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 -