are worse up north.

Take #1: Boardman may be trying to use reduced FY13 funding as an insurance policy in the event President Obama isn't reelected. Of all of the Republican presidential candidates--all of whom want to END Amtrak subsidies--Mitt Romney is the most vocal Amtrak opponent. So, by hedging his bets, Boardman must have the mindset that the next president will ease his attacks on Amtrak if the operator asks Congress for less money.

Take #2: The problem is that even if that happens, the next president would eventually know that Boardman would only be around for several more months. So as soon as 2014 rolls around, Amtrak will be looking for a new president yet again. The end result is that Romney (or whoever) will only step up his attacks on Amtrak, just in time for FY14 funding. The interim Amtrak president could walk away empty-handed for that year's funding if Romney has a majority in both houses.

Take: If nothing else, the governments in St. Paul and Winnipeg could pave the way in providing North America with its own version of Eurostar--as long as Amtrak, Via Rail, and Canadian Pacific can reach an agreement with the governments and each other. This operator could also serve as the template for a proposed Chicago-Detroit-Toronto HSR that could be run by SNCF.