The panelists were railroad attorney John Heffner, All Aboard Florida's Gene Skoropowksi (formerly of California's Capitol Corridor), Iowa Pacific's Ed Ellis, and Amtrak VP for Governments and Corporate Communications Joe McHugh.
"More cohesion instead of the piecemeal routings here and there. The entire picture is likely less monolithic or under one entity known as Amtrak." (Heffner)Vernon interjected by suggesting that Amtrak remains "the 'spine' of intercity operations." Even with the failed attempt to leverage intercity and commuter rail back towards an Amtrak monopoly, "business as usual" can no longer be considered good enough for travelers.
Regarding PRIIA, Vernon looked at the possibility of states looking to private operators if they can't find alternative public funding, which in turn could lead Amtrak to using more of its equipment on longer routes.
Once those PRIIA extensions that were signed last year expire, the states should make a serious effort to talk to other operators to reduce the cost of running their corridors. As far as the equipment goes, I have been a huge advocate of Amtrak keeping its equipment in the event states look elsewhere so that it can spread to other parts of the country.
Heffner says that there is no end to potential nationwide expansion, possibly a combination of Amtrak and non-Amtrak operators, some under contract to state or regional government agencies. It may be freight railroads, perhaps short lines or regionals deciding to just run their own passenger service. (Vernon)
There can be no end to expansion because America still has a skeletal system and other various other entities could be the key to reviving the national network.
The dream scenario leaves Amtrak as (again) the operator of most, if not all, long-distance trains. On the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak would remain the only operator other than the commuter lines. (Vernon)
A dream for who? Maybe that's a True Believer's dream scenario but as long as the current people (board and management alike) continue to run Amtrak, this is much closer to my Nightmare Scenario. President/CEO Joe Boardman and various board members have done nothing to advance long-distance trains. If anything, they're either willing to keep the status quo or see the long-distance network shrink by inaction.
When Amtrak gets fresh blood who just won't have a dismissive attitude about expansion (i.e., always citing high costs and passing on adding routes) and is willing to consider Western passengers' needs by ordering new equipment, then will I believe that "America's Railroad" is committed to the nation as opposed to just one region.
Speaking of that one region, the NEC states' political bloc will likely use their clout to keep out anyone who may want to take on Amtrak.
Vernon cited how the shortlines are trying to get into the passenger business due to limited expansion opportunities for freight in the future.
The shortlines are proactive while the big boy railroads are reactive. The Class I railroads are focused on their specific needs and have to be goaded into dealing with passenger service (see Amtrak throwing in the towel on talking to CSX about converting the Cardinal to daily service as just one example).
The shortlines could also play the role of saviors when it comes to routes/segments/towns that are abandoned by Amtrak.