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 -