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 -
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