Monday, May 08, 2006

Time For A "Revamp"

We have heard this phrase over and over again. In the context of Amtrak, it means that we are going to see something old recycled again. We will soon see, according to the interim Amtrak president, a revamp of schedules and service.

In the early days, it meant we would have to ride in the legacy equipment from the contributing railroads. (See previous blog on the subject of "passover.") The riding public had to be content with the coaches, lounges, diners, and sleepers that were often already two decades old, poorly maintained, and worn out. We had to contend with the revamp of schedules then, too, because there were way fewer passenger trains than anyone could remember and somebody had to figure out how to make the remaining trains serve as many people as possible.

There have been equipment revamps. Credit Amtrak with ordering new equipment on occasion. For example, taking the Santa Fe high level car concept and turning it into the Superliner was a stroke of genius. But they have had to be revamped, over and over again. The Metroliners, the Viewliners, the Autotrains: All the popular concepts became pretty heavily used and had to be revamped.

Back in the day, the railroads would also revamp passenger equipment. They did this for their secondary trains, not for their flagship runs. Amtrak won't hear any of it, though. The flagships get the revamps.

Amtrak has had to "revamp" food service more times than we can count. From full diners to automat cars and back to full diners. Dive into the "airline food" concept. Dive back out and revamp for full meals cooked on board. Whoa! Wait a minute! They've invented the microwave! We should treat all Amtrak passengers to microwave meals. And back and forth. Revamp after revamp.

The brakes on the Acela trainsets had to be revamped before they wore through their first cycle, and before they killed someone.

The concept of carrying passengers was revamped to passengers and mail and express . . . and orange juice . . . and apples. Oh, lets try to revamp this again. The concept of being on time was changed from making tight schedules work to padding them enough so that the passengers won't notice the delays. The concept of repairing the trains before boarding passengers was revamped to "pull it out to the yard and fix it after leaving the station." And pad the schedule some more.

So Wonder of Wonders, it is again time for a revamp.

Railroad technology and railroading in general is so set in its ways that it is truly hard to imagine any really new concept. We understand that.

But here's one. We call it Revamp Nothing.

In Revamp Nothing, the public (me and you and everybody that pays taxes) invests (via government subsidy) in a Passenger Rail system that works. In Revamp Nothing, we start by deciding where rail passengers want to go and from where they want to start. We build tracks for high speed trains where we don't have them, and buy them from the railroads where they do. We put in modern, computerized, GPS located, controlled interval signaling that maximizes track capacity. We build locomotives and trainsets specifically designed for the routes. We use state-of-the-art energy-saving concepts but we don't listen to NIMBYs and BANANAs. (Not In My Back Yard, and Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) We build in the amenities that the owners of the railroad (me and you and everybody) want, and we charge for these amenities. We run trains on time and we do not allow other (more heavily subsidized) modes of transport to tell us how to run our railroad. We charge the right price for our services to make the highest cash flow from our investment. Our stock rises and falls by whether the railroad is maximizing cash flow. (We own the stock.) And when the property finally earns a buck, we don't put it into some government account to cover Social Security (a ponzi scheme). The owners (me and you and everybody) earn a dividend. After all, we were the investors that built the damn railroad!

In just a light touch of vanity, we don't call it Amtrak. We call it My Railroad. "I'm taking My Railroad to my business meeting." "I'm riding My Railroad on vacation." It reminds us that we own it!

Revamp Nothing. (If anybody is interested in seriously promoting the Revamp Nothing concept, please let us know and we will be glad to set up a blog and/or a group discussion.)

We will shut up now.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -
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