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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, November 15, 2013

Tackling the Headlines 57

Southwest Chief latest

Earlier this week, Amtrak told New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas that in order to keep the Southwest Chief on the current Raton Pass Route, they have to pay up. BNSF doesn't want to pay to upgrade the route between a junction south of Albuquerque and Newton, KS. If nothing happens, Amtrak will reroute the Chief to serve destinations like Amarillo, TX and Wichita.

Take #1: This is extortion--plain and simple! Amtrak knows that it should not be forcing the states to pay for intercity service. It looks to me that Amtrak is doing to the Mountain States--and the Gulf States four years ago--what Union Pacific did to it in early 2009 with that preposterous $750 million ransom to convert the Sunset Limited to daily service.


Take #2: The possibility of the Southwest Chief being rerouted in 2016 is partially the feds' fault because they took an eternity to just follow Section 214 of PRIIA. I have been a strong advocate of this provision because Amtrak needed (and still needs) a strong kick in the pants. Long story short, the FRA should have forced bidding on the long distance routes so other companies could present their case to drastically improve the national train system over what we have today. The provision expired last month along with the rest of the 2008 law.


Take #3: If the FRA, the USDOT and anyone else in Washington really care about passenger train travel, this is the time to show the American public what they are made of. 


My recommendations are as follows: First, pass a brand new rail reauthorization bill that mandates a competitive process for the overnight trains. Second, either the FRA or the USDOT should take over the nearly 700-mile stretch of track and redevelop it over a long period of time. Finally, get the Association of Independent Passenger Rail Operators and the shortline/regional holding companies involved. Let the AIPRO entities or the shortlines carry people while the holding companies haul goods. 


What Amtrak then does with a rerouted Chief afterwards will be up to Boardman or his successor.



The Vegas X-Train waves the white flag

Las Vegas Railway Express, also known as the X-Train, has given up its efforts to provide service between Metro Los Angeles and Las Vegas. CEO Michael Barron is now pushing Amtrak to restore the Desert Wind route.

Take #1: Good luck with trying to get Amtrak to restore even the Los Angeles-Las Vegas portion of the route. There has been nothing but talk on that front since 1997. 


Take #2: And then there were two. Paul Druce covered Vegas X-Train's financial troubles in March and was more than vindicated.


Take #3: Like I said back in April, the Pullman Palace Car Company knows something that we don't know.



European competition part 1

Hong Kong-based MTR is expanding its services in Sweden as it goes from solely operating Stockholm's Metro to also competing against the national operator on the Stockholm-Goteborg route.

Take #1: Hey, even in an egalitarian society like Sweden, the government has no problem with letting others face off against its own operator. This should be a lesson for all of you True Believers who continue to fear or ignore independent operators.


Take #2: MTR Express's vehicles kind of fall in line with what happens when more than one company runs trains along any given route--lots of equipment creativity.



European competition part 2

Things have gotten nasty in Italy between state-owned Trenitalia and the Ferrari-owned NTV, which operates the Italo.

Take: Italy shows that any country that plans on providing competition needs to have a concrete plan in place. Since the government didn't do this, Trenitalia is resorting to monopolistic tactics and sabotage, and it also shows that as bad as Amtrak's complacency has been towards other operators, it's worse in Italy.

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