Thursday, June 29, 2006

Greasing The Wheels

In another shocking development, the Albuquerque Journal, with its June 28 issue, reports that the Democratic Governor's Association, lead by Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, and his own campaign committee received a total of $57,500 from BNSF Railway. The Guv you luv to laugh at doesn't see a conflict, even though New Mexico was just sold a railroad for $75 million by the BNSF. For those of you without a calculator, that's not even a 1% rebate.

So we would have to say that the fifty-seven grand is more like some grease in the journal box (no reflection on the Albuquerque Journal) for progress in the matter of getting Passenger Rail going in New Mexico. If the Guv and his politicos (that's right, there's no e in politicos) had really wanted kickbacks, the percentages would have been a lot higher and the amount going straight to the Democrat party would have been a lot less.

This just gives some exposure to a fact of life: The political wheels must be greased if there is to be money spent on Passenger Rail.

This may be something that escapes a Republican. Because Democrats have historically been the masters of graft and the use of questionable funds to get things done, it doesn't mean that Republicans can't learn the art. Mr. Richardson is the most republican Democrat we can bring to mind, and that says something for consensus.

At the risk of repeating The Fact that sits like the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to admit is there: If we want to improve, expand, and modernize Passenger Rail, there will have to be some political Give and some political Take. That's why we can't really criticize Bill Richardson for doing it to get the job done. (And when we say modernize, we don't mean new "streamliners." That's art deco post modernism bullshit from the 1930s. It's great for nostalgia, and we love nostalgia, but it doesn't get the job done, either.)

Here's the Give: Amtrak (or whatever entity succeeds it), in order to grow long-distance Passenger Rail, needs a subsidy from Congress and from the States. Congress needs to stop shutting out the states and Give them matching funds. The States need to stop whining about shrinking budgets and Give the people local, intrastate services that need to be established.

Here's the Take: Take away some of the shortsighted money that is thrown into roads every year. Take away some of the money from air transport. The system is shrinking anyway, so stop trying to grow it by throwing Federal dollars at it. Put about 60 percent of this new-old money into Passenger Rail at the local level, and put the rest into upgrading the freight rail system. (These two aren't necessarily going to remain the same if this plan works.)

Now here's the political aspect: This money becomes local money, spent with local contractors, benefiting local business and local politicians. (We are even open to a little graft here.) When the intrastate systems get big enough, they join the Federal system (perhaps still called Amtrak). The Federal System should have only one function when we eventually reach this point, and that function is to run interstate trains on long distance routes that both coordinate with and take advantage of the successful and already fully funded intrastate infrastructure. (Too many words starting with "I" in that sentence.)

We guess you could say we are thinking along the lines of States Rights and reverting to the way the Framers envisioned the Federal system, then applying it to Passenger Rail.

Okay, here's the Challenge: We believe that in these blogs we have thrown out three or four alternate ways of looking at funding for long- and short-distance passenger rail. We have also presented our opinion on a number of proposals to expand or modify existing plans. If you want to help push any of these ideas through the political process, or know somebody who can help do that, please write us.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bye, Norm!

Pardon us for laughing uncontrollably. We had a different subject scheduled for today, but we just couldn't help commenting on Mr. Mineta's exit from DOT as of last Friday. Citing the need for "other challenges," he walks away from DOT having never taken Transportation as a challenge, in our opinion, to begin with.

Perhaps rightfully focused on air transport since 9-11, he has nonetheless made some pretty crappy moves on Amtrak.

His resignation comes less than a month after suggesting that private enterprise will have to invest in the aviation infrastructure that has traditionally been government owned and financed. This appears to be a take on, "Let the States finance it," when it comes to Amtrak. As a Google search reveals, he has, thank God, kept his hands off Amtrak and its funding battles for the past couple of months.

Mr. Mineta has, instead, spent his time appearing at events where he could give speeches demonstrating just how much he does not know about any mode other than air transport.

If Mr. Bush performs to recent character, he will pick another transportation executive with some credentials in something other than transportation. Let's hope he takes a good look at the booming railroad industry and picks an executive who has enough vision to see the pitfalls of shutting Amtrak out of the transportation budget. Alternatively, perhaps he could pick somebody closer to the ground floor, as in commuter rail executive. Some commuter rail agencies move more passenger-miles in a year than any airline.

Finally, and this is just a selfish thought on our part, Mr. Bush could pick Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Bill is an ex-congressperson (one qualification), ex-cabinet member (that's two), and he has been a staunch supporter of Passenger Rail transportation in his home state (that's three). He is already a railroad administrator, as the state owns the BNSF Railway line from Belen, NM, to Raton. Here's the selfish part: This would take Mr. Richardson out of the running for another term as governor and would probably end his democrat presidential hopes for '08.

We can dream, can't we?

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, June 22, 2006

MoDOT Thinking About More Rail

Articles in several Missouri newspapers and appearing on the Web attest to the sincerity of Missouri DOT and Amtrak endeavors to bring Passenger Rail Service to Springfield, MO, after a hiatus of almost 40 years. (They've got us doing it now! That's not a hiatus, that's outright termination of service! That's pre-Amtrak era!) See this link.

So what's wrong with bringing service back to Springfield? Nothing if, like us, you want to see Passenger Rail established, re-established and growing in every corner of the United States.

Amtrak, despite it's ever-present financial woes and dependence on taxpayer dollars to support every route mile, has the right idea in trying to establish routes that didn't even exist when Amtrak was born. The demographics have changed mightily since then, and to open only routes that return us to 1971 misses the big picture.

The arguments in favor of establishing this Passenger Rail route are many. The route goes through some beautiful scenic areas. The auto traffic on parallel Interstate 44 is horrendous, so anything should be done to put some of those passengers on the rails is good. Also, Springfield is close to Branson, Missouri. Branson wasn't even thought of in the context of tourism when the last passenger train left Springfield, MO. Now, the music halls of Branson could be a day trip or an overnight destination for thousands of St. Louis Area residents. It makes one question why MoDOT is not also thinking about Kansas City - Springfield. Unfortunately, it looks like the only existing tracks to Branson come up from the south. But maybe some tour operator will see the wisdom in light rail or even Maglev to Branson from Springfield.

Now the bad part. The WTBAW part. (What The Bush Administration Wants) The state would have to foot the full subsidy for the St. Louis - Springfield service. This may or may not happen, but it is politically difficult, nonetheless.

The worst part? The track needed for this service may need significant improvements, though described as "in good shape," by MoDOT. More subsidy.

Let's hope the people of Missouri are serious about Passenger Rail. We would like to ride this one some day.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, June 19, 2006

Chicago's Circle IV - What To Do About The North Side

Check the Recent Posts at left, or go to this link to catch up on the previous numbers in this series about the proposed rapid transit Chicago's Circle line.

We have talked about the section that would take the old Douglas Park "L" north to Lake Street on what used to be the Metropolitan West Side Elevated but is now known as the Paulina Connector. We have also talked about the section that would be new track from the south end of the north-south leg of the Douglas Park "L" south to Ashland-Archer on the Orange (Midway) Line. We have even talked about our suggested extension of this service to the old Stock Yards to Kenwood ROW along 40th Street to complete a true connection with most South Side transit routes.

The North Side section, as originally proposed, seems the most problematic to us. (Problematic means that to choose this option means you will automatically have problems.)

This proposal calls for the first two sections to link to the Red Line (State Street Subway) at North and Clybourn, a subway stop. The way to get there, according to the plan, is to build a subway from Ashland and Lake to North, then east to North and Clybourn.

We get queasy when we try to think of how the planners are going to get trains from the "L" structure level at Paulina down to subway levels at Ashland, a distance of approximately 1/10 mile, but stranger things have been done in Chicago. (About a 60 foot drop in 530 feet is a whopping 11% grade.) That is, unless the planners are just going to stub-end the subway at Lake and make the passengers ride an escalator down.

