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 -