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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

Friday, May 17, 2013

Random thoughts #12


  1. As it turns out, there was a plan to move Madison Square Garden to the Farley Post Office. The problems? The Great Recession and a lack of foresight by the city's government derailed those plans. However, the city must revive that idea once the grace period is over. It will be for the good of everyone involved because the time for having Penn Station and MSG joined at the hip is over.
  2. This story hints that the Orange Blossom Express could be on the way. The "other" Orlando-area commuter rail project made headlines 23 months ago but quickly disappeared once SunRail got the thumbs up from Florida's governor. Hopefully, the TIGER funding can accelerate the OBE going into service.
  3. Had things gone differently, Los Angeles would have been known as a transit-friendly haven (look at all of the proposed rail technologies!) instead of being best known as America's most autocentric city and biggest air quality nightmare. Its planned subway--the 1925 plan, not Metro's best efforts at playing catch up--could have rivaled NYC's today had it not been for the constant lack of foresight.
  4. In order to even have marginal rail service, Canadians will have to get outraged. The slashing of Via service by the Harper cabinet and the lack of reaction by the public at large should actually make the people of Australia and New Zealand happy that their countries won't have the least advanced passenger rail service among all industrialized nations.
  5. Buffalo-Niagara Falls commuter service is not only overdue but could serve as a lifeline. Commuter rail can not only connect all three of the city's stations, but it can connect with Ontario's GO Transit.
  6. I finally get an answer to a lingering question: Norfolk will have a ticket agent once its new station opens up.
  7. As a followup to a previous story, the XpressWest people are now having money troubles, putting them in company with Las Vegas Railway Express.
  8. Three months ago, I got into a scuffle over the feasibility of the Coast Daylight using Caltrain tracks between San Jose and San Francisco. I provided some practical solutions and yet, no one seemed to even think broadly. Now, I will pick up here where I left off in February. First, the engine switchover at San Jose's Diridon Station shouldn't be a problem--this is already done in D.C.--and even if it were, diesel and electric trains share the tracks in big European cities. Second, the speed issue makes these people wanting to block the Daylight really snobbish, not unlike the "let's get rid of the long distance trains" crowd. At a time when the Bay Area could use more intercity trains, restricting the SJ-SF stretch to only Caltrain and HSR is absolutely dumb planning. In addition to Coast service, there is a private operator that has its eyes on providing future Santa Cruz-San Francisco service. Finally, Amtrak does not need to provide additional San Francisco-Los Angeles train service should the Daylight prove to be successful. As a matter of fact, I recommend that Herzog operate the additional frequencies since its subsidiary currently runs Caltrain. How will this get pulled off? Simple, Caltrans needs to lease a portion of the Coast Route.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

NYC, Get Penn Station Right This Time

The rundown:
  • Madison Square Garden's 50-year lease recently expired
  • MSG wants to remain atop of Penn Station in perpetuity and doesn't want to move
  • Amtrak wanted to move to the Farley Post Office building at the turn of the millennium, but had to back off when the effort almost helped to bankrupt the company
  • Former Amtrak president David Gunn reiterated his opposition to the move (his predecessor, George Warrington, orchestrated it) after current president Joseph Boardman looked at relocation in 2011

What actually needs to happen
Frankly, the kind of train station that a major city like New York ends up with reflects the kind of train service it deserves. A top notch train station for Amtrak's premier line is in order unless someone can build a downtown Manhattan rail facility that would relieve current Hudson Tunnel traffic.

Madison Square Garden is the one that needs to move because the cost of Amtrak relocating several blocks to the west will only add to its bills at the same time it is trying to overhaul D.C.'s Union Station and develop a brand new Northeast Corridor. Just in case anyone is confused by that previous sentence: If Amtrak tries to do all three of these tasks, the company will go bankrupt! If that happens, Mica would get his wish without firing a shot because the likes of Virgin Trains, SNCF, and others would be bidding for the 457-mile-route the very next day.

If the Farley Post Office building doesn't suit James Dolan, he should move to another part of Midtown Manhattan that has heavy rail-oriented traffic. Otherwise, he could move downtown and let mass transit come to him--or go the opposite route by building a new MSG near Metro North's E.125th Street station in Uptown Manhattan.