Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

And for the politically disenfranchised and liberally disabled, Happy Holidays.

We don't often go off the radical end and jump in among the lunatic fringe in this blog, but - just for argument for year's end - consider these ideas:

Somewhere there is a planet in the universe that is beaming all its stupid people to earth to become politicians.

The increase in complexity of society is outpacing the ability of the human mind and body to adapt to it.

In another dimension, the term "Passenger Rail" may mean something completely different.

The mean value of the human condition may just be "at the threshold of hell."

May the supreme builder of the universe bless you and keep you.

We don't expect to post again until after the first of the New Year.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Where Should Amtrak Shine?

Everywhere and in every Passenger Rail endeavor, of course!

But let's not wish for too much. Focus is everything and we all know Congress has none.

Where Amtrak should be shining, it isn't. This weekend brings that to the fore when we look at air traffic snarled because of snow in the northeast. Flights in to Chicago are delayed because flights out to the east have to be. This storm should not be delaying Amtrak.

But it is. Looking at the scheduled vs. estimated arrival times for Amtrak in Chicago it appears that the delays for Amtrak are worse than air traffic.

Because we like it, we would certainly rather wait for a train in Union Station, Chicago, than we would wait for a flight at either of Midway or O'Hare. But not everybody likes trains as much.

Amtrak should be shining in the areas where there is no excuse for it to be as shoddy as the shoddy-as-the-passenger-trains-of-old airlines are. Trouble is, not enough people remember the shoddy Passenger Rail 1960s, BA.

Please email us and tell us where you think Amtrak should and could be shining without even one dollar of extra subsidy. Then tell us where the focus of future subsidy should be. As you know, our position is that Amtrak should be as heavily subsidized as roads and air traffic. So don't argure against subsidy. Just tell us something constructive.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Life Imitates What, Exactly?

We have all heard that life imitates art and form follows function. Among the many aphorisms that we hear, these two seem to hold the record for applicability.

In Passenger Rail, as in railroad design on the whole, form has always followed function. As a matter of fact, function has demanded that form follow. From the early passenger coaches to the specialized cars of the streamline era, to the super-specialized cruise cars being built for special trains, function has dictated form. Getting over the railroad within all gauges - and I don't just mean the distance between the rails - has been the function of passenger rail. Getting as many passengers over the railroad with the train is part of it.

Early on, carbuilders knew that drawing on the stagecoach or landau design and simply putting it on flanged wheels was not enough. It took a long time before European designers of coaches and other passenger equipment saw that just stringing together the bodies of several coaches to make the car - with the resulting compartmentalization and entry / exit from the outside of the car - was not enough. American designers resorted to the box with benches, and then Pullman and competitors made the special-purpose craze take off.

Still, getting the car over the railroad within all gauges - rails, height, width, and manageable length as a function of curvature of the railroad - was the function.

Railroad life began to imitate art in the streamlined era. Art Deco came to the railroad but its form never quite followed the function. It was easy to sheath a passenger car in stainless steel or paint that hid the rivets of the heavyweight steel era. It was not as easy to sheath a steam locomotive with the same art. The form and the art were never truly convenient for the function until the diesel era, when function was able to imitiate art and start the whole process over for the locomotive-hauled train. Streamlining often got torn off the steam locos and left in the shop for sake of convenience. Most Amtrak heritage coaches and other hand-me-downs from the streamline era lost their skirts (covering under-floor equipment) and wheel fairings (covering the ugly trucks).

Today, railroad life imitates art when the side of a train is painted to resemble a cartoon short from the 1940s and the "door closing" warning sound on the train is right out of Loony Tunes. I'm not sure what we're imitating when we try to turn the serious business of passenger transportation into a cartoon, but . . . maybe a jackass.

And now here's the political point: For the next decade or so, we are going to need some pretty good industrial design to help revitalize the Passenger Rail system that we American's have left to the scrap heap for the past four decades. Highways are no longer an option unless they are part of mega-corridors. Airways are going to get more congested and more dangerous, and the restrictions on industrial design - form following function - are more egregious.

Form will have to follow function. We are still going to have to get over the railroad within the limitations of all gauges. But we are going to have to have some art to imitate. It can't be Art Deco - that has been done to death. It is going to have to be pretty good art. Will the next Raymond Lowy please step forward.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Greetings

Looks like - once again - our legislators do not intend to give us any presents this Holiday Season. We would not call the end-of-year Amtrak budget a present.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could board a train for a holiday visit?

We don't know how many of the readers of this blog can do that now. We are guessing that most of our readers, being train enthusiasts of one kind or another, are living near a source of Passenger Rail transportation. We would also guess that many people who don't have a source of Passenger Rail transport are not at all enthusiastic about Passenger Rail and probably don't read this blog.

Wouldn't it be nice if you lived in, oh, say Kansas City, and could make a weekend rail trip to Miami with as many schedule choices as you would have by air? (We found 51 air schedules that would do this during a single random weekend in December 2007.) Could or would Passenger Rail ever be able to top this? It is a pity that it can't.

When we had a real Passenger Rail network, not Amtrak, one could board connecting trains (locals) in between the major cities and make connections that made sense.

More and more, none of Amtrak makes sense. Will our legislators ever learn?

Holiday Greetings.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, November 18, 2007


We often hear arguments against government subsidy for Passenger Rail. The recent effort to refund Amtrak is a good example. The opponents of funding Amtrak point to the fact that Amtrak has never made a dollar for the government. Imagine that.

With the exception of government owned toll roads, has a highway ever made a dollar for the government? We mean really. You can argue that any plus in the highway trust fund is the equivalent of making money for the government. But is is really? We say no, because it is really only a surplus of taxes and user fees, it is not a profit. If you were to try to run a profit and loss analysis on any single stretch of non-toll road, you would not get a profit.

On the other side of the coin, imagine no government subsidies for anything. Private enterprise owns everything. We are experimenting with this in some states and the jury is still out as to whether a profit can be made. It will only be a profit if it is a toll road business. Otherwise the private enterprise's profit is just coming from the tax dollar just as medicaid contractors make their money from taxes paid into the medicare fund.

What if there were no government payments? Roads would be owned by trucking companies, for sure. They are the only businesses vested enough to want to carry the overhead. The airlines would own the air traffic system. And would anything be a system? It would be much like what the railroads had before standardization.

Imagine driving where you came to the end of a roadway owned by one owner, and you had to wait in line to pay the fee to get onto the roadway of another. But would that second roadway be of the same quality as the first? No, because there would be competition between the businesses and you may also find that the traffic rules, speed limits and safety appliances were different. The private owner would use rules of the road that brought him the most profit.

But there are laws, you say? That would mean a subsidy, even only if the government spent the money to standardize the laws, it's a subsidy.

So don't tell Mister Trains that Passenger Rail should not be subsidized. It is just as vital to our economy and to our security as is any other mode of transport. (With the possible exception of donkey-back.) And it is well past time that we make the decision to do it right.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Do That

We just wanted to expand a little on the Don Phillips opinion piece in the current (December 2007) Trains. The gist is that it may no longer be as much fun to be a railfan.

It got us thinking: Who or what doesn't want railroading to be fun any more?

Don names some names, the TSA and law enforcement since 9-11 for two. But who is really responsible for telling us not to like trains?

Let's start with the axiom: Anything that is enjoyable can be enjoyed too much and is therefore potentially bad for you. It is behind just about every recent prohibition and/or restriction of behavior of the past ten years.

Applied to Passenger Rail, this works in insidious ways. If you enjoy riding trains too much, government will have to post too many subsidies in the next budget. If you enjoy the scenery too much, you may travel by rail to too many national parks and dispoil the landscape. If you stand on the platform and watch too many trains, you may get in an accident on the platform. If you photograph too many trains, one of your photographs may land in the hands of terrorists.

So it comes back down the the risk averse society again. Fun requires risk, and our government just doesn't want us to take the risk any more. And as this becomes the norm, you will find fewer people ready to take the risk.

Trains are no fun when you can't see, feel, hear and touch them. Passenger Rail can be more fun when it is more than a transportation tool. But you are not supposed to use tools improperly.

The sooner our leaders stop treating us like children, the sooner we can start to have fun with trains again.

* * *

Please read Don Phillips' articles, they are a wake-up call.

* * *

Christopher sent some interesting ideas in his recent comments. Common ground is that gigantic projects require lots and lots of money. It is money that we are squandering elsewhere. It is also a wake-up call. Even the builders of Penn Station feared before the project was over that nothing like as monumental a civic project would ever be affordable again. We certainly hope they were wrong!

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, October 28, 2007

May Not Get There From Here

At least not for a long, long time.

There's a right way and a wrong way to finance new commuter rail. We may be seeing the wrong way with New Mexico Rail Runner. . . . meep! meep!

The communities of the Middle Rio Grande, from Santa Fe (which technically is not ON the Rio Grande) to Belen, constitute the only major coagulation of population in New Mexico. Even then, the total population does not exceed the number of souls that had to be evacuated from Southern California because of the recent wildfires.

The communities of the Middle Rio Grande enjoy clear air and clear water because of their unique location and BECAUSE of the low population density. Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are currently struggling with polution problems just BECAUSE the population has been growing and sprawling.

With the sprawl comes the need for more roads and more lanes on the ones that exist. In this case, the latter are Interstates 40 and 25. (New Mexico doesn't have any three-digit Interstates.)

Along comes Presidential Candidate and Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. He literally invented the Rail Runner project from whole cloth after his first election as governor, and he used lots of local political capital to bludgeon local politicians to go along with it.

Hey, it wasn't a bad idea, but it's time probably hadn't come yet. (Former Governor Toney Anaya has been pushing for a bullet train for New Mexico since his administration - and that time hasn't come yet either.)

So the MRGCOG raided the highway funds with the approval of the governor and the legislature and we now have service from Albuquerque (the Q - as "green" Mayor Martin Chavez wants it) to Belen on the south and to Bernalillo on the north. The highway funds will no longer support the expansion of service to Santa Fe (a must) and the Feds probably won't be kicking in. To make matters worse, the wool-pulled-over-eyes politicians are suddenly finding out what Mister Trains has said all along: That it will cost alot of tax dollars to subsidize this service over the coming years. More so if it never gets to Santa Fe.

Worse still, the highway funds are so low that the state can't fund any highway expansion without more taxes. Adding fifteen to fifty cents a gallon to the price of gasoline in the state that already pays the highest per-gallon price in the lower 48 has been discussed.

While commuter rail is usually a "green" solution, this certainly is not what is happening. While we wrangle about higher gas taxes or higher any taxes, those stuck commuters will spend more time on the freeways with their engines running and waisting fuel and adding to the air quality problems. The sprawl of The Q (thanks Mayor Marty) will see to that.

Oh, woe. We guess we will just have to pony up at the pump and hope. Because if Rail Runner falls on its fat fanny, we won't see communter rail in New Mexico again for lots of years.

Mister Trains is getting to the point where you won't see Mister Trains in New Mexico for long if this keeps up.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Risk Averse Society Bad for Railroad Development

We have been reading Jill Jonnes' excellent history of the buiding of New York's Penn Station and its tunnels called Conquering Gotham. In its time, this project was compared to completing the first transcontinental railroad and to building of the great pyramid.

We have been trying to think of railroad projects of the past fifty or so years that could compare with it in sheer size, technical innovation, risk, and usefulness of the end result. Of course, if you go back to 1957, sixty percent of the time was one of decline for the railroads. Also of course, the railroads were disinclined to do anything comparable.

For size, the New York terminal project, begun principally (in planning) in 1902, also included the twin tunnels under the Hudson River (North River), the yards that were built where most of the Tenderloin once lay, the quad tunnels under the East River, the connection with the LIRR, and the Sunnyside Yard complex. For innovation, nobody had ever tunneled under glacial silt and a swift-flowing tidal riverbed, and the electrical motive power system for the traction-powered trains had to be built from scratch. For risk, not only did the PRR have to pay for all of this itself (with private investment), but it had to assume the risk of dangerous political upheaval from the then-entrenched Tammany Tiger of New York City politics. And for usefulness, the tunnels and much of the subterranean station are still in use by Amtrak and New York commuter rail systems. (The above-ground portion of the station was demolished before the historic preservation movement took hold - for the construction of a "modern" building.)

So we started trying to think of railroad projects for the future. Projects that could compare with Penn Station. None exist. Why?

It comes down to risk. As a people and as corporate stockholders, citizens of these United States are no longer willing to accept risk. We will not do great deeds because we cannot think great thoughts. We cannot think great thoughts because all great and grand designs for future enterprise are fraught with risk.

God forbid that a man die digging a tunnel today. The lawyers and the insurance companies will put the company for which that man worked out of business with their claims and lawsuits. Private capital wants and needs government support to take a risk. It wants and needs absolution for any sins before going in. Call before digging. Somebody else must pay if we are at fault.

And that costs money.

We have dragged the rest of the world up with us, and the United States has now gotten cold feet. We progress in ever more measured steps and become, like the Europe of old, more interested in furthering our political position with the world than in furthering the domestic progress of our citizens. And those at the back of the line being dragged, with the progress of the front of the line slowing noticeably, are more than happy to step all over us to get to the front. By any means possible. Even by taking RISKS!

How pathetic.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Additions to the List

We have been absent for awhile attributable to vacation. (We don't get much vacation, and self-imposed deadlines readily fall against the prospect of real relaxation time.)

Vacation was, in part, a driving trip. Some of the trip was along the old Frisco route from St. Louis to Springfield, MO. (Interstate 44) Got us thinkin' about the possibility of Passenger Rail on this route. There is, at least, a spoken committment by MODOT to get this up and running.

Lots and lots of the route that is visible from the Interstate has many degrees of curvature and is built either on fill or in deep cuts. We do not know the profile, but it would be a fair guess that it is from moderately to extremely hilly.

Then we thought about the list we put on this blog awhile back about what a new generation of passenger rail should look like.

We didn't think of this one, but it has got to be useful.

This route through MO seems like a mighty nice scenic route, but we wonder if it is useful in that the track speeds for passenger service have certain got to be restrictive. This route is as best, perhaps, utilitarian. Every year the traffic on I-44 gets worse, and at one point (about 20 mile east of Lebanon) it is the only railroad (that ever was) for at least 50 miles in all directions. People in these areas might ride it no matter what the schedule. So it could be utilitarian, but not really useful.

Much of the US rail network was built to engineering standards that are long outmoded. And we are still using these lines except where freight traffic increases have justified heavy investments in building to twenty-first century standards. (Before you comment, we think that the NE Corridor is just barely making it into this century.)

We know that eventually MODOT or USDOT will pay for revamping the Springfield - St. Louis line. And it will then be a mighty nice scenic line with slightly better track speeds and scheduling. It won't be high-speed rail.

When - oh, my darling when - are we in this otherwise blessed country going to be blessed with the brains to realize that our transportation systems have gone to pot in a big way.

Revamp nothing! Let's get politics out of our national security by getting everybody to pay $40 a year (and we mean no exceptions - kids break those piggybanks and smoker's and drinkers you know this isn't big bucks compared to what you burn and guzzle) toward the war against Islamic Terror, and then let's start using some of those highway trust funds (and highway taxes paid by the biggest users of them) to build transportation systems that are faster, easier and more fun.

Flying ain't no fun, the bus ain't no fun, and we can truly say after this trip that driving ain't no fun.

Passenger Rail is the only existing people transport system that qualifies for all three criteria - fast, easy, fun! Let's do it. Politicians hear this, the public will love ya for it!

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall Vacation

Fall puts a positive spin on train watching and on train riding. In the Northeast and Upper Midwest, the fall colors will be peaking and the view from a passenger train can be nothing short of spectacular.

We urge those who haven't ridden recently to get out and ride a train this fall. Whether it is on Amtrak, a commuter railroad, or a tourist line, your enjoyment of the ride will be significantly enhanced by the fall foliage.

In the South, Southwest and Northwest it will take a little longer for the colors to max out, but the idea is the same. Ride a train and enjoy the foliage.

You can't do it while driving a car and you may not even be able to do it as much as an automobile passenger. With the highways clogged with big trucks and the nation in the full throes of a transportation crisis that the government doesn't care exists, the opportunity to snap a picture of that beautiful scene just may be blocked by the 52-foot trailer on the truck stuck in traffic next to you.

Passenger Rail still goes many places not on the highway and not easy to get to by road.

Many happy rail miles.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, September 02, 2007

State Transportation Plans on Ropes from Rail Runner

I'm dropping the "editorial we" for this episode.

Big surprise of the year. As reported by the Albuquerque Journal, the State of NM may not have the funds necessary to maintain its highways. One of the reasons, the costs borne so far of, and the future cost of getting Rail Runner Express into Santa Fe, NM.

The point of this blog is not to say I told you so . . . even though I did. It is to ask why?

I am not an expert in rail planning. What I am is a die-hard railfan and an amateur rail historian with far more rail books read than written. Although I have made a living on transportation-related functions, I am not a professional transportation expert. And even I knew that Rail Runner was a bank-breaker. (I told the Journal, which is breaking the news as though it is actually news.)

It will continue to be a bank-breaker for years to come.

Herein lies what is wrong with most of, if not all of government today. Government leads the people where it wants us to go, not where the people want government to go. In the case of Rail Runner, the NMDOT is just starting to begin to admit that somewhere down the road they will want to ADDITIONALLY tax us for the privelege of having the rail system that was unilaterally decided on by King William I. (Governor and Presidentialist Bill Richardson)

And this from a state that has almost as much natural resource revenue as Alaska.

Don't get me wrong. I like trains, and I like Rail Runner. It is a fun ride, it is useful to some extent, and it works. It is just not cheap.

Passenger Rail is not cheap.

Our politicians (representatives - this is still a representative democracy, isn't it?) just shouldn't keep lying to us about it. If we want the kind of Passenger Rail service we deserve, we will have to subsidize it.

In the case of Rail Runner, it would be cheaper if the politicians weren't regularly in bed with and beholden to the 1) operators, 2) construction firms, 3) equipment manufacturers, 4)railroad that sold us the right-of-way, 5) ad infinitem. (Names omitted by design.)

Do you know the way to Santa Fe? If not, follow the money.

©2007 C. A. Turek -

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dumb on Domes

Dome cars are a North American phenomenon that had their heyday during the 1950s and continuing into the early-to-middle Amtrak era. None have been built recently, although many have been reconditioned. VIA recognized the attraction of the dome car when they re-outfitted the Canadian.

We find it laughable when Amtrak attempts to tout the beautiful views through the glass of the Superliner lounges. We don't think we would get much valid argument that the 360 degree panoramic views from a dome or superdome blow the views from a Superliner lounge right off the track. From a dome, you can watch where a train is going, where it has been, and the spectacle of the hardware working to get the train over the road. And there was something about being closer to the glass that also made the experience more spectacular.

Amtrak made a big mistake with the Superliner concept. It was the most current trend in passenger equipment at the beginning of Amtrak, but there are better ideas that came before. And some that have come after.

When the next round of passenger car construction comes around, we would like to see the dome revisited. Not a revamp, but the same concept (same views and spectacle) in a new setting with new equipment and perhaps some innovations we haven't thought about as yet.

Unfortunately, with Amtrak being the political animal that it is, we are more likely to see high-capacity seating, the reduction of amenities, and the institution of higher fares for less than spectacular accomodations. By then, Congress will be looking for a way to take some pressure off the highways and the airways, and high-capacity, rather than high-comfort and enjoyable transportation - even for long-distance routes - may be in our future.

We hope not.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Technology Marches Forward

Just after posting to this blog on July 22, our old (6 years) computer came down and was replaced by a new one. The new one is far better that the old, though it cost about the same in today's dollars as did the old one in yesterday's dollars. We guess, to an economist, that means that it cost us less in real money. We got more for less than we did 6 years ago. Anyway, it has taken this long to get everything set up, but . . .

We started thinking about the technology that Passenger Rail is using today compared to 6 years ago. It compares because it hasn't changed that much.

In our opinion, this is because Passenger Rail has benefited less from technological blowback than has any other mode of people transport. And where it has benefited, the benefit is not out there where the passengers can see it.

Air transport is starting to fall into this category, too. But there are still investments being made in "cabin comforts" that include high-tech, when passengers are willing to pay for them.

A lot of rail passengers like to ride trains and will pay a lot to do so. But a large part of the train-riding public considers high-tech on the train the same way it would consider a GPS system in an Amish buggy. This is partly because much of our "rail cruise" Amtrak mentality is targeted at the senior citizen with the cash to pay the fare, and it is also partly because our Passenger Rail system continues to operate with (effectively) antique equipment. The only passenger delivery system that seems older right now is NASA's Space Shuttle fleet.

The other problem with high-tech on the rails, at least in America, is that the cost and lead-time for installation of such technology has to be borne, for the most part, by either the freight railroads (where the money is) or the taxpayer (where it more frequently isn't).

And cost it does. Because unlike the personal computer on our desk, the cost of hardware and lead-time to install (not to mention the disruption in business) is increasing. Commercially and governmentally, we are getting less bang (not more) for the buck.

We don't know the answer. But we do know that we would have a lot more people riding the trains if the oldest thing out there was (like our computer) six-years old or less.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Down at the Depot

And we don't mean Home Depot.

Some ruminations on the role of the depot in past and future Passenger Rail operations.

It bears repeating that Amtrak has given short schrift to the depot. With the exception of owned depots, Amtrak has chosen to put little to no money into the places where its passengers have to wait for its trains. Depots that have survived or been revived have generally been given their new lives at taxpayer expense and because of commuter rail.

The Passenger Rail depot can still be a major focal point for a community. Yes, the train is at the forefront, and getting a train - any train - can be more important to a community than where the train will stop. That's why many communities have been willing to accept the Amtrak Barn as their rail depots.

However, as Passenger Rail re-emerges as a preeminent form of transport in the Unites States, there will be pressures and incentives for communities to think more about their depots. Some will and some won't. We think those that do will be rewarded.

As during most of the Twentieth Century, current and future depots can be made a hub of community. The obvious use as a transportation hub, where as many modes as possible come together, may be as "old hat" as the concept of Passenger Rail carrying LCL and mail.

If communities now seeking Passenger Rail, whether of the intercity kind or of the commuter kind, start thinking ahead now, we may see multi-use depots the same way we see multi-use shopping centers. Only depots in larger urban centers historically saw anything like this, and only by accident.

But why can't future designers and developers put all the functions of modern life into the depot? Wouldn't it be fun to have a condo at the depot? What about medical care, hospitals, grocery stores, movie theaters, communications hubs? What about depots with arenas or stadiums? Throw in a casino or two if you are in Nevada or if the depot is on Native American land. What about the depot that is a destination all by itself?

One thing is certain: When the rail revival comes to full fruit, and come it will, there will be no limit to what the depot can be. Hell, we may even start shipping LCL freight from there, too.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Span of Attention

Anniversary Post. Mistertrains and Missustrains celebrate their 37th.

We come to the trough and expect to find water in it. If Congress is the trough, then the water has become a bunch of old geezers playing god with our government. Those that aren't geezers are running for president.

Nowhere was this more apparent than during the all night debate over Iraq troop withdrawal.

A comment-poster wanted a plan. We plan to do everything we can to see that not one - and I must repeat NOT ONE - incumbent gets re-elected this cycle. Too much is at stake for Passenger Rail and for other critical issues in this country. We are getting tired of the same old crap. Hope everybody is with us.

Thanks to all for reading this blog and for your creative, thoughtful, and positively inspiring comments. Keep it up.

© C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What Does It Take?

What does it take to make things right?

Somehow we got it right with Conrail. Conrail took over the bankrupt Northeastern freight railroads, including the stillborn Penn Centrail (which was something like trying to put two Siamese twins back together). Bless them, Amtrak took the passenger routes so Conrail didn't have that problem.

Conrail took a massive infusion of federal cash and eventually got a good result. Conrail pared down the route structure, kept what remained profitable, and eventually sold out to private enterprise - the best possible result.

Amtrak took an arguably large infusion of cash at the outset and has been taking federal cash both intravenously and by mouth in large doses ever since. Instead of paring, Amtrak cut to the bone. Instead of keeping what remained profitable, Amtrak was stuck with no profit at all - from day one.

We argue that another massive infusion of cash is the only hope, but it must come with conditions. No, those conditions should not be that Amtrak make a profit. It should be that Amtrak regroup. Think outside the box, keep what makes sense, establish a completely new route and schedule structure, and become what it is supposed to be: A National Passenger Rail Network.

It's too late to just take what still exists and work with it. With the possible exception of the Northeast Corridor (which actually should be a separate railroad), everything needs to be new, different, innovative, smart, inviting, efficient, and Twenty-First Century. Stations should not look like skid-row housing and passenger cars shouldn't look anything like the streamliners of the 1950s. Give us something new, and we think taxpayers will welcome it, pay for it, and use it. Leave the antique cars to the tourist railroads and to the rail cruise companies. (Let's face it, all current Amtrak cars are antiques.)

This won't and can't happen over night. The lead times on something like this are years, not months. So all of the funding doesn't have to come at once. But come it has to. Congress, please listen.

Given the dismal prospect of today's Amtrak (ugh!), air travel (groan!), bus (eyuuuch!), or driving (oh, crap!), most of us will say something new needs to come of this.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What's Wrong

The title is not a question. We are again writing about New Mexico Rail Runner.

First three things:

Train Frequency: Not enough daytime trains. Judging from what we saw and heard on board, hourly departures from Albuquerque would not be out of line. This railroad does have places where trains can pass, and the management should put in more passing sidings if needed. No commuter rail service is going to build a following with less than hourly service during daytime hours.

(The big guys fudge on this and usually include one hourly lapse during the day. Usually around 2pm or just before the traffic buildup for rush hours. Sometimes this is only to clear freight service, but mostly it is to make a shift change for employees who have been on service since about 4am. Neither would be true for Rail Runner.)

Scheduling: This ties in with frequency. Fifteen minutes is nice and leisurely at each end, but the only place this should happen is at the train's origination point. Make an immediate departure and tighten up to an hourly schedule.

Connections: We noted that the only place a connection was prepared to take train passengers on to other destinations was in Bernalillo, where a shuttle was prepared to go to the Santa Ana Star Casino. In Albuquerque, the free circulator run by ABQ Ride was leaving before anyone could walk to the boarding point from the train. In Belen, there just aren't any connections. Because the stations are only close to something (work, restaurants, businesses, recreational locations) in Albuquerque's downtown, we think many will not consider the train until there are better connections that take riders more places from the station. The converse of this is that feeders from popular locations and neighborhoods will bring revenue riders to the train.

What else is wrong? We still don't know where this is going to go when the heavy-duty subsidies run out. Governor Richardson was a big supporter, but he won't be governor forever. We hope. And the justice department people (both state and federal) are asking alot of questions of many of the architects and project managers that have previously been on the scene to move and shake building projects. Extension of Rail Runner to Santa Fe isn't railroading as much as a state sponsored building project. If too many connected people go down in flames, will it ever get done?

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Some Things Get Done Right

Mister Trains has finally taken a round trip on New Mexico Rail Runner.

For this new commuter operation to which we have given a lot of bad lip service, quite a few things have been done right.

The trains are clean, neat, and new. We know they will wear as ridership increases, and we hope it does.

Train personnel are friendly and courteous. The fare structure is fair. We rode on a hot day, and the air conditioning and lighting was operating smoothly on the train voltage from the well-maintained motive power.

The train was on time at every station. For those stops of duration, the departures were on time as well. This may be the most important achievement.

Seating is in sets of four facing seats. Every other set has a table in between. This makes for a convenient club car atmosphere when trains are not full, but may be inconvenient for commuter crowds.

We couldn't see the destination signs in stations very well from the upper deck. The Toronto-style double-decks have three levels with ample space for bicycles and wheelchairs or other assists. There is no accomodation for handicap access to the upper levels.

We haven't ridden any other commuter operation that has such beautiful scenery (mostly south of Albuquerque) and such ugly, messy industrial areas (both north and south). The ugliness of post-industrial Albuquerque may be a turn-off for potential future riders.

Next time, what is not right.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, June 17, 2007

National Association of Railroad Passengers

We have not supported this fine organization in the past. Oversight, possibly.

In the seventh decade of life in these very good United States, we find that there are way too many organizations that need our assistance for their advocacy before Congress and before other legislative bodies, committees and organizations. And there are far too few funds to pony up for all.

We have to pick and choose.

We recently received a membership package from NARP, and we urge anyone with the will and the funds to consider joining and contributing to this fine organization. That Amtrak is better today than it would be without NARP is not in doubt. Whether any advocacy group can save Amtrak is, as also is whether Amtrak should be saved in anything like its current form.

So Mister Trains will consider all of the possibilities with deliberation. Our cash will only go so far.

Meanwhile, we are soon going to take a ride on New Mexico Rail Runner, now in its first ripening and awaiting extension to Santa Fe, NM. That we haven't done so is another function of lack of both time and cash. We will report on our ride another time.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, June 10, 2007

NIMBYs Strike . . . and Strike

There is perhaps nothing so infuriating to a United States citizen as to have the government tell him/her what to do with his/her property. So it comes as no surprise that people in Texas do not want Union Pacific to get the benefit of eminent domain to relocate tracks out of the congested hearts of Texas cities.

Union Pacific, of course, has never been noted for either its tact or its hearfelt good will to the public in general and to property owners in particular. Witness UP's years long battle with some toy and model manufacturers over the use and licensing of the UP logos. And yes, folks, if you take a picture of a UP train and put it up on the wall of your den, you may get a call from a UP lawyer.

Of course UP was one of the original transcontinentals that spawned the term "robber barons." It is also the company that swallowed the Octopus, Southern Pacific.

Also, relocating tracks from unconvenient locations for freight rail does nothing to benefit Passenger Rail - unless the ROWs are railbanked or otherwise preserved for this use. Some of the best freight rail routes in the country would make some of the best commuter and Passenger Rail routes - if abandoned by the freight railroads.

And the position of this blogger has always been that Passenger Rail just won't work if it is not subsidized by government in some way.

That way should never be the taking of private property for the purpose of turning it over to another private enterprise. That's what UP would like to have done in Texas, and Texas government is considering it.

That brings us to this point. We have advocated the possible creative financing of Passenger Rail by re-investing private money. Is this a contradiction?

It is only if the private money gets to control real estate that was taken in eminent domain. So we have to be careful. What we would rather see, if these routes really need to be populated with trains instead of with private enterprises, is that the property owner gets his chance to invest in the enterprise and reap any rewards. The property owner's investment is putting in the land for the route. We'd like to see this work for new passenger tracks as well.

So move UP if we must, give them some land, but let them pay a big dividend on that land to the guy or gal who had to give it up. And let UP leave the old tracks so that we can put passengers in trains running on them.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Buy It and They Will Go Away

We don't particularly like sour grapes and I-told-you-sos. But that's exactly how we feel about the recent announcement by BNSF Railway that it will cease freight operations on the Raton Pass line. The railroad and local press have tried to sugar coat it, but we saw it coming. We tried to warn the public via an Op-Ed back when it was announced that the State of New Mexico would have to put up an extraordinary amount insurance to guarantee that BNSF Railway would not have to pay up on any lawsuits arising from the operation of New Mexico Rail Runner on tracks still operated and controlled by BNSF.

The sugar coating: Well, we have talked about the interest of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico in putting together north-south passenger service along the front range and down through the passes into the Rio Grande Valley. So the silver-lines sugar coating is that New Mexico will eventually have to have the Raton Pass line intact for that Passenger Rail service to happen. (See our previous blogs Poor Stepchild, Here's a Twist, and Big Plans.)

How intact will it be? The dark side of the silver lining is that BNSF will no longer dispatch trains over this stretch of track. We don't know the exact details of the purchase agreement, so we don't know for sure whether BNSF is required to continue maintenance on the line and at what cost. It will certainly be more costly for BNSF if they no longer have maintenance crews on the ground in this area, and it will certainly eventually cost New Mexico more money to keep the tracks and road bed viable. (At this time, it is not known whether this means that BNSF will also not use the line that runs from Isleta - site of an infamous Santa Fe passenger wreck - to Dallies, where the Transcon splits from the actual line over Raton. Nor is it clear if BNSF still wants to serve customers on this line in Albuquerque.) It is likely that increased costs for maintenance of a dead railroad will be passed on to New Mexico taxpayers.

What about Amtrak? Yes, Amtrak still dispatches the Southwest Chief over Raton, and it will keep doing this for the foreseeable future. As of January 2008, the State of New Mexico will own this line, unless it rescinds the contract and demand's its money back. We don't see that happening. So Amtrak will be the only tenant for every mile north of Galisteo (if that's where Rail Runner's new ROW actually cuts off), and Amtrak will pay who exactly to operate it's trains? New Mexico has the option of starting its own shortline, and Mister Trains, for one, would be very glad to be in on the ground floor of that enterprise.

One possibility is the Santa Fe Southern, also state owned, which runs from Lamy into Santa Fe on the old Santa Fe branch. But we would hope for a completely new operation, one that would take advantage of all the potential customers now shipping by truck from the Albuquerque Area, and one that would bring back freight service to Kirtland AFB and Sandia National Laboratory as well as the heavy duty movie soundstages now almost complete in the Mesa Del Sol area. An old branch up Tijeras Creek would be the jumping off point for an extention of track into Mesa Del Sol and perhaps even for Passenger Rail service there at a later date.

Yes, all this takes money. But if the State of New Mexico is going to buy a railroad, in our book ,it damn well better want to operate one when given the opportunity.

Get out and ride, watch, or just listen to a train!

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Quad Cities Rail

Northern Illinois’ Passenger Rail gets way too much recognition in the media. And why shouldn’t it? With the state funding increased frequencies on its downstate routes that already service many Northern Illinois cities, and now with Amtrak moving toward agreements and implementations that will bring back the old Blackhawk route (IC) to Rockford, Galena, Dubuque, and beyond, the citizens of Northern Illinois can be proud to have many more rail travel choices than most of the rest of us.

We haven’t been back to Illinois to ride trains for some time, and we envy the choices. Living in a city with only two choices doesn’t seem like much fun for a Passenger Rail enthusiast.

The only thing we would say to Illinois about the proposed service is, “This is not just a commerce opportunity but a tourism opportunity.”

As we have noted in our comments about Passenger Rail in other parts of the country, city pairs that make a nice day trip (either round trip or overnight stay) by rail are a golden opportunity to get dollars spent in the areas served. A day trip or overnight to Dubuque from Chicago or suburbs wouldn’t be very hard to take. And when there is scenery like that available in Northwestern Illinois, there is an added bonus if the planners can just make the train run in daylight for most of the year.

So serve both commerce and tourism and get the schedules right, Amtrak and Illinois, and you might just have a beautiful little Amtrak Blackhawk making money on your hands.


Freedom does not come without cost. Perhaps no words could be more true and more troubling. Enjoying the fruits of our freedom, we tend to forget those who have come before, and those who are currently ready to give their all for our freedom. You may disagree with the purpose of the task and argue cause and effect, but another also very true statement is this: No man ever gave his life for his country thinking that he was fighting a lost cause. God, Honor, Country, Family. Dear Brave Soldier, Live and work every day knowing that your work is honorable and your cause is just, and your God, your Country and your Family love you.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Creative Financing

No, it’s not a euphemism for graft, although it can be.

Such financing can be used to bolster the incentive for small- to mid-sized cities to install Passenger Rail.

Some of this depends on having a financially vital manufacturer that is capable of delivering turnkey Passenger Rail systems. An example would be Bombardier, but there are certainly others and there should be ample incentive for more to enter the field.

Some of railroading’s earlier examples of creative financing involved freight rail. When the writing was on the wall – writing that said that rail was dead or a nationalized system was inevitable without some form of deregulation, creative managers convinced customers to build and own the car fleet. These fleets subsequently have carried higher volumes of bulk commodities at lower prices for more customers than the old system where the railroad built, owned, and maintained the fleet.

Some possibilities for Passenger Rail---

Cradle to Grave without Rail: The manufacturer offers to build, operate and maintain all of the heavy equipment necessary to haul passengers by rail. The city or other political division already owns the tracks or has the rights to use them for passenger service. The city does not pay for the equipment up front, but signs a long-term contract whereby the manufacturer retains ownership and gets all the benefits of ownership. If the manufacturer can’t bank its own deal, a commercial bank holds a hefty mortgage, but cities have taxing power and are unlikely to default on obligations. The incentive to the city is low or no up-front payment and lower overall costs. This is attractive because the city can get the system up and running and the economic benefits can flow before costs start to increase. The equipment is likely to last longer than the contract, and the city can always extend, buy new, or negotiate a buyout to suit its needs if the desired result is obtained. In the worst case scenario – nobody rides – the city is not stuck with a system it can’t use. The manufacturer can always move the equipment to another route.

Cradle to Grave with Rail: This is still a viable scenario but it is less attractive because land can’t be moved and tracks and signals are not as easily moved as locomotive’s, cars, and shop equipment. We could see this as an incentive to get short, elevated rapid-transit routes established in small cities using either conventional rail, monorail, or maglev. If some manufacturer could develop a well-engineered modular right-of-way structure for this, it would be a plus.

Freight Rail Participation: True or False: It is impossible to get the freight railroads back into the passenger business. We think the answer is False. All of the current stable of Class Ones have a history that goes deep into Passenger Rail. The corporate culture knows and remembers that passenger trains once bought both shippers and public good will. But corporate inertia is hard to overcome, and sales departments may not be willing to admit that a passenger train or two could make a sale with a shipper where nothing else has worked. It is ironic that the very prosperity that could make it possible for Freight Rail to finance new Passenger Rail also could make it impossible to fit a passenger train into the flow of traffic. Look at the resistance to on-time Amtrak by most of its Freight Rail partners.

The solution could be mixed trains. Freight Rail would only have to subsidize or finance new coaches, sleepers and lounge/diners. Many railroads run scheduled freights or a near equivalent. And there is at least one operations theory that holds that scheduled freight is better for railroads, shippers and crews. Why not tack at least one passenger car on each freight. A kind of national stand-by ticketing could be used. It wouldn’t surprise us if potential riders wouldn’t mind the wait even for an unscheduled ride.

What about stations and amenities? you ask. Well, that’s where public, private or volunteer creativity comes in. If the railroads could just see it in their hearts to let us build some stations on their property, civic groups and municipalities could see a wealth of benefit for their respective areas by operating stations the way the government(s) now operate airports. Creative ideas are welcome. The fear of litigation for premises accidents is a negative. In fact it is a negative for all forms of creative interest by civic groups and non-profits. Until we get the lawyers out of the equation, none of this may really work because of the high cost of liability insurance.

Special Trains and Rental Fleets
Despite naysayers, the demand for Passenger Rail exists. Some of this demand is not constant, as for daily rides to work, but sporadic, as for vacations, special events, and special seasons or circumstances. Some companies make a decent dollar on vacations rail cruises. It has always been an uphill climb, again partly because of insurance costs. Special events are also their province, but specialty cars for special events do not exist. An example of special seasons would be fall color tours or ski trains, and an example of special circumstances would be disaster evacuations and troop transport into evacuated areas.

Creativity would involve having and maintaining a fleet of cars for all occasions and the permission to run them when and if the circumstances warrant. The freight railroads would have to be compliant, but they would gain payments for use of their track and possibly crews.

But the USA is not the only place where passenger trains run! We tend to be provincial about this, but we are guessing that a good ride on a German railcar is equal to a good ride on an American car. We are also willing to bet the farm that there is a huge worldwide supply of stored or sidelined passenger cars that could be brought up to the right condition to run anywhere on North American railroads. Bring them in, position them strategically around the country, and start advertising their availability, and you just may find that there are large groups of people that can find something to do with them in a creative way.

Financing this would be difficult, but does anybody know the number for any banks in Dubai? Sounds like this would be just their cup of tea.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sustaining the Passenger Rail Revival

No, we haven’t lost our train-lovin’ minds. There is a revival of sorts.

(Note: This was actually written - but not posted - before comments were received on the three previous posts.)

To look at Amtrak and the constant rail-wrangling of Congress (see and the political establishment(s) that run Congress, you would not see what is really going on. We have been watching their (Congresspersonus corruptus) behavior for many years, and we see through the political self-indulgence that Congress recognizes a growing need and desire for Passenger Rail. This will translate into some form of National system, even if it is eventually far different from Amtrak. The political inertia just makes it take longer.

The real revival is occurring in small- to mid-sized cities that really want to grow and really need Passenger Rail. The political incentive here is different. To grow, the city needs to attract more industry, more business, and the work force to spread the dollars into the community. Today’s business locators – people who hunt for new facility locations - look for public transportation that can carry high passenger volumes without the uncertainties of bus-running on city streets – even if those streets have dedicated bus lanes. Passenger Rail gets the employees to work rested and in a good frame of mind and makes the drudgery of the daily grind more tolerable. This results in better bottom line and less employee turnover. (No, your employer does not now and never did care whether you were rested or happy, just that his bottom line reflects it.) As a consequence, it is attractive for small- to mid-sized cities to be pro-Passenger Rail. The form of this rail-oriented bias varies from city to city.

In Albuquerque, NM, the always misguided but well-meaning Mayor Martin Chavez thought it was streetcars, but was re-aligned by the city council. But this was well after Governor and Presidentialist Bill Richardson had stolen the thunder by getting New Mexico Rail Runner up and running.

In Austin and San Antonio, TX, it means a standard commuter train that looks a lot like Rail Runner ( but has a big star instead of a bird’s head. In Oklahoma and Kansas it looks a lot more like locally-sponsored and funded intercity rail, as the area contemplates extending the Oklahoma City – Fort Worth Heartland Flyer to Newton Kansas ( and beyond.

The smaller cities mentioned above, and hundreds that aren’t mentioned above but are in a position to have Passenger Rail link them to larger cities, do not have the surrounding suburban network that is typical of eastern big-shots. So to them, short-hop, day-train intercity rail is commuter rail. For those cities that do have suburbs on the circumference, new passenger routing is going to look more like rapid transit or modern streetcar/light rail. The big-shots will continue to expand via extensions and additions to their already-existing rapid transit, commuter, and (rare-because-of-mid-twentieth-century-bus-mania) street systems.

We have gone off at the mouth without saying anything about our ideas to sustain this revival. Some of them include creative financing and more public participation without more public dollars. We will write more about these ideas next time or when possible.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Back In The Day

In a highly depressing fit of birthday retrospective, we thought we'd take a look here at some of the things we have seen in Passenger Rail and rail in general. Things that are no longer.

The Empire Builder, California Zephyr and North Coast Limited slamming across the first public crossing at grade west of Union Station, Chicago, each with an average of 14 cars and each within a half hour of each other late on a summer afternoon. At that location, each would be pulled by Electromotive E units or by F3 or F7 sets positioned A-B-B-A and matching the GN or NP streamliner colors.

Today, the CTC signals west of that crossing still go from green to red as Amtrak varnish and Metra commuters speed beneath.

The sight and sound of F3 or FT sets in Burlington Route colors revving up to pull freight out of Clyde Yard across the same grade crossing. Sitting on the Illinois Central bridge abutment just above roof level and watching them go by.

CB&Q steam engines still working the yard nearby as all of the above occurs.

Wooden Chicago 'L' cars plying the Loop. In addition the first of the post-war cars made from PCC cars retired from the formerly extensive Chicago Surface Lines network. We never rode the PCCs, however, because the surviving lines near home on Cermak Road always ran older red cars.

Other 'L' sights and sounds like the street level right of way west of 54th Avenue to Oak Park Avenue in Berwyn. The last of the West Side 'L' before it came down in favor of the Congress (now Eisenhower) Expressway. Other third rail action in downtown Chicago including Chicago Aurora & Elgin and North Shore Line.

The sight of a single CA&E car running flat out westbound at Butterfield Road near Warrenville - 25 miles out of Chicago and running on third rail power.

CB&Q monitor roofed power cars on the Chicago to Aurora commuter. Before conversion to HEP these cars provided the voltage for the florescent lights in the newer bi-levels. This was also before push-pull operation.

The interior of the Super Chief in its last incarnation before Amtrak.

The D&RGW narrow gauge when it was still D&RGW.

Union Pacific gas turbines pulling heavy freight in Wyoming on Overland Route and sharing it with frequent armour yellow and red striped passenger trains. A DD40 under full load. Half or more of the consist of the UP freights were wooden sided box cars.

Riding Baltimore & Ohio into Washington Union Station and riding Amtrak into Grand Central.

The City of New Orleans in IC colors, and the rest of the stable of fast passenger trains that IC put through Champaign, Illinois, in the last two years before Amtrak. Most often in those years they were running late. Riding on the City of New Orleans, the real one, from Champaign to Chicago.

Grand Central Station, Chicago.

Dearborn Station, Chicago.

The old, original, Northwestern Station, Chicago.

The 'Q' passenger depot in Aurora, IL, a marvelous brick, two-story concoction that seemed too small yet too complex for a small city like Aurora. This was when a stable of commuter trains still yarded overnight just south (railroad west) of the station with locomotives facing the station.

The ticket booths at Union Station, Chicago, and the old concourse that went to the wrecker's ball with its high, window-lit ceilings and hand operated mechanical train designation and destination boards.

Well, that's enough for now. I'm getting more depressed.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Answers to Comments

Christopher suggests that BNSF would favor a move of the freight route to the east.

We are not saying you are wrong, which may negate our first argument to some extent. That just adds two others. 1. From a Passenger Rail standpoint, it is not desirable to use potential passenger subsidies to help BNSF make more profit on coal. The various coalitions should be very careful about this or BNSF will, once again, be selling a passenger agency a pig in a poke while enhancing their bottom line with the money. 2. The Denver Area still has rail shippers that need to be served, so with the freight route moved east, the passenger route will never be allowed to be all passenger and you will have some of the same problems that exit in the Northeast.

Revamp Nothing Primer

Our mantra of revamp nothing does not mean we say no to recycling or to refurbishing. Recycling means using old, spent materials to make new ones. Refurbishing means putting a mantle of newness onto something that is already worn out. The underlying structure remains the same. You may have to refurbish coach seats every five years. The connotation of a revamp is that a robust revision of an already existing system is done to solve a perceived problem, real or imagined. This is exactly what has gotten Amtrak into trouble over these many years. A revamp is more comprehensive than refurbishment and usually doesn't work in its context. Recycling is the drastic result of having too may failed revamps.

We'd like to paraphrase Ed King in his recent Trains article about a derailed and then refurbished locomotive: If Amtrak is not careful, either some car and locomotive manufacturers are going to find themselves with some unexpected trade-ins, or some scrap yards are going to get some windfalls. And adding our own comment: The freight railroads will happily make the deliveries to either.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Poor Stepchild

Continuing on the subject of Wyoming to New Mexico Passenger Rail:

We know that turning the Wyoming – New Mexico Passenger Rail corridor into a High Speed Rail line wouldn’t favor New Mexico. If there had been an easier, flatter way to get from the likes of La Junta, Colorado, to Las Vegas, NM, the old Santa Fe would have used it when they had a chance. Yes, the Santa Fe could have dropped south further east and taken a water level routing through the mountains and mesas that strangely extend too far east from the Rockies along the NM-CO border – but the old Santa Fe was shooting for Pueblo and the riches of Colorado miners. New Mexico and El Paso were afterthoughts that became more desirable as competition with the Rio Grande heated up. But we don’t see any use for one of those routings now.

Even La Junta is too far out on the eastern plains for a practical north-south high-speed line. So getting into New Mexico, the proposed passenger line would probably have to follow the old Raton Pass line of the AT&SF anyway.

Practically speaking, it could take a decade to bring Raton-Santa Fe up to nominal standards, more to get high-speed running. The latter would need significant grade relocation, maybe tunnels, and certainly many environmental impact studies. Not least, the Raton tunnel, the high pass at Glorietta, and the narrow way through Apache Canyon would have to be eliminated.

South of Santa Fe, HSR would not have a problem with the old right-of-way. Even today, it could be a rocket ride from Galisteo to Albuquerque if New Mexico (remember the state owns the tracks) would get rid of the jointed rail, poor ties, and equally outdated semaphore block signals. (As a rail historian, Mister Trains loves these old signals. There could be a way to save them, but the objective is Revamp Nothing.) The rest of the way to El Paso could be made equally fast with a minimum of investment compared to what would have to be done in the Raton area.

Blogger's Note: Some portions of the track from Galisteo to Belen are FRA approved for 79 mph now, notably some of the Rail Runner route. This route will not be approved for 99 mph until such time as the state relays the track. That's still well short of desirable HSR speeds.

So we figure that Pueblo should be sold as a destination-positive for travelers wanting to take the slow ride down the scenic Santa Fe. Let a tourist cruise take the travelers south to Santa Fe, where they can get artsy with the tartsy and then continue HSR down to El Paso if desired. The same could work from the opposite direction.

But as a fast trip Albuquerque-Denver, it won’t work for a lotta years, if ever.

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Here's a Twist

For the Wyoming to New Mexico Passenger Rail corridor.

Why not put the passenger trains on the new and flatter route?

Argument Number One. We do not think that moving the freight routing east and away from the Joint Line is one that BNSF/UP will particularly like. It will increase miles and costs through the corridor.

Argument Number Two. Rail technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the Joint Line or any upgrades were engineered. Incremental improvements haven’t tapped into the vast improvement that could be made in grade, stability, and ride. Why not give Passenger Rail a shot at this? The Joint Line will never be HSR, but the new line could be. Wouldn’t it be nice to ride to your overnight meeting in Denver in the same way that James Bond rides to the Casino Royale? (Everybody please email this blog and the one before it to Virgin Trains.)

Argument Number Three. Passenger Rail on a new line to the east would promote development in the direction away from the mountains and keep industry in the older city areas where it belongs. Moving the freight east will just promote the building of more industrial parks, but our way would favor walkable, train-served, commuter cities.

Argument Number Four, aka Law of Unintended Consequences. Corrollary to Argument Number Three, the development of new industrial parks would call for new road and even new Interstates. Ugh! But you must know that the first time the railroad even hinted that the new freight corridor was reaching capacity, the truckers would be Johnny Spot to offer door-to-door service in a 54-foot trailer. Oh, please let them keep using Interstate 25.

Keep on using the train!

Next: What happens in New Mexico if we follow this Twist?

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Big Plans

Once again, my apologies for not posting to this blog as often as previously.

Plans for a commuter railroad that has many of the characteristics of an interurban or intercity operation keep rolling forward along the east face of the Rocky Mountains. I just finished an article from the Pueblo Chieftain
that talks about the plans for Passenger Rail on a north-south route through Denver and Pueblo.

We have blogged about this line in the past. It involves the vision and dream of two entities, the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority and the Colorado Rail Association. In its most basic form, the dream is to use existing right of way – a violation of the basic tenet “revamp nothing” – to schedule passenger service up and down the east slope with a north terminus in Wyoming and a south terminus in New Mexico. To this writer, this basic form alone makes this line an intercity route

This news article is the first in which we have seen an additional proposal to build a parallel freight line along a comparatively flat corridor in the eastern plains. Remember, you Eastern types, that the eastern plains are still high altitude, semi-arid and not as flat as central Illinois.

We suppose that adding the new freight line to the project will answer some of the objections the freight railroads would have to adding passenger trains to their tracks already operating at full capacity. In this case, the objectors would be the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, owners of the so-called Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo (actually Trinidad, although with BNSF using Raton Pass as little as possible, the Pueblo-Raton segment sees little freight traffic).

This writer knows little about the attitude of the State of Wyoming towards this rail line. But Cheyenne and Laramie are closer to Denver than any point in New Mexico. Cheyenne is as close to Denver as Pueblo. We’d call the Wyoming people damnfools if they aren’t in favor of it. Cheyenne-Laramie to Pueblo makes a great little rail corridor with mileage and population on a par with San Luis Obispo-Los Angeles-San Diego and/or Chicago-Detroit.

We know that New Mexico – following its Governor and Presidentialist Bill Richardson – is in favor of it. (Presidentialist – noun – declared favorite-son presidential primary candidate with not a snowball’s chance of raising enough money to get the nomination, one of many candidates on the presidential list.) New Mexico already owns the BNSF Railway tracks and grade from Belen, NM through Raton to the border with Colorado. And we already have a train planned to go to Santa Fe from Belen. (Rail Runner, but not until 2010, probably.) But Santa Fe is more distant from Pueblo than Pueblo is from Denver, and there is a lot of nothing and slow mountain running between Raton and Santa Fe.

At least one of our blogs has dealt with the question of putting passengers on rail all the way from Santa Fe to El Paso and beyond.

CRA is shooting for an operational route by 2014-2015 when the Denver FasTracks is scheduled to begin.

Our next blog: How about a twist on this idea?

©2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 11, 2007

No Time For Everything

First, we want to apologize for not posting last Sunday. Other responsibilities have required that those activities resulting in the least overall return get the least amount of time. Frankly, folks, you ain't burnin' up the rails with responses to this blog.

We don't intend to stop, and if time and tide permit, we will post more than once a week.

We have noted that New Mexico Rail Runner continues to get good press and a lot of media exposure. The April issue of Trains is a good example. None of the comments in this blog should be interpreted as anything other than constructive criticism. We'd like to see it succeed and continue to grow.

Our bias is clearly showing when we criticize NMRX for choosing a freeway median of all places for its final climb into Santa Fe. (Does anyone know that Santa Fe is the highest altitude state capital in the United States?) If anyone is going to lay down new rail on new right of way for Passenger Rail, we would like it to be more scenic than between 4 lanes of freeway traffic. One of the older unusued rail grades into Santa Fe (on which we have previously commented) would have been much more scenic!

Last time, we tried to point out that, in its infancy at least, NMRX will be something of a tourist railroad as well as a commuter line, and more intercity interurban than urban-suburban. A more scenic line into Santa Fe would aid in ridership.

For anyone interested, this old blogger got most of his first steam railroad ridin' experience on a stretch of the then CB&Q three-track CTC line between Downtown Chicago and the suburban stop at 31st Street and Ridgeland Avenue in Berwyn (MP 9.0 - La Vergne). We are getting close to finishing a virtual representation of this line for the Trainz 2006 Railroad Simulator. (We have it finished up to about a mile and a quarter east of La Vergne.) Anyone interested in getting a copy to run on your simulator should send us an email at We should be able to email you an archive that you can load up using the Trainz 2006 program.

This is the current extent of our model railroading activities.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Following The Santa Fe Trail

More on the subject of New Mexico's Rail Runner commuter/intercity rail experiment and its route into Santa Fe.

All of you can read about this and review the same information we have reviewed by going to the Rail Runner site.

First of all, we are going to start referring to this as an intercity rail project. Why? Because Santa Fe is not a suburb of Albuquerque. This is a commuter project only because the initial customers are likely to be Albuquerque and/or Santa Fe (when it gets there) commuters. But it is (by definition of intercity rail) an intercity rail project. It would be an interurban if it were 1912 and they were stringing catenary or trolly wires above the tracks.

Our review of the initial analysis of the freeway median routing into Santa Fe did not inspire much confidence. We have more to read and review.

But the first thing that struck us was the cavalier way in which the (political entity called) MRCOG compared this project with successful freeway commuter enterprises already in operation. The glaring comparisions used were photographs of Chicago CTA and the Los Angeles Green Line. We say glaring because the comparison targets are both electric rapid transit systems with light cars, power to weight that allows climbing steep grades, and braking systems that are not comparable to Rail Runner. The latter is a diesel heavy rail commuter line more comparable to Chicago Metra than to Chicago CTA - and a Metra train wouldn't be able to run down the Dan Ryan median at rush hour.

The target comparisons are both relatively flat lines on relatively flat highway medians. The Rail Runner is a mountain train and will be running on a mountain freeway median. Just the thought of accounting for the runoff/drainage of the many small streams that are now jumped by simple culverts is a staggering one. Simple culverts will probably not do if you have to fill and wall-retain a two-track right of way on an 80-foot median - particularly if the stream level is at the bottom of the fill. You will also have to support the retaining walls and make sure the alluvial soils that underlie most of the right of way is not ready to make a bee-line down to the Rio Grande. (As it already has in some places along I-25.) We see many fancy bridges in the future of Rail Runner - and fancy means expensive.

The next thing that struck was the recent (2/14/07) news release by Augusta Meyers of MRCOG. Ms. Meyers was formerly a talking head for one of the local news stations and is a well qualified journalist who clearly knows nothing about railroads or civil engineering. The release tells the untruth that Rail Runner is on track to get to Santa Fe by the end of 2008.

It is the beginning of March 2007, and there has not been a shovel turned for this freeway-median extension. If we are going to ride this train, we would like the engineers to take more than a month or two to design the project.

It will require at least one tunnel or bridge (near La Bahada Hill - translated as "the hill hill") and another bridge near the cutoff to the Santa Fe Southern line into The City Different. It will require a whole lot of retaining walls and cuts to maintain a grade that is useable by a heavy-rail train, and it will require another whole lot of lane relocations and traffic diversions to get this done - not to mention the above feats of civil engineering design and construction for cuts and fills and water runoff. The tunnel at La Bahada could be a strikingly expensive one.

It ain't gonna happen by December 2008.

More on this at a later date.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -