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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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tackling the Headlines 34

Well, it seemed important at the time...
Two stories that I won't be giving any more time to are based in California and Wisconsin.

Take: In the case of the former, it's good news-bad news. Good news in that the repeal CAHSR initiative won't be on this fall's ballot. Bad news in that enough signatures were collected for the repeal to be on the 2014 ballot! This means that the advocates for European-style high speed rail have to really step up their game so they aren't in for a rude awakening. 

When it comes to the Badger State, all I can say is: KICK WALKER OUT IN 2014! Given all of the drama surrounding the Talgo cars and the mentality from the governor and his allies that using leftover 22-year-old Horizon cars is a sound strategy, Wisconsin is bound to have second rate rail service as neighboring states upgrade their equipment and add new routes.

Santa Cruz branch line to get a new owner
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Iowa Pacific was tapped to operate the Santa Cruz Branch Line earlier this month. This comes off the shortline holding company beating out four other companies and the line's previous owner being locked in a bitter battle with Union Pacific.

Take: While this will be the reverse of the Saratoga & North Creek (freight first, passenger second out west while IP rolled out the passenger service in New York first). Provided that everything goes well, the Bay Area could be well served by a multi-rail system that carries people (Amtrak, Caltrain, CAHSR, and Iowa Pacific all serving San Jose) by 2022. 

Also, a government organization is the one responsible for tapping the emerging shortline powerhouse. As a result, Ed Ellis and company will be the ones on the hook for any profit or loss. That's vital since Caltrain and others like it were in recent years struggling to keep service at current levels.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tackling the Headlines 33

VA: Virginia Beach Firefighters Union Opposes Light Rail
Take: This is a really petulant move.


STB OKs reopening Adirondack rail route
Take: Congratulations to Saratoga & North Creek for establishing an additional foothold in upstate New York.


Texas State Railroad sold to Iowa Pacific
Take: Iowa Pacific could become a shortline powerhouse by the end of the decade.


Eurostar eyes 10 new destinations across Europe
Take: THAT is how the EU mandates for competition should look like--international travelers having an option between Eurostar and DB by 2017.


NC Railroad reaches agreement with CATS in Charlotte
Take: Hopefully, this will lead to bigger and better things for the NCRR--like operating commuter or intercity service one day.


Shining Waters Railway
Take: This may not have anything to do with the Canadian government's efforts to sell off parts of Via Rail to private parties, but someone north of the border is seriously thinking about providing passenger service to a part of Canada that lost service in the wake of the Mulroney Cuts 22 years ago. I just wish someone could restore the Atlantic in the eastern part of the country.


Amtrak outlook: Running between Chicago and Dubuque by 2015
Take: While other states waste time with flimsy research and returning rail money to President Obama, Illinois is producing a rail system. Other states may wind up with the state's leftovers of Amfleet and Horizon Cars once the new equipment makes its way to the Land of Lincoln.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tackling the Headlines 32

Iowa releases study on Quad Cities-Omaha route
The state decided to blend two existing routes--the ex-Rock Island route with the route that the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr and the Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg routes currently use. 


Take: Other than the Hawkeye State's blinking on providing train service right away the way their eastern neighbor plans to, the thing that irks me the most about the plan is a lack of creativity by both Des Moines and Springfield. The latter must have told the former that Amtrak would automatically be tapped to run the entire Chicago-Quad Cities-Omaha route. 


The thing about that is that if someone had shown enough creativity, the state governments could have selected another operator to run the brand new service. They should have used the ARRA provisions to produce the new Iowa service. As for Iowa's issues with the former Rock Island route not serving Union Station, it should have worked out something with its eastern neighbor to provide a guaranteed transfer between LaSalle Street Station and Union Station rather than having Illinois resort to building a new track just to move the train from one route to the other.


Moynihan Station poised to become a grand gateway
Take: Wake me up when there is real progress on this project.


U.S. pressures legislators on bullet train funds
Take: This is more of a threat than some movement to put this back on the ballot as part of an effort to repeal CAHSR.


ADOT studies 6 rail routes for Tucson-to-Phoenix line

Take: It is a bit of a start. I just hope the state gets around to implementing the service soon.


Comparing and contrasting

At the ASLRRA dinner gathering itself, I shared some time with Vermont Rail System's Ed Fitzgerald and Brent Brewer, and while we recapped numerous freight-related topics, the talk turned once more to passenger rail on short lines and regionals, which in Ed and Brent's view was one more business facet, since Vermont Railway hosts Amtrak's Ethan Allen, linking Rutland, Vt., and New York via Albany, N.Y. The business angle? Hopes and plans to extend the Ethan Allen to Burlington, Vermont Rail System's headquarters city.
I don't claim such interest or discussion began only this year. Last year, Reading & Northern President Wayne Michel made it clear "passenger rail" were not dirty words to him or his staff when it came to future business prospects; indeed, the Railway Age 2011 Regional Railroad of the Year operates its own passenger excursions as a marketing tool, and as a goodwill gesture, to its clientele and surrounding communities. It was more than willing to host a regional ("commuter") or intercity rail service, if the opportunity arose and the fiscal numbers fit.
And maybe that's the key. Passenger rail is, at long last, once again a business option, a business proposition, for the rail industry—as my colleague Editor-in-Chief Bill Vantuono likes to say, we are one industry

He also repeated the official stance of the railroads that the accepted operator of intercity passenger trains is Amtrak. He neither explained nor elaborated on this.
Many will take solace in the notion that the AAR has given its seeming endorsement to Amtrak as the sole operator of non-commuter trains in the country. As the conference wore on, however, it was clear that not all shared this opinion. 
Take: There has been a lot of talk about private operation and the Class Is' willingness--or lack thereof--to reenter the game. The regional and shortline railroads get it while the bulk of the major railroads are still stuck on the status quo like the Luddites they are slowly revealing themselves to be. We are supposed to see competitive bidding, but all we get is the AAR stalling to keep things the way they are without even recognizing the business aspects of even running one or two routes in regards to Section 214 of PRIIA. 


If the Forbes article from March has any merit to it, the Big Seven have to realize that they'll be on the hook for all of Amtrak's routes should they play a role in Amtrak's demise and then turn around and keep Virgin and AIPRO members off U.S. tracks.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Random thoughts #5



  1. Some of the ideas Noel Braymer raised in this article were similar to the California Networked Transit concept. The most important thing is CLOSING THE BAKERSFIELD-L.A. GAP! Anything that fails to accomplish this end will undermine a true California rail network.
  2. If Portland & Western ever operates passenger service on the Oregon Electric Line, then it would have to find a new station because the old OE Station is currently a restaurant. My suggestion is for the railroad, the state, and the University of Oregon to extend the route to UO's North Campus.
  3. In states with multiple Class II and Class III railroads--I'm specifically looking at you, Maine--it may be beneficial for these DOTs to partner with them to produce intercity service. Such an arrangement would resemble METRA's commuter deal with the Class I railroads.