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Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by MrFSS, Aug 25, 2006.

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  1. Jan 13, 2010 #301

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

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    There is much truth in the problems that you describe. My only rejoinder is that the fix to these lies mostly through the Congress changing the charter and structure of Amtrak, and that too within a broader coherent integrated transportation vision. Continuously repeating that these problems exist to anyone that is wiling to listen to repeated rants (and mostly apparently ignore them anyways) and a management (poor as it is) that is clearly tolerated and at the same time starved of funding by its paymasters is what I find tedious. What are we going to do to fix Congress (and the executive branch) so that they will either take real responsibility for a coherent integrated transportation policy is the fundamental issue I think. Amtrak is but a small component of the overall problem. It is also a relatively small (but significant) component of the overall rail ridership in the US. Where passenger railroads have succeeded in the last 50 years, they have done so as part of a broader integrated transportation vision, not as an isolated "we run 12 LD trains and 3 corridors" kind of operation.
     
  2. Jan 13, 2010 #302

    Larry H.

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    Larry H.

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    Gee we agree on something! I have repeatedly written my Senator which is Durbin whom does support Amtrak. However and Amtrak Management that was promoting passenger expansion as well and taking responsibility for fixing the problems that exist instead of ignoring them has to be a part of the solution. For too long no vision of a truly nationwide system has been suggested by amtrak and that is the problem.
     
  3. Jan 13, 2010 #303

    AlanB

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    AlanB

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    So you don't see restoring full dining cars to the LSL as an improvement? You don't see restoring some 100 rail cars as an improvement to service, or restoring 15 locomotives so as to allow for more flexibility and time for repairs to the current engines as an improvement? Or perhaps all the ADA improvements or even the efforts to stabalize the NEC's power problems or replace a bridge before it falls into the water as an improvement?
     
  4. Jan 13, 2010 #304

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

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    My primary point is that those that are looking for articulation of said vision from Amtrak are destined to be disappointed. Amtrak management has no incentive whatsoever to do that unless the reward structure of the Amtrak bosses are structured in such a way as to cause them to want to do this. Right now the incentive structure ain't there, nor is a clear message from Congress that that is what is expected of them. The message from Congress that has been clearly articulated during the Bush years, and has not been assertively modified since is, find the money in states for any expansion.
     
  5. Jan 13, 2010 #305

    PRR 60

    PRR 60

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    Just as a clarification, no Amtrak bridges are about to "fall into the water." The Niantic River bridge replacement is being performed for mechanical reasons associated with the aging and unmaintainable lift mechanism, not for structural deficiencies. The reason the entire bridge is being replaced (and relocated downstream) relates to constructability and maintenance of rail traffic issues, not because the structure is in any way unsafe.

    While Amtrak is certainly benefiting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), I think that Amtrak's share of the funding is more or less in line with Amtrak's typical share of transportation funding. The funding does not appear to be a shift in prioritization. While Amtrak is eligible for $1.3 billion in ARRA funding, aviation is also getting $1.3 billion, transit is getting $8.4 billion, and highways are getting $27.5 billion. The wild card is the illusive $8 billion for high speed rail corridors. That funding does not go to Amtrak, but Amtrak may benefit from the spending sometime down the road: or not. Since those grants have yet to be announced, it is hard to say who or what they will help.
     
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  6. Jan 13, 2010 #306

    Larry H.

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    Larry H.

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    Mostly if you live in the East you will see improvements.. Trying to get anywhere quickly in the midwest unless your bound for chicago is about it. I won't be happy till some of the routes are restored that used to allow service in all directions from many midwest major cities that were removed over the years.

    For instance.. We wanted to go to Kansas City.. To do so would mean a 5 hour, 72.00 ticket to Chicago, totally in the wrong direction. Then you would have to purchase another equally expensive room or seat to Kansas city arriving in the middle of the night. About 10 years ago you could have gone from Centralia to St. Louis in a hour and a half, now a 11 hours trip at least with layovers in Chicago, Kansas City in maybe 8 hours total, most likely less for about a fourth the price. That is the kind of thing that is preventing many to go places by rail that will not do so now.
     
  7. Jan 13, 2010 #307

    jis

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    Yep. I understand that the track deck height is going to be raised considerably this reducing the net need for opening the bridge for really small boats considerably.

    BTW, speaking of replacement bridges reducing the need for opening, it now appears that the Portal Bridge replacement has now been redisgned to ake the entire thing a fixed span 50' above MSL, so no more lift bridge and such.
     
  8. Jan 22, 2010 #308

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; January 21, 2010

    A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

    United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

    America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute

    1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

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

    Volume 7, Number 3

    Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at http://www.unitedrail.org.

    URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.

    1) After his death, famed and talented architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, the designer of Amtrak’s headquarters building, Washington Union Station, was quoted as having said, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”

    Amtrak, not taking the sage advice of the late Mr. Burnham, released its plan for 2010 last week. We will return to that topic in a moment. First, though, Amtrak has come up with something so incredibly naive, and tin-eared towards its own employees, it’s impossible for rational people to fathom.

    2) One of the good points of Amtrak through the years has been its nationwide network of local personnel offices, or, in the modern vernacular, offices housing human resources (or, even human capital) workers.

    Whatever term you choose to use, the people working in these offices are the front-line interface for Amtrak employees on all levels, from new hires to veteran employees looking for information about retirement plans. These offices are staffed with managers and clerks, and very much put a necessary human face on a crucial part of the corporation.

    Some genius in Washington has decided they can “improve” this by closing all of the local HR offices, and consolidating all HR operations in a call center located (where else, but?) Wilmington, Delaware. The current employees, few if any who elected to move to Wilmington (Why would anyone living in a large city want to move to an Eastern second-tier city like Wilmington?), will either leave the company (taking with them their collective experience, knowledge, and wisdom), or transfer into any other available jobs on their current level or lower level.

    Amtrak employees, instead of dealing face to face with a knowledgeable person, will now deal with a new hire over the telephone, most of which will only know about Amtrak HR rules and regulations based on what they read in a manual.

    Amtrak will tell you this is being done in the name of efficiency and consistency. The real reason is this is just another example of an Amtrak senior manager with a wild idea who is out of control and refusing the deal with reality. Anybody taking bets on how long this latest scheme will last before sanity returns and all of those closed offices will suddenly be reopened and restaffed at great expense, without the benefit of the many employees there today who have found other jobs?

    3) Here’s Amtrak’s press release about its plans for 2010. We’ve been moaning for months asking Amtrak to come up with some sort of plan – ANY sort of plan – for the future. Well, they did. It’s a good start, but here’s hoping this is only the barest of beginnings.

    [begin quote]

    Press Release

    January 11, 2010

    AMTRAK READY WITH BIG PLANS FOR 2010

    New Year brings major projects and new initiatives

    WASHINGTON— Amtrak is ready for an exciting 2010 with major projects and new initiatives that will benefit passengers, increase service, rebuild infrastructure, and put America’s railroad at the center of intercity and high-speed passenger rail development and expansion.

    “Amtrak enters 2010 with a strong sense of optimism, enthusiasm and purpose,” said President and CEO Joseph Boardman. “We have an aggressive game plan to modernize, renew, and grow America’s passenger railroad,” he said, noting increasing ridership from 21.6 million in FY 2002 to 27.2 million in FY 2009, with an all-time record of 28.7 million in FY 2008.

    He explained that numerous projects and initiatives being undertaken in 2010 support goals established in Amtrak’s new Strategic Guidance including becoming safer, greener and healthier and improving financial performance, customer service, and meeting national needs.

    In particular, Amtrak is playing a major role in the development and expansion of intercity and high-speed passenger rail. As America’s provider of intercity passenger rail service and its only high-speed rail operator—operating trains at speeds up to 150 mph every day— Amtrak has unmatched knowledge, experience and expertise in the U.S. rail environment.

    Boardman added that Amtrak is partnering with 25 states in support of more than 100 projects submitted for funding from the $8 billion made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for intercity and high-speed rail capital improvement grants. An announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation on which projects have been selected is expected this winter.

    During 2010, Amtrak also will undertake track and bridge construction projects, safety and security enhancements, and will release a plan to replace and expand its locomotive and passenger railcar fleet, among many other projects and initiatives.

    Following are highlights of major activities Amtrak will begin, continue or complete during the coming year.

    High-Speed Rail

    In 2010, Amtrak will celebrate the 10th anniversary of America’s fastest train, the Acela Express, which began operating along the Northeast Corridor in 2000 and reaches speeds up to 150 mph. In addition, Amtrak will increase train speeds to 105 mph over a section of track it owns between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich., which will benefit Blue Water and Wolverines service. Amtrak currently operates nearly half of its more than 300 daily trains at speeds of 100 mph or higher on their routes.

    Deploy WiFi and Upgrade Interiors on Acela Express

    In March, Amtrak will deploy WiFi technology on Acela Express and make it available to every passenger initially free of charge. In late 2010, Amtrak will complete a program to upgrade the interior of all Acela Express trainsets to increase passenger comfort and amenities, including leather seating, improved tray tables, and better outlets to power laptop computers, DVD players and other electronic devices.

    Major Infrastructure Improvement Projects Funded by ARRA

    Many major Amtrak infrastructure improvement projects funded in full, or in part, by $1.3 billion in ARRA funds will be under construction in 2010. Some of these projects include: replacement of the 102-year old movable bridge over the Niantic River in Connecticut; modernization of transformers and other electrical equipment used to power trains between Washington, D.C. and New York; improvements to tracks and switches at Chicago Union Station; and construction of new maintenance buildings for passenger railcar equipment in Los Angeles, Calif., and Hialeah, Fla.

    In addition, ARRA funding is supporting: renovation of the station in Wilmington, Del.; expansion of the Auto Train station in Sanford, Fla.; restoration of locomotives and passenger railcars in Beech Grove, Ind., and Bear, Del.; improved emergency exits and fire detection and suppression systems in New York tunnels; and enhanced accessibility at more than 200 rail stations across the country.

    Major Infrastructure Improvement Projects Funded by Annual Engineering Program

    Beyond the ARRA funded projects, Amtrak will spend $442 million as part of its annual FY 2010 engineering program. Among these projects include: installation of more than 112,000 concrete crossties and more than 49,000 wood crossties on the Northeast Corridor; construction of a new air ventilation shaft for the New York tunnels; and repair to several bridges in Michigan, Maryland, New York and New Jersey.

    In addition, Amtrak will: complete the multi-year modernization of the catenary wires on the Hell Gate Line in N.Y.; begin construction of upgrades to the Seattle maintenance facility; and improve accessibility at stations in Philadelphia, Pa., Baltimore, Md., Providence, R.I. and elsewhere.

    New Plan to Replace and Expand Fleet of Locomotives and Passenger Railcars

    Amtrak will announce a comprehensive and detailed plan to replace and expand its fleet of locomotives and passenger railcars to enhance current service and accommodate expected future growth. It will include the purchase of several hundred single-level and bi-level long distance passenger railcars and more than a hundred locomotives. This major equipment purchase will support American rail manufacturing industries and create jobs in the U.S.

    Long-Distance Routes, Corridor Services and Commuter Contract

    Amtrak will undertake an in-depth evaluation of the poorest performing long-distance routes to identify and implement changes where possible to improve key measures such as customer service, ridership, and financial performance. The five routes being analyzed are the Sunset Limited, Cardinal, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, and California Zephyr.

    Also, Amtrak will expand corridor services in collaboration with state partners. In Virginia, a fifth Northeast Regional train will operate between Richmond and Washington, D.C. In North Carolina, a second Piedmont roundtrip between Raleigh and Charlotte will be added. In Washington, a second Amtrak Cascades train is now operating from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia through the duration of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games. In addition, Amtrak is finalizing a new operating contract with the Los Angeles-based Metrolink commuter rail service to provide train and engine crews for all seven of its lines.

    Installing Positive Train Control and Enhancing Safety

    Amtrak is committed to an aggressive, self-imposed schedule to install Positive Train Control (PTC) by the end of 2012—three years ahead of a Congressional deadline for the rail industry— on sections of Amtrak-owned tracks not already equipped with the sophisticated technology capable of controlling train movements to prevent collisions. A significant amount of design, engineering, and some installation work will occur this year to advance the project. Amtrak is also implementing two industry-leading risk-reduction safety initiatives to complement traditional rules-based compliance programs. The Safe-2-Safer program strengthens the emphasis on safety within the corporate culture by promoting a more collaborative working environment and ensures a higher reliability of safe behaviors at all levels of the railroad.

    In addition, Amtrak intends to participate in a Federal Railroad Administration sponsored Close Call Reporting project under which incidents that did not result in an accident or injury, but could have, can be anonymously reported by employees so that safety improvements can be made as appropriate.

    Strengthening Security

    Amtrak passengers will see a more interactive police and security presence in 2010 with greater emphasis on random and unpredictable patrols, baggage screenings and other activities In stations and on trains. Amtrak will continue to expand its K-9 explosive detection teams, harden stations and strengthen cooperative inter-agency operations with local, state, and federal law enforcement and counterterrorism partners.

    About Amtrak

    As the nation’s intercity passenger rail operator, Amtrak connects America in safer, greener and healthier ways. Last fiscal year (FY 2009), the railroad carried 27.2 million passengers, making it the second-best year in the company’s history. With 21,000 route miles in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces, Amtrak operates more than 300 trains each day—at speeds up to 150 mph—to more than 500 destinations. Amtrak also is the partner of choice for state-supported corridor services in 15 states and for several commuter rail agencies. Visit Amtrak.com or call 800-USA-RAIL for schedules, fares and more information.

    [End quote]

    Let’s take it from the top. Amtrak has a new promo line which it has worked into the first four paragraphs and into the end corporate identification piece: “Amtrak operates more than 300 trains each day – at speeds up to 150 mph – to more than 500 destinations.” It also added in the fourth paragraph, “Amtrak has unmatched knowledge, experience and expertise in the U.S. rail environment.”

    Sure, Amtrak does operate more than 300 trains a day, and sure, some at speeds up to 150 M.P.H., but, let’s be completely honest here. Amtrak’s few Acelas on the Northeast Corridor operate at speeds up to 150 M.P.H. on considerably less than 100 miles of specific track, not the hundreds of miles other high speed trains operate daily in the rest of the world.

    And, the second statement about Amtrak having unmatched knowledge, experience and expertise in the U.S. rail environment, well, compared to what, or who? More than the operators of the various regional/commuter systems around the country? More than the freight railroads have, all of which manage to operate in all weather conditions when Amtrak can’t quite find its way through winter weather in January?

    All of this obviously is designed to move Amtrak psychologically into a superior position with decision makers who will be determining which company – Amtrak, the French, the Japanese, the British, the Germans, and whoever else is qualified and interested – will be the operator of the coming high speed rail lines.

    Any decision maker worth their salt are going to be looking at a number of factors, including how good of a steward Amtrak has been through the years of the tens of billions of dollars it has received from various government treasuries, and how well it has performed on maintaining its motive power and rolling stock fleets, as well as managing infrastructure and real estate assets. Good decision makers are not only going to be looking at what Amtrak is doing right this minute, but also what it has done in the past and what type of corporate culture it harbors. And, these guys think they’re the best choice? Ask the folks who are still peering down the track, waiting for a Sunset Limited east of New Orleans to arrive, and you may get an earful about how good Amtrak is working on behalf of passengers and taxpayers.

    Now, specific sub-headlines in the press release above, after high-speed rail:

    Deploy WiFi and Upgrade Interiors on Acela Express

    The WiFi deal has gotten a lot of press, and it’s a good thing. Upgrading the interiors on Acela trainsets is due; it’s been 10 years now, and the folks (all who have mercifully left Amtrak) who made the choices for Acela interiors and paint scheme colors pretty well flunked “Introduction to Design 101.” If the rocking the train doesn’t make you queasy, the interior decorations will.

    Major Infrastructure Improvement Projects Funded by ARRA

    This is all old news; lots of things which need to be done and will help the aesthetics of the company, but won’t do much to increase revenues, with the exception of the out of service locomotives and cars which will be rehabbed. One has to seriously wonder, with all of the goodies handed out in the stimulus plan, why Amtrak chose to only upgrade part of its out of service fleet; why didn’t it go for the whole group while it had the chance?

    Major Infrastructure Improvement Projects Funded by Annual Engineering Program

    See above; same song, different verse.

    New Plan to Replace and Expand Fleet of Locomotives and Passenger Railcars

    This is the part that has sent the hearts of many a rail fan aflutter. We’re told no details until February, but lots and lots has been read into this statement. This could be a very good thing, but, at the moment, there are no known plans for expansion, other than the route studies completed last year which will require billions of dollars to make happen.

    And, the big concern is Amtrak is going to follow its path from the past, and retire aging equipment rather than keep it in service for expansion. If we have another fiasco like the replacement of the Heritage sleeping cars with the Viewliner fleet (where something like two or more Heritage cars were taken out of service for every one Viewliner car put into service), then Amtrak’s long distance system is likely to shrink to even more depressing levels than it is today.

    Again – and, again, and again – VIA Rail Canada is happily restoring equipment which is more than 50 years old and was originally built like battleships. VIA is using this equipment on its premier trains, and charging even bigger bucks than Amtrak charges for the privilege of riding a train. If Amtrak makes the huge mistake of shrinking its fleet with the acquisition of new equipment instead of expanding its fleet and keeping existing equipment, then we may as well all go home, for Amtrak will have nothing as a future.

    Long-distance Routes, Corridor Services and Commuter Contract

    Hopefully, Brian Rosenwald is going to be the man in charge of the next round of upgrades (actually, in some cases, more like restoring what was there 10 years ago and was lost) to long distance trains. We’ve already seen results like the restored full dining car service on the Lake Shore Limited and the plan to take the western end of the Sunset Limited daily (still not the best plan, but a step in the right direction).

    The next group of trains is going to be the Sunset Limited (continuing from the last group), Cardinal, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, and California Zephyr.

    The Sunset and Eagle parts are already in the works; we’re still hoping for a new name, such as the historic and charming “Golden State” from the Southern Pacific/Rock Island days. The pedestrian Texas Eagle name needs to be retired.

    For the Cardinal, this much abused but highly scenic route must be taken from its abysmal tri-weekly schedule to a healthy daily schedule. Time is not a crucial factor on this route; scenery is. Better scheduling on the eastern end, perhaps a companion daytime service between Cincinnati and Washington or New York along with making the Hoosier state a daily train on its own, and a full dining car and more sleeping car space will make this train a winner. In Fiscal Year 2009, the Cardinal had a 56% load factor; pretty amazing considering it’s so ignored by Amtrak.

    The Capitol Limited and California Zephyr are already good trains; give them the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight amenities and onboard services treatment and it will be impossible to find space on these trains because they will become more popular than ever. In Fiscal Year 2009, the Capitol had a 68.9% load factor (technically, sold out), and the Zephyr had a 52.4% load factor; plenty of room for improvement.

    Amtrak talks about expanding state corridor service, at the expense of states, naturally. Both Virginia and North Carolina will see more service, and Washington State already has more service in time for the Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. The North Carolina companion frequency to the Piedmont round trip between Charlotte and Raleigh will be the train to watch; the Piedmont has a load factor of 40.3%, hauling 68,400 passengers last fiscal year. The train was created to provide relief to the popular and well-performing Carolinian, which has a 74.5% load factor and carried 277,700 passenger last fiscal year. Adding a third frequency between the Charlotte-Raleigh city pairs should prove to be worthwhile; part of that route is also served during nighttime hours by the Silver Star.

    Amtrak also noted it is finalizing details for taking over the Metrolink commuter service in and out of Los Angeles; it’s getting back a contract it lost several years ago.

    Installing Positive Train Control and Enhancing Safety

    Every railroad is talking about this unfunded federal mandate to have PTC in place by 2015; Amtrak is planning to have its system in place by 2012. Most likely, the rest of the railroads in the country would like to have the help from the federal treasury Amtrak is receiving to install PTC.

    Strengthening Security

    Amtrak talks a bit about increased security measures and baggage screening; all good things.

    4) Amtrak did come out with a plan, and it’s a good start, albeit a too small start. We need to see more route expansion plans, and we need to see the same emphasis from Amtrak on its core business of conventional rail as we see on the dream of high-speed rail.

    The only way Amtrak is going to survive is to grow, and the best growth potential is in the national system, not short, expensive state corridors. Amtrak has the opportunity; it needs to make the best of what it has been handed.

    Still unanswered are the big questions: What new routes? What about revenue expansion? What about filling up the existing trains? (Amtrak’s system wide load factor for FY 2009 was only 49.3%; abysmal by any measure.) What is Amtrak doing to contain costs? What about the existing equipment sitting in the weeds on the wreck line; when will it be fixed and put back out on the road to earn revenue? When is Amtrak going to stop being America’s greatest kept secret?

    5) This week’s special election in Massachusetts for the replacement of the late Senator Edward Kennedy morphed into a stunning finale. Republican Senator-Elect Scott Brown ended the Democrat’s lock on passing any legislation party leaders want in Washington.

    Why is this important? Because Amtrak cannot expect an unfettered flow of funds with a more level playing field in Washington. Amtrak is going to have to go back to being able to prove its need, and prove its worth to convince not only all of the Democrats, but some of the Republicans, too, that federal monies spent on Amtrak are monies well spent.

    6) The first This Week at Amtrak of the year earlier this month zeroed in on Amtrak’s failure to keep the Empire Builder running across the western northern tier of the country just south of the Canadian border through difficult weather conditions in January.

    The response from TWA readers was overwhelming, and the interesting part was all of the excuses made on behalf of Amtrak from those in Amtrak’s Amen Corner.

    One writer noted that VIA Rail Canada kept its trains moving because it had a different brand name of locomotive (never mind, that in most cases, Amtrak and VIA locomotives are nearly identical), perhaps inferring some locomotives are not supposed to operate in cold weather?

    Another writer, noting he was writing as a political scientist, opined that perhaps Amtrak was misbehaving badly and not making plans for the future and itself because the poor dears were so beaten down by the Washington bureaucracy they just couldn’t summon up the courage for a good fight and ask for what they really needed. Maybe the reader wants to leave the light on at night, too, for Amtrak when its dark outside.

    But, most writers seemed incredulous that over 125 years after passenger trains began operating in that part of the country in frigid weather conditions, and nearly 40 years after Amtrak began operations, it can’t figure out how to deal with cold weather.

    Again, these are the same people who dream they will be entrusted with the new high-speed rail systems?

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    J. Bruce Richardson

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    Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

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  9. Jan 22, 2010 #309

    bretton88

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    bretton88

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    We already saw some photos of the locomotives in winter. After seeing those, it was no wonder amtrak couldn't run. The freight companies can just slow down the freight trains and make them a day late, Amtrak cant. Though there are a few things Amtrak could have done better, It has become apparent that some things where out of Amtrak's control.
     
  10. Jan 28, 2010 #310

    MrFSS

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; January 28, 2010

    A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

    United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

    America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute

    1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

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

    Volume 7, Number 4

    Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at http://www.unitedrail.org.

    URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.

    1) To the surprise of no one, when political decisions are made, those decisions are not always based in reality. Today’s announcement from the White House on how the $8 billion pie for high speed rail is being carved up can be viewed as nothing more than a string of political decisions, but, with some good results.

    Every region of the country gets a piece of the pie, but, surprisingly and, with a certain note of disappointment, the Chicago area received a rather small portion. Billions are needed to untangle the web of rail lines in and out of Chicago to make both passenger and freight trains move smoother and quicker. Illinois received only $1,102,000,000 for upgrading a line between Chicago and St. Louis. Minneapolis-Milwaukee-Chicago got another chunk of money – $823,000,000 – but not much of the money actually goes into Chicago-based infrastructure. On the east side of Chicago, the Chicago-Detroit line got $244,000,000 for stations and some signaling and infrastructure improvements.

    Never really addressed were the core problems directly in and around Chicago, the nation’s largest rail hub.

    Here in Florida, we received $1,250,000,000 which proves the point you shouldn’t look a gift high speed rail system in the mouth, but you really have to figure out how to feed it. Florida’s share of the spoils will pay for a hair less than half of the cost of building the redundant Orlando-Tampa high speed rail system, which the voters of Florida rejected in 2004 as too expensive.

    So, now, the feds have given us half of the cost of the system, and we have to come up with a matching amount. The problem is, the State of Florida is pretty well broke, and we are a state with exceptionally high unemployment, an exceptionally high amount of home foreclosures, and a nearly stagnant tourism economy. We may have billions in federal monies coming, but it’s anybody’s guess if the Florida legislature and Governor Charlie Crist can find the matching funds. If it would have been a typical federal/state partnership of 80/20, most likely $500,000,000 could have been found by scrounging through various state capital budgets for a number of programs. But, with a 50/50 match, it’s not a lock Florida can find the money.

    Some money was awarded to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of North Carolina for track and infrastructure upgrades, as well as rolling stock purchases, totaling $620,000,000. Political language can be found in the award, such as “doubling the number of frequencies between Charlotte, North Carolina and Raleigh, North Carolina.” Well, gee, yes, that’s a true statement, but we’re only talking about from two frequencies to four frequencies, hardly an Interstate highway-clearing endeavor.

    A fascinatingly small amount of money went to the Northeast; only a total of $485,000,000, which includes some work on the Northeast Corridor.

    California received the largest prize, totaling $2,344,000,000, which not only goes to the proposed new California high speed route, but also includes monies for the Pacific Surfliners, the Capitol corridor trains, and others areas, specifically for pollution mitigation. Considering the cost of California’s new high speed system is going to be north of $40,000,000,000, California isn’t going to be getting much federal help from this go-round.

    2) What will the $8 billion do specifically for Amtrak? Actually, Amtrak will benefit nicely from a number of these projects, mostly in the form of enhanced track and infrastructure, which will improve running times, eliminate a lot of railroad congestion, add some new station buildings (something Amtrak pretty desperately needs in a lot of cities), and boost rolling stock.

    3) A lot of fuss was made during the announcement about how all of this is a “down payment” for the beginning of high speed rail, and we should be happy for all of the jobs these few dollars (in Washington terms, not in real world terms) will create. Comparisons were made to the early days of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system, and we can look to a future of high speed rail rivaling today’s Interstate highways.

    Some very reasonable arguments were made (which were not political arguments, so therefore ignored) that perhaps one high speed system – as a demonstration project – should have been selected and completely built to prove the wonderfulness of high speed rail. Not a bad idea; however, political realities said as much money as possible should be spread around to political swing states which will benefit incumbents at the expense of reality.

    4) Of interest to many of us are the dozens and billions of dollars worth of projects which didn’t receive funding. Will those projects remain viable for future funding? Will some other source of funding be found for the best of those projects?

    We know the White House has proposed a funding level freeze for three years for all non-defense and non-entitlement programs in Washington. This freeze includes the Department of Transportation. Since Amtrak received a high amount of funding in the current fiscal year budget, life will be good for Amtrak if current levels are maintained.

    But, what about these new projects? Will an annual infusion of $1 billion be enough to keep these programs going, especially in California?

    Take a look at one specific, unfunded project here in Florida; a favorite of many.

    Amtrak and the Florida Department of Transportation proposed a request for $268 million – using the old, true metaphor of about the same or lower cost than an urban Interstate interchange – for restoring service on Florida’s original tourist passenger line and first real economic engine, the Florida East Coast Railway.

    We lost primary passenger service on the FEC when the unions ferociously struck the railroad in 1963. All of the “name” Florida passenger trains from the Midwest and originating on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad were moved off the FEC at Jacksonville and picked up the old Seaboard Air Line Railroad route at Auburndale, Florida into West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami.

    For $268 million, service would be restored on the FEC between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, returning passenger trains to major tourist destinations such as St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, the Cape Canaveral area, and the coast just above Palm Beach. Included in the cost of restoration were eight stations, upgrading the FEC for 90 M.P.H. running, a track connection between the FEC and the Tri-Rail line at West Palm Beach which Amtrak uses, upgrades to the proposed Miami Intermodal Center, and additional rolling stock for regional frequencies in addition to splitting the Silver Meteor and Silver Star in Jacksonville and sending half of the train to Miami via the FEC and the other half via Orlando.

    The proposal was a great, inexpensive deal for Florida, and, beyond Amtrak, would have benefitted the future of Tri-Rail by building the connecting track between the FEC and Tri-Rail’s track for future Tri-Rail expansion up and down the FEC to both the north and south of West Palm Beach.

    What will happen now to this project? If Florida has to pony up $1.25 billion to build the high speed rail between Orlando and Tampa (which will provide redundant service to existing Amtrak service), will there be any money for new service on the FEC? It’s doubtful the proposed Orlando-Tampa high speed line will bring any additional visitors to Florida, but the FEC line has the potential of adding eight new highly desirable tourist destinations to the Amtrak system, as well as dramatically cutting the travel time between Jacksonville and Miami.

    Most likely, it’s the same story all over the country. Political decisions were made to carve up the $8 billion, but what are the immediate results and consequences? Perhaps it would have been better to designate $1 billion to the Orlando-Tampa line, and almost fully fund the FEC project? Inquiring minds want to know.

    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

    brucerichardson@unitedrail.org

    Copies of This Week at Amtrak are archived on URPA’s web site, www.unitedrail.org and also on www.todaywithjb.blogspot.com where other rail-related writings of Bruce Richardson may also be found.

    URPA leadership members are available for speaking engagements.

    J. Bruce Richardson

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    United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

    1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203

    Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

    Telephone 904-636-7739

    brucerichardson@unitedrail.org

    http://www.unitedrail.org
     
  11. Feb 10, 2010 #311

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; February 10, 2010







    A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from








    United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.




    America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute








    1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA




    Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail

    info@unitedrail.orghttp://www.unitedrail.org











    Volume 7, Number 5







    Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at http://www.unitedrail.org.

    URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.

    1) This is my final issue of This Week at Amtrak as principal writer, editor, and publisher. Starting with the next issue, William Lindley of Scottsdale, Arizona will take over those chores. I will be contributing occasional articles on various subjects. Mr. Lindley is a longtime United Rail Passenger Alliance professional member, and a former President of the Arizona Rail Passenger Association. He is a man with a high sense of ethics and purpose.

    It has been a true delight to produce over one million words about Amtrak and passenger rail in North America writing TWA the past seven years. Throughout these years, many of you have been kind enough to send messages and replies about the various columns, many complimentary, many in angst. Each and every message, no matter the content, meant someone was reading TWA, and was passionate enough about what they read to produce a response. Thank you to everyone who took time to read TWA, and especially to those who took time to reply.

    Most of you are familiar with Mr. Lindley’s writings in this space; he will be a clear, and much more concise voice on the issues of passenger rail – including and beyond Amtrak – as our country moves back into an era when passenger rail is not only fashionable, but realistic.

    Mr. Lindley’s views of written communiques differ from mine; he believes in shorter messages with a lot of punch. No one has ever accused me of having an economy with words; “verbose” is a term often coming to mind regarding my writings.

    I have assumed some new responsibilities with exciting projects which will bring me in conflict with continuing TWA from my keyboard. You will be hearing more about those projects at a later date.

    Amtrak last week delivered a 99 page report on the present and future status of its fleet. This space has long agitated for a plan, and one has been put on the table. The hope is this plan is just a faint beginning, and a recognition of passenger rail’s place in the future of surface transportation in this country.

    For much of the past decade for various reasons, the Amtrak Board of Directors has not been fully populated. As of today, there is only one vacant board seat, and hopefully that will soon be filled. The Amtrak board has seen many stars in the past such as David Laney, the late Paul Weyrich, and current Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour. Here’s hoping the new board will be as serious about a vital Amtrak as those board members were, and the new board will attempt to accomplish what was accomplished by those stars.

    My e-mail and mailing addresses will all remain the same. All subscription matters will be moved over to Mr. Lindley soon. Please, don’t stop those cards and letters coming just because I will no longer be writing on a regular basis. Each new one with your thoughts will be welcome.

    Thanks for reading This Week at Amtrak, and thanks for caring about the future of passenger trains in North America.

    Mr. Lindley, it’s your turn, now.

    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

    brucerichardson@unitedrail.org

    Copies of This Week at Amtrak are archived on URPA’s web site, www.unitedrail.org and also on www.todaywithjb.blogspot.com where other rail-related writings of Bruce Richardson may also be found.

    URPA leadership members are available for speaking engagements.

    J. Bruce Richardson

    President

    United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

    1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203

    Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

    Telephone 904-636-7739

    brucerichardson@unitedrail.org

    http://www.unitedrail.org
     
  12. Feb 13, 2010 #312

    yarrow

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    i never knew quite who j. bruce richardson was but i often agreed with his views. will be interesting to me to see what the new editor has to say
     
  13. Feb 13, 2010 #313

    jis

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    Considering the CSX could not run anything on the RF&P through most of last week, and finally had its marooned outlawed crews rescued by a pair of Amtrak P42s sent out on a rescue mission, it is not clear that the freight companies necessarily do much better under severe snow conditions either.
     
  14. Feb 16, 2010 #314

    MrFSS

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; 2010-02-16


    Volume 7, Number 6

    Gentle Readers,

    Thank you for returning this week for another installment of This Week at Amtrak. I would like to give special appreciation to Mr. J. Bruce Richardson for the first seven years of this column.

    1. Reviewing this Monday, let us begin with a line from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" –

    Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…"
    Well, well. Two impossible things happened yesterday.

    On the world stage, Professor Phil Jones, at the "centre of the Climategate scandal" admitted there has been no global warming since 1995. According to the Daily Mail, he "also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now… And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no 'statistically significant' warming." This is, naturally enough, entirely attributable to a mere blip in the data, all of which he has apparently conveniently mislaid.

    See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12...-organised.html

    2. And then, back home in these United States, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the waters of conventional wisdom, Ray Reed of the Lynchburg News and Advance reported Monday evening on the new second frequency on an Amtrak route in Virginia: "Lynchburg's honeymoon with Amtrak continued in November, producing enough riders on the new train that started in October to generate a profit in its second month of operation. Virginia had planned to provide a $242,000 monthly subsidy to keep the train running. It won't need any of that money for November…" http://www2.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local...nd_month/24136/

    Can it really be true that, despite relying on derivatives of accounting methods originally and deliberately skewed by the freight railroad companies over fifty years ago to show passenger train losses no matter what, that Amtrak really is admitting a conventional train can be at least partly profitable? Stay tuned.

    We have discussed before the plight of our nation's grand downtown train terminals like those in St. Louis and Kansas City which have been perhaps permanently shorn of their proper passenger functions. Cincinnati Union Terminal seemed near to receiving a similar sentence, but thankfully the kind citizens of the Queen City have raised an outcry that the "3-C" trains should again serve this Art Deco landmark as their gateway. We lend them our support toward a strong regional rail network.

    3. Meanwhile, I recently have been corresponding with Richard Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association; and in reference to my comment about recent plans I felt were far too large for some high speed rail projects, he wrote:

    You don't get what you want by not asking for it.
    Well, that is certainly true. And that's what Amtrak should have done starting with the Oil Embargo of 1973 — ask Congress, "Give us $x more and we'll do Y … give us $2*x more and we'll do Y plus plus plus…" Ah well, hindsight.

    Today there do need to be *reasonable* and *prudent* requests… based on what is already working from experiences in California, Missouri, and so on. Not pie-in-the-sky multi-billion dollar wish lists for fast trains that will never get built, nor serve a useful purpose without a base network of local trains and transit. The ground-breaking Shinkansen and TGV, of course, were not built in a vacuum but overlaid a huge matrix of existing services.

    Nevertheless, in support both of Mr. Harnish's position and my own, and speaking of learning from what works — the Arizona Public Interest Research Group recently asked the Arizona Rail Passenger Association to support and speak at its press conference on the US PIRG report issued 9 February –

    http://www.uspirg.org/home/reports/report-...tem-for-america

    As a conservative and a Republican (and those two are far from always the same), I am pleasantly surprised by its generally sensible attitude toward incremental progress to eventual true high speed rail. I was also pleased that Arizona PIRG invited ARPA and the Southwest Rail Corridor Coalition advocates to answer press questions on their behalf.

    Here in Phoenix, the Metro system was approved and built after several failed transit ballot measures over a dozen years. The difference was that the successful 2000 measure had the support of both the Sierra Club and the Realtors… something which almost never happens. When a group like PIRG now comes to advocates of diverse political backgrounds to support a common goal, things might start happening.

    Now, Gentle Readers, I invite you to read the PIRG report and ask yourself — does there exist a common ground on which rail advocates from both sides of the aisle can make sensible progress toward better passenger trains? If you wish, you may reply to me directly ( wlindley@unitedrail.org ).

    I look forward to hearing from you until our next Week at Amtrak.

    William Lindley

    Scottsdale, Ariz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 16, 2010
  15. Feb 27, 2010 #315

    MrFSS

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; 2010-02-27




    Posted By wlindley On February 27

    Patience and perseverance have a magical effect

    before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.

    - John Quincy Adams

    Gentle Readers,

    Darwin was wrong. No, I'm not questioning "did man descend from the apes?" (perhaps he should have said "ascend" anyway). Darwin postulated a continual pace of evolution, but the reality is: whether we discuss clothing fashions, musical taste, or changes in animal species, change is almost invariably glacially slow for long periods, punctuated by flashes of utter revolution.

    We seem at last to have entered such a quick phase of passenger rail renaissance.

    In these past few decades, passenger trains have been accumulating a constituency in both size and composition. Like a blizzard in New York City or Philadelphia, it grew slowly at first and now more quickly.

    Robert R. Young, variously known as the "gadfly of the rails" and the "populist of Wall Street," as early as the 1940s, foresaw the impending crisis in passenger trains and indeed railroading generally. Even before jet aircraft and superhighways, Young saw slow trains and antiquated equipment as obstacles to future passenger train profits, and the stagnation of American design and manufacturing as impediments to progress. Young sought to improve his Chesapeake & Ohio passenger trains "to head off a slump that might mean a demand for nationalization…" — a threat realized in the creation of Amtrak in 1971 — and "When Young decided to buy two new streamliners for the C&O and two for the Chicago-Grand Rapids-Petroskey run of the Pere Marquette, he was struck with the limited capacity of the de luxe car-building industry. Young's subsequent decision to replace every bit of passenger equipment on the C&O involved waiting for months for delivery…" (both quotes, Life Magazine, 24 February 1947.)

    The creation of Amtrak, proceeding from a goal set in the late 1960s by Anthony Haswell's National Association of Railroad Passengers, was a legislative place-holder designed to effect the return of a healthy national rail passenger system. Despite the most concerted efforts of many during the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and since, the legal and political roadblocks erected over the preceding century have proven difficult to overcome. But as the romance of fast planes and fast cars was replaced by the frustrations and dehumanizations of X-rays, pat-down searches and plugged expressways, the latent demand for trains returned.

    Even in the warmth and vast spaces of the American West, the San Diego Trolley and Los Angeles Metrolink were pioneers of streetcar and regional rail, overturning forever the idea that superhighways and jet aircraft had obsoleted trains.

    As cities across the country opened new rail systems, and as Amtrak has worked with states to extend services, the snow-drifts continued. Some of these, like the Gulf Breeze, were scattered in the wind; while others grew, in places like North Carolina and Virginia.

    Pressure for change also grew in equipment and the railroads themselves. In the 1990s, Bombardier's BiLevel coach and General Motors' F59PH led the way in modern passenger equipment even as most light-rail orders went to Europe or Japan. The failed Penn Central, which had become government-owned Conrail, was sold and became parts of the profitable CSX and Norfolk Southern railways.

    The Obama administration's eight billion dollar outlay on higher-speed rail, announced in April of 2009, perhaps played a part in Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway purchasing BNSF. Fast upon the heels of the awards of this Federal money we find billionaire Carl Icahn's American Railcar Industries having formed a joint venture with US Railcar. US Railcar has built regional trains for Florida, and hopes to capture the upcoming market for high-speed equipment. Obama's eight billion dollars, on a national scale, is tiny; but it has become a critical piece.

    Though you may not be able to ride Denver's Ski Train to the slopes this year, residents of New York City and Philadelphia who have been keeping the tips of their show-shovels shiny can tell you that, when snow has been falling on the mountain for long enough, sometimes it only takes one flake to start an avalanche.

    Yesterday's Friends of Transit conference which I attended in Phoenix highlighted that, when enough people — and the right people — assemble behind an idea, there are no more obstacles: just work to be done. The same avalanche as happened with streetcars in Phoenix leading now to serious plans for regional rail, is happening nationally. Of note: Richard Simonetta, who spearheaded the genius of Phoenix's METRO success — where, through community involvement, seven billion dollars of new development accompanied rather than followed the construction of the line — is now National Director of High Speed Rail at URS, a joint venture of whom is planning the California High Speed Rail Authority's 800-mile system. (URS press releases on Simonetta [1] and California HSR [2])

    California's HSR so far looks to be at least somewhat sensibly designed to build on, rather than compete with, a passenger rail matrix which includes Amtrak California's Surfliners, San Joaquins and Capitols. This contrasts with some other high speed systems recently proposed (and next time we will look at what happens to travel time versus return on investment, on a hypothetical 81-mile corridor). California is carrying on Robert Young's desire for modern railways.

    Desire for continuing passenger profits like Young felt at C&O carried over to the street railways, whose President's Conference designed the PCC streetcar in the late 1930s with modern innovations: smooth, powerful acceleration and comfortable suspension. PCC cars continued to be built in America through the 1950s; in Europe, licensed designs were improved upon and constructed until fairly recently. Competitor products for the PCC were offered by the J.G. Brill Company, which became ACF-Brill; in 1994, some of that same American Car & Foundry's designs, properties and personnel were acquired by the same American Railcar Industries that Mr. Icahn owns today.

    As streetcar manufacturing moves back to the United States, with American plants of Japanese and European companies recently joined by Oregon Iron Works products; and as production likewise steps up on full-size passenger trains, remember that a "stimulus" is hardly a new idea. In 1947, the United States was in recession; and 63 years ago this week:

    "Young's idea is that if the American railroads would replace their Pullman and coach equipment every seven years, the resulting mass manufacturing orders would make the U.S. economy recession-proof…" (also from Life Magazine's 24 February 1947 profile of Robert R. Young.)

    Now, Canada's VIA Rail has been using 50-year old streamliners from the Budd Company, which were built well enough to have lasted decades. VIA plans to use them for decades more. An inspection of passenger trains as recently as five years before "Amtrak Day" (May Day, 1971) shows U.S. railroads on their secondary trains continued to successfully use heavyweight equipment built in 1920s and 1930s before the advent of lightweight construction. Such well-built cars too lasted 40 or 50 years, being outmoded only by style, not function. So perhaps "augment" rather than "replace" every seven years would be prudent and effective, as passenger trains increasingly recover the market share vacated fifty years ago, and cater to new needs.

    Amtrak can seize on the positive publicity from its successful train to Lynchburg, Virginia which has so far not required its planned state operating subsidy. This is a chance to appeal to both conservatives and progressives… yet the same Amtrak this week is threatening "to scuttle the SunRail commuter train planned for Central Florida before it picks up its first passenger." (Orlando Sentinel [3], 23 February 2010) The issue is liability insurance — and surely a consistent policy on this subject is crucial — and one hopes a constructive discussion can take place.

    States like Virginia don't really care how much "profit," if any, Amtrak makes; only that state monies reserved for operating subsidies should be as small, and last as long, as possible. Any state function fulfilling its role while turning even a little of its money back to the treasury is bound to get someone excited at the State House. Several other Amtrak trains could follow the Virginia model of additional service for small increases in subsidy. Extending the Heartland Flyer south to Houston, or north to connect with service to Kansas City or even St. Louis, springs to mind.

    If Amtrak, in partnership with host railroads, can thusly open the spigot for future capital outlays like upgraded tracks, signals, and stations, then the advancing avalanche which is the passenger rail renaissance will be unstoppable.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 27, 2010
  16. Feb 27, 2010 #316

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    I actually like William Lindley's style of writing. It is less shrill and more substantive. Good change!
     
  17. Mar 8, 2010 #317

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; 2010-03-08




    Jack Benny, one of America's most beloved comedians and reputed tightwad extraordinaire, was perpetually 39 years old; Amtrak, this first of May, will join Mr. Benny at milepost 39. Benny's radio and television persona never sold his ancient Maxwell automobile, but Amtrak does seem to have traded in some sputtering old ideas for new ones.

    First off, the news items:

    • The State of Oregon reports it has purchased two new TALGO trainsets [1] for service between Eugene and Vancouver, British Columbia.
    • Jolene Molitoris, currently Director of Ohio Department of Transportation, and former Federal Railroad Administration chief, this Wednesday "gave a passionate speech about ODOT" and the nascent 3-C (Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati) corridor. According to "Linking Ohio [2]," Ms. Molitoris emphasized "that no corridor has ever gone from zero passenger rail options to high-speed rail in one step. She described projects like in Maine and North Carolina that all started with standard speed rail before upgrading to higher-speed." Linking Ohio, which is a project of the 501©3 non-profit All Aboard Ohio, noted that improving current speeds — 39 mph average, 79 mph top speed — needs to be the first phase "of a larger passenger rail strategy."
    • And then from North Carolina comes the news, according "The not-so-fast track for high speed rail [3]" (Stateline.org, 25 February 2010), that a "$520 million chunk [of the Federal high speed funds]… will go toward 30 specific improvements between Raleigh and Charlotte, and another $25 million will be used to reduce [rail] congestion between Raleigh and Richmond, Virginia… Eugene Conti, North Carolina's secretary of transportation, says work on the upgrades will start within a few months. The projects include adding more double-tracking that would allow freight and passenger trains to pass each other and separating rails from roads. The changes are designed to cut down on delays for both trains and auto traffic."
    • On the flip side, Buena Park, California may have to demolish a brand-new passenger station if the planned high-speed trains whiz past there without stopping (AP story, 8 March [4]), and Florida's newly-awarded high-speed train is not planned to connect with SunRail commuter trains (cable-only local news "channel 13″ story, 5 March [5]; and commentary on The Infrastructurist [6]). Doesn't anyone talk to anyone else anymore?
    • Saturday's Amtrak Town Hall, sponsored by TRAINS magazine (Kalmbach Publishing Co.) was the first of its kind. Presentations, plans, and candid discussions indicate Amtrak has some good people who are making real progress. More on this shortly, but one remark overheard afterward was, "For the first time I heard discussion of 'per revenue passenger mile' rather than just 'per passenger.'"
    • And a personal note: "Gentle Readers" is how Isaac Asimov — a modern-day Renaissance man, author of nearly 500 books, and my chief inspiration to learn about science, arts, literature, history and everything — addressed his audience, and I will occasionally use his phrase in remembrance.
    Next, some feedback –

    On the PIRG report, C.B. Hall writes:

    I saw the document as an expression of advocacy, not an analysis of high-speed rail's actual prospects. Chief among the obstacles – and an obstacle I don't recall US PIRG even mentioning – is the likelihood of political winds shifting in Washington, DC. We now have a national administration that is exceptionally well disposed towards passenger rail, but that administration has less than three years to go. We're not going to get HSR, or even a major part of it, done by the next presidential election. What we can get done is a foretaste of HSR can ultimately do.
     
    The investment should go to a very limited number of corridors where visible results can be achieved on the shortest timeline. Three years from now, we may have a national administration that returns non-NEC HSR funding to the $25 million or whatever it was all through the 1990s. That likelihood will decrease, however, if in the meantime HSR in a few model corridors is far enough advanced to act as good advertising to the rest of the country. Otherwise, the risk of stagnation and skepticism only grows.
     
    Yes, Mr. Hall, the report addressed "here's what we need and how we can get there" more than it asked, "what stands in our way." Being guardedly optimistic, it exemplifies elimination of once-widespread socialist dogma which stunted rail passenger advocacy for decades. Look, if you want to start an argument, propose a project that will "reduce Global Warming." If you want to get something done, propose a project that will "reduce Pollution." Same project, but which one will get built? Eliminate the rhetoric from passenger train advocacy and let's get people moving.

    To Mr. Hall's other point, a perfect example of a results-oriented approach is the San Diego Trolley, which built its first, highly successful, line at low cost, and proved its value to the community. North Carolina is doing the right thing already: read on.

    Regarding continued expansion of passenger rail, reader Stan Probstein asks:

    [W]hy does Amtrak continue to be the best kept secret for rail travel? Why isn't Amtrak advertising on cable networks like Fox News channel, MSNBC and CNN as well as on the broadcast networks? How can rail travel make a comeback if new rail ridership isn't informed?
     
    True, the only market-specific advertising ever run in Phoenix by sputtering old Maxwell-style Amtrak was in 1996 to announce the closure of Union Station and the re-routing of the Sunset Limited. However, if updated thinking as was heard at this week's Chicago's Town Hall meeting is any indication, — Stay tuned.

    Now, let's look at a hypothetical 81-mile passenger train route. By the way, that happens to be the distance from Tampa to Orlando.

    Key to investing our dollars wisely, is understanding the difference between Average speed and Top speed. Trains do not accelerate like sports cars; subway trains with their powerful electric motors accelerate at about 2.5 miles per hour per second, or in the parlance of race cars, "zero to 60 in half a minute or so." A conventional diesel-electric passenger train takes perhaps two minutes from a standing stop to 60 mph. Similar figures apply to slowing down. Thus, it is far more important to eliminate slow sections of track than it is to have short stretches of theoretical high speeds.

    Amtrak today operates the 81-mile Orlando-Tampa route with six intermediate stops in almost exactly 2 hours – about 40 mph average speed. Eliminating most of the stops would save perhaps fifteen minutes, but at a severe impact to ridership and to the detriment of Kissimmee, Waldo, Ocala, Wildwood, Dade City, and Lakeland.

    I have here a spreadsheet with rough estimations of times for a route with one station stop and a 1/4 mile section of 10mph (like a bridge or slow curve). Plugging in some sample numbers, let's look at what happens as we increase top speed.

    top speed,
    59
    mph:
    1 hour, 27 minutes
    top speed
    79
    mph with curve upgrade to 30mph:
    1:08
    (saves
    19
    minutes)
    90
    mph,
    1:02
    (saves an additional
    6
    minutes)
    110
    mph,
    53
    minutes (saves an additional
    9
    minutes)
    168
    mph,
    44
    minutes (saves an additional
    10
    minutes)
     
    The biggest time savings comes from increasing the top speed to 79mph versus 59mph. Beyond 90mph, we save only twenty more minutes by nearly doubling that speed. Going three times as fast (180mph vs. 60) doesn't get you there three times as fast, either: only about twice as fast, because of acceleration and deceleration.

    And the cost of a 168mph railroad is far beyond a 90mph railroad. Beyond 110, trains cannot share tracks with heavy freight trains, nor can there be grade crossings, so an entirely new guideway is needed.

    Removing bottlenecks is the single best thing: upgrading that one curve to 30mph saves about 1 minute; to 59mph, about 2 min. Compare two minutes savings for the cost of a single curve or bridge against 20 minutes saved upgrading 80 miles of track, and you're looking at a pretty favorable cost-benefit ratio.

    The practical impact is that incremental investments up to 79mph have direct, positive impact on freight and passenger trains alike; much above 90mph starts to diminish the utility of corridors for freight; and above 110mph removes passenger trains from most existing corridors, at stratospheric costs for new rights-of-way and without the benefit to industry and jobs that accrue from better freight service.

    Looking again at North Carolina, Secretary Conti says that the high-speed funds there will result in noticeable "improvements in stations, on the track and with equipment in the next couple years… Our focus is to show progress in the immediate sense…" (stateline.org)

    Amtrak of late seems to be involved with sensible projects that will get built, like North Carolina's upgrades, while also talking refreshingly favorably about intercity routes at the Chicago Town Hall. Will America's modern passenger trains finally catch their stride at Amtrak's 39th birthday? Stay tuned, Gentle Readers.

    \\/

    William Lindley, Scottsdale, Ariz.4
     
  18. Mar 9, 2010 #318

    Bootman4U

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    Bootman4U

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    Well-written....unfortunate that because we cannot use electric traction for this "theoretical" corridor we have to make other compromises
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 9, 2010
  19. Mar 12, 2010 #319

    haolerider

    h

    haolerider

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    It is a real pleasure to read his articles, as opposed to the Bruce Richardson theory of "bash Amtrak" and then "bash them some more!" Lindley's comments are rational and well informed and recognize small accomplishments without making light of the process. I also don't miss Richardson's continued comment about "the dog eating Amtrak's homework"!
     
  20. Mar 14, 2010 #320

    had8ley

    h

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    Bruce has an unique way of opening a wound and then pouring salt into it. I did enjoy his rantings as he was mostly right on~ Amtrak's back :cool:
     
  21. Mar 14, 2010 #321

    jis

    jis

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    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

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    Compared to Lindley's level headed writings, Richardson's rantings and ravings were mostly a waste of bits and bytes :lol:
     
  22. Mar 15, 2010 #322

    haolerider

    h

    haolerider

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    That may be true, but I can assure you, that no one at Amtrak ever took Bruce seriously, in fact he was considered very uninformed and saddled with tunnel vision.
     
  23. Mar 15, 2010 #323

    had8ley

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    Which may be the very reason we have a new blogger....
     
  24. Mar 16, 2010 #324

    MrFSS

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    This Week at Amtrak; 2010-03-15




    Volume 7, Number 9

    Amtrak is now saying the right things. Will they start doing the right things, like correcting last year's flawed route studies as the first step toward a dramatically expanded national system?

    But first, a correction on the list of Florida stations in the last issue. Amtrak serves Kissimmee and Lakeland between Tampa and Orlando. The other stations are were on the alternate Jacksonville-Tampa line, which Amtrak no longer uses. I am writing the column from Scottsdale; I have lived in the Phoenix area since 1991, Northern Virginia before that, and Boston for most of my first 23 years. I mistakenly copied the wrong list of stations, probably remembering my trips on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor to St. Petersburg and Clearwater in the 1980s. Mea culpa.

    Now, to this week.

    In the 1940s, a consortium of companies symbolically led by General Motors drove the privately-owned street railway business to bankruptcy.

    Seven decades later, the streetcar returned the favor.

    No, that's not strictly true; but it is a curious reversal of fortune — karma? — suggested by one of three college students who visited the Phoenix Trolley Museum on Saturday afternoon. (The intelligence of the young never ceases to amaze. And signing up some bright new members who have been spending their days and nights devouring everything about trains and buses that the Internet can offer, is a very good thing.)

    National City Lines, organized by G.M.'s Alfred P. Sloan to purchase trolley lines and replace them with rubber-tired, fuel-burning buses, was at least a symptom if not one of the myriad causes of the failure of the street railway industry. The trolley was a bellwether for the impending crisis in passenger trains generally.

    Conversely, the growth of cities building rail transit in recent years has mirrored a growing dissatisfaction. The postwar suburban consumption-based lifestyle has proven to be an ecological, social, and economic cul-de-sac. Yet in my city of Phoenix, as elsewhere, business along the streetcar — pardon me, "light rail line" — is the bright spot of the local economy; Mesa, which once grudgingly permitted a single rail station to be built just inside its border, has seen the light called "transit means business" and is extending the line to bring shoppers, workers and students to its moribund downtown.

    And this reversal of the streetcar's fortune is proving to be a bellwether for the passenger train generally.

    We now turn to two guest columnists. Rob Bohannan attended Amtrak's Town Hall in Chicago last week; Daniel Carleton wrote in January on why the route studies completed in 2009 exposed fundamental barriers to our much-needed passenger train system expansion. The juxtaposition of these two columns raises the question: If Amtrak is now letting the once-hidden good ideas from inside bubble to the surface, when will we see the potential of a new equipment order resulting in new routes all across the country? Does Amtrak's new emphasis on long distance trains as fundamental to its mission and future represent the first steps toward correcting the issues Mr. Carleton raises?

    I leave you with these reports and those questions, which we shall ponder again next time. — William Lindley

    Illinois Report

    by Robert H. Bohannan, AICP (March 2010)

    Saturday, March 6, Amtrak and Trains Magazine co-sponsored a "Dialog for Progress" Town Hall Meeting at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Many of Amtrak's "top brass" were there, including Board Chairman Tom Carper, President Joe Boardman, and Chief John O'Connor of the Amtrak Police Department. The three main topics of discussion were the Amtrak Photography and Videography Guidelines, Fleet Strategy, and Long Distance Service.
     
    Photography.
    Chief O'Connor did an excellent job of explaining Amtrak's photography policy. Essentially, Amtrak would like to be notified in advance if one is going to do extensive photographing on Amtrak property—other than photography taken by boarding and alighting passengers or photos taken onboard trains—of the passing scenery, for example. Given the proven use of photography by terrorists in preparation for attacks on infrastructure, it is not unreasonable to have a few, simple, reasonable rules. [A strong minority points out that we once laughed at the Soviet Union and other totalitarian states for such absurdities as prohibiting photography and requiring citizens to carry identification cards. Nevertheless, railroad stations are in some fashion private property and it is entirely within Amtrak's purview to have some sort of rules. - Editor] Of course, Amtrak struggles to get the word out about the degree of leniency to all the station and other personnel nationwide and concedes that "over-zealous" employees have needlessly chastised rail fans for taking photos. Moreover, the rules only apply to Amtrak property—different rules apply for photos taken on property of other railroads, and so forth. We advocates and our "railfan" friends have a responsibility to assist Amtrak in educating others about their reasonable photography policy.
     
    The Fleet.
    A significant aspect of the fleet policy for readers of TWA is that Amtrak is using stimulus funds to repair cars and locomotives at Beech Grove. After the meeting Saturday, we were all invited down to Union Station to see a rebuilt train consisting of two sleepers, a diner, and a locomotive—all of which had been wreck damaged. The equipment looked great: The diner was decorated in pleasing shades of navy blue and brown, and looked really classy.
     
    Routes.
    Regarding long distance trains, Amtrak made official their intent to restructure the Sunset and Texas Eagle routes by operating a daily Los Angeles-San Antonio-Chicago train with a connecting San Antonio-New Orleans train. The LA-Chicago train would have full dining and lounge services. Amtrak has divided their 15 long-distance trains into three groups of five. The five worst performers — including the Sunset and Eagle—will be addressed this year, the middle five in 2011, and the five best—such as the Empire Builder and Southwest Chief — will be tweaked beginning in 2012. The undesirability of tri-weekly service on any route was noted.
     
    Perhaps more significantly, Amtrak seems to be grasping—and willing to emphasize publicly — the importance of their long distance trains. One of the slides in a presentation devoted to long distance trains was titled "Long Distance Trains are Fundamental to Amtrak's Mission and Future". The slide included pie charts that showed that, while long distance trains provided 15 percent of Amtrak's riders, they accounted for 24 percent of Amtrak's revenue. Long distance trains account for 39 percent of Amtrak's train miles but 46 percent of passenger miles. Moreover, long distance ridership and on-time performance has been steadily improving.
     
    Regarding on-time performance, Amtrak is changing the metric to include arrivals at intermediate stops, instead of just end points. Officials commented at the meeting that this change took the passengers' point of view into consideration as well as the Operating Department's point of view. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) provides that, beginning in 2013, there will be an on-time performance tolerance of 15 minutes for intermediate stops.
     
    Overall Impression.
    As encouraging as these developments are, the most significant aspects of the "Dialog for Progress" were that it was conducted in the first place, and that Amtrak recognized the need to reach out directly to the railfan and advocacy communities—the event was open to anyone who saw the notice in Trains and was one of the first 300 to register—rather than simply report the findings to any particular group.
     
    Tom Carper, Joe Boardman, and the other officials were present throughout the session and at the subsequent equipment display and responded patiently and concisely to all the questions. This was at times no small feat, with an audience so amazed at finally having a chance to speak and hear candid responses that emotions sometimes ran high. Amtrak intends to conduct more of these events and I encourage TWA readers to plan on attending.
     
    The Long Distance studies: Amtrak buy the numbers

    by Daniel Carleton (late January 2010)

    Amtrak, in the past months, has proffered three studies regarding the re-establishment of service on three lines: The
    Sunset Limited
    east of New Orleans, the
    Pioneer
    and the
    North Coast Hiawatha
    . The
    Hiawatha
    was discontinued in October of 1979 as the country reeled from the consequences of the world's third oil shock. The
    Pioneer
    was discontinued in May 1997 as Amtrak banked its future and fortune on a then-yet-to-be-named high speed train in the Northeast. The
    Sunset
    was indefinitely suspended east of New Orleans due to track damage sustained in August 2005 and repaired by January of the following year.
     
    Section 224 and 226 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) required Amtrak to develop plans for restoring service to these routes. Much has been written and shall continue to be written as to the validity of these studies; the rhetoric is long and facts are questionable. As regards equipment, however, this boilerplate paragraph appears in both studies for the
    Pioneer
    and
    Hiawatha
    :
     
    "Restoration of daily service on the three long-distance routes Amtrak has been directed to study by PRIIA – the North Coast Hiawatha; the Chicago-Seattle Pioneer; and the Sunset Limited between New Orleans, Louisiana and Sanford/Orlando, Florida – would require approximately 100 additional Superliner cars. That equipment does not exist today. Amtrak has 20 repairable "wreck status" Superliner cars, which it plans to restore to service in order to alleviate equipment shortages on existing Western long distance trains. In addition, if Amtrak is to continue to provide existing services on long distance routes, it must in the very near future replace nearly 100 remaining "Heritage" cars that are now more than half a century old."


     


    When summing up the hypothesized dollar figures for equipping the expanded services the amount runs between $477-534 million, depending on what options are acted upon. Amtrak appears to be settled on the inflated figure of $4.5 million per Superliner, bringing a 100 car order to $450 million. The balance would purportedly be expended on motive power.
     
    To the uninitiated it would be reasonable to assume that a public carrier would enjoy certain benefits unavailable to a private company. The rolling stock of a common carrier railroad is private property and as such subject to applicable property taxes. Private companies take great pains to justify what assets are kept as well as the spare parts on hand to keep them in a state of operation. Such justification must take into account the ebbs and flows of business. Therefore, during the 'golden age' of passenger rail transportation there could be found in or near major rail hubs rows of passenger cars awaiting the call to duty during times of heavy traffic demand. In 1946 the Pullman Company alone operated 5500 cars; by 1956, this was down to just over 2600.
     
    Amtrak is a public corporation and not subject to property taxes. And since Amtrak could be viewed as a work-fare program it is not a stretch to imagine public monies spent for fleets of passenger cars awaiting the call to duty during heavy traffic loads. In 1972, the roster held 1262 cars. If Amtrak's advertising is to be believed, this was about one-third of the total cars inherited from the private railroads. Currently Amtrak rosters 1367 active passenger cars; exclusive of Acela and Talgo trainsets. Where is all the extra capacity when needed? Where is the work-fare program to sustain the domestic railcar manufacturers? Instead of the rows of passenger cars on standby there is a one-size-fits-all passenger train running 365 days a year. Instead of a robust domestic railcar industry there is silence with the last, the Budd Company, closing its doors in 1987.
     
    Currently, Amtrak stables about 250 active diesel-electric road locomotives, exclusive of the dual-mode locomotives in the Northeast. At the height of the F40 era at Amtrak there were 216 on the roster (plus 25 GE P30CH's); please bear in mind there was as yet no electrification east of New Haven, Connecticut. Today, the F40 is extinct on Amtrak. With the exception of Ontario's GO Transit, Amtrak is the only original owner of the F40 locomotive to completely phase them out. On the private railroads, locomotives could be rebuilt under a Capital Rebuild Program allowing the unit to be depreciated over the anticipated additional life of the unit. As Amtrak is a public entity and not subject to property taxes no value was seen in the F40 fleet, and they were sold to commuter railroads, freight service or for scrap.
     
    The national malaise toward serviceable passenger rolling stock has not gone unnoticed by those states desiring service. California, Washington and North Carolina have acquired cars (and in some cases locomotives) to properly address the needs of their constituents. Soon Wisconsin will join this once exclusive club as they reequip their Milwaukee to Chicago service with new trainsets from Talgo.
     
    The national malaise toward service expansion has not gone unnoticed by the federal government as may be witnessed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants (ARRA) for High-Speed Rail. In an effort to revitalize America's passenger rail network the feds have bypassed Amtrak and instead are seeding monies directly to the states. None of these projects tapped for funds will actually attain true high speed (greater than 150 mph) but will improve or expand existing rail services.
     
    Even to the most casual observer the role of Amtrak is being minimized. Attempting to reverse this trend Amtrak's president recently gave a speech declaring their relevance, "
    Being a healthier Amtrak helps position itself as THE provider and partner of choice for commuter, intercity passenger rail and high-speed rail service. We currently have partnerships with 15 states accounting for nearly 50 percent of our average weekday departures and we plan to foster more."
     
    However, when there is a legitimate need for a service to be rendered a way shall always be found. Lately it appears that 'way' does not include Amtrak. Is it the fault of the track worker who was given defective concrete ties to install? Is it the fault of the Viewliner car attendant whose car is shaking apart around her? Is it the fault of Pullman-Standard or Budd whose doors closed for good for a lack of orders? Is it the fault of management whose priorities change just a often as the politicos they answer to? Ultimately, it must be recognized that Amtrak does not deliver any of the possible benefits of a public corporation and all of the disadvantages of a welfare program.
     
     
  25. Mar 23, 2010 #325

    MrFSS

    MrFSS

    MrFSS

    Conductor Honored Member

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    This Week at Amtrak; March 23, 2010

    A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

    United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

    America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute

    1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

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

    Volume 7, Number 10

    Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at http://www.unitedrail.org.

    URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.

    Volume 7, Number 10

    Before we begin this week, a note from Bruce Richardson:

    Amtrak will lose one of its most important human assets at the end of this month. Cliff Black, long the public face of Amtrak and its long serving spokesman is retiring after decades of service. He will be greatly missed by all of us who have known him professionally, and by those who have worked directly with him.

    During his tenure at Amtrak there have been too many presidents of the company who have come and gone to keep count of, but, through each change of leadership at Amtrak the one constant has been Mr. Black’s deft handling of the news media and corporate communications. Any of us seeking true, honest information knew Cliff Black was the man to talk to; while keeping on message for his employer, he never led anyone in the news media astray, an amazing feat in today’s world of journalism.

    A phone call to or from Cliff Black is always a few moments of pleasant diversion. A written message from him is always an honest missive, whether it contains good or bad news.

    So, Mr. Black heads into the next part of his life, leaving the corporate world behind. All of us thank him profusely for his service to Amtrak and good journalism, and wish him well for the future. If his successor is just half as good at what Mr. Black does, then his successor will be a great success.

    # # #

    An ocean liner does not turn on a dime, and neither does a large corporation. Some parts of Amtrak are definitely changing course while others have not yet caught up.

    Starting with the positive, we hear a few weeks ago that real china, linens, and glassware are returning to the Coast Starlight. This is certainly a good bit of news, and part of a refocusing on passenger needs. One wonders, however, how many surveys are required to determine that folks shelling out the equivalent of a fairly posh hotel room in most American cities, for their “first class” railway accommodations, expect a table setting in the diner to more closely approximate something saying “Lenox” than “Dixie Cup Company.” We do extend a note of approval to Mr. Brian Rosenwald, Chief of Product Development, and all those involved in the recent changes on the Starlight.

    Then we hear from Amtrak spokesman Mark Magliari that Amtrak is also evaluating the Capitol Limited in a not dissimilar manner, looking also at the schedule. An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer invites residents of that city to request Amtrak consider changing the wee-hour stops to something more amenable to civilized travel. We further commend the company for such recent emphasis on listening to advocates, railfans, and (gasp!) even their own potential customers, and fervently hope to see more “doing more with what we have.”

    The key to Amtrak solving its financial and public-relations challenges will be getting more people on its trains — not just “doing more,” but adding capacity. Again we see positive developments in the rehabilitation of wrecked Superliners and an order for Viewliners… the beginning of what needs to be a long road.

    Speaking of alternatives to wee-hour schedules, and doing more with existing routes and stations, we can now thank www.timetables.org — a new web site which has scanned all Amtrak’s historic timetables — for providing proof that, once upon a time, Amtrak operated at least one of its Western long distance trains on a twice-daily basis. Page 52 of the June 11, 1972 timetable shows both the Chief and the Super Chief operating Chicago-Los Angeles, on schedules several hours apart. Any railfan younger than 50 years old probably never knew this; certainly the popular railfan magazines never mentioned the fact in all the years I read them. One could well imagine all long-distance routes past the Eastern seaboard with two daily trains, spaced by eight or ten hours, providing convenient times in most every origin-destination pair… doubling revenue with little increase in station or system costs.

    David Carleton writes,

    At the very beginning of Amtrak, the railroads were still the operating agents running trains “for” the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. The Santa Fe and the SCL did at first add trains to the schedule during periods when they knew there would be heavier traffic…

    In 1971, the El Capitan / Super Chief ran with six Hi-Level coaches containing 424 seats, and six sleeping cars containing eighty rooms with a total of 132 berths.

    The Chief which ran in 1972 carried three Hi-Level coaches containing 208 seats and two sleeping cars of various configurations.

    By 1975 the same operation (but renamed the Southwest Limited when a disgusted Santa Fe withdrew the rights to the traditional names) was down to three Hi-Level coaches containing 208 seats and three sleeping cars containing fifty-nine rooms with a total of 88 berths.

    Remember, the year 1973 saw the Arab Oil Embargo, rationed gasoline, and folks looking for any alternative to driving. Little Japanese cars like the Honda CVCC (later the Civic) were all the rage, as Detroit rushed the Vega and the Pinto to market. Where were 1972’s second frequencies on 1973’s Amtrak? Mr. Carleton writes, “We can confirm based on our own direct observations that none of those trains ran empty!” Have we yet truly overcome obstacles to expanding our country’s passenger trains?

    Judging by the past week’s Kansas rail study — no. The Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World reports — http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/mar/11/a...through-kansas/ — that “Ridership numbers have good potential, but [the] effort” to carry passengers between Kansas City and Fort Worth “will take years, officials say.” The study considered four options with start-up costs ranging from about $150 to $500 million (exclusive of stations), projecting 65,000 to 174,000 annual riders.

    John Mills of Topeka noted in a forum elsewhere on the Internet that the study includes the addition of a second main track to 40 miles of the BNSF railway, at four million dollars a mile, rather than a more sensible six mile stretch of double-track and one new passing siding. Much more than that, he argues, is more a pure benefit to freight movement than a mitigation of the relative few minutes of delay introduced by a couple daily passenger trains, and thus should be partly paid for by BNSF itself. Bluntly, just as with last year’s flawed system expansion reports (the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans, the Pioneer and the North Coast Hiawatha) the Kansas study overstates the obstacles and understates the potential to get something moving quickly while seriously working with the railroads to improve even further. There’s much more to say about this, next time.

    On the High Speed Rail front, Scott McCartney’s “blog” on the Wall Street Journal website ( http://blogs.wsj.com/middleseat/2010/03/09...gh-speed-train/ ) noted that Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, addressing the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual forecasting conference in Washington, D.C., said that within a few decades, American cities will be connected by high-speed rail – “whether airlines like it or not. ‘People want alternatives,’ he [LaHood] said pointedly. ‘People are still going to fly, but we need alternatives. So get with the program.’”

    On the heels of Mr. LaHood’s comments comes an employee advisory from Mr. Boardman at Amtrak on Friday 19 March, regarding a new High-Speed Rail department at Amtrak to “be led by a vice president reporting directly to me.” The press release continues,

    Specifically, this department will work on the planning and development activities that will allow us to significantly increase operating speeds above 150 mph (240 kph) on the Northeast Corridor. It will also pursue partnerships with states and others in the passenger rail industry to develop federally-designated high-speed rail corridors such as the new projects moving forward in California and Florida.

    Amtrak’s leadership in this area is reaffirmed in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and we must make every effort to remain in that position.

    That last paragraph sounds curiously aware of potential competition from the private high-speed railway operators of Europe and other shores. Who says competition is a bad thing?

    Finally, and on this subject, we hear from Mr. Daniel Carleton. Until next week, gentle readers.

    – \\/

    William Lindley, Scottsdale, Ariz.

    A Tale of Two (High-Speed) Rails; a lesson of pragmatism vs. phantasm

    by Daniel Carleton

    The awarding of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants (ARRA) for High-Speed Rail projects has ended many months of speculation how the funds would be allocated. In all, $8 billion has been sown toward expanded and improved passenger rail service in America. The big winner is California with $2.3 billion going toward various projects, including a very small down-payment for their $45 billion HSR system. In comparison, Illinois, considered an early crony favorite, only picked up $1.1 billion; strange considering Chicago is the railroad hub of America.

    However, there are two states which are poles apart in their passenger rail ambitions and ARRA grant requests: Wisconsin and Florida. Wisconsin is on tap to receive $822 million; the vast majority of this to reinstate service between Milwaukee and Madison, 80 miles. Florida sees things somewhat differently. The Sunshine State is bequeathed $1.25 billion for preliminary engineering on a high-speed railway between Tampa and Orlando, 84 miles. Why does four miles add $428 million to the tab? Moreover, the total estimated cost of the Tampa – Orlando route is $3.5 billion. Can both these plans be realistic?

    In Wisconsin the idea is rather straightforward: reinstate passenger traffic between the state capitol, Madison, and the state’s largest city, Milwaukee. The right-of-way historically is former Milwaukee Road; part of the route, Milwaukee to Watertown, sees Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder. West of Watertown, the line is now governed by the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, a local regional road. The Badger State has already committed $47 million dollars of state funds for two new fourteen-car TALGO trainsets to support their existing Chicago – Milwaukee service. Ostensibly, two more trainsets will be ordered to support this further expansion in service, and the concurrent increase in speeds to 110 mph, all of which is expected to be running by 2013.

    Florida, in contrast, has opted to reinvent the flanged wheel by building an entirely separate railroad between Orlando and Tampa, as part of a larger goal of extending the system to Miami. The initial phase would see a new right-of-way established between or near the lanes of Interstate Highway 4. New stations would be built even though numerous ones already exist. A new station is planned for Walt Disney World even though Disney’s involvement has been the kiss of death for all previous HSR incarnations in Florida. Preliminary engineering is expected to be finished by 2011 and service by 2014.

    The desire to utilize existing highway rights-of-way is manifold. On top of this list is the low-to-nonexistent cost of land acquisition. Yet, a brief look at the historical economic impact of highways should be reviewed before proceeding. When a new highway was built there was a positive financial influence; land at or near interchanges and exits became more valuable and businesses were built. However, over time traffic increased and transit times increased to the point of highway expansion. What was the economic impact of new lanes to an existing highway? Practically nil. The land at the interchanges and exits didn’t move and any extra business practiced comes no where near to paying for the lane addition. Does anyone realistically expect building a railroad adjacent to a highway, high-speed or otherwise, to have any different an effect? If built as planned, Florida’s HSR stations will be built at or near existing development. Whereas heavy construction will gain a short-term production there will be no long-term development. Is this worth $3.5 billion?

    There is an existing railroad between Tampa and Orlando with a daily scheduled Amtrak train. The right-of-way is owned by CSX and is predominantly a secondary route to Tampa. (A small section between Lakeland and Auburndale will increase in importance once a new yard in Winter Haven is completed.) This former Atlantic Coast Line trackage rolls through the heart of numerous well established central Florida towns such as Plant City, Lakeland, and Kissimmee; Lakeland having built a brand new station in 1998. Anchoring the west end of this corridor is Tampa Union Station, which was completely renovated and dedicated also in 1998. Orlando does not currently have the best station for the riding public. This situation which will change with the coming of SunRail commuter train service and a new intermodal station built downtown; Lynx Central Station. As of right now none of this existing infrastructure is slated to be utilized for Florida’s HSR ambitions. Is this really an act of recovery or reinvestment?

    What if Florida were to, instead of reinventing the flanged wheel, rebuild the existing corridor? The existing highway and its associated development will not go away; the fast food restaurants, big box stores and movie multiplexes are not likely to blow away with the wind. Rebuilding the existing railroad would mean an opportunity for growth to the towns and cities who owe their origins to the railroad. Downtown Tampa, where Union Station is already situated, could once again be made vibrant. Similar could be said of the smaller towns which atrophied or shrank in the highway age. What this means is jobs. Already development is seen, either on the ground or on the drawing board, around the area to be served by SunRail. There is no reason this cannot be expanded west. What does it say about governance when glitzy ambitions are placed ahead of the people’s needs?

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