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#381 MrFSS

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Posted 17 October 2010 - 08:20 PM

Volume 7, Number 22

October 18th, 2010

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA


Changes, new directions for This Week at Amtrak

By J. Bruce Richardson

There is nothing more inevitable than change, and change is again occurring at This Week at Amtrak.

Since early this year, TWA has been fortunate to have William Lindley of Scottsdale, Arizona producing the publication, handling all of the chores from writing and editing to all of the publishing functions, including mailing list maintenance.

Mr. Lindley's burgeoning business interests are preventing him from publishing as often as he would like.

As a result, at Mr. Lindley's request, the mantle of writing and editing This Week at Amtrak has moved to the Brothers Carleton; David and Daniel by chronological order. Scions of the D. Carleton Railbooks publishing enterprise, M'sieurs Carleton bring a wealth of current and historical knowledge of the passenger and freight railroad industry, and a wonderful ability to offer concise, pertinent analysis. We will all look forward to their upcoming editions of TWA.

Mr. Lindley will continue to handle the various mechanical aspects of producing This Week at Amtrak, and he will also be an occasional contributor to the TWA under the Brothers Carleton.

We thank Mr. Lindley for all of his excellent efforts, and his continuing work on behalf of TWA and United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc. in general. Mr. Lindley provides URPA with our website, mail list hosting, and a number of other facets of our work.

We look forward with great anticipation of the work of the Brothers Carleton, carrying on a great family tradition of superb publishing in the railroad industry.

Amtrak, passenger rail, and the elections which are upon us

By John Lee

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA - There is an excitement in Virginia about passenger rail service. The state government is growing passenger rail in Virginia, and, so far, the efforts have been successful - so successful that one of the newest lines is operating free of state subsidy.

All across America, political candidates are promising if they are elected, they are going to be fiscal conservatives, and eliminate wasteful government programs and unnecessary expenditures of tax dollars which belong to the public. One of the main targets is a cluster of passenger rail projects which have begun under current administrations, but may be doomed under new administrations after the elections just two short weeks away.

Indeed, in many states, the elections have already begun with early voting.

Many in the passenger rail advocacy community fear long fought for rail programs, such as the Three C program in Ohio, will become just another project stopped in its tracks, just like Robert R. Young's C&O stillborn post-war Chessie streamliner. Similar thoughts are coming to the surface in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Perhaps as many as half a dozen passenger rail projects, particularly those tied to the proposed high speed rail projects, may be canceled by new state government administrations who wish to spend the state portion of the monies elsewhere, even when the federal government has promised to fund much of the initial costs to get services up and running.

No matter than Amtrak announced last week it had set another record for ridership and revenue, even though no real numbers were published, such as load factors or revenue passenger miles. The many bright spots in passenger rail, such as here in Virginia, the Piedmont expansion in North Carolina, the Illinois regional trains, and a few others are not bright enough lights on their own to convince budget conscious state lawmakers to take a chance on passenger rail. Here in Virginia, we have a new train planned from Norfolk to the northeast, via Richmond and Washington. We're excited about this new route, and our state administrators are carefully planning for this route to be a success from the beginning. There is a spirited fight among various small towns along the route, such as Windsor, Virginia, to grab a station stop along the way.

The important question is, should passenger rail advocacy voters vote against candidates because they are against rail projects as they now stand?

The resounding answer is no. Too much is at stake in this watershed election to vote for candidates merely based on the subject of passenger rail.

The hardest thing in the world to kill is a government program. Just ask New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is trying to kill the new passenger rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York City under the Hudson River. While this is a project with a bad location on the New York side, and it doesn't connect to anything, making it a bad project for decades to come (the existing tunnel it is supposed to augment just celebrated its 100th birthday this month, and is still going strong), the project won't die.

Federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, upon hearing of the cancellation of the project, flew the next day to Trenton, New Jersey's capital, to try and work something out with Governor Christie to keep the project alive. Even though the feds are writing a $3 billion check for the tunnel work, Governor Christie says the State of New Jersey will be on the hook for billions more, perhaps more than $10 billion more, and his state can't afford that.

So, Secretary LaHood convinced Governor Christie to at least take a look at a new deal, and to never say never.

Dollars to doughnuts, the tunnel is going to be built, just not with New Jersey money, and, maybe, if everyone is fortunate, with a better terminal location in Manhattan. There will most likely be some gnashing of teeth, grinding of molars, and posturing before news cameras before this is all over. In the end, there will be a tunnel.

If the same thing happens in Ohio with a new governor, then probably the same scenario is going to happen there. Lots of gnashing of teeth, grandstanding before cameras, and utterances about fiscal responsibility.

But, in the end, the Three C corridor will probably go forward. The best case scenario, as has already begun to happen in Ohio, is a much closer look will be taken at the operating numbers and project forecasts. Maybe some comparisons will be made to Virginia and North Carolina and Illinois, and perhaps California. Maybe someone, somewhere, will cut through all of the obfuscation of reality and take a look at the real economics of passenger rail, not the worst case scenarios we have been treated to in the past.

When that happens, all of the proposed projects will have a chance at redemption. Those projects which are truly bad projects, such as the proposed high speed rail project down in Florida running between Orlando and Tampa, hopefully will go the way of the nearly forgotten Chessie streamliner. The good projects, such as Virginia's new train from Norfolk to the northeast, will flourish, no matter who is in charge at the capital in Richmond.

Don't throw away your precious vote on a single issue which can be addressed more positively elsewhere. Vote as if your life depended on it, because it does, for your future, and the future of your children and grandchildren, no matter what your political persuasion. If a rail project is good, it will survive. If it's not good, it deserves to die, and something more productive needs to take its place.

If you are reading someone else's copy of This Week at Amtrak, you can receive your own free copy each edition by sending your e-mail address to

freetwa@unitedrail.org

You MUST include your name, preferred e-mail address, and city and state where you live. If you have filters or firewalls placed on your Internet connection, set your e-mail to receive incoming mail from twa@unitedrail.org; we are unable to go through any approvals processes for individuals. This mailing list is kept strictly confidential and is not shared or used for any purposes other than distribution of This Week at Amtrak or related URPA materials.

All other correspondence, including requests to unsubscribe should be addressed to

wlindley@unitedrail.org

Copies of This Week at Amtrak are archived on URPA's web site, www.unitedrail.org

URPA leadership members are available for speaking engagements.

#382 MrFSS

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 04:05 PM

Note from MrFSS - there are two editions below. They were both recieved at the same time from URPA

Volume 7, Number 24

December 12, 2010

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA
Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.org Website http://www.unitedrail.org



Editors: D & D Carleton Proofreading: Black Bear Wordsmiths (blackbearws@yahoo.com)

From the Editors…

With this edition, we conclude the coverage of this year's Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads conference presented by Railway Age magazine.

How does one brake a high-speed rail?

By Daniel Carleton

For many years, two prominent gentlemen have always been a presence at these soirées to act as guiding lights and voices of reason: Gene Skoropowski of California's Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, and Thomas Mulligan of Union Pacific. Today, both have retired from their long, distinguished careers; therefore, it was a real treat when they took the stage, engaging in a simulated freight/passenger negotiation session with a twist -- reversed roles. Skoropowski represented the railroad, and Mulligan the local municipality seeking to start a commuter rail service. Assisted by Kevin Sheys (Partner, K&L Gates LLP) and his two hats, the hour-long simulation was both humorous and sobering.

Many times railroads learn about plans of starting passenger service by reading about it in the newspaper. By the time they are invited to discuss the plan, the governing municipality has garnered numerous ideas about the railroad and its operations, most of which are completely erroneous. The railroad is left to quell these preconceived notions before the real discussion may begin. Any excess capacity on the railroad is owned by the shareholders. Liability costs must be borne by the new commuter entity.

The current Amtrak rates for track access to preexisting routes do not apply, and actual access fees will be some $7-10/train mile. Non-railroad capacity studies are "not worth the paper they're printed on." Railroads are receptive to incentive payments for service, but not penalties. Ultimately, the right business deal is needed to make such service a reality.

Martin Schroeder of American Public Train Association (APTA) addressed the gathering on safety standards development. Currently, APTA has over 200 standards in publication, and they are recognized by numerous professional and government agencies. The result of this proactive effort has been minimization of government regulation and an educated influence on the final outcome of said regulation. Fixed standards equal reduced liability for those adhering to them.

Alan Zarembski, President of Zeta-Tech Associates, spoke to us about engineering hurdles required for higher-speed corridors. Anyone looking to build or upgrade track for high- or higher-speed trains needs to enlist Zarembski's expertise. Through numerous charts and graphs, he illustrated requirements for making a higher-speed corridor, as well as conflicts between the needs of freight and passenger trains.

Simply put, passenger track is expensive. For instance, a #20 turnout (a broad track switch) costs about $100-120K. A #30 turnout (an even broader switch) costs over $250K. In the U.S., track maintenance dollars are spent on rails and ties; in Europe, the resources go into right-of-way surfacing. When asked about the failures of concrete ties in the U.S., he stated that since the 1970s over 300 million concrete ties have been installed, and about 5-10% of these have suffered chemical degradation.

Rodney Case presented an outsider's view of European freight and passenger operations. Europe does, indeed, have a mixed-operation network, and private investors are showing up in the European Union. He concluded by asking aloud if projects such as Access to the Region's Core and East Side Access would not be fundamentally more attractive if jointly constructed to accommodate freight across Manhattan. He also asked, Why does the U.S. rail industry approach the government and stakeholders in such a fragmented approach?

Thomas Mulligan graciously received this year's Graham Claytor Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation. A self-effacing man, he humbly summarized his railroad carrier. Early on, one of his superiors once declared him ambidextrous; he could not take shorthand with either hand! The ovation Mulligan received was well deserved, and we wish him the best that retirement can offer.

Over lunch, casual conversation turned to some quite shocking and virtually unmentioned facts about Positive Train Control (PTC). Overall PTC will make transit times longer. How can this be? Was not one of the touted benefits of PTC higher speeds? It was explained this way: Suppose a train is entering a 40 mph curve. Currently, the engineer may enter the curve at 41-42 mph with no discernable difference in train operation. This will not be possible with PTC. The train will have to be at 40 mph (or less) entering the curve, or there will be a penalty. That conversation ended with, "We're still working on the algorithms." It would appear Casey Jones truly is dead.

