Sunday, October 22, 2006

Give Them Volume and They Will Come

We think that Passenger Rail will be around forever. As a nation (United States), we seem to think that that demand at least for commuter rail will continue to grow. Most also believe that intercity Passenger Rail in dense population areas will endure or grow.

What got us thinking was the announcement of new airliners going on line now and in the next few years. The airlines need to put on new airplanes, because the fleet is getting as ratty as an Amtrak heritage car. But the obvious slant to the new planes is getting more passengers into one with amenities that don't cost an arm/leg and flying it more cheaply. Bottom line: Move more passengers per unit using less crew, less fuel, and less infrastructure. Sound familiar?

What is Amtrak doing? Moving fewer passengers per unit using the same crew, same fuel, and questionable infrastructure. This brings the question: Is it possible to build the rail equivalent of the A380 by Airbus? (We love that name; it describes air travel with a delectable dullness that no other word could capture.)

Freight railroads are ever increasing axle loading, but we think that passenger cars will never hold the equivalent load of the Airbus. (Ambus? Trackbus? We have aready had Railbus and similar misnomers. Blunderbus?)

However, if we consider a unit train, then we are talking something else again. The concept of the unit passenger train pre-existed the streamliner and reached its pinnacle in the early 1950s with dedicated trainsets that added cars for extra loads but seldom subtracted them. For rail, the concept of permanently connected cars never really worked by reason of maintenance problems. Rail cars take a beating, just like any other form of transportation, and the temptation to pull a segment out of a permanently connected train to accomplish repairs on only one segment is just too great. Perhaps the connections were not permanent enough.

Nonetheless, Passenger Rail should be seeking ways of moving a higher volume of passengers using less resources, be the resources animal, vegetable or mineral. The argument against it is, of course, that there is no guarantee that passenger volume wants to grow.

Both private and public enterprise in the United States has always handled things on a "build it, and they will come" plan. This plan often fails. But the successes are never on a "wait until somebody walks through the front door and asks for it" plan. If Passenger Rail in general, and Amtrak in particular, waits for passengers to knock on a ticket window and ask for longer trains, better accomodations, and less cost for all, we will be waiting a very long time.

And remember, REVAMP NOTHING!

© 2006 C. A. Turek -

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