This part of the plan has the same problem that the South Side section has: It doesn't get anyone to the lakefront.

It has another problem: We don't like riding trains in tubes.

So far all of the rest of the line is on elevated ROW.

How about re-using the original ROW of the north leg of the old Metropolitan "L", but continue north in the Paulina ROW where it could cross the Kennedy Expressway into relatively undeveloped industrial land, and cross the North Branch of the Chicago River right about where there is a current railroad bridge. Perhaps a new double decker would be good there. Then, we suggest, an elevated structure could swing east into the alleys between Fullerton and Montana. Making a super-station connection with the current Brown Line (North Side "L") and serving DePaul University to the east would be another plus.

We would like to see it continue on elevated structure all the way to the lake. Wouldn't it be neat to burst out of the wall of high-rises on Lake View and ride with an overhead view of the north end of Lincoln Park before you get off your train within walking distance of the lake front at Fullerton and Lake Shore Drive?

We think only a routing like this would satisfy the objectives of building Chicago's Circle Line in the first place.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Privatization a Trend?

Around these parts, government has almost always built roads. Government has rarely built railroads, although it financed the early transcons.

The trend for 60 years of the last century (1910s to 1970s) has always been for government to take over and/or subsidize more and more in the way of railroads. The granddaddy being Conrail, formed from Penn Central (itself a merger of New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad) and multiple bankrupt eastern railroads, and the grandmama being Amtrak.

All the little siblings in the subsidy or takeover family were the middling to large commuter rail and transit companies that grew together under government sponsorship starting post-WWII.

Nonetheless, the trand was to governmental subsidy, control and/or operation.

Until now.

The harbinger may have been the public sale of stock in Conrail circa 1987. The public got to buy what the public had already bought through taxes. In any case, this was followed by a period of prosperity for Conrail so great that major solvent railroads fought over control of it.

It's a pity that Conrail wasn't formed before Amtrak. If it were, there could now exist a major eastern network of solvent Passenger Rail operations. But we can't change history.

When government agencies get too big for government to successfully control their budgets, one of today's pat solutions is to privatize. We therefore predict a spate of such things as we are seeing with the sale of the Illinois Tollway system to private investors.

With government as big and bloated as it is today, it is almost a given that private enterprise can find a way to do the same job more efficiently. We predict that Amtrak will not be the first target of such bids from private enterprise. The commuter railroads of the west coast or the largely successful small commuter operations of mid-sized cities will be first. If that turns a profit for investors, look to see several of them team up for a run at Amtrak. And don't be surprised if some of them are railroads.

The government subsidies will always remain, of course. The efficient privatized passenger operations of the future will be operating companies (like the original Amtrak). The government will still provide subsidies in the form of rights-of-way or cash to maintain them. That's the only way it will work, because, remember our mantra, passenger rail never has been profitable without a subsidy.

Does anybody but us want to form a company and buy Amtrak?

Please read our sister blog, The Railroad.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, June 12, 2006

Let's Participate In The TTC

The TTC is something called the Trans-Texas Corridor, and, like Chicago's Circle line for rapid transit, it has several forms as initially proposed.

We suppose that we are dealing with Texas here. (Most of those Texans still think that our side of the Rio Grande - we live in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights - belongs to Texas.) So a Texas Corridor is a particularly wide transportation corridor.

We quote the Dallas Star-Telegram of May 21: Some stretches of TTC-35 might include -- within a broad corridor up to 1,200 feet wide -- separate lanes for passenger vehicles, 18-wheelers, freight trains and high-speed passenger rail and conduits for water lines, oil and natural gas pipelines, and transmission of electricity and broadband. Motorists would pay tolls to travel on the higher-speed corridor.

TTC-35 would be the north-south corridor designed to relieve traffic along Interstate 35 and in and around Dallas, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio. It would begin at the Oklahoma border and run to the Mexican border. An east-west TTC is also proposed, possibly running north or south of Dallas, but in any event from New Mexico to Louisiana or Arkansas.

What happens at the borders? We don't know, but try to imagine. A quarter mile's width of semis, trains, and pipelines would have to squeeze into some pretty narrow rights of way.

That's why we propose that New Mexico, at least, participate in the TTC. We could call it the Trans-New Mexico Texas Corridor or TNMTC. Somehow, we just don't want all that traffic piled up in Clovis, Roswell, or San Jon. Okay, maybe Tucumcari, which is possibly the world's most populated ghost town, but not San Jon. (San Jon is a great little town in eastern New Mexico south of Interstate 40 on a 4-lane that used to be Route 66.)

Then when the traffic gets to Arizona, it can just spill out onto the desert and stay there.

In any case, Trans-Whatever Texas-Sized corridors are the next big thing, and passenger rail will be better for them. If they catch on, they could be as abundant as Interstate highways (whether that is a good thing or not) and abundantly more useful if properly designed. That means designed with the hindsight to see that the Interstate Highway System, designed in the 1950s to take automobile transport into the next century, only barely made it; and most had to be extensively rebuilt before 2001; and those probably won't make it to 2020.

So let's put at least two Trans-State (lets call them Texas-Style, for their size) Corridors in each state: one north-south and one east-west. And let's reserve a high-speed, well-signaled, double track main line for Passenger Rail on each and every one of them. (You know we will have to shoot or hang all the NIMBYs and the BANANAs or send them to France to do this, don't you?)

And if we had our 'druthers, we wouldn't build a single square inch of asphalt on 'em for the truckers. Give them the Ancient Interstates and let the truckers maintain 'em from revenues for awhile.

Everybody will start to appreciate rail tranportation, and Passenger Rail, a whole lot more.

Please read and participate in our sister blog, The Railroad.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Friday, June 09, 2006


The post we had scheduled for June 8 did not appear due to some problems at Blogger. As the content we were working on was all on Blogger's server, we are just delaying our next post to the schedule for Monday, June 12, and will move everything up a notch from there. That will keep us from having to scramble to get this one up and the next one up by Monday.

Please keep navigating to Passenger Rail, and to our sister blog, The Railroad.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, June 05, 2006

Chicago's Circle III

We have been discussing the proposal for a rapid transit Circle Line to make connections with (and cross) all existing bus and rail routes in the city.

So far, under this title, we have discussed the renovation and reopening of the Paulina Connector so that the Douglas Line (Blue Line) can connect with the Lake Street (Green) Line again. (See this link.) We have also discussed the section of the Circle that would be a new line connecting the Douglas Line with the Midway Line (Orange). (See this link.) We haven't gotten to the third part of the original proposal for the Circle Line. (Will they call it the Rainbow Line?)

Aside: We have been doing a little research. Both the Douglas Line and the Paulina Connector were once part of a greater system built as the Metropolitan West Side Elevated. This system began (or ended) at a terminal on Franklin Street just east of the South Branch of the Chicago River and continued west on a four-track structure to the current alignment of the Paulina Connector/Douglas north-south leg. There, trains could proceed west on the Garfield Line (no longer there but rebuilt as the Congress [also Blue] Line). Trains could turn south on the Douglas, or they could turn north on the Connector and go to the Logan Square Line (also Blue today) which also had a branch to Humboldt Park.

Aside #2: Although using the "old" names for the lines seems to date us, can you see how just using the color names would be confusing?

Let's see what we've got with the two new sections of the Circle Line. By George! We've got a circle!

Starting at Medical Center on the Douglas, go north to Lake, east onto the Loop, southwest on the Midway, and north from Ashland/Archer back to the Douglas. This isn't the circle we want, but neither is the Circle Line as proposed. Remember, the premise was to connect and cross every transit route in the city.

Okay, first, and technically, you would have to build the circle further out from the Loop and probably somewhere closer to the current Chicago city limits. For the sake of argument, however, let's say that we have to at least start with the reasonable proposal set forth.

What's missing so far is a continuation of the south leg (Douglas Line at Woods Curve to Midway Line at Ashland/Archer) east to connect with the Dan Ryan (Red Line) and the Jackson Park/Englewood (also Green) Lines. We suppose that potential traffic would probably suggest an alignment somewhere near 35th Street to serve IIT and Sox Park. But our personal preference would be the historic alignment of the old Stock Yards and Kenwood branches along 40th Street and connecting with the Green Line at Indiana.

The latter alignment accomplishes something closer to the stated "connect and cross," but still misses most of the East Side routes. So why don't we just rebuild the old Kenwood Branch all the way to the lakefront? If we are not mistaken, the terminal there was a connection with the Illinois Central commuter line, and the lakefront is as far east as you can get (at 40th St.).

To assist my readers in understanding these routes, please check out this map on the Chicago Transit Authority Website. Also this map shows the Metropolitan West Side Elevated discussed above, and this map shows the routes of both the Stock Yards and Kenwood "L"s. On the latter map, you will see how close the proposed station at Ashland/Archer comes to the old "L" alignment in the Union Stock Yards. (This is now a bus loop.)

In Chicago's Circle IV, we will talk about What To Do About The North Side.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Passenger Rail Helped/Hurt by High Fuel Prices?

"With fuel prices headed for the stratosphere, fuel-efficient passenger-rail service makes more sense today than ever before."

With these words, a May 4, 2006, editorial in the Patriot-News sums up something we have been trying to push to the forefront since starting this blog.

Simply stated: It is insanity to remove Passenger Rail from the list of choices for personal transport when economic and political forces not under our control can remove any or all choices from that list.

It is bad enough that political forces, foreign and domestic, threaten all modes of transport. Add rising fuel costs and the potential for shortages to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. Why remove the most fuel efficient choice from the list?

So you would think that high fuel prices would help Passenger Rail, wouldn't you? Not necessarily. Part of the reason is the way our government allocates money for subsidies. A budget is approved in advance of a fiscal year and locked in place after that. Political expediency aside, the amount of money Amtrak has available next fiscal year will not change, even if fuel prices grow by more than anticipated. As Amtrak comes, hat-in-hand, begging for more money to buy fuel, Amtrak stokes the arguments against it's continuance. Particularly those arguments that say that Amtrak is a failure because it needs bigger subsidies every year.

Part of the reason why high fuel prices do not help Passenger Rail is that the establishment media start off on the obligatory implication that there are fuel shortages. (Current high fuel prices really have nothing to do with fuel shortages and more actually to do with the same energy traders that have done an admirable job of bringing down Enron.) The general slowdown in elective travel hurts Amtrak and makes it even harder to increase the bottom line. People won't travel because they think costs will be up everywhere.

Another part of the reason why high fuel prices won't help Amtrak is that Amtrak is not in a position to conserve fuel any more than it already does. There is no flexibility in the system and little opportunity to add seats and increase the number of passenger-miles per gallon. Amtrak could certainly do a little advertising of its fuel efficient, fixed-guideway mode. But it cannot advertise that when fuel is short and public panic is high, Amtrak makes changes that conserve more fuel. Amtrak can't conserve more fuel than it already does.

In fairness, we think that high fuel prices will help commuter rail. Most commuter rail agencies are operated and funded by people who have more foresight and less political inertia than the dunderheads inside the Beltway. Already highly efficient and highly flexible, commuter railroads will probably see an increase in ridership and corresponding farebox revenues. Whether that will offset extreme fuel price rises remains to be seen.

Is Passsenger Rail helped or hurt? Depends.

(Please read our sister blog The Railroad.)

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -