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 -