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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, June 14, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 93

No anti-HSR laws passed in Texas
The legislature only meets in odd-numbered years so Texas Central can largely continue building its line unabated.

Take: It's a very good thing that the yahoos in Austin aren't around to sabotage a privately operated rail project.

Trains running on renewable energy in Europe
Germany will roll out a train that's powered by hydrogen and only emits water while the Netherlands has all of its trains running on wind power--a year ahead of schedule!

Take: Meanwhile, this country is wholly incapable of having electrified rail lines outside of the Northeast. 

Woes for long distance travel in Germany
Locomore's failure once again exposes that the playing field for intercity competition is still heavily tilted in favor of the national railroad and is something that needs to be fixed.

Take: Rather than pointing to Locomore's situation as some kind of alleged "proof" about competition's shortcomings, True Believers should be trying to see the whole picture. Furthermore, German regulators need to remove restrictions imposed on private operators so they can provide the public with more choices rather than letting DB have a such a lock on everything. 

A commentator's take on the latest NEC mess
Singer's response to the New York Newsday's article is worth a read.

Take #1: I've wondered at the back of my head if the Amtrak Board would let Moorman clean up the mess his predecessor left behind or if it would attempt to sabotage the former Norfolk Southern boss. At least I'm not the only one who wonders that way anymore.

Take #2: The whole thing going on with Penn Station right now would have never been a full blown crisis if the former Amtrak president, NARP, and Northeastern congressmen and senators hadn't yelled "privatization" and stifled any debate six years ago when there was a plan to hand the NEC infrastructure to a new government-owned company.

They're getting restless in southern Idaho
It's been 20 years since the Pioneer left for the last time and almost eight since the infamous Amtrak study.

Take: It's important to note what the story omitted. The fact is that the Cascadia Center conducted its own study with the conclusion that a private operator could restart the Pioneer at a much lower cost than Amtrak. An organization was set up partly due to the original study. It's also worth noting that local and state officials promptly ignored the Cascadia Center's recommendations. 

Let that be a note to all communities seeking restoration of their long distance services: By continuing to put all your eggs in the Amtrak basket, you will never see any service restored. Oh, by the way, Magliari is being absolutely preposterous by telling Idaho and the other states to pay for a train that was once part of the national system. The new government in D.C. really needs to enforce Section 205 of the FAST Act so other operators can save the long distance network from Amtrak's inertia.

Two more train stations lose full Amtrak access

This time, the victims are Sebring, FL and Greenville, SC.

Take: Maybe, some of Joe Boardman's leftovers still hold some kind of sway in Amtrak management. Maybe, Moorman's treating these station destaffings the same way he's treating the loss of the dining car on the Silver Star: a low priority. Whatever the reason, it's a situation that continues to be unacceptable. In the case of the latter city, this now means that there will be no Amtrak staff to assist passengers between Charlotte and Atlanta and that South Carolina as a whole is now down to three staffed stations--Charleston, Columbia, and Florence.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Empire State happenings 2

NYC Regional Rail/A new station in Queens?

The first real crime is the fact that no one thought of connecting Hoboken to Lower Manhattan early last century when it didn't cost an arm and a leg. The second one is that no one in charge has even considered third primary NYC commuter station (sorry, 125th Street). The Sunnyside station could go a long way in relieving some congestion, and it won't cost as much money as the proposals to reroute selected LIRR trains to Grand Central.


The Second Avenue Subway's costs


This definitely goes in the "this is why America can't have nice things" department.



Reduced service for upstate residents


Bad news that matches everything else Iowa Pacific has gone through since the calendar changed. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Empire State happenings

In selecting a downtown location over Central Terminal, a Buffalo panel decided to go with cronyism over logic. 

When the Canalside location was withering on the vine, the well connected came up with a last minute location to save their flailing vision and the elites once again prevail over the will of the people. Ergo, the fix was in, especially due to how secretive officials were in the end.

"This is really a transportation decision first and foremost, and from that standpoint downtown is a clear winner."
Yeah, right Zemsky. This was an absolutely political decision.


But the mayor also said everyone on the committee shared the view that something needs to happen with the Central Terminal, too.
"I think we will work as a community to make sure that is accomplished," Brown said.
First, the mayor wasn't as neutral as the paper portrayed him to be.

Second, a historic station will never be used for its original intent ever again. Thanks for absolutely nothing, Buffalo Train Station Selection Committee.


Third, we all know that Central Terminal will once again be ignored by the city once the new station is up and running. 


Finally, Thursday's decision once again shows that Amtrak should have never left BCT in the first place. Just ask St. Louis Union Station. I mean, the national carrier left that location a year before it left BCT and it ended up at Gateway Station, which is derided by a number of transportation activists. STLUS has only recently been partially restored to its original use but only if you're willing to shell out thousands of bucks.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 92

Section 207 of PRIIA declared unconstitutional
Take: It's finally over. One hurdle for Amtrak's competitors has been obliterated.

CATS Blue Line Extension delayed
Take: Facepalm! I was hoping to catch the train from North Charlotte to the Arts District and Uptown this summer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 91

Amtrak to MIC next winter
Take: So, it looks like the national carrier is going to make the move after all. Also, check the last comment in this post.

Brightline latest



Take: Even with the nonsense going on in Tallahassee, AAF perseveres.

TX HSR
Take: This measure is exposing the legislature's true colors on rail in general.

L.A. Metro Orange Line
Take: It will finally revert back to its original use.

Edited on 5/17/17: So, there's yet another twist in the Amtrak-MIC saga. So, this now means that everything I said the day after Christmas once again stands. Oh well.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 90: International Edition

Did someone just say a dirty word? (Hat tip James Coston)
Take:This goes against everything I constantly read from Amtrak apologists, people on online forums, and rail groups. I have read elsewhere that Japanese operators make money on running trains. If enough people do the research from themselves, then, the "no country makes money on passenger trains" narrative either goes away or it should primarily be looked at as an Amtrak problem vis a vis other operators.

A person with a rational mind has to question just how ultra egalitarian Sweden is able to deal with a Hong Kong company competing against SJ and a third operator between Stockholm and Goteborg while a much bigger America continues to have a monopoly operator that is making the passenger experience less and less pleasant as the days go by--closing stations, stripping overnight routes of dining cars, cutting back amenities on other overnight routes.

If NARP and other True Believers stopped putting all of their eggs in the Amtrak basket and were much more proactive, this country would once again passenger train service that the rest of the world envies. 

Rocky times in New Brunswick
Take: I hope everything works out and VIA service is expanded along the line.

Tackling the Headlines 89

Caltrain grant blocked
Take: Despicable move by the state's Republican congressional delegation.


Latest Tri-Rail news
Take: Just get that contract situation straightened out, guys.


Brightline critics beginning to face the music
Take: Even though the bashers are trying shenanigans like attempted regulations, it's a foregone conclusion that trains will not only run but will also be extended northward and westward.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 88

More Nippon-Sharyo Woes
Additional layoffs and a hard pressing deadline without any cars to show.

Take: How did the Midwestern states not have a viable backup plan?

Iowa Pacific to Cede the Hoosier State
In a really shocking turn of events, IPH will hand the Hoosier back over to Amtrak on March 1. There are rumors that IPH is facing extreme financial difficulties that may bankrupt it--and it canceled an overnight excursion in upstate New York--but I won't speculate on that until the source confirms or denies them. 

Take #1: All of this could have been avoided if INDOT had selected either Corridor Capital or Herzog. The former had available cars while the latter offered to operate the train, not just being a vendor while Amtrak crews still operated the train.

Take #2: This is really regrettable and I really hope that this doesn't dampen any other states seeking to use private operators.

Take #3: I see that some of the jackals are already gloating over the demise of Iowa Pacific as if it's supposed to be the example of keeping private operators out of the intercity market. You guys are just disgusting! Way to support increased passenger rail, guys!

Take #4: Indiana needs to mandate an increase of frequencies when it rebids this train. There is no excuse for Trains #850 and #851 to still be quadweekly with nothing on the horizon (no pun intended).


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Obama Legacy on Rail & the Next Four Years

Looking Back
In a matter of days, the POTUS who was the friendliest towards Amtrak will be leaving office and along with will be carrier's #1 fan, Vice President Biden. The stimulus funding was a much needed boost, but it should have only been the beginning as passenger rail has been underfunded and undermined for decades. In retrospect, all of the HSR portion of the stimulus money should have been allocated to California, and on the Amtrak front, Obama should have appointed Biden to assist the rail company.

Two other things about the Obama Administration that I lament are: 1) overcompensation and 2) Buy America. When I talk about overcompensation, I'm talking about Obama being too friendly towards Amtrak to the point that he awarded 97.4 percent of the stimulus projects to the national carrier. The competition portions in PRIIA should have been enforced. As for Buy America, the FRA has been the biggest barrier to moving forward by forcing commuter and intercity carriers to adhere to those provisions and to build heavy railcars. This country needs more railcar manufacturers so we don't end up with fiascoes like Nippon-Sharyo's Midwestern car order. I just don't think the way the current path is the way for diverse railcars.

Looking Ahead
Rail advocates may be fretting the next four years since Congress and the White House are in the hands of the same party that has historically shown hostility towards Amtrak. 

If some of their fears come to pass, then, most of them should take a look in the mirror because they didn't take my Grand Bargain advice after the collapse of the Florida HSR project and two Midwestern governors returning stimulus money to the White House (as well as Rick Scott). 

As far as being advocates for all rail carriers is concerned, what I've seen from most of these people isn't promising so far. Other than some praise for Brightline, the attitude towards other non-Amtrak carriers has ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. Their silence (and NARP's support) towards a 2012 Senate measure that would have driven other companies out of the U.S. market is an indicator that they should not be picking sides unless they want to be on the outside looking in whenever the rail renaissance happens.

On the other hand, a Congress and president who have far less faith in government's role could be a boon for independent operators. For starters, the True Believers have to get used to the fact that Amtrak is not going get anywhere close to a quarter of the $117 billion it says it needs for a brand new Northeast Corridor.

Some Consistency Please
In any case, the Trump Administration and Congress need to get the message that the passenger rail model as it's currently set up is broken and needs to be fixed because this stasis that has been in place since 1971 cannot continue. 
Consider what former Amtrak Reform Council Board member Bruce Chapman once said
The Bush folks knew we needed reform, but couldn’t deliver it, and wouldn’t fund the transition to a public-private partnership. The Obama people are prepared to spend plenty, but not to reform the system.
The previous president realized that the passenger rail model was broken beyond repair but was unwilling to fix it beyond talking about privatizing Amtrak. The current president spent tens of billions of stimulus and TIGER grant money so Amtrak could basically get a facelift (the CAHSR project and future NECR conventional service being the only non-Amtrak intercity routes to be funded) while paying no attention to Virgin or JR East on the HSR front nor to AIPRO members on the conventional rail front.

The bottom line is that we now need leadership in Washington to realize that both the public and private sectors are needed to boost passenger rail to the next level--from surviving to thriving, from just Amtrak to a number of different operators providing their special spin on service. Like I have said in the past, there are some routes that would be better off operated by someone other than Amtrak.

Trump, Shuster, and company need to realize that a separation of operations from infrastructure can be done while Amtrak apologists need to realize that efforts like AIRNet-21 will result in a separate public owner of infrastructure along the NEC, which would allow Amtrak to run its trains without worrying about the costs of tracks and bridges along the 457-mile route.