There was a panel discussion on U.S. high-speed rail initiatives. The panel Chair was Al Swift, former Representative from Washington State, who started the discussion with the admonition, "Advisory committees are there to be ignored." He later made the salient point that we use the term "High-Speed Rail" indiscriminately, and we need to make some agreement on what it means. Art Guzzetti of APTA made the point that ARRA was a "jobs bill" and not a rail program. Currently, most intercity rail work is building back to a state of good repair and capacity expansion. Of note, one of the scheduled panelists, Drew Galloway of Amtrak, could not attend (as he was attempting to save the ARC program).

During the question/answer period, this author inadvertently kicked the hornet's nest. The point was made that all true High-Speed Rail programs around the world began as augmentations or replacements of existing conventional rail systems. The two true HSR programs proposed in this country, Florida and California, are not replacing existing conventional corridors. Without a pre-existing rider base to naturally migrate from an existing service to an improved service, any new-start HSR service may not meet preconceived notions for ridership.

Would not such a failure on the national stage have long-lasting negative impact on operation/expansion of passenger rail in the U.S.?

There was a pregnant pause. A stunned backlash followed. One of the panelists responded, "I'm just a consultant." The sternly-worded formal answer, from someone actively working on the Florida project, defended his efforts with the standard line, pointing to existing state-owned right-of-way and choice of station location as being surrounded by nothing but parking lots. The existing renovated station in downtown Tampa is purportedly unsuitable, as there is currently nothing near it.

The final presentation was an update on the higher-speed initiatives in Illinois. This primarily focused on the upgrade between Chicago and St. Louis, where speeds of 110 mph will be recognized. By that time, the majority of attendees had vacated, starting their way back from whence they came. How many traveled by train?

Epilogue

It has been less than two months since the conference, and yet it seems everything has changed. In the elections of last month many candidates ran, at least in part, on a platform of 'stopping the train.' Higher-speed plans in Wisconsin and Ohio may be cancelled. Even the true HSR project in Florida is in question. It would appear at least at this early date that passenger railroading in America has had yet another false start.

The first exposure this author experienced with passenger rail and politics was the High-Speed Ground Transportation Association convention of 1996. The crowd was huge. The air was electric. We were going to set the world on fire. Amtrak had officially signed to buy the American Flyer (later Acela) trainsets for the Northeast, and Florida was to get the Florida Overland eXpress (FOX). Before the end of the decade, the FOX was cancelled and Acela suffered setback after infamous setback.

Yet it is the same people from back in 1996 who have been coming again and again to Washington, and to similar meetings around the country. Now, with a probable payout for the first time in 14 years, they were practically tripping over one another to sell their wares. After 14 years, their angst is entirely understandable; so when the long-awaited call for "shovel ready" HSR projects came, about the best Florida could come up with was a dust-covered plan for the FOX.

But this is not 1996. The paradigm has most definitely changed. Is this really the best idea for denizens of the Sunshine State? The new anti-rail sentiment now threatens the future of SunRail, the Orlando area commuter rail system. Is the audacity of HSR such that it may endanger all potential rail projects in Florida? Instead of asking these and other questions, those would-be builders of HSR are running ahead full throttle. Their actions border on malicious compliance. High-Speed Rail is not the devil incarnate, as some politicians would contend; however, all successful HSR programs follow successful conventional passenger rail programs. This is something this country has not enjoyed for almost a half century.

Just as a baby learns to crawl before walking, we the people must learn (or re-learn) the basics of passenger railroading before contemplating moving forward. It is a generational arrogance that believes elementary steps may be skipped, yet viable results still be achieved. Seldom does arrogance go without receiving its due reward.

If you are reading someone else's copy of This Week at Amtrak, you can received your own free copy each edition by sending your e-mail address to
freetwa@unitedrail.org
You MUST include your name, preferred e-mail address, and city and state where you reside. If you have filters or firewalls placed on your Internet connection, set your e-mail to receive incoming mail from twa@unitedrail.org; we are unable to go through any approvals processes for individuals. This mailing list is kept strictly confidential and is not shared or used for any purposes other than distribution of This Week at Amtrak or related URPA materials.


Volume 7, Number 23
December 12, 2010 for November 10, 2010

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA
Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.org Website http://www.unitedrail.org


NOTE: This edition of This Week at Amtrak was originally published to the United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc. web site on November 10, 2010, but, through an administrative error, was not distributed to the general subscriber list. Therefore, the edition is being generally distributed now, immediately followed by a second distribution, which will be the original distribution for edition Number 24. We apologize for any inconvenience to readers of TWA.


Editors: D & D Carleton Proofreading: Black Bear Wordsmiths (blackbearws@yahoo.com)

From the Editors…

As with all journeys, this one begins with an itinerary. There are points of interest. There are schedules to be met. And, there is, of course, the occasional missed connection. As the new editors of this on-line publication, we shall attempt to keep this interesting and do so in a timely manner. We do not bring an agenda with us, but do believe in the free flow of news and ideas to that which unites us all together: the realistic belief in and rational expansion of passenger railroading in the United States. Therefore, without further ado, we would like to take a moment to introduce ourselves.

David Carleton has been in the engineering field for over thirty years; more than twenty of those years with an ENR top 500 civil engineering firm in Central Florida. Along the way, he has worked in railroad civil engineering and railroad electrification, as well as landmark preservation and intelligent mixed-use land development. He also has an extensive background in publishing railroad books for historians and enthusiasts, alike, by virtue of the fact that his family founded and operated the publishing house of D. Carleton Rail Books. David has made himself available here in the role of researcher and historian, so that all the lessons learned along the way can be put to their best use.

Daniel Carleton is a twenty-year veteran of the electrical power industry, with eighteen of those years spent in the nuclear field. He is now semi-retired, having attained the position of Supervisor of Mechanical Maintenance. Like his brother, he grew up around and in the world of railroading, and continues to draw parallels between these two branches of industry: railroads and power generation. Combining the context of railroading's nearly two-century-old history with the strict attention to detail necessary in today's environment, Daniel intends to be the vigilant eye on the ever-shifting landscape of passenger railroading.

We would also like to thank Jean Sopko, of Black Bear Wordsmiths (blackbearws@yahoo.com), for graciously accepting the task of proofreading our musings and ramblings. Jean has a B.A. in English. She has been a newspaper proofreader, newspaper archivist, and medical transcriptionist. She has also held several highly-technical positions in the electronics industry.

Many have been convinced, looking at the "modern" high speed trains of faraway lands, that history has nothing to teach us regarding the future of passenger railroading; however, as the old saying goes, "He who fails to learn his history is destined to repeat the seventh grade." Sadly there are more seventh graders who are more prescient about the future of transportation than most adults. Another wise man once said, "Good ideas never go bad, they just sometimes are put on a shelf." Shall we return to the days of steam, steel, and limiteds? No, that is not our vision; however, unless rational decisions based on proven formulas are made, the future of transportation, all transportation, is in jeopardy.

Our journey has just begun. When and where it will end is still unknown. So for now let us sit back, relax, and gaze out the large window as the scenery whisks by.

Waiter, there's a High Speed Rail in my soup.

By Daniel Carleton

You know the party has only started when Charles "Wick" Moorman, Chairman, President, and CEO of Norfolk Southern Corporation, begins his statements in regard to passenger trains with, "Get the damn things off my railroad."

After the roar of laughter settled down, day one of this year's Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads conference, presented by Railway Age magazine, was underway. Afterward, Moorman acknowledged his appreciation for passenger trains, having ridden them to school every day in Great Britain. Hardly a stuffy or stodgy individual, Moorman proved to be quite congenial and self-effacing. He sees his company's relationship with Amtrak as "strong," a position this gathering of railroad professionals would not deny. He made one fact quite clear: passenger trains on his freight railroad means 79 mph, maybe 90 mph in certain circumstances, but definitely not "High Speed Rail." He also made it very clear that the increased track maintenance will not be borne by his railroad or stockholders.

Moorman was quite concise that every corridor and potential corridor for passenger trains is different; they are "not all the same." He pointed to three areas where current and future services are welcome: (1) Virginia — the increase of service by extension of a Richmond train to Lynchburg is seen as a success. Norfolk to Petersburg makes a lot of sense, but a connection will have to be built between the former N&W and SCL at Petersburg, after which one would "bounce your way to Washington" (a good-natured jab at his primary competition, CSX). The Commonwealth of Virginia is shouldering the cost of these services and upgrades. (2) Chicago — the grade separation at Englewood, which will raise a Metra commuter line over a busy NS freight line (also shared by numerous Amtrak trains), is one of many great projects in that area, improving freight and passenger service. (3) North Carolina — work continues in this state to continuously improve passenger service, and NS is committed to this work.

Then Moorman addressed two areas that have caused great concern to the industry, those being the now reconsidered Federal guidelines for high-speed rail, and Positive Train Control. He described the Federal guidelines as "surprising to us" and "frightening to us." The reward of passenger trains is slight, to the freight railroads. Then a call to any seeking to run a new passenger service: "Keep the word `risk' in mind." Whereas many may see the benefits of running passenger trains, it is the freight railroads who weigh the risk. As for PTC, it is a well-intentioned but bad piece of legislation, with an estimated price tag of $10 billion for the industry. This is going to be a big distraction to the railroads for the next five years. NS has estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of its track will require PTC.

Following that was a panel discussion on the National Rail Plan, chaired by Al Engel on his first day as Amtrak's new Vice President for High Speed Rail. The Plan is a project by the FRA. As it is limited to 120 pages, the Plan is a strategic vision for the future, and an answer to Congress when it asks, "Show us your High Speed Rail plan?" FRA replies, "We don't have an HSR plan, we have a National Rail Plan." Even so, there were many useful tidbits of information brought out in this two-hour segment. The freight hauling system in the United States currently moves 40 tons of freight per person, per year. The goal of the Plan is to realize an increase of intermodal (trailers or containers moving greater than 500 miles) on the railroads from about 23% today, to 50%. The largest roadblock to building new intermodal terminals is not NIMBYs, but the environmental permitting process; this is a critical issue for the Plan. The expected cost of applying PTC to a single locomotive is $60,000-70,000.

Don Itzkoff, who will be moving to GE Transportation, then gave us an update on how things stand in Washington, DC. Simply put, HSR is now a higher political target. Everyone is feeling his way around this new scheme of transportation with the mindset of "play the game, then write the rules." Of the more than $10 billion (soon to be over $11 billion) set aside for HSR, only $1 billion has been spent; however, rail is now very visible on Capitol Hill. Rail is now very much part of the surface transportation discussion, and rail is now speaking with one voice.

Our luncheon speaker was none other than Joseph Boardman, President and CEO of Amtrak. He started off by joking that his education in Agriculture Management at Cornell qualified him for Amtrak's top spot. Despite his wit and spry manner, he looked tired and concerned, as though the weight of the whole world was on his shoulders. Even so, he did attend the entire morning, and most of the afternoon sessions. He was quick to point out that despite the conference title of Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads, talk of High Speed Rail kept "sneaking" in. Unlike most of the participants who stuck to the 'where and when', Boardman seemed compelled to answer 'how and why' he is, where he is, and what he intends to do about it. His appreciation for public transit came with the gas lines of 1973 and a national lack of desire to fix the problem. Even now it is already too late to provide balanced transportation for the nation. Amtrak needs a fundamental change in its culture — it has visibly lost support due to its arrogance – and to this end, Boardman seeks to instill the three parts of humility into those in his charge: inclusion of all, being collegial, and pursuing continuity. He said later on that he wants the people in key positions to be able to make those decisions on their own with the proper input. Is this perhaps a move away from the micromanagement so prevalent in state agencies? Time will tell.

Boardman acknowledged that his work is cut out for him. He noted that in the 1930s the number of passenger cars in the United States was around 65,000. By the late 1940s the number was down to about 30,000. Today, Amtrak stables less than 1400 passenger cars. As regards the latest order for rolling stock from CAF USA, everything except the stainless steel will be domestic, since they could not find a domestic source.

After lunch, representatives from Veolia Transportation delivered an interesting discussion on Cognitive Distraction and Attentional Error, which included actual cab video of a commuter Railroad Engineer verbally acknowledging a restrictive signal, yet still throttling up his train as though it was clear. Fortunately, he and the oncoming train did stop prior to an impact. Much research has been done to study the mind and mental health of those operating our trains nationwide, and there is still much to learn. It should be noted that the Chatsworth wreck was not discussed outright due to the ongoing investigation in which the panel is involved.

Next, a representative discussed what has been done and what is proposed in the Pacific Northwest. Like NS, Burlington Northern Santa Fe has been a cooperative partner in passenger rail, but has also made it clear that the maximum speed it will allow on its railroad will be 90 mph.

Then Al Fazio of Bombardier Transportation North America, who has overseen the build and start-up of NJ Transit's River Line interurban in southern New Jersey, spoke on Extended Temporal Separation. For years, the River Line has been running non-compliant (crash standard) vehicles on the same tracks used by heavy freight trains protected by positive separation and lockout of one service or the other. He pointed out that the FRA defines systems as either `rail transit systems' or 'short haul passenger railways'. The decision is based on the `purpose of the trip'. If it is a rail transit system, then they may use non- or near-compliant equipment with temporal separation. If it is a short haul passenger railway, then the equipment must be compliant. This will be important going forward, as Fazio pointed out there are no more abandoned rail lines left to convert to light rail. The next step will be shared use.

The day closed with a sobering panel discussion, "Safety and Security: the Basics of Counterterrorism." The panelists were quite dismayed over the cancellation of the second set of tunnels under the Hudson River; not because of the money lost in contracts, but due to lack of redundancy that presently exists in a heightened security environment. After a review of worldwide terrorist actions prior to 9-11, it was obvious that threats and sabotage against railroads is nothing new. Even so, the 'Homeland Security Model' developed and adopted after 9-11 does not fit all. There are five steps for counterterrorism on the railroad: (1) integrate thoroughly, ( 2) evaluate constantly, (3) know the threat, (4) foster vigilance — employees and rail fans, and (5) shift the balance.

If you are reading someone else's copy of This Week at Amtrak, you can received your own free copy each edition by sending your e-mail address to
freetwa@unitedrail.org
You MUST include your name, preferred e-mail address, and city and state where you reside. If you have filters or firewalls placed on your Internet connection, set your e-mail to receive incoming mail from twa@unitedrail.org; we are unable to go through any approvals processes for individuals. This mailing list is kept strictly confidential and is not shared or used for any purposes other than distribution of This Week at Amtrak or related URPA materials.

All other correspondence, including requests to unsubscribe should be addressed to

brichardson@unitedrail.org

Copes of This Week at Amtrak are archived on URPA's web site, www.unitedrail.org



#383 MrFSS

MrFSS

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 08:19 AM

Volume 7, Number 25

December 20, 2010

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA
Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.org Website http://www.unitedrail.org


Editors: D & D Carleton Proofreading: Black Bear Wordsmiths (blackbearws@yahoo.com)

From the Editors…

We are privileged to present the following commentary by Russ Jackson. Russ is a decades-long URPA vice president. He is also a founding member and Secretary of the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC); the largest, most active rail passenger advocacy group in that state. Russ regularly attends and reports on state rail meetings of the San Joaquin, Coast Rail, and Capitol Corridors.

The passenger trains operated by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway between Chicago and the West Coast are the stuff of legend. Their post-war fleets of stainless steel trains were, and are, considered the gold standard for American passenger railroading. Everybody knows the Super Chief ran over Raton Pass. They forget that the El Capitan was a separate train for most of its existence, but they vaguely remember that there was a different train called the Chief that also ran over Raton Pass. They remember that the San Francisco Chief ran through Amarillo, but they forget that the line through Amarillo also saw half of a train called the Grand Canyon; the other half of the Grand Canyon ran over Raton Pass!

Something else that apparently few people remember is that right up until Amtrak, the Santa Fe served Denver directly, with service between Denver and La Junta. In fact, there were two round trips per day until 1967. There were two trains a day through Amarillo before the Postal cuts in 1967, and there was one train daily right up until Amtrak.

It has been proposed that the one remnant of this once-proud lineage, Amtrak's Southwest Chief, be rerouted some 790 miles off its current route through Raton Pass to the prominent BNSF Railway transcontinental mainline through Amarillo. This week, Mr. Jackson examines this proposition.

What Happens if the Southwest Chief is Rerouted?

Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

Every once in a while, the rerouting of Amtrak Trains 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief, off the traditional line from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Hutchinson, Kansas arises, because the line has virtually no BNSF freight traffic in Colorado and New Mexico any longer. That is a true statement. The railroad no longer uses the Chief, and has diverted through freights to the soon-to-be fully double-tracked "Transcon" line, farther south. This was the historic route of Santa Fe's San Francisco Chief prior to Amtrak. In recent months, Amtrak has been forced to add 40 minutes to the Chief's schedule due to a BNSF lowering of the speed limit on the very rough trackage in western Kansas and Colorado, such that Train 4 now departs Los Angeles at 6:15 PM. The BNSF has offered to move the train to the Transcon line, which as we will see, is more populated. The State of New Mexico now owns the line within its borders and runs the very successful Railrunner trains on the portion south of Santa Fe to Albuquerque. The BNSF still owns the rest.

Well then, what would happen if Amtrak had to abandon the line?

Would New Mexico pay to maintain the line through Raton Pass? Would Colorado step up and pay to maintain their portion of the line? Would Kansas pay? Would a "short line" purchase it, knowing there are almost no freight customers? Would Amtrak pay a higher share of the maintenance? Would anyone pay to rebuild it? Would the BNSF pay for a portion of an abandoned line? The answers to these questions are likely to be "No."

All right, then what would be lost in a reroute?

Certainly, there is the loss of the "absolutely spectacular and incomparable" scenic route through Raton Pass, as stated by URPA's Bruce Richardson, "but how many millions of dollars a year in track maintenance is that scenery worth?" In this case economics will eventually govern the results, even though Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman has said he is "not interested in" moving the train.

Here are the FY '09 Amtrak ridership and revenue statistics for the abandoned towns; but not including Albuquerque, as that ridership could be largely retained by having the Railrunner act as a shuttle to Belen, thereby avoiding Amtrak's having to back up into Albuquerque.

Station - FY09 Riders - FY09 Revenue

Lamy, New Mexico - 13,012 - $1,623,108

Las Vegas, New Mexico - 4,456 - $335,144

Raton, New Mexico - 15,066 - $1,572,789

La Junta, Colorado - 6,809 - $658,928

Lamar, Colorado - 1,722 - $162,363

Trinidad, Colorado - 3,923 - $388,961

Dodge City, Kansas - 4,248 - $429,647

Garden City, Kansas - 6,930 - $712,501

Hutchinson, Kansas - 4,045 - $396,749

Totals - 60,211 - $6,280,190

(Statistics found on Great American Stations)

To Amtrak Accounting, that might be "chump change," but to the people who live in those towns and use the train it can be a matter of life and death, just as was the case for the Empire Builder across North Dakota and Montana.

Yes, there is also a human cost. On my October trip to northern New Mexico, I stopped for a visit at the Las Vegas, NM, Amtrak station, which is not staffed by Amtrak but is the city's nicely-restored Intermodal Facility in the Historic Railroad District. Employees handle questions about Amtrak travel, and there is a Quik-Trak ticket machine.

Transportation Facility Manager Debra Trujillo was aware there was talk of a potential loss of the train, and expressed concern for her town's people, many of whom are senior citizens who would have no transportation alternative. Greyhound does not serve the town. She said many people ride the train to Albuquerque for medical appointments, or into Colorado to visit relatives. While dealing with Amtrak can be difficult, she is looking forward to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus-money-funded new, ADA-compliant platform; although as of the date of my visit, construction had not yet begun. I urged Manager Trujillo to let Amtrak and the political establishment know how important the train is to her city, and to muster the other cities on the route to do the same.

What would Amtrak gain by rerouting the train?

Many observers felt Amtrak should have also retained the San Francisco Chief when it began in 1971. To go into these towns now would mean they would be starting over, selling rail passenger service after 40 years of absence. Here are the current populations of the new station cities, not their metro areas. It is not a prediction of ridership, but one can certainly see the temptation to reach out to new customers. The towns listed below are not all the stations that were served by the Santa Fe's train, but are the most likely stops:

Station - Population

Vaughn, New Mexico (flag stop?) - 463

Clovis-Portales, New Mexico - 45,124

Hereford, Texas - 14,455

Amarillo-Canyon, Texas (major university at Canyon) - 200,183

Pampa, Texas - 17,204

Alva, Oklahoma - 4,738

Woodward, Oklahoma - 12,206

Wellington, Kansas - 7,812

Wichita, Kansas - 361,420

(Statistics from Rand McNally map book)

Eventually, the decision may be out of the hands of the cities, the railroad or Amtrak. That would be unfortunate and would probably be a big black eye for all. The BNSF's Joseph Faust told the Amarillo Globe-News on October 8 that Amtrak is free to use the freight tracks in Amarillo, but that option "would require a great deal of study." The historic passenger station is used by an auction house, but is still standing; as is the brick platform. Amtrak's Marc Magliari told the newspaper, "Right now (the delays) are not significant. Our intention is to stay on the current route."

This writer urges all parties to work to preserve this service area and work to restore the San Francisco Chief into the Amtrak long-distance system; yes, to San Francisco from Barstow, up the San Joaquin Valley. That would be a bonanza for Amtrak ridership and revenue. Years ago, the Amtrak agent in Stockton told me that he could fill a sleeping car on the train every day, in the old days. Think future, Amtrak!

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#384 Larry H.

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 05:55 PM

I heard Boardman interviewed on NPR the other day. I was struck by a comment in which he was defending high speed rail in places other than the popular corridors. He said loosely that for successful amtrak high speed lines they needed feeder lines from all parts of the country if were ever to get the majority of the public able to access rail travel. I almost fell of my chair when he mentioned that by a certain date, which I won't try and recall, but a dozen or so years out I would guess, that 80% off american towns would have access to rail transportation again? I wonder what that means since so little interest appears to be given in actually returning many of the abandoned cities to the route structure, which in my view is the only way for a successful system and not one touted as only a coastal system by many.

#385 Ryan

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 06:09 PM

Amazing that Boardman can come out and say that Amtrak is interested and planning on returning to those towns and you can still state they have "so little interest".
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#386 Larry H.

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 07:36 PM

I can see your mostly interested in arguing points, however how long has amtrak been around? 40 years? It is a surprise that after contending they had little support for expanding the system that they would now indicate they might. I see nothing the least bit odd about that.

#387 Ryan

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 07:49 PM

I can't even begin to divine what point you're trying to make. Are you trying to say that since they haven't expressed any interest in expansion in the past that they're not allowed to do so now?
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#388 Larry H.

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:13 PM

Its the internet era for sure! Your not going to see a point because you don't want to and can keep arguing about it from now on. Yes I said what I meant. It is some what surprising when so many have tried and had it to fall on deaf ears all these years about the need to expand the system to those places that have no service, the usual reports were that if States would pay for them they might run them other wise they weren't interested. So it did come a big surprise to hear they might be now considering changing that policy. I will believe it when I see it. Besides that there were and probably still are a lot of people who seemed to think that the north east or california was the only place suitable to rail service. Obviously there not living in or near the hundreds of towns for which rail service is the only public transportation available.

#389 Ryan

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:26 PM

Your not going to see a point because you don't want to and can keep arguing about it from now on.

I'm not going to see a point because your writing is nearly incompressible.
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#390 pebbleworm

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 12:55 AM

Since I live in San Francisco, a restored San Francisco Chief would suit me just fine. I usually travel to southeast Iowa, so that would get met there a little faster by avoiding the California Zephyr snow delays and the 30 MPH canyon crawl through the Rockies, AND give me a one seat or one room ride back home without transferring to the San Joaquin or the Starlate.

#391 MrFSS

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 03:00 PM

Volume 8, Number 1

January 18, 2011

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.
America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA
Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.org Website http://www.unitedrail.org

From the Editors…

And now a (highly) condensed look at the year past through the eyes of This Week at Amtrak.

2010, A.D. [Amtrak Defined]

As we enter our eighth year of publication, we find the world of passenger railroading in a greater-than-usual state of flux. Obviously, the biggest curveball thrown may be summed up in three little words: High- Speed Rail. After the "Vision for High-Speed Rail" and High-Speed Rail guidelines of 2009, we waited in expectation for January 28, when $8 billion worth of specific American Recovery and Reinvestment Act rail projects would be announced. It took months for the euphoria to subside. Then came reality; mid-term election candidates began to run on platforms advocating stoppage of HSR projects in their respective states. Freight railroads found the punitive federal guidelines "surprising" and "frightening."

Then things got interesting.

On January 5, after an initial one-year term as President, Joseph H. Boardman was granted (by the Amtrak Board) a permanent position. On January 11, an Amtrak press release announced, "AMTRAK READY WITH BIG PLANS FOR 2010 -- New Year brings major projects and new initiatives." This was hardly the first announcement heralding "big plans." As with so many other forward-looking statements of years past, this was generally received with a sigh. As events would later prove, however, some rather big things did actually happen.

March 6 saw the first Town Hall meeting co-sponsored by Amtrak and Trains Magazine. Well-attended and featuring the presence of Amtrak Chairman Tom Carper, as well as Joe Boardman, there were those inside the corporation who decried this "foamers' forum." Even so, there was positive dialogue about photography and updates on equipment rebuilding at the Beech Grove Repair Facility, using stimulus money. A train of three cars and a locomotive were on display for all in attendance to tour (and photograph).

March 31 was the end of an era at Amtrak. Cliff Black, long-time (and long-suffering) Chief of Communications and employee since 1981, retired. For years, it had been his quotes, his voice which represented Amtrak to the general public. Through each change of leadership at Amtrak, and there were several, the one constant had been Black's deft handling of the news media. Any of us seeking good honest information knew Cliff Black was the man to see. While keeping on-message for his employer, he never led the news media astray; an amazing feat in today's world of journalism. Suffice it to say, this is a retirement well earned and richly deserved.

July 23 brought what was perhaps the biggest, most jaw-dropping initiative undertaken by Amtrak all year, and possibly all decade: The order for 130 new Viewliner 2 single level cars with an option for 70 more to replace the remaining Heritage baggage cars and diners. Was this shocking turn due to a previously-unrealized corporate need? No. As far back as 15 years ago, Amtrak's then-president Thomas Downs described the remaining Heritage cars in service as "junk." Was this, then, as a result of a sudden jump in demand for sleeping car space on eastern trains? No. Sleeper space has been at a premium, especially in the East, since the retirement of the last Heritage sleepers in 2006. Ever since the 50-unit fleet of Viewliner sleeping cars entered service in 1995-96, we have been waiting for the rest of the Viewliner fleet to supplant the last of the Heritage fleet. We have waited… and waited… and waited. When Amtrak announced, on January 11, "a comprehensive and detailed plan to replace and expand its fleet of locomotives and passenger railcars" they could have warned us that this time they really meant it.

The Washington Times of September 12 reported on a Congressional probe of the sudden ouster of Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold, the previous year. Quoting from draft copy, "Because of his expertise, the [Amtrak] Board viewed Weiderhold as a threat." Also found were "excessive fees" paid to outside law firms by Amtrak's Law Department and, due to the circumstances surrounding Mr. Weiderhold's departure, "It was not a truly voluntary resignation as Amtrak management had suggested in public statements." There was some attention given in the Halls of Congress which, thus far, has amounted to nothing beyond lip service. But as Chicago Cubs fans are used to saying, "maybe next year."

On October 16, a Norfolk Southern freight train departing Enola Yard across the river from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, en route to Hagerstown, Maryland and points South, derailed in downtown Harrisburg. The rear of the train was still west of the Amtrak station, precluding the eastbound Pennsylvanian from entering. Many will use such an incident to demonize the freight railroads and to call for building separate tracks. Ironically, that is exactly what NS has been attempting to accomplish in the area for a number of years. Currently, when freight trains to or from the south enter or depart Enola Yard, they are required to cross the Susquehanna River twice (and pass the Amtrak station), a process which adds hours to transit times. NS has been working with the State to rebuild a former connection on the south side of Enola Yard at Lemoyne. The process has been held up for the usual political reasons (concerning which a boxcar could not care less). Until this has resolution, efficiency will suffer. Passenger rail will suffer. Egos will continue to be stroked. A similar incident occurred July 2, and for what? For less than 1,300 feet of track. Sometimes the answer really is that simple.

Also in October came an admission of the obvious. One year earlier, the contract to run the Virginia Railway Express commuter service, held by Amtrak for 18 years, was awarded to the French company Keolis. Amtrak did not like this intrusion into its turf. As documented by veteran reporter Don Phillips, "The battle then turned bitter, and Amtrak and its unions turned nasty. Union officials made it clear to employees that if they signed with Keolis, they would be fired immediately by Amtrak and permanently blacklisted. Crews who agreed to stay with Amtrak not only received a $5,000 bonus but were guaranteed a job. Amtrak, meanwhile, even tried to hire crews laid off from New Jersey Transit who had been approached by Keolis. The idea was to prevent Keolis from hiring enough crews to run the system by takeover day, June 28." Yet, in spite of all the chicanery and dirty tricks Keolis did begin service (albeit delayed) and continues to operate. By October of 2010, Amtrak President Joe Boardman finally admitted, "We know we did not provide the right answers," and "I see a lot more competition coming forward." Amtrak considers itself to be the sole keeper of American passenger railroading. Considering its isolationist history, this is understandable; however, the word is getting around that there are others willing to ante up to the table. Amtrak has promised to behave. Will it?

Finally, on December 20, Norfolk Southern and the Commonwealth of Virginia entered an agreement to reintroduce passenger service to Norfolk. This is funded by "an $87 million Rail Enhancement Fund grant" which, when translated into English, means these are state monies, not Federal or ARRA grant. Yes Virginia, there really are states who take the initiative in their passenger rail programs.

2010 promised to be the year of "High-Speed Rail." Ultimately, it came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. HSR was touted as the savior of our economy; an engine for creating jobs in much the same way as the Interstate Highway System of two generations ago. Rhetoric was thick. Substance was lacking. The proposed fast trains look sleek and sexy, but where is the business case to justify them? No one is against creating jobs, but with at least $8 billion in the offing, the question is begged: Is this a good, sustainable transportation policy?

Perhaps the biggest story in passenger rail is the one that did not happen.

Amtrak's manifesto of January 11 predicted, in part, "the purchase of several hundred single-level and bi-level long distance passenger railcars and more than a hundred locomotives." New Viewliners were ordered in July, followed by a contract for new electrics in October. Unlike many of the HSR initiatives, these orders have had no political opposition. Yet as 2010 wrapped up, there were no "bi-level long distance passenger railcars" on the horizon. As pointed out by Andrew Selden, URPA Vice President, "This is the one application of capital available to Amtrak that promises a quick and positive return on incremental invested capital. No other investment opportunity, honestly accounted for using GAAP measures, offers anything even close to this. Yet Amtrak refuses to pursue it."

As the year has drawn to a close, the same basic route map remains in place. Apologists are grateful the map has not shrunk any further. Advocates wonder why, in an era of so much talk of rail, the map is not growing. The Sunset Limited still does not venture any further East than New Orleans, and is carried on Amtrak's daily status as "Hurricane`Katrina' Aftermath & Service Adjustments - Sunset Limited: Normal service resumed 03Nov05, with the exception of Trains 1 and 2 between Orlando and New Orleans."

True, there was much more talk about passenger rail this past year than in recent memory. The small order for equipment was positive, yet after so many years of benign neglect, this can hardly be counted as a fresh start. "What is needed most in 2011, following what happened in 2010, is a better, more rigid plan for creating new trains which have a higher guarantee of success and financial reward, instead of becoming yet another burden on the overburdened taxpayers," said Bruce Richardson, URPA President.

As the afterglow of the latest surge in HSR interest fades into memory, it is clear that sleek, fast trains do not exist in a vacuum. Around the real high-speed world, fast trains succeed as part of a vast integrated network; the trains, by themselves, would be nothing more than pricey tourist attractions. Amtrak would appear to have figured this out, as evidenced by its current equipment orders, and wish list from last January. Unless projects of this type are embraced, to build upon the few successes of this past year, then the whole enterprise is for naught; hopefully, it will not be too little, too late.
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#392 MrFSS

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 10:32 PM

Volume 8, Number 2

January 26, 2011


A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.orghttp://www.unitedrail.org


From the Editors…

Something is turning 40, and oddly enough someone wants you to know about it. This and other more somber milestones are covered this week.


Of Time and (Wall) Space

If you are not already aware, Amtrak intends to make very sure you will be: On May 1, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC) — yes, that is still Amtrak's legal name — will achieve 40 years of existence. According to its internal newsletter, Amtrak Ink, there are numerous outlets planned to observe this latest milestone. There will be a commemorative book for which Amtrak has already canvassed its employees for pictures. There will also be a video by "an Emmy award-winning producer." Also, "Beech Grove is renovating surplus equipment and restoring one F-40, one P-40, three baggage cars, and an Amfleet food service car for a special 40th anniversary `museum train' that will travel across the country to many employee locations." Since when has Amtrak had "surplus" equipment?

One thing is for certain, this year's Amtrak wall calendar makes the pronouncement loud for all to hear: "AMTRAK CELEBRATES 40 YEARS OF SERVICE." Superimposed over a map of the original route structure are over a dozen snapshots from those early years of "rainbow consists" and '70s fashion sense. The lovely Patty Saunders is captured in her go-go boots and early Amtrak uniform. The first Amtrak-painted locomotive is seen in a one-of-a-kind design of black with a wrap-a-round pointless-arrow logo. (Mercifully, that was not repeated.)

It is a wonder to contemplate the journey of the last four decades; yet, this wall hanging of 24 x 33 inches is quite the reminder of an uncertain era not that long ago. On the original system map, in the lower left corner of the montage, is the directive, "Service from Fort Worth to Houston will be shifted from Temple route to Dallas route as soon as possible after May 1, 1971." Imagine, direct service between Houston and the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. In the lower right of the map is seen the line and station stop for Wildwood, Florida. Just above that, between snapshots of the original Metroliner and a bedraggled Coast Starlight, is the line depicting the service we once enjoyed between Chicago and Florida. Today both of those are distant memories, as service to the Sunshine State has been continuously marginalized over 40 years. Was it something Florida said?

Perhaps most telling is the stylized logo all the way in the lower corner of the montage. As a depiction of motive power progress, five caricatures are arrayed from left to right, displayed in five different paint schemes. On the left is an Amtrak-painted GG-1 electric, internationally recognized as the finest example of electric traction ever to see service under wire. Designed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1934, the GG-1 fleet would serve her masters and successors until the 1980s. On the right of the lineup is depicted an Acela Express train, the antithesis of the GG-1.

On this calendar, Amtrak touts itself as "America's Railroad," but wait — there is a picture used in the ad campaigns from its formative years, showing an employee (not a model) standing between the gauge of the rails, holding a large-scale replica of a passenger rail car. The tag line for the ad was the vow to "make the trains worth traveling again." In 1971, the year the NRPC (now Amtrak) was created, the trains already were worth traveling. Crowds showed up to ride in the peak of summer, 1971; then again in winter, 1971-72. Amtrak did not have the wherewithal to keep up with such demand. When the railroads, in their original role as sole source contractors, did what they could to keep up, the pushback to stop doing that came from inside — Amtrak! It was a downhill slide from there. After 40 years of false starts and unfulfilled promises, is it not time to hold Amtrak to its word?

In Memoriam

As we muddle our way through the winter season, we wish to pause for a moment to reflect on the lives of three men who, in their own separate ways, left their mark on American railroading:

Eugene K. Garfield worked for the Johnson Administration in the 1960s as Assistant to the Secretary of Transportation, Alan S. Boyd, in the then newly-minted U.S. Department of Transportation. It was during his tenure that a feasibility study for an auto-ferry service between the Northeast and Florida was conducted, and concluded that the service would be potentially profitable but best left for the private sector. After returning to the private sector in 1968, Garfield set about making that study a reality, and from 1971 to 1981 he ran the private Auto-Train Corporation. The original Auto-Train eventually succumbed to financial troubles and the infrastructure was purchased by Amtrak. Garfield died at the age of 74 on December 26, 2010, in Hollywood, Florida. Reflecting on his life reminds us that the entrepreneurial spirit in transportation in not dead, but merely dormant, in a generation that has been taught otherwise.

James A. (Jim) Boyd was a prolific railroad photographer and writer. Much more that just the average railfan, Boyd worked for the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors as a field service representative. In 1972, Boyd began his long association with Carstens Publications, eventually becoming editor of Railfan (later Railfan & Railroad) magazine from 1974 to 1998. Additionally, he authored many Trains magazine articles as well as dozens of books. Boyd brought a sense of discipline and decorum to the railfan ranks. His guiding influence will be sorely missed. Boyd died at the age of 69 on December 31, 2010, in Newton, New Jersey.

Robert G. (Bob) Lewis was that rare, perfect blend of knowledgeable railfan and professional railroader. Between 1934 and 1941 he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and briefly for the Bessemer & Lake Erie. Following the war and a brief return to railroading, he joined the Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation. He worked in various editor positions for Railway Age magazine until 1956, when he was named Magazine Publisher. He retired in 1995, but maintained the title of Director of Special Projects. All through his professional travels, he had his camera with him, and amassed an impressive collection of photographs of America's railroads.

Bob died at the age of 94 on January 5, 2011, in Ormond-by-the-Sea, Florida, but not before this author had the opportunity to meet him at the High-Speed Ground Transportation Association convention in 1996. Lewis was as congenial and approachable as anyone could be.

Later, as a result of merciless prodding by his former co-workers, a number of his photos were published in book form in Off the Beaten Track — A railroader's life in pictures (Simmons-Boardman, 2004). Having obtained a copy, this author made an appointment to stop by and garner an autograph. The welcome was warm and sincere. The meeting was as touching as it was informative. Lewis said the real reason behind starting the publication of International Railway Journal in 1961 was just to have an excuse to travel the world. We discussed the issues of the day including, of course, what to do about Amtrak.

With the completion of these distinguished runs the sun shines less brightly over the railway; reminding us of our own finite existence and the need to make our remaining days count. All too soon, the weeds will overgrow and obscure our own tracks.

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#393 MrFSS

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Posted 14 February 2011 - 10:24 PM

Volume 8, Number 3

February 14, 2011


A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from


United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America's foremost passenger rail policy institute


Jacksonville, Florida USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.orghttp://www.unitedrail.org


From the Editors…

This week a tale of caution, a tale of woe, a tale of passenger rail investment in our 21st Century.

Editors: D & D Carleton Proofreading: Black Bear Wordsmiths (blackbearws@yahoo.com)


Beware the Law of Unintended Consequences

Basic physics teaches us that for every action there is a reaction. The sociologists tell us such reactions may bring unintended consequences; unanticipated and potentially undesirable outcomes. It is widely held that such unintended consequences fall into one of three categories: Positive, negative, and perverse (wherein the results of the reaction are opposite to what was intended). Prominent sociologist Robert Merton cited numerous reasons for this lack of foresight, but perhaps the most dangerous in the political arena is the "imperious immediacy of interest" wherein "…paramount concern of the immediate excludes consideration of further or other consequences …"

At this time last year, passenger rail was garnering more than its usual share of the public eye. This was entirely due to the Administration's said goal of building "High-Speed Rail" projects all around the country, even likening these to the Federal Interstate Highway program of the 1950s. As a result, many states pulled their decades-old dreams for intrastate passenger trains off their respective shelves, shook off the dust, and slapped on "High-Speed Rail" labels. One of these was the state of Ohio which wrote, in part, in its High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Application of October 2009:

"During the past 35 years, the State of Ohio has continued planning for the reinstitution of passenger train service on its Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor and vested several state agencies with that responsibility. In 1973, the Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC) moved to 'study the feasibility' of establishing a rapid transit system connecting Ohio's 'major cities' in response to the Arab Oil Embargo. In 1977, the Ohio Rail Transportation Authority (ORTA) was created by the Ohio General Assembly to continue feasibility planning. In 1979, the Ohio legislature passed a law urging neighboring states to join them in exploring the potential for the development of a regional rail system within the Great Lakes Region. Following the 1982 defeat of a statewide sales tax initiative to advance high speed rail service, ORTA was abolished and its staff moved to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

"The initiative advanced in 1991 when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) was enacted funding safety improvements at highway-rail grade crossings on corridors that were 'designated' as high-speed intercity passenger rail corridors based on their present utility and their potential for future development. It was in 2000 that the FRA designated the 3C Corridor as an extension of the Chicago Hub network and included the primary points or cities along the line: Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.

"Subsequent and current initiatives to advance passenger rail service in Ohio have been the responsibility of the ORDC, which was established by the Ohio General Assembly in 1994. In 1996, ORDC joined the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), which calls for the development of a 'Chicago Hub' a system envisioned as a 3,000-mile rail system with eight passenger corridors serving 60 million people in a nine state region. The most current Midwest Regional Rail System (MWRRS) Plan report was issued in October 2004."

Another of these was the state of Wisconsin. Although its rail aspirations were not as long-lived as Ohio, Wisconsin did bring its checkbook. In July 2009, the state entered an agreement with Talgo America to purchase two train sets for $47 million. As part of that agreement, Talgo would establish an assembly plant within the state's borders. In doing so it would set the standard for the Midwest. Its High-Speed plan, also of October 2009, was the guideline for reintroducing service of some 85 miles between the state capital of Madison and Milwaukee. Although tagged with the "High-Speed" label the proposed service would never have exceeded 110 mph. The plan read in part:

"WisDOT is the lead state for the [Midwest Regional Rail Initiative] and will manage the efforts of the Steering Committee to identify the preferred train set equipment type. WisDOT also is involved in the nationwide effort to identify and acquire the preferred train set equipment through their involvement in the Next Generation Corridor Equipment Committee (mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, Section 3605)."

Talgo, for its part, kept its end of the bargain. They set up shop in the former Tower Automotive facility in Milwaukee with the promise of jobs in an area perpetually hit by hard times. The train sets to be delivered are of the new Talgo Series VIII, which are to be fully FRA-compliant and needing no waivers. The two sets ordered in 2009 will be placed in service on the existing Chicago - Milwaukee Hiawatha service. (The state of Oregon also ordered two sets, also to be built in Wisconsin.) It was initially hoped that two more train sets would be ordered for the expanded Madison - Milwaukee service. Ultimately, a new maintenance facility would be established in Madison.

At face value, this seemed like a good idea; a state connecting its largest city to its capital. New Mexico accomplished the same in 2008 when it connected Albuquerque with Santa Fe; however, the New Mexico Rail Runner has the look and feel of a commuter train, and has a total length of 97 miles. Recently the Commonwealth of Virginia announced its intention to connect its second largest city, Norfolk, with the state capital of Richmond, a distance of 109 miles. At no time in either case was the moniker "High-Speed" ever used or applied.

As with most parties these days, however, after the champagne stops flowing and the music stops playing, comes the stark dawn of day. The HSR party was no different. This ersatz High-Speed Rail was deemed as grossly indulgent in an era of austerity. New regimes elected to high office in Ohio and Wisconsin view HSR as too rich for their blood. Both new projects have been canceled, and the Federal monies reallocated to other states.

Talgo, for its part, will continue to hold up its end of the bargain; however, instead of filling the 125 positions originally projected, it will fill just 65. The four train sets on order for Wisconsin and Oregon will be completed by 2012. If no new orders are secured by then, the Milwaukee plant will only be used as a maintenance base for Wisconsin's equipment. [As we go to press it has been reported Talgo shall move its operation to Illinois. Details of this shall be forthcoming.]

It was believed by many that these projects of Ohio and Wisconsin were reasonable -- and realistic -- due to their basic nature. Despite the "High-Speed" label, they were really in fact just a return to the past, with schedules that would not have been out of pace just two or three generations ago. Since these were really conventional trains and not the gold-plated fast trains of another continent, it was hoped those in charge would see past the HSR-"imperious immediacy of interest"; however, this was not to be. Even though all that glitters is not gold if it is perceived by the public to be gold, then it is a target. And whereas the call was for "High-Speed Rail" to be built around the country, it appears its collapse will doom many conventional rail projects as well. Can any other reaction be more "perverse?"

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#394 MrFSS

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 10:22 AM

Volume 8, Number 4

February 21, 2011


A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from


United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America's foremost passenger rail policy institute


Jacksonville, Florida USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.orghttp://www.unitedrail.org

From the Editors…

Beware the idea of ... February? This week a brief of some current events.

Editors: D & D Carleton Proofreading: Black Bear Wordsmiths (blackbearws@yahoo.com)

Just How Much is that Wild Goose?

"A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money."- Senator Everett Dirksen

Just how many names can one give to a hole in the ground? What does one name a hole that does not really exist? This particular hole, meant to connect suburban New Jersey with New York City, has had many names and titles. A decade and half ago, it was known as the "Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel" (THE Tunnel) or, deridingly, as the "tunnel to Macy's basement." Later known as "Access to the Region's Core," (ARC) ground was officially broken in June of 2009. On October 27, 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (New Jersey being the only state officially participating in this project) gave it a new name: Dead. Concerned that the $8.7 billion undertaking would spiral to Big Dig proportions, the governor decided the price was too rich for New Jersey's blood. There were meetings and more meetings between Trenton and Washington, but despite Federal demand for payback of $271 million, the project was axed once and for all… or so it seemed.

On February 6, 2011, a new player, Amtrak, rode into town along with U.S. Senate representation from New Jersey. Together, they announced a new scheme to build, and a new name: The "Gateway Tunnel." They intend to spend $50 million for more design and engineering work, with a potential cost of $13.5 billion for completion. (It would appear Governor Christie's concerns over costs were more than prescient.)

Two days earlier, the City of New York contracted with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc. to (quickly) study the feasibility of extending the No. 7 subway line west, under the Hudson River to NJ Transit's station at Secaucus, New Jersey. Unlike the previous tunnel plans, this would allow riders transferring at Secaucus access to the West Side of Manhattan, Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, and Queens, without traversing an already-full Pennsylvania (Penn) Station.

Unlike the ARC, the Gateway Tunnel (actually two tunnels with one track each), proposed by Amtrak and friends, will not terminate north of Penn Station or Macy's basement. Rather, it will run directly into Penn Station, adding to its already burgeoning passenger congestion. Currently, Penn Station handles a daily crush of some 600,000 persons. The existing century-old, twin single-track tubes handle a maximum of 23 trains per hour. It is expected the new Gateway Tunnel will allow for an additional 21 trains per hour. No source for this project's funding was cited.

Just two days later, on February 8, Vice President Joe Biden announced a new Administration initiative to spend $53 billion over the next six years on High-Speed Rail projects nationwide. The goal is to allow high-speed train access to 80 percent of the public within 25 years. Again, no source for the requisite funds was cited.

Not everyone is onboard with the immediacy of interest in "High-Speed Rail." As has been reported in these pages before, many have advanced their political careers on "stop the train" platforms; therefore, it does not portend well that the two U.S. Representatives who declared this initiative "dead on arrival" are the House Transportation Committee Chairman and Railroads Subcommittee Chairman.

John Mica (R-Fla.) was his usual sanguine self in frankly appraising this development: "This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio." Mica is none too happy about the previous $10 billion pledged for HSR, or about the involvement of the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) in the HSR corridor selection process; and is especially displeased with the continued interference of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. "Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, most of them costly, and some already rejected by State agencies," said Mica. "Amtrak's Soviet-style train system is not the way to provide modern and efficient passenger rail service."

Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) also had his take on this latest HSR missive: "The Administration continues to fail in attracting private investment, capital, and the experience to properly develop and cost-effectively operate true high-speed rail." … "Government won't develop American high-speed rail. Private investment and a competitive market will."

To date, $271 million has already been spent. This includes $26.3 million for property acquisition in New Jersey for what was the ARC project; and $50 million has been proposed for more study of "ARC-lite." Of the $10 billion pledged for "High-Speed Rail," at least $1 billion has already been spent. To keep this all in perspective, Amtrak currently has on-order 70 new railcars for Eastern trains at approximately $2.3 million per each. The $1.321 billion already spent and proposed could have purchased over 500 of these railcars, expanding Amtrak's existing fleet by one-third. The problem with a wild goose chase is that regardless of the amount of money or resources expended, one still may not wind up with the goose.

An "E-Ticket Ride" to Fantasyland

Lathen, a small city of some 11,000+ souls (in 2009), may not ring a bell in the minds of those from outside the Emsland district in Lower Saxony, Germany. Yet, Lathen boasts what may be considered the world's fastest form of overland transportation. This is where ThyssenKrupp's Transrapid Maglev test track extends over 30 kilometers. If one is interested in buying one's very own maglev transportation system, then Lathen is the place to visit. The test track was built to devise, test, improve and (most importantly) sell the concept of Maglev; nothing more, nothing less. It does not see active scheduled service for the general public to ride.

The team members involved in writing, editing, and publishing this newsletter are all current or former residents of the State of Florida. As such, we have been watching intently the now almost-daily developments, with the latest incarnation of fast trains here being Florida High-Speed Rail. On February 16, newly-elected governor Rick Scott officially turned down $2.4 billion in Federal funds earmarked for the initial east-west, Tampa-Orlando route (roughly 80 miles). His reasoning for doing so included projected cost overruns and questionable ridership/revenue projections. This has become quite the firestorm in Tallahassee, and may rage for some time to come.

Governor Scott was not the only one questioning the validity of this project. At this year's Southwest Rail Conference, one presenter succinctly pointed out that American HSR supporters were "attempting to have their icing without bothering to bake the cake." Specifically he added, "Florida needs to mature its HSR plans." Transporting tourists from theme parks to the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico is not a mature reason for building HSR.

When the go-ahead for High-Speed Rail projects came early last year, it was like popping the cork on a bottle of long-fermenting ideas. For Florida, it was a matter of dusting off the plans for the stillborn Florida Overland eXpress of 1996. When proponents for Florida HSR were questioned about the validity of this endeavor, the answer was curt and simple: The state already owns the right-of-way, and the environmental impact studies are complete. It is true that both of these prerequisites are a major hurdle for any project; still, is it not odd that public benefit was not one of the top two reasons for building?

Would Tampa-Orlando HSR be of anymore use to riders than the test track in Lathen? The simple reality is: No. It was not, nor was it ever meant to be, a serious contender for moving residents about the Sunshine State. As much as Lathen proved the workability of Maglev, so too would Florida HSR be merely a vehicle to test and prove the feasibility of High-Speed trains in America. Every nation that has ventured into the HSR arena has had to develop its own system, with its own parameters to suit that nation's specific needs and conditions. The United States will be no different. Those involved with Florida HSR have been in talks with the FRA about requirements for vehicles traveling at hitherto-unseen speeds. As State Senator Paula Dockery said, "This was going to be a model for the nation."

Numerous potential companies and consortia of companies have been eagerly awaiting the expected payout to develop all the systems for such a project. Now that it appears Florida HSR has been scrubbed, those would-be builders are scrambling. Without Florida, where else will they "beta test" their product? Without Federal money, who will pay to develop new, or adapt existing, technology for use in America?

Had the Tampa-Orlando line been built, the technology would have been built, tested, redesigned, retested, ad nauseam until everything was ready for primetime; after which, maybe the second phase of Florida HSR, a north-south, Orlando-Miami route (roughly 230 miles), would have been built. Tampa-Orlando is, however, a bit of a misnomer. In reality, the Eastern terminus is not the city of Orlando, but rather the airport (which bears its name, but is nowhere near Orlando). The western end is not the beautifully-restored downtown Union Station, but rather a parking lot off the highway. The likelihood of drawing riders was about par with drawing bees with vinegar. No matter how technically successful this may have been, would the public tolerate the spending of billions more of public monies in order to go to Miami?

Universal Truths

Every project has to start somewhere; and someone has to pay for it. Whereas private dollars may combine with public monies and actually build the line on State property between Tampa and Orlando, what about the future? When the champagne stops flowing and the confetti settles, there will still be a train to run. Will those private dollars still be there to fund its operation? When all is said and done, Florida HSR is nothing more than a novelty, a $2+ billion tourist attraction for foreign and domestic visitors to gawk at before moving on to the next attraction. Speaking as a resident this very expensive, publicly-funded tourist trap is the last thing we need here.

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#395 jis

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:21 PM

Just how many names can one give to a hole in the ground? What does one name a hole that does not really exist? This particular hole, meant to connect suburban New Jersey with New York City, has had many names and titles. A decade and half ago, it was known as the "Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel" (THE Tunnel) or, deridingly, as the "tunnel to Macy's basement." Later known as "Access to the Region's Core," (ARC) ground was officially broken in June of 2009. On October 27, 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (New Jersey being the only state officially participating in this project) gave it a new name: Dead. Concerned that the $8.7 billion undertaking would spiral to Big Dig proportions, the governor decided the price was too rich for New Jersey's blood. There were meetings and more meetings between Trenton and Washington, but despite Federal demand for payback of $271 million, the project was axed once and for all… or so it seemed.


These guys need to first read the history of the project before making pronouncements that anyone involved remotely would take seriously. At least they do provide bits of amusement from time to time :)

#396 saxman

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:48 PM

Governor Scott was not the only one questioning the validity of this project. At this year's Southwest Rail Conference, one presenter succinctly pointed out that American HSR supporters were "attempting to have their icing without bothering to bake the cake." Specifically he added, "Florida needs to mature its HSR plans." Transporting tourists from theme parks to the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico is not a mature reason for building HSR.


I was at this conference, so I'm wondering if this guy was there too. I remember this quote too, and I can't think of who said it. I have to admit that I agree with most of what he said though.
Amtrak Miles: 203,395 (as of 9/21/16)

#397 haolerider

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 03:13 PM


Governor Scott was not the only one questioning the validity of this project. At this year's Southwest Rail Conference, one presenter succinctly pointed out that American HSR supporters were "attempting to have their icing without bothering to bake the cake." Specifically he added, "Florida needs to mature its HSR plans." Transporting tourists from theme parks to the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico is not a mature reason for building HSR.


I was at this conference, so I'm wondering if this guy was there too. I remember this quote too, and I can't think of who said it. I have to admit that I agree with most of what he said though.

I don't know a lot of the details, but if the origin and destination of the route make sense and if you have ever driven I-4 between those two cities I think it is a good project and would help with the heavy traffic.

#398 MrFSS

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 05:20 PM

March 21, 2011


A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.orghttp://www.unitedrail.org


From the Editors…

This week a post-mortem of Florida's latest foray into High-Speed Rail.

There was no Plan B

Oh I used to be disgusted… and now I try to be amused. - Elvis Costello

On February 16, Florida's Governor Rick Scott announced that the State of Florida would not move forward with the Federal plans to build a high-speed railway between Tampa and Orlando International Airport. Similar announcements had already been made in Wisconsin and Ohio earlier this year. So what is the big deal?

Well, if one were to believe the political rhetoric that has been fired across the bow since then, one might come to the conclusion the governor has cancelled every holiday on the calendar and shot everyone's favorite pet. The U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, extended the deadline for accepting the Federal monies, $2.4 billion, so as to give the state just one more last chance. On March 1, two State senators filed suit in the Florida Supreme Court, as citizens, not on behalf of the Senate, to order the governor to take the money. Right about now, Governor Scott is probably wondering if he should have stayed in his native American Midwest. Nevertheless the answer is still "no." So what is the big deal?

The U.S. Department of Transportation was willing to let go of projects in Ohio and Wisconsin that were not really high-speed rail, but rather state-of-the-art conventional trains running at conventional speeds on improved conventional track. The HSR label was only added to offer the illusion of progress to sell this imperious immediacy of interest. However, as they were not true HSR they were expendable. The sum total of rejected Federal monies was less than half of the ultimate total offered to Florida, and was quickly dispersed to other states. Florida, it would seem, is an entirely different story.

"You recall unpleasant memories: of hours wasted in slow moving traffic; of disquieted children in the backseat of your car; of rushing to the airport to discover your flight canceled; of missing important business appointments; and of the hassles involved in moving around this great state. Those difficult days, though, remind you how fortunate you are to live in a state where logic prevailed in the mid 1990s. Relaxing into your plush, expansive seat, you sigh contentedly when an attendant brings your drink. Just before you doze off, lulled into a peace-filled rest by the train's near-silent motion, you briefly wonder, 'Who made all this possible?'" - Opening statement from the Florida Overland eXpress Executive Summary, 1996.

Fifteen years ago, the vision was crystal clear; a fast train connecting three of Florida's largest metro areas in comfort and style. The planning was solid but the money was scarce, and the whole thing seemed to come to naught in 1999. Then in 2000, an amendment to the State Constitution was approved by Florida voters, and in 2001 the State Legislature enacted the Florida High Speed Rail Authority Act; however, in 2004 Florida voters repealed the 2000 amendment, citing the expense of such a project.

To say there are a tenacious few who continue to keep the flame alive for fast trains in the Sunshine State would be an understatement. Five years after the voting public made their opinion clear, a Federal initiative sought to overrule local sentiments. With a seemingly ever- larger flow of Federal monies, a scheme was hatched to invest $2.4 billion in just the 84-mile Tampa-Orlando leg of the system under the auspices of building a national network of fast trains. There was no referendum, there was no ballot initiative; just an imperious immediacy of interest from Washington, D.C. With the nation in general and the State of Florida in particular suffering the ravages of hard economic times, any infusion of cash -- from any source -- seemed like a godsend. And with other trains on the national drawing board, Florida did not feel alone. But once again there was one rather large string attached: The potential large outlay of local funds. For this reason, the governor cancelled the project. Once again money was a big deal.

High-speed trains are not evil. However, nowhere on earth do they operate in a vacuum. In France, the national railway operates everything from urban transportation to high-speed trains. While they operate around 14,000 trains every day, only a relative handful are high speed. For a high-speed train to be successful it needs feeders to connect to places where the riding public actually wants to go. As of right, now these types of networks do not exist in Central Florida.

In what may appear as a case of bitter grapes, a ridership report was released just after the project was cancelled. Picked up by various news outlets was the figure of "3.3 million annual riders" and "would have made money from Day One." This report was produced, for $1.3 million, by the firms of Steer Davies Gleave and Wilbur Smith Associates. In March 2010 Wilbur Smith Associates along with HNTB, in a joint partnership, were selected as program manager for passenger rail in the State of Florida. Moreover, the much-touted report was nothing more than five pages of numbers, with no justification for how those figures were compiled. The reader may read into this with impunity.

The initial route of 84 miles was chosen in large part due to the relative low cost of building, possibly $3 billion if one includes moderate overruns; however, connecting Central Florida with Central Florida now seems like an oxymoron. This fact was not lost on a recent article by Michael Cooper in the New York Times, "Tampa and Orlando are only 84 miles apart, generally considered too close for high-speed rail to make sense. The train trip, with many stops along the way, would have shaved only around a half-hour off the drive. Since there are no commercial flights between the two cities, the new line would not have lured away fliers or freed up landing slots at the busy airports."

Ultimately the fast train in Central Florida would have been of little to no practical use for the everyday traveler. It would have missed all of the town centers on its route, thus would not have been a catalyst for urban development or renewal. A state-of-the-art conventional train on improved extant tracks would pass through the historic town centers, would be a catalyst for development, and should cost less than a third of the now-defunct fast train. But without the "HSR" label, it is not sexy enough for consideration by those who worry about their legacy.

In retrospect, perhaps the Orlando to Miami leg of the plan should have been considered first. At 240 miles, just over two and a half times the length of Tampa-Orlando, it certainly would have cost over two and a half times as much; however, connecting Central Florida with South Florida does make sense both politically as well as financially, and it certainly would be much less expensive than the postulated $42 billion price tag for the full build-out proposed in California.

With Florida now officially out of the high-speed rail business, attention turns to California and the building of America's first true high-speed train between the metropolises of Fresno and Bakersfield. Instead of Central Florida it will be left to the Central Valley to iron out specifications, codes, analyses, and operating procedures for all American fast trains to follow. This is probably not what the administration envisioned as the next great leap in transportation for the country.

Ultimately the administration placed all its bets on Central Florida in the belief that everyone was on the same page; that everyone believed in the concept of high-speed rail. In doing so, they never contemplated what to do if everyone was not on the same page. In short, they had no plan B. If connecting Central Florida with Central Florida seemed obtuse, then what would connecting the 35th- and 58th- largest cities in the nation seem like?

For now, those passionate purveyors of fast trains in Florida must once again close their plan books and return them to their shelves. Again, they will have to wait for the day when someone whisking along at over 150 mph will ask, "Who made all this possible?" Perhaps someday, but not today.

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#399 VentureForth

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 11:53 AM



Governor Scott was not the only one questioning the validity of this project. At this year's Southwest Rail Conference, one presenter succinctly pointed out that American HSR supporters were "attempting to have their icing without bothering to bake the cake." Specifically he added, "Florida needs to mature its HSR plans." Transporting tourists from theme parks to the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico is not a mature reason for building HSR.


I was at this conference, so I'm wondering if this guy was there too. I remember this quote too, and I can't think of who said it. I have to admit that I agree with most of what he said though.

I don't know a lot of the details, but if the origin and destination of the route make sense and if you have ever driven I-4 between those two cities I think it is a good project and would help with the heavy traffic.

But they don't. As pointed out in the article, and as repeated in the next newsletter, The Eastern end of Tampa to the Orlando airport is not much use to anyone.

Keep in mind that the most financially viable HSR system in the world connects Tokyo and Osaka - the #1 and #12 most populated urban areas in the world. Tampa, on the other hand, ranks 153rd. Miami is 53rd, but isn't part of the project. Orlando doesn't even rank.

I've lived in Orlando and travelled to Tampa many times. Sure, there is traffic, but there is also heavy traffic in Albuquerque, NM. And in Savannah, GA. And perhaps even occasionally in Kodiak, AK. Traffic isn't a yardstick to measure the necessity for high speed rail by. Commuter rail? Perhaps.

14,223 Amtrak Miles. Many more to go.
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Also Ridden: Carolinian, Crescent, Pacific Surfliner, Piedmont, Southwest Chief, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Texas Eagle


#400 MrFSS

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 04:32 PM

Volume 8, Number 6

April 2, 2011


A companion digest of events, opinions, and forecasts
to The Business and Politics of Passenger Rail


United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

Jacksonville, Florida USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail info@unitedrail.orghttp://www.unitedrail.org


From the Editors…

There is a lot of talk these days of "passenger rail." This week we attempt to separate reality from hyperbole.

The Definition of Success; The Price of the Definition

"What is the value added?" or similar questions are asked whenever any enterprise considers expansion, upgrade or reorganization. In principle it is a simple exercise; will future generations see this investment of time and resources as valuable or worthless? In the mania that has defined passenger railroading for the second decade of the 21st Century, one fact has become crystal clear, and that is that very few can accurately define what the value added is for passenger trains.

This is not to say that those promoting new trains are doing so out of shear ignorance or malfeasance. Many of these efforts are well meant. This past February, the Administration called upon Congress for a $53 billion down payment on high-speed rail for the country to enhance mobility and create work-fare. The goal was to provide access to fast trains for 80 percent of the country in 20 years. The general response was "Would you like fries with that?" More recently, two actors from a period-piece cable television drama performed, in character, a skit promoting the virtues of high-speed trains. The idea, if not the allure, of sleek, fast, sexy transportation seems positive and for good reason, because it is; however, the path from the trains of today and the trains of tomorrow is not as straight, short, or simple as one would be led to believe.

All around this great land of ours there are mixed signals as to the future of new passenger trains, let alone improvement of those extant. Passenger rail went from a Washington missive to center stage in many regional elections. As a result, planned projects in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida came to naught. In California, plans are moving forward to build a high-speed railroad as far out in the country as possible so as not to attract any attention. As a result of the many rejections, once-ostracized states of the Northeast are now allowed to bid for the now unwanted Federal dollars to improve Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

Despite these false starts, there has been meaningful progress on many fronts for the augmentation of passenger trains. In just the last month, Washington State received its grant of $590 million for improvements between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. In North Carolina, $461 million was received for upgrades to its Raleigh-to-Charlotte route. And in Illinois, $685 million was realized to continue improvements from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri. Some $1.736 billion of taxpayer monies have been doled out for worthwhile projects around the country.

It is still early in the decade, but a definite trend has started to take shape regarding the future of domestic passenger trains. At one end of the spectrum, the assumed silver bullet [train] which was to herald the new era of national HSR transportation was nixed in Florida. It would have run on an independent right-of-way with no direct connection to the rest of the National system. The "3C" service cancelled in Ohio was not HSR but rather an upgrade of existing freight-only trackage, most of which has not seen passenger trains for four decades. Even with the blessing of the current owners, the enhanced track was not going to be of too much benefit to freight, as Cincinnati to Cleveland via Columbus is not a natural through-freight corridor. The stalled extension of Hiawatha service from Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin, also not true HSR, did plan to make use of an existing passenger route as far as Watertown. From there, a nearly-abandoned freight line would have been completely rebuilt for passenger speeds. West of Watertown, the line sees minimal traffic currently handled by a short line.

The successes seen in Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina are another matter, altogether. What do they have in common?

All are pre-existing state-supported services. Washington started daily service in 1994 using trainsets made by Talgo. The Chicago-to-St. Louis service has existed in many guises since the beginning of Amtrak, and was once home to the French-made Turbo trains. (With Talgo reportedly relocating to Illinois, perhaps the Lincoln service will see yet another iteration of exotic equipment.) North Carolina's intrastate train service started in 1995 and utilizes its own fleet of equipment.

All are on track owned (or operated) by freight railroads. The track in Washington State is a major corridor for BNSF, linking the Pacific Northwest with Canada. Even so, they have proven time and again to be willing partners with the local authority for operating the Cascade services. In Illinois, the line between St. Louis and Chicago is Union Pacific's shortest route between the two cities. North Carolina's Piedmont trains utilize Norfolk Southern's main line from Greensboro to Charlotte. This track is currently undergoing capacity expansion as part of the Crescent Corridor initiative.

All currently host long-distance Amtrak trains. In Washington State the route of the Cascades is also part of the route for the Coast Starlight. The Illinois Lincoln service also hosts the daily Texas Eagle, while North Carolina's Piedmont shares the same track with the Crescent between Greensboro and Charlotte.

In Washington, overall track capacity will increase with completion of the Point Defiance bypass. This bypass will obviate a single track tunnel and will be used by the Cascades, local commuter, as well as long-distance trains. Union Pacific plans for increased freight traffic on the Illinois line once upgrades are complete. North Carolina will add 28 miles of double track between Charlotte and Greensboro, part of the aforementioned Crescent Corridor. The planned enhancements for all three of these routes not only aid the regional and freight trains, but also increase the viability of long-distance trains; it is like getting three for the price of one. Now that is value added!

There is virtually no end to the possible public/private synergies around the country. In Virginia, passenger service will be returned to Norfolk (using State funds). The line from Norfolk to Petersburg is the Eastern end of Norfolk Southern's recently upgraded Heartland Corridor connecting tidewater to the Midwest. Recently, the state of Missouri applied for Federal high-speed money to increase speeds between St. Louis and Kansas City. This is the route of the State-supported Missouri River Runner, and operates over the tracks of Union Pacific. Another plan under consideration is a daily train connecting Dallas to Eastern Texas. Currently, the daily Texas Eagle runs between Marshall and Dallas; westbound in the morning, eastbound in the evening. A counterpart train would run on opposite schedules with a possible extension to Shreveport, Louisiana. This would necessitate capacity expansion on the 150-mile route also owned by Union Pacific. Enhanced service between Oakland, California and Reno, Nevada is also a possibility. Currently, the route between Oakland and Auburn sees daily service as part of California's Capitol Corridor, including the daily California Zephyr. Pushing the corridor past Auburn to Reno, 118 miles, may require capacity expansion over famed Donner Pass; predominantly re-laying much of the second track removed prior to Union Pacific's accession of the route in 1996.

As the nation continues to adjust from the economic correction of the last few years it is evident we are a people defined as "risk averse." Houses are not selling even though there are those who should be able to afford such. The numerous vacant automobile dealerships that now dot the landscape are further evidence of our new-found fiscal conservatism. The progress being seen in Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina demonstrate the public will to invest in the "tried and true," where return on investment may be easily calculated and expedited.

Of all the trains run by Amtrak, it is the long-distance fleet which has garnered consistently increasing passenger loadings despite the downturn of the economy. To those inured by the high-speed-rail mentality sweeping the nation, these "slow trains" do not fit the prepackaged ideal; however, it must be understood that no high-speed train anywhere on earth was built without something predicating it. It must also be recognized that the United States has been limping along on a skeletal passenger rail network for four decades. If there is to be a true high-speed rail network, it must be preceded by a true conventional rail network.

The simple if painful truth is that a legitimate high-speed train is not a few years or even a decade away. A genuine network of meaningful passenger trains will have to be reestablished before going any further. This is a process that could conceivably take at least a generation, and no decree of imperious immediacy can change this. The latter half of the 20th Century was defined by America's embrace of the automobile. This did not happen overnight. The return to rail-based transportation will also be a long-term transition; perhaps too long to satisfy those overly concerned about their legacy in the annals of history.

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