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, April 30, 2014

Life Under Section 209: Operations

Equal Operator Model
Amtrak operates part of an existing corridor but other companies run trains on a corridor’s extension.

How It Could Work: Amtrak runs the first leg of the Southeast High Speed Rail route and the Piedmont Corridor but Veolia operates the Charlotte-Atlanta and Atlanta-Jacksonville legs of SEHSR while Herzog runs the Raleigh-Jacksonville route.

Amtrak Dominant Model
Amtrak operates an entire high speed route or existing corridor while other short distance routes are handed off to private operators.

How It Could Work: Amtrak runs the entire SEHSR system while the Piedmont is handed off to the North Carolina Railroad. The Southeastern states turn to AIPRO members for non-corridor service.

METRA Model
The state DOT contracts passenger service to the railroads that own infrastructure. This is more likely to work with regional and shortline operators than with the Class I railroads.

How It Could Work: The state of Maine contracts out new passenger services to the various Class II and III railroads rather than to any passenger operator.

Amtrak Recessive Model
No one operator would have a majority of routes in a particular region but Amtrak's share would be less than 50%.

How It Could Work: After a brutal bidding process in California, Amtrak is left with only the Pacific Surfliners while Keolis runs the Capitols, Herzog wins the San Joaquins contract, and foreign operators run high speed rail routes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tackling the Headlines 62

East-west Amtrak corridor promoted in Illinois
Take: This is looking like a Plan B since Iowa is totally uncooperative with extending the route across its state. Maybe, when Terry Branstad is sent to the retirement home, the Iowa DOT can return to Earth and provide the funds to produce a route that is not necessarily operated by Amtrak and doesn't necessarily stop at Union Station in Chicago.

Black Hawk update
Take: So, is Canadian National trying to replace Union Pacific as the most passenger hostile Class I railroad? Anyway, it's better to get part of a route working than to end up with with a situation like Ohio.

Indiana puts the Hoosier State up for bid...
Take #1: So, it begins. If Amtrak loses this route, then, this will be a ripple effect across the nation as other states look more closely at their budgets, with the goal of saving money by selecting the operator who will provide them the most service for the smallest amount.

Take #2: My official take and what it could mean for Amtrak can be found here.

Take #3: Assuming that all of the hurdles with the tracks and all six hosts are overcome, the new operator could extend one frequency to Cincinnati with a second one to follow shortly thereafter and another to Louisville for a total of four Chicago-Indianapolis frequencies plus the Cardinal.

Take #4: The only thing I don't like is the extremely short timespan that other companies have to submit bids. However, if a competent operator steps up, then the April 29 deadline will be moot.

...and Oregon and Washington State could be next
Take: If this happens, then Amtrak management should very, very worried because the Cascades' southern neighbor could follow.

Talgo shifts its focus where?
Take: Even Michigan is interested in making Wisconsin look foolish. Enjoy those leftover Horizon Cars, Scott Walker.

Chief fight moves to Congress 
Take: Now is the time for the innovators and D.C. pols to step up and provide a real workable solution.

Vermont House OKs Ethan Allen rail extension
Take: This move is the right one. Rather than rerouting an existing train, Vermonters will get an extra option to travel to New York City.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Amenities

These links (1 2 3) got me interested with how Amtrak should handle amenities. There has to be communication between the operator's unions and contractors so there isn't a repeat of the Subway experience with Empire Service trains. 

I don't agree with Mica's cherry picking at all because the passengers who are willing to pay extra fares deserve specialties like free wine and champagne. It's a shame that Boardman didn't at least defend the Auto Train's amenities on the ground that #52 & #53 are special trains. 

Worley was right about vending machines being unsuitable on long distance trains because Southern Pacific tried this in the 1960s and it ended up losing passengers in the process (of course, one could argue that this was SP's goal all along). Vending machines only work on routes that are as short or shorter than the 173-mile Piedmont. A better solution for corridor trains would be regional foods.

As Amtrak looks to avoid repeating the dreaded Diner Lite experiment, potential competitors will find ways to contract some of the very items the national carrier eliminated last Monday to private companies in addition to installing wi-fi on future routes.

As for the people who have a "so what" attitude about all of this, they only need to take a look at the airline industry to see how a reduction in amenities has ruined the experience of flying. When I last flew to San Francisco 18 years ago, I had a full meal along with in-flight entertainment. Now, people have to pay for subpar, prepackaged food.