My Bio and This Blog's Purpose

My photo

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alternative history #5

Scenario
A Lower Manhattan train station is built

Point of Departure
Early 20th century

Storyline A (assumes that Amtrak was formed)
No Amtrak trains have ever stopped at Fulton Street Station. Instead, passengers rely on seamless transfers between New Jersey Transit and Long Island Railroad trains, some of which also provide through service. It is due to this synergy that Penn Station is not overcrowded. In 2008, FSS got a grand steal when it lured Knicks/Rangers/Liberty owner James Dolan to relocate to the Lower Manhattan station after its overhaul.

Storyline B (assumes that a Ripley-like consolidation plan was implemented)
None of Manhattan’s stations were ever at risk of being demolished because Fulton Street isn’t as fancy as its Midtown rivals while the Ripley Plan allowed Penn and Grand Central to both find some serious non-rail uses that made their facilities useful between the 1960s and ‘90s. 

Both Storylines
The Fulton Street Station is the main station for the LIRR, DL&W and the Erie Railroad. Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central send commuter trains down Manhattan to FSS. A Manhattan-Staten Island tunnel makes Staten Island more transit oriented. The Lackawanna and Erie jointly build the tunnel. 

The Baltimore & Ohio builds its own tunnel to FSS in 1925 to compete against the Pennsylvania Railroad (unlike the other railroads serving the station, the B&O’s tracks are stub-ended and are a level below because the B&O stops in Jersey City while the DL&W and Erie serve Hoboken). The B&O-PRR competition along the Northeast Corridor means that the Atlantic Coast Line is able to sever connections with PRR in D.C. once the B&O is acquired in 1958 by the ACL. 


Today’s Likely Outcome
The Second Avenue Subway would be up and running because either Metro North or New York Central and PRR trains would have provided enough north-south service for western and central Manhattan, and city officials would have then had to worry about the eastern portion. The Staten Island tunnel would have eventually led to light rail being built on SI.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tackling the Headlines 58

CAHSR gets treated like a yo-yo

Take: These recent moves are setbacks for the project, but the project will continue--just in a compressed amount of time.


Dallas-Houston HSR train could be running by 2020

Take: The idea that they could get this finished before the first leg of the California project is quite astonishing.


Rail fix on track for 2015 passenger service

Take #1: A parallel route to the current Vermonter should pave the way for the Montrealer's revival and the possibility of eventually having three or four frequencies between Springfield and St. Albans would really make the Knowledge Corridor live up to its name.

Take #2: This also comes with a bit of bad news: Amherst would be replaced by a bus. This is primarily due to the fact that the Central Corridor did not receive any TIGER funding earlier this year. It's also worth pointing out that the New London-Brattleboro corridor is still being negotiated between the CT DOT and the NECR while the MA DOT is conducting a feasibility study on the corridor. While it's possible for an NECR shuttle train between Amherst and Brattleboro to supersede the bus, who knows when the NECR would be able to start full service between Brattleboro and New London?

Take: Is this thing on? Okay, Florida DOT officials, this is yet another community that is expressing an interest in operating some type of passenger service. Governor Scott and ex-Governor Crist need to get this point: The DOT needs to stop dragging its feet and produce its own intercity rail system! 

The current DOT boss is waiting to see how successful the privately operated All Aboard Florida service is before committing to intrastate service. Instead of being completely reactive, Tallahassee needs to grow a spine before it has a mess on its hands--a series of disjointed or ill-timed commuter routes, spotty Amtrak service, and privately run FEC-AAF trains that skip small towns. 

I'm not saying that that Amtrak should operate this system. If anything, Amtrak should only operate the East Coast route between Jacksonville and Miami as the "local stops" alternative to All Aboard Florida's initial service and northern extension that will end up as "express services." Florida has been innovative before, and it should be innovative once again. Contact Richard Branson, Bombardier, and the AIPRO and let them bid for the other corridors (including the "suspended" leg of the Sunset Limited and the S-Line route Amtrak foolishly abandoned nine years ago).

Transit experts: Orange, Durham not ready for light rail

Take: These "experts" primarily focused on neighboring Wake County and only made a passing judgment on the other two counties. Durham and Orange Counties got their act together while Wake fell behind due to the Tea Party backlash of 2010. 

Advocating for better rail service

Take: Canada's clearly in worse shape than America. People here wonder what would happen if Amtrak only operated the Northeast Corridor and a few other routes. Via Rail Canada is the lab rat since it's primarily focusing on the Montreal-Toronto corridor. If residents along the affected portion of Via's recent cuts band together, then they could form a coalition so someone else can operate trains to their communities. Otherwise, the Wilner Plan would be more applicable (and appropriate) to Via Rail than Amtrak.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Alternative History #4

Scenario
Congress reluctantly decides to pay the 26 Class I railroads still running passenger trains rather than setting up Amtrak

Point of Departure
1970

Storyline
The funded routes get added frequencies over time--mostly after the Staggers Rail Act . That same 1980 law included a special provision that transferred corridors from the railroads to the states. Four years earlier, the Ford Administration ordered the USDOT to own the Northeast Corridor.

Today’s Likely Outcome
The only corridors anyone talks about are the long distance routes with multiple frequencies as the short distance routes are essentially nothing more than enhanced commuter rail routes that have been extended. There would have been little need for PRIIA because recent profits and enhancements to passenger service have drastically reduced the amount of subsidies Congress gives the Class I railroads.

Federal ownership results in the 457-mile Boston-to-Washington route means that improvements are done much faster. Tunnels, bridges, and tracks are rehabilitated and electrification are indications of what government can do.

Alternative History #3

Scenario
The Santa Fe and the Seaboard Coast Line join Southern, the Rio Grande, Rock Island and Georgia Railroad in holding out of Amtrak

Point of Departure
1971

Storyline

And Then There Were Two

Even as Southern and the Rio Grande join Amtrak, the ATSF and the renamed Seaboard System refuse to give in during the early 1980s. The two railroads continue to take pride in their passenger trains. CSX even names its subdivision for north-south routes after the Seaboard Air Line (later, east-west routes are part of the Chesapeake-Baltimore & Ohio Subdivision named after the C&O and B&O respectively).

The Seaboard Subdivision's effectiveness and BNSF's passenger expansion plans in the late 00's lead to some of the other Class I railroads to seriously ponder reentering the passenger business. 

Because neither BNSF nor CSX abandons routes where passenger service is prevalent, lower priority routes are handled differently. BNSF gives the Raton Pass and Mountain Range Routes to a coalition headed by Genesee & Wyoming (the move was first proposed by the acquired Rail America in 2010) and the Association of Independent Passenger Rail Operators, which outbid Iowa Pacific Holdings in late 2012 (the deal also includes a route that stretches between Denver and Albuquerque).


The Southeast Becomes a Rail Leader

The Southeast Rail Coalition is formed in the late 1980s to promote expanded passenger rail in the region. The pact is composed of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The basis for the SERC stemmed from the S-Line not having enough daylight trains between Richmond and Jacksonville rather than CSX's coincidental plans on making the A-Line its primary north-south route. It's due to this arrangement that certain small towns along the S-Line continue to have train service today.


Amtrak's Role in the South

The Floridian is reinstated in the 1980s by Graham Claytor because he realizes that Midwestern travelers need a route to the Sunshine State. The route is different, though: Chicago-Cincinnati-Atlanta-Savannah-Jacksonville-Tampa/Miami (a second roundtrip was added in 1989 but was eliminated in 1997 as a victim of the Mercer Cuts, and a 2009 feasibility study to restore the second frequency goes nowhere). Amtrak's services in Virginia and the Auto Train exist as they do in our timeline except that the Cardinal is daily because enough equipment is available. Amtrak also has a daytime Chicago-Nashville route.


Another Path For the Carolinian

The Carolinian is launched in 1984 but connects with a re-timed Colonial in Richmond instead of the Palmetto. During the hiatus, a disagreement erupts over routing. When it restarts in 1990, the Carolinian is composed of two Raleigh-Asheville frequencies with one of them splitting in Salisbury to continue to Charlotte. Another restructuring in 1995 leads to the Charlotte leg being renamed the Piedmont and its own frequency.


Stations

Raleigh: The Carolinian (both incarnations--backup moves were done when the train went all the way to Boston) has served the Southern Railway depot on West Cabarrus Street from the outset while CSX trains continue to serve the Semart Street station. However, a unified station only began construction this year after years of disagreements among the rail operators, SERC's SEHSR leaders and the city over things like station location and size (CSX decided to move to another location because it cost much more to modernize the SAL location when it had already expanded it twice).

Richmond: Amtrak builds Staples Mill Road Station and only stops there. CSX trains stop at the Broad Street Station, which is a major hub. Main Street Station is home to various non-rail business uses and is also a historic landmark.

Atlanta: Amtrak left the Peachtree Station in the early 1990s for a new location on 17th Street that serves both the Crescent and the Floridian. For a while, a special stop for the Floridian was located north of town. Today, CSX, SERC and SEHSR trains stop at a downtown location near the old Terminal Station that is being expanded for multimodal use.

Jacksonville: Amtrak is the only occupant of the Clifford Lane station in Jacksonville as other operators serve the Union Terminal. 

Orlando: An Amshack is built on Sand Lake Road in the '70s. During Sunrail construction, passengers temporarily use the Sanford Auto Train terminal. The new Sand Lake Road Station is large enough to accompany Sunrail as well as Amtrak.

Tampa-St. Pete: The St. Petersburg ACL station's days are numbered as CSX and FL DOT are in the process of building a downtown multimodal center to provide expanded access. Meanwhile, Amtrak opted to terminate a portion of the Floridian at Tampa Union Station, which was the only station in the state that was jointly shared by it and the SCL/Seaboard System/CSX between 1974 and the recent rail revival.

Miami: The old SAL station was used by CSX and FL DOT until the Miami Intermodal Center opened in 2008 (Amtrak used its current station as in OTL). Due to frequent communication by the state and the host railroad, there were no platform or traffic issues with the trains entering or exiting the station (a bridge with NW 25th Street over the tracks was built). Today, all operators except All Aboard Florida stop at the station near the airport.

Other Florida cities: Amtrak stops at Sanford Sunrail, Alamonte Springs, Starke, Bushnell, Lake Worth, downtown Lakeland, and all Tri-Rail stations except Delray Beach. Okeechobee is only served by FL DOT trains.

Galesburg, IL: Amtrak serves the S. Seminary Street station for the California Zephyr and the Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr routes while BNSF still stops at the N. Broad Street station because there is no rerouting for any trains following the merger between the Santa Fe and Burlington Northern.

Today’s Likely Outcome
Norfolk Southern is largely responsible for Section 214 of PRIIA being much tougher in favor of competition because its management team envied BNSF and CSX for running viable passenger trains during the mid-2000s.  

NCDOT won stimulus funding for Charlotte Gateway Station and SEHSR in 2009. Gateway Station recently celebrated its first year anniversary.

Competitive bidding leads to Amtrak operating fewer routes outside of the Northeast and even being challenged by CSX--which promotes Grand Central Terminal heavily--on the Empire Corridor.

After Amtrak couldn't give CSX a concrete answer on when it would resume service on the New Orleans-Orlando portion of the Sunset Limited, the host railroad took it upon itself to restore the missing link in 2007. Today, the route is daily and extends to Miami, leading to an A-Line frequency being rerouted to the S-Line by FL DOT (local Pensacola-Jacksonville runs were added in 2009 and this past January).