Monday, October 30, 2006

Revamp Nothing But Your Blog

We will be updating, changing, and, with luck, improving the appearance and utility of this blog page over the next few weeks. We hope it doesn't take any longer than that.

During that time, we may be spending more time on redesigning the page than on writing the blog. Sorry for any inconvenience.

If you are in need of something to read about Passenger Rail, please go to the Google home page, enter Passenger Rail in the search parameter, and click the news link.

We're not saying we won't post, but don't expect the posts to be long or involved.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No Business Near a Train Station

Sometimes, there are people you just know have no business near a train station. At risk of sounding horribly insensitive, homeless people and Islamofascists are among them. The natural human fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of the times do nothing to encourage any kind of travel, let alone rail.

Others probably shouldn't be near a train station because they have no idea how to use Passenger Rail as a mode of transportation. Take the young thing who would rather take a 90-minute cab ride through traffic than a comfortable and fast ride on a CTA EMU to get from the airport (ORD) to Downtown Chicago. Or the businessman who won't even consider a Chicago to Denver trip by rail because he wouldn't know how to get to/from the stations at either end of the trip. We need to educate these people.

We would like to propose a little experiment, something in the nature of a survey, and enlist your help. Ask your local friends and relatives, your associates on business trips, and anyone else you get the chance to ask, the following questions: (Try to get a "yes", "no", or "don't know" answer.)

1. Does your home town/city have Passenger Rail service?
2. Whether or not Question 1 is yes, is the nearest Passenger Rail service Amtrak?
3. Where is the nearest Passenger Rail station to your home?
4. Where is the nearest Passenger Rail station to your workplace?
5. Have you ever (we mean ever) ridden this service?
6. Do you know if it has sleeping accomodations?
7. Do you know if it has food service of any kind?
8. Do you know what you can carry with you if you ride?
9. Do you know how much it costs to ride?
10. If all 9 answers 1-9 are either "no" or "don't know", would you consider riding if you knew the answers to 3 and 4?

Ask as many people as you want and summarize the answers you get in an email to us. We would like to pass the results along to Amtrak and commuter rail agencies. Feel free to republish the questions on your own blog, but it would help if all of the summaries came to us.

We would like to make it happen that everyone has business near a train station. Please help.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

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 -

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Illinois Picks Up The Ball and Runs

Short of time and money this week. So we are just going to post links to two interesting articles from Illinois periodicals.

More next time, time permitting.

First article:

Second article:

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, October 16, 2006

More About Maglev

First, let us make it perfectly clear that we do not consider Maglev to be equivalent to rail. We tend to dismiss it, as we did in our post of last Thursday. A thoughtful reader seemed interested, however, and we have done a little more research.

We were right. Maglev has little in common with "rail" besides the fixed guideway. It takes just about as much capital to build a Maglev line as it does to build airport facilities to serve comparable passenger densities. This puts is far more costly than rail right-of-way. The guideway is far more costly than rail, because the motor is effectively in the guideway. The cars are much lighter, and therefore less costly, because they have no motors. There is no rolling resistance, but for high-speed, the air resistance is just as important.

Based on those lines already operating, research shows that the fuel savings are nominal compared to standard high-speed rail. At relatively low speeds, there is some fuel savings, and this steadily decreases with increased speed. For speeds comparable to what HSR can obtain, the fuel savings ranges from 20 to 28 percent, depending on who's talking.

Can Maglev be run down a freeway median? You bet it can, with the proper grading and separation. (See our comment to comment for previous post.) Maglev climbs better and turns can be banked more with proper engineering. However, the guideway also has to be protected from debris. So don't throw your Star----'s cup out the window of your car and into that median. We shudder to think what will happen when that semi goes out of control and crosses the median. Snow and ice are its enemy, just as with conventional rail.

Maglev is still somewhat experimental, though there are serious Maglevs in operation right now. Because it could theoretically reach speeds comparable to flight (600mph), Maglev should probably be written up as a successor to standard air passsenger transport, not to Passenger Rail. However, we see Maglev more as a possible robotic freight system that could shoot heavy loads of freight across the country in pipeline-like straight lines. Arthur Clarke's space elevator and mass driver concepts are both variations on Maglev.

Hey, this thing called Maglev could clear out the rail corridors that are clogged with freight and make them safe, and fun, for Passenger Rail.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Not Much Happening

There is not much happening in Passenger Rail. This seems to be the opinion of much of the railroad press these days.

Unless you are paying attention, that is.

Let's summarize what's happening, small to large and old to new.

Some of the smallest cities ever to have a commuter system have one now. Albuquerque and Nashville have one. Many other small cities want one. The larger commuter lines are upgrading and the largest are ordering new cars and locomotives on a regular basis. There should be orders to keep the car builders busy until at least 2012.

Many reports have it that nothing is happening or will happen with Amtrak until the Ds put the Rs out of power in the Pit on the Potomac. But Amtrak is moving forward with new initiatives to answer critics. If the Ds and Rs would put a gun to the testicles of the freight railroads, Amtrak may even make some money by 2012.

