Sunday, December 28, 2008

Passenger Rail Is Not Always The Answer

Much as I would like it to be, Passenger Rail isn't the answer to every transportation question. As I often push for more Passenger Rail in this blog using an argument that it is sound policy from both a conservation and an environmental standpoint, I would like to be careful not to push too much.

As Mr. Obama's presidency nears and we are every day promised dollars for public infrastructure projects, some local politicians are taking their heads out of their arses only long enough to see the dollar signs. Yes, they have heard that trains are sound policy, so if there's anywhere they can put one, they are going to ask for money for it.

So a little education while you guys aren't busy watching your own colons:

1. Light rail only is a good idea only for large cities. I am talking cities the size of Milwaukee or better, not those on the borderline of "medium to small." The economies will just never catch up with the initial cost and the burden of subsidy. Mayors who want this and get it will be ruining their economies unless they have a dedicated line in mind, say from one airport to another.
2. Commuter rail is usually a little less costly for right-of-way and more costly for equipment. It, too, makes no sense for a small city with small ridership. New Mexico Rail Runner Express is not really commuter rail any longer, it is state sponsored intercity (Santa Fe - Albuquerque - Belen) with no help from Amtrak. It will leave a burden of subsidy too large for a low pop state like New Mexico to bear. If it has to go belly up, it will be money down a rathole.
3. Long distance Passenger Rail only makes sense on a more frequent basis than Amtrak can provide at this time. Amtrak has gone into the commuter business to find money, and it does a good job in the northeast, midwest, and California. But there's no local government seeking stimulus money for an Amtrak route, so Amtrak won't benefit from this unless local government seeks infrastructure improvements that will facilitate Amtrak.

Is anybody listening?

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Cure From Amtrak

Something that Amtrak has not been able to cure in all of its three decades plus of existence is the public perception that the days are numbered for the train. I'm talking about any train.

Throughout the decade preceding Amtrak, those of us old enough to remember will recall that news of one or another passenger train's demise came out almost weekly. Unless you were a train nut trying to get mileage that would become unavailable onto your log book, you weren't very enthusiastic about riding a train that you knew wouldn't be there in the very near future. It was a protective reaction, really, because you knew that if you liked it you would be sad not to do it again, and if you didn't like it, it was probably because you waited too long to try it.

The same thing has been going on throughout the Amtrak era. There is always a rumor of a certain train in danger of discontinuance, and the press makes no bones about putting it out there when it's just a rumor. Some of this has got to stop if Passenger Rail is going to grow and if public confidence is going to grow with it. Amtrak should spend some new money on public relations initiatives that will tell the public, not just the train nuts that watch for the info, like me, what is in store for them if things go right. What new trains can we expect? How will this help my life and how will this help the country and the environment?

Today, even the reporting and the editorial slant for potential new trains is in the negative. It's about what might go wrong, how horrendously large is the needed money, or how it's just a "study" that will cost lots and no train is likely to result.

As a society, we are now conditioned to breath a sigh of relief when things don't go too wrong. So we don't expect to hear about what could go right. We rejoice over $2 gas, we turn handsprings when the train schedule doesn't get cut back, we thank God and Southwest Airlines that somebody still gives us peanuts during a long flight. It's ridiculous, and we should all expect more.

Wouldn't it be a lot more fun to rejoice over Amtrak doubling its route structure and its on-board amenities? And somebody at Amtrak needs to get their head out of whatever dark hole its up and start to let the public know how good things could be, not just how bad they could get.

I look forward to it.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Political Momentum

Big Ideas aren't going to get done with the kind of thinking that exists in our legislative branch today. And they won't get done with the kind of thinking that is scheduled to exist tomorrow.

Political momentum says that Congress will continue to think along the lines of "no new Passenger Rail lines unless states or local governments put in the money." That's not going to work, and that is no longer a Big Idea. It was a good way to keep Amtrak moving when states were flush with cash, but that's not going to happen for the foreseeable future. Call it momentum or call it a head in the sand. Call it what you will, our newest congressmen and senators, as well as the re-elected ones, are going to have to stop thinking like we are going back to a Clintonian White House. The economy is already dictating that the rest of this decade is going to be very different from the 1990s.

As much as Radical Environmentalism - as a movement - is against the free market, neither will it want to see us slide back into a transportation policy where the only way to get somewhere is by passsenger auto or jet-fuel guzzling airlines. And the auto fleet will be aging - therefore less environmentally friendly - if none of us can afford to buy a new one.

As I have said before on this blog, our transportation policies must be coordinated and include a higher proportion of funding for Passenger Rail. This must also occur with any economic stimulus plans. Mr. Obama, please listen: If we are going to put people to work ala 1930s style WPA, it must be on building and repairing rail infrastructure as well as other kinds, and maybe even on building railcars, streetcars, and locomotives, too. (GM should not have sold Electro Motive is a topic for another day.)


Thank you all for your very astute comments and emails on my Big Ideas title. Now please write to your politicians - all of them - from the local know-nothings on up.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Something Big

Since the inception of Amtrak, the model for Passenger Rail in this country has been - with few exceptions - one of subsidize and recover. This means subsidize as much of the train operations budget as is politically possible, and recover as much as possible of the costs of train operations from the farebox. The few exceptions are excursion trains, since even commuter rail is handled in the "subsidize and recover" model.

Perhaps we are ready for a new model. A big idea.

Looking at some photographs of New York Central varnish from the 1930s and 1940s got me thinking: We could look at this the same way banks are required to look at deposit insurance. Banks take a percentage of every dollar and put it into the FDIC.

Think about this: Instead of taking money out of transportation taxes and out of other general taxes to fund Passenger Rail, why don't we just require every railroad to pay a percentage of their profits towards passenger service.

You may say that was how railroads got in trouble with passengers to begin with. And I would say you are right. But railroad of the time were trying to serve every community on most routes and were doing it with lots and lots of equipment and heavy schedules. I think that if the current Amtrak route structure were imposed on the host railroads, a percentage of freight revenues would be enough, in our day, to operate most, if not all of Amtrak, maybe even double the routes currently available. I believe that it would not cramp the style of the profitable railroads.

You may also say this is a bad time to start imposing an effective tax on profitable businesses, as the times are telling us that profitable businesses are going to be few. But what better time than when railroads are flush with cash? Should we wait until the whole economy is in shambles?

If it worked, this would be a way to ease railroads back into the habit of operating and funding passenger service, not just grudgingly allowing passenger trains to operate on tracks built in the public interest.

Yes, there are consequences. Shippers would effectively be paying for passenger rail in rates that might be higher. Congress would have to resist the temptation to allow (or worse, mandate) that all costs thus incurred be passed on to the shippers. And initally, reduced service would result on already crowded lines. Benefits would be forthcoming with patience. Business would benefit from increased availability of travel and lower cost. Removing automobiles from roadways would relieve environmental pressures on all businesses. Fuel savings would be great, and all businesses would benefit from a reduced dependence on foreign oil.

I'm sure I haven't thought of all the positives and negatives here. Anyone want to jump in and enlighten me if you think this is a bad idea? Otherwise, maybe we can write some letters to the new Congress and the new president. Maybe there are other new and better ideas out there. But the old model isn't working, hasn't for a long time. Let's start something big.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Turning Point

Passenger Rail, like a train poised at the switch ready to take one track or the other, will be rolling onto a different track as a result of the events of this month.

First, the pundits say that the administration of President-Elect Obama is likely to be much more pro-Passenger Rail than several of its predecessors. This is based in part on Joe Biden, who is seen as pro-passenger in part based on his voting record, but mostly because he likes to ride the trains himself. It is also based on the undisputable fact that Mr. Obama came up during the campaign as more knowledgeable as to the potential of Passenger Rail in general and HSR in particular.

Today, it appears that Rep. James Oberstar is the likely choice for Secretary of Transportation. Whether this is 'change' or a step forward is arguable. Mr. Oberstar's voting record in the House is to support Amtrak reauthorization, to vote against reductions in funding, but never, as far as my research can find, to take a positive forward move in sponsoring any legislation that would get Amtrak and Passenger Rail over the hump to where it should be in this century.

The next development is the resignation of Alex Kummant as CEO of Amtrak. This writer was thoroughly skeptical about Mr. Kummant when he came on board. I have been pleasantly proven wrong. But he also had the luck of the draw, with Amtrak ridership increasing as a result of high fuel prices, giving him extra revenue to work with. Now that gas prices are falling, will ridership stay at this level?

My guess is that Mr. Kummant has trained his executive team well, and the interim CEO William Crosbie will carry on some of the same policies. Also my guess: President-Elect Obama will likely appoint a new CEO from outside Amtrak.

That's not a bad thing. In the spirit of change that the recent election is supposed to have fostered, I am hoping that whoever it is will agree with Secretary-in-waiting Oberstar and with the new Congress on the direction Amtrak should take. I think we would all have to agree that the only 'change' that would be good for Amtrak and good for the country is increased funding for train frequency, equipment, on-time performance, service, and new routes - without the redundancy of Congress repeating over and over, year after long year, that it thinks Amtrak should make money.

Mr. Oberstar - if you are appointed as expected - