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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, October 27, 2012

Tackling the Headlines 43

Trains could be returning to St. Louis Union Station after all

Incoming ownership group Lodging Hospitality Management thinks that excursion trains and a transportation museum will end the historic facility's woes. 

Take: In addition to what I mentioned here and here, intercity service could result in trains to Springfield with extensions to Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

All Aboard Florida reveals a mock-up of its cars

Take: Looks nice to me.

Iowa Pacific and Adirondack Scenic Railroad join forces

The two entities plan on providing overnight train service between New York City and Lake Placid via the old New York Central Adirondack Route. A potential roadblock consists of locals who want to turn the stretch of tracks between Big Moose Lake and Sarnac into a snowmobile trail.

Take: This could be more expensive than what the average person can afford but it could lead to a more affordable alternative later on. Hopefully, the NIMBYs are put in their place because once a stretch of rail is gone, it's gone forever.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A New Model For American Passenger Rail

This article is yet another call for passenger rail reform. It was published several months ago in a newsletter and eventually republished by RailPAC. 

More and more people are coming to the realization that the current approach to passenger rail is broken and. This is one of the most potent calls for reform from the rail community, and a major advocacy group is being asked to support a proposal to dismantle Amtrak as we know it. If RailPAC backs this and Spotswood's plan gains lots of traction at the national level, NARP will be in a lot of trouble—as will Amtrak. So, does anyone still have an issue with my proposed rail consortium now?

I will now respond to the eight quotes that caught my eye the most: 
It is time for America to have two intercity rail passenger operators: The current Amtrak in the eight-state/District of Columbia Northeast Corridor and a brand-new passenger corporation providing a high level of services for the remaining forty-two states.
At first glance, it seemed as though only two operators would be possible but as I continued reading the article, this was clearly not the case.
To any impartial follower of the national rail passenger scene, it’s clear that unless a prompt order is made for new long-distance passengers cars, the national service will wither away within a decade or two. That’s how long the present roster of coaches, sleeping cars and diners have before being hauled off to the scrap heap. Given the huge lead time in ordering any new equipment, the current delay by Amtrak management to address this critical need is appalling.
Given Amtrak’s attitude about long distance trains lately, someone else needs to operate them. 
It’s time to dissolve Amtrak. It’s very name “Amtrak” has developed in the public such a negative, bureaucratic connotation that it should become the latest “fallen flag.” Why else does Amtrak in the East focus on the weird word “Acela” to describe their premier service.
This once again proves my point that I’m one of the very few pro-reform people who isn't calling for Amtrak to go away.
One involves transforming the present National Railroad Passenger Corporation into a new, slimmed down entity. Either remaining in the public sector which much state involvement, or as a taxpayer assisted but private enterprise run corporation, this new NORTHEAST RAIL would be allocated the sole responsibility of perfecting a southern New England -Middle Atlantic passenger service stretching from Boston south to Richmond, Virginia. If the Northeast Corridor is privatized, there is little doubt that the needed management staff will be lean.
Many advocates pooh-poohed any NEC-National System split in ’02. Given how much interest passenger rail has gotten with various companies wanting to operate routes, these activists cannot hold onto that view today.
Its purpose will be to assume responsibly for all aspects of a new independent passenger railroad. That entity will operate and secure financing for all long-distance and corridor services in America west and south of the Appalachians. It should combine some aspects of public funding with the actual service operated by private operators on a line-by-line basis.
Letting private companies operate trains could be the way to go since non-NEC residents already feel left out by Amtrak’s management when it comes to expansion plans.
The name AMERICAN RAIL signifies a fresh start and new direction. It should have its headquarters anywhere but Washington. Chicago, the traditional hub for western and mid-American rail passenger services, would be a fine location as would St. Louis or even Denver. With its own separate board of directors, with new management and working with new private sector operators, AMERICAN RAIL would not compete with NORTHEAST RAIL but serve as its national connection.
The Class I railroads will have to get on board. If they object to this proposal, the White House and Congress should tell all seven railroads in no uncertain terms that they will be running the trains since Amtrak would no longer exist and the feds would be playing a reduced role.
With innovation the watchword, AMERICAN RAIL should lead to way to new routes and more frequencies all in new passenger cars and locomotives operated by a freshly recruited and trained staff equipped with a private sector-style customer-first approach. Is there risk of failure? Yes, but right now the risk of the ultimate demise of Amtrak’s long-distance service seems assured.
Given how anemic the long distance system currently is, all overnight routes must be daily, frequencies at least doubled, with the heavily used routes having a four frequency minimum, and branch routes are also a must.
An essential early step is to secure bipartisan sponsors in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to serve as our proponents. It’s naive to think that Amtrak’s current board and senior management will not oppose this move. Substantial bipartisan Congressional and Administration support is essential if this proposal is to be taken seriously. Just getting the debate off the ground is not an easy task. We can’t do it with just the old friends of passenger rail. Simultaneously, we need to expand by adding others, e.g., Republicans and the business community, who have in recent years opposed or indifferent to passenger rail, but were supportive in the past.
As they say, if your current allies are stuck in their old ways, it’s time to get new allies. The bottom line is that the rail community has to broaden its horizons.


Some extra food for thought: Spotswood's proposal may produce an interesting situation in that it could provide independent operators the opportunity to challenge the official routes planned by authorities like MWHSR.

Here are some potential examples:
  • Alternative Chicago-Milwaukee service via the Chicago & North Western route. Such a route would make up for the failure of the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter route 
  • New Upstate New York service serves Grand Central Terminal and downtown Albany
  • An extended Pere Marquette by a new company provides a Chicago-Detroit alternative to the Wolverines for western Michigan residents
  • The state of Florida leases S-Line passenger service to an independent entity to provide alternative Jacksonville-Miami service—setting a three-way fight with Amtrak and FEC’s All Aboard Florida

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tackling the Headlines 42

Network Rail abandons deal with First Group

Take: That didn't take long at all.

Caltrain gets money to electrify

Take: The sooner the better.

All Aboard Ohio pushing Columbus-Chicago route

Take: I just stumbled onto this story on a forum even though it's really two months old.

Light rail coming to LAX

Take: The airport was the reason why no train has been able to directly stop there.

Random thoughts #8


  1. The train station boom is picking up. For once, it's nice to be discussing building up massive train stations rather than demolishing them.
  2. The sad tale of Turbo Trains from north of the border shows how different things should have been. It's worth noting that during the 1960s and '70s, Canadian National was controlled by the Ottawa government. Had the government taken the appropriate steps to own the tracks, perhaps, Canadians would be enjoying high speed rail today.
  3. The Wall Street Journal recently presided over a debate discussing the future direction of passenger rail. Even though I tend to side with Mr. Orksi over Mr. Schank, the latter made this interesting point that most rail message board people ought to take note of:"There is no inherent reason why Amtrak, a quasigovernmental agency, should have a monopoly on operating intercity passenger rail in this country. There could be benefits to inviting private operators and competition into our rail system, as evidenced by the deregulation of the trucking, rail and airline industries." Bottom line: The status quo does not work anymore.
  4. On Stephen Smith's analysis of comparing Britain and Japan's privatization plans, I will yield to him but I still have concerns about how a privatized Amtrak would look like under Romney--namely, that a government monopoly being replaced by a private monopoly. How are these other operators supposed to get a foot in the door if a Romney presidency and a Mica & Shuster-led Congress aren't going to force the Class I railroads back into carrying passengers? If Amtrak is going to be privatized without any possibility of the host railroads giving back their stock, then, independent operators must be allowed to buy pieces of a privatized Amtrak to encourage competition and to give passengers the best bang for their buck
  5. Finally, message board geeks, tell NARP and Midwest High Speed Rail that long-distance trains no longer have a purpose the next time you advocate a bunch of disconnected high speed corridors and confuse that for "progress"