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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, October 18, 2017

Tackling the Headlines 94

CAHSR will select DB to operate its line
Take #1: This becomes official tomorrow.

Take #2: What a difference several years make! In early 2009, Virgin was the first operator to toss its hat into the sweepstakes. JR East expressed interest later on in the year. After playing catchup due to the Europeans and Asians garnering all of the attention for the Express HSR routes in CA and FL, Amtrak made a halfhearted effort to join the fray in the spring of 2010.

Take #3: Needless to say, Virgin eventually switched its West Coast route to Los Angeles-Las Vegas before disappearing from the U.S. radar completely, largely thanks to Rick Scott. Amtrak decided to solely focus its HSR aspirations on the NEC after the Tea Party Trio returned stimulus money to then-President Obama and the CA project became shaky. The Japanese operator may have been scared off by China Railway International.

Christie says he is confident new Hudson River tunnels will be built
Take: It's a matter of just who will be paying for it. I heard of a proposal that could make it easy on everybody.

Plans To Increase Amtrak Service Between Twin Cities, Chicago Move Forward
Take #1: Look at my previous takes on Google+ regarding the snail pace of what should already be in place.

Take #2: Also, go to the Trains Magazine forum.

Take #3: I agree with Andrew Selden about the states stifling themselves by not putting out their proposals out to private operators when the law has been in place for them to do so for nine years now. By continuing to solely rely on Amtrak, the costs go up, and long promised routes either get delayed or canceled.

Take #4: CMStPnP 's followup comment to Mr. Selden is pretty telling about the inner workings of Amtrak management and is yet another reason why companies like Virgin, Bombardier, and the AIPRO members must be given a chance to provide the public with an alternative ASAP.

Chattanooga-Atlanta bullet train could lure millions of air travelers to Chattanooga airport
Take #1: This is a plan that I could rally behind because of the backstory. A decade ago, Atlanta leaders considered building a second airport to relieve overcrowding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (aka the busiest airport in the world) but opted to go with the HSR line instead.

Take #2: Obviously, it never stood a chance during the stimulus era but it kept on going.

Take #3: If they're going to make this project come to fruition, maglev is not the answer, a Texas or California like project is.

Take #4: Anything that gets the long-stalled downtown station back on track gets the okay from me.

New station opens in Rochester, NY
Take: It might be pricey, but at least passengers actually have a real station than the old Amshack.

Port Huron, MI could be next
Take:The city not only needs a new station but more frequencies as well--and how about extending one or two of them to Toronto? Just saying.

A possible San Joaquin reroute in Sacramento
Take #1: It's doable but connections for Capitol Corridor, California Zephyr, and Coast Starlight passengers would have to be worked out.

Take #2: Multiple stations in the capital city means fewer people driving from afar and the light rail connections would make it easier for everyone.

Spanish airline getting into the rail business
Take: Amazing how things turn around in a matter of decades!

Here’s What Amtrak’s Fancy New Trains Will Look Like
Take: So after that, the company is sticking to the Acela name.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Brexit's Impact on UK Intercity Rail

In September 2013, the Labour Party leadership shelved plans to discuss renationalizing passenger rail. However, that was not to last as Jeremy Corbyn's ascension to the party's leadership two years later eventually resulted in the topic being a part of the platform during this spring's elections.

The European Union has wanted its members to open intercity rail to up to competition by the next decade. Things were moving steadily until the surprise 2016 vote which saw 52 percent of Britons wanting to leave the Union. 

It is possible that in an ironic twist, Great Britain's impending exit from the EU has the potential of finishing what this June's results started: Ending competition and restoring British Rail. Here are the reasons why:

  1. The fragile Conservative-Democratic Unionist alliance isn't going to survive the next election now scheduled for 2022
  2. "Old Labour's" ideas have sustaining power and aren't going away, hence, more calls for renationalization and fewer people speaking out on the virtues of competition
  3. Once the UK is out of the EU, a competition averse Parliament is unlikely to let domestic entities like Virgin continue to run trains let alone foreign ones like MTR
Now is the time for more voices of intercity competition to speak out. Even though Britons complain about paying the highest fares for rates, here is a newspaper article that speaks out about what's gone right and where there's room for improvement.


Some passengers may roll their eyes when they read this based on their own experiences but last month’s National Rail Passenger Survey shows that many of these ambitions are now being delivered – on just one main line. At London King’s Cross the main train franchise, Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), faces stiff competition from two non-franchised high-speed ‘open access’ train operators on inter-city services between London, Yorkshire and the North East.
What Mr. Lodge is saying is that open access is needed, not just multiple operators bidding for the right to run on a route the way it's currently done for commuter routes.


Grand Central and Hull Trains also came top on value for money, reliability, punctuality and getting a seat. The message is clear; when passengers have real choice, and train companies face competition on the same track, then operators raise their game. It is a clear and unarguable fact that they deliver better services at competitive fares because they have to fight for passengers. This rivalry has also delivered innovations such as free wi-fi, special flexible ticket deals and new routes as operators look to serve extra towns and cities to boost their offering.

I like to see all of the Amtrak apologists who are quick to point out all of the UK's flaws quip about the three-way among the operators serving the London-Yorkshire route. They need to stop defending the entity that is slow to adapt to changes and has made the passenger experience less comfortable over the last couple of years and begin thinking of what other operators could do to boost passenger service if they are only given a chance by the federal government. 

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.