There is and will be a continued incentive to either split off state operations from Amtrak or privatize them. The states and private operators will explore more possibilities for making a buck, something Amtrak can't do under its present mandate.

If the economy stays hot and Boomers keep living longer, the rail cruise genre will continue to grow. Look for some really hot and elegant trains, not just revamps of Budd cars from the 50s.

The oldest of the commuter rail systems probably won't have trouble funding, but will have trouble finding new routes. The battle lines are drawn. Will that new right-of-way through the suburbs be a highway or a railroad? In the olderst cities where the oldest commuter lines still run, there is no room left for either. This will bring out the NIMBYs and the BANANAs and the Anti-Eminent Domain freaks. It should be fun.

New? We doubt the viability of Maglev in the United States. The reluctance to build new right-of-way even for high speed conventional rail seems to doom Maglev out of hand. But stranger things have happened.

Watch for political fights. The current administration versus a D Congress if the pundits have their way, the Environmentalists versus everyone, the above mentioned freaks versus the judiciary and most of the government, the freight railroads versus the anti-profit types. The states won't try to compete with private enterprise, but if private enterprise can make Passenger Rail a paying proposition, the states will try to limit it and tax it. It should be a fun free-for-all.

No, not much is happening.

©2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, October 09, 2006

|||Plan Ahed|||

Last time, we talked New Mexico's railroading future. Between then and now, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial lauding the investment Union Pacific would make in Santa Theresa, including some facilities that will be moved from El Paso, TX. If you know anything about the geography of the area, El Paso Del Norte may as well be in Nuevo Mexico. This West Texas city of some 565,000 souls provides the only reason for any population density of any kind in the southern third of New Mexico. You may recall our comment last time about commuter rail being more viable thereabouts.

Nonetheless, it was our intention here to discuss how New Mexico just seems to blunder along in its railroad policy, never really knowing where its going. (Speaking of blunders: New Mexico has to cancel its railroad fuel tax by 2009 to make UP happy, not by 2007, as we stated last time.)

Case in point: Rail Runner. It didn't even have a name right away. It was just buy the trains, figure out where we want them to go, and everything will work out. We do believe that Gov. Richardson knew he would buy the Raton Pass line from BNSF Railway. He planned to do that when the railroad contributed to his campaign. Beyond that . . . we don't need no stinking plans.

It seems that nobody realized that tracks would have to be upgraded, switches added, and proper signals installed for passenger trains. Nobody knew how long it would take to build stations, or had even did a study to see how many people would ride. Currently, the management reports that it is waiting for "tracks" to be delivered. (We think they mean rails, but it's possible nobody there knows the difference.)

Because the grant money being used to start the service was readily available and had to be used up, the management took the generous position that they would run the trains for free for the first few months. They are over now, but nobody planned to collect fares. They are trying to figure out how to do it as we write this. Imagine! The train has been running for weeks, but nobody gave any thought to collecting fares!

Everybody wants Rail Runner to go to Santa Fe, a town that has not been a regularly scheduled stop for any railroad since the mid-1960s. There are good tracks into Santa Fe starting at the Raton Pass line near Lamy, NM. There were never any better tracks into Santa Fe; getting rails to a major population center that is at an altitude of 7,000 ft is not easy. Everybody's planning to get Rail Runner into downtown Santa Fe, but nobody has planned how to get there.

Some of the adolescent proposals are made by politicians and not by engineers. One: To run the line up the center of Interstate 25, is laughable. This route would be a major engineering feat and would seriously impact the beauty of the approach to Santa Fe for both rail and highway travelers. The profile could maybe be handled by a trolly, light rail, or rapid transit cars; definitely not by a full sized commuter train. Which is what the state bought before plans were made.

As we have pointed out in this blog before, there are only two realistic alternatives. One, you use the existing line from Lamy, slow trip but workable. Two, you design a transfer point and use light rail on the Santa Fe end, costly but a faster commute in the long run.

Nobody has, as yet, planned for a station in Santa Fe, or for the dozens of NIMBYs and BANANAs. (Santa Fe is the American capital for both.)

Next time: Other plans gone awry.

©2006 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rolling Down The Rails in New Mexico

New Mexico announced yesterday, October 4, 2006, that the Rail Runner commuter currently running from Downtown Albuquerque to Bernalillo with one intermediate stop will continue on the current schedule for the time being. Extension of the service to Isleta, Los Lunas, and Belen has been pushed back to November 1, 2006, at the earliest. Also pushed back is the seemingly simple process of charging to ride the train.

As it becomes more clear that the state and Mid-Region Council of Governments overreached and underplanned, the service seems to be doing a bang-up job of attracting free riders.

The extension of service south of Albuquerque hinges on getting rail that must be installed to upgrade the freight-only tracks that haven't seen a passenger train between Isleta and Belen since before Amtrak. The order didn't get in soon enough to guarantee delivery before the proposed start date, and New Mexico doesn't have the bidding power to outbid the Chinese or the Class Ones for the existing supplies. Rail has been in short supply forever, and it has something to do with the fact that there is only one viable rail plant in the United States and that most steel production has migrated overseas. Outfits like BART, which has an RFP out for over $4M of running rail, have more clout than New Mexico will see in a long time.

Although the state may have made amends with its other Class One, Union Pacific, by promising to cancel the railroad fuel tax by 2007, it is still in the doghouse for its sweetheart deal to buy the otherwise virtually useless Raton Pass route from BNSF Railway. UP will build (when it is ready to) an engine service facility and transfer facility in Santa Theresa, NM, near the Mexico border. UP must have felt like the odd man out when BNSF snookered the taxpayers on the Raton Pass line, so they must be happy to have snookered the taxpayers of NM on suspending the fuel tax with promises of new jobs in the southern tier.

That has nothing to do with passenger rail, however, unless somebody gets wise and realizes that there is more potential in Commuter Rail in and around El Paso than there is around Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, BNSF will continue with its now well-along plans to upgrade and double-track Abo Canyon. This will be one of the last portions of the transcon to double-track.

If Amtrak survives the next two years of Bush Admin, we predict that the Southwest Chief will be using the Belen cutoff and exchanging stops in Colorado and northern New Mexico for stops in Amarillo, TX and Clovis and Belen, NM, where we Albuquerque idiots (Mayor Martin Chavez included) who didn't build Amtrak a new station (along with our tranportation center) will have to drive to get on board. Perhaps there will be parking near the Amtrak station in Belen.

It's an interesting time in which to observe Passenger Rail in NM. (Yes, Virginia, New Mexico is a part of the United States of America.)

Next time: What else didn't get planned?

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -

Monday, October 02, 2006

Things Wear Out

This is true of almost everything, unless it is made of diamond or some such very hard substance. This is definitely true for Passenger Rail in the United States.

We have been trying to avoid the subject, because we don't agree with current efforts to turn Amtrak into a Northeast Corridor service and liquidate everything else. But Amtrak is worn out.

It was worn out alot before it was formed. The freight railroads that existed at Amtrak Day One (few of them still exist) seemed to have conspired to wear out every piece of passenger equipment in the country. This wasn't totally true, of course, because Amtrak did find a pool of equipment that has served it well, some of it to the present day. Noteably, Rio Grande and Southern continued passenger service with well-kept trains that subsequently contributed to the pool of available equipment.

Today, the concept of Amtrak is worn out. We are not saying that the concept of a national passenger rail network is worn out, because we believe in the mission: Provide a national network of passenger trains for the greater good of the country.

The concept was that Amtrak would take the best of the equipment, the best of the available routes, and pay the freight railroads to run the trains. This has been modified from "run the trains" to "let the trains run," but the concept is the same. As we have already said, much of the equipment was worn out. Amtrak only got the best of any equipment by accident. The railroads, in anticipation of some kind of nationalization, didn't maintain anything old and therefore were busy wearing out the best when Amtrak time came. Amtrak didn't get the best of the routes, either. Many routes had already been abandoned and a whole lot of track no longer supported passenger routes, even on Amtrak Day One.

Paying the freight railroads to put Amtrak over the road was a mistake from the get-go. The mandate that said the railroads had to accept Amtrak was a cover-up for the fact that the railroads had been given freedom to do what they were making money at. They really didn't want to move passenger trains, and still don't today. The concept is worn out, and has to be replaced by dedicated rights-of-way owned and operated by the passenger network.

Amtrak has purchased huge amounts of new equipment along the way, and it is wearing out, too. Even the newest passenger equipment is woefully worn. Even the newest locomotives have mileages in the multiples of millions. The maintenance cycle is interrupted by shortages, and the cycle for putting new equipment into the mix is interrupted by budget cuts.

Like a Montreal overpass, Amtrak is going to collapse on itself and hurt a lot of people.

National Passenger Rail needs a model where Amtrak or whatever the new entity is called (My Railroad) owns the entire physical plant, trains and equipment. Preferably, Passenger Rail would not share any tracks with traditional freight rail.

The route structure needs to touch every state, with the exception of Hawaii, and it needs to serve major population centers in each state without using buses to do it. The budget needed to do this needs to be guaranteed for at least a decade, with performance bonuses built in, and with penalties limited to firing the asses of the first managers that fail to bring the trains in on time and the costs within the budget.

Scheduled service needs to be at least weekly, and preferably daily, and only the types of freight that can be loaded on/off at Passenger Rail stations should be carried. That will be mail and express. Passengers should be the priority, and no train should be held up to load/unload mail and/or express. If we are laying new track, the successful hub and spoke model could be attempted.

Costly? Hell yes! But not as costly as the majority of government subsidies in this day and age, and not nearly as costly as not doing it now and then trying to do it 25 years down the railroad.

But here's the payoff. If we give it the committment and the backing, there will be a time down the railroad when Amtrak (or some such) Incorporated can go public. There will be a time, as with Conrail, when private enterprise will actually bid for the profit-making potential of owning Passenger Rail.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek -