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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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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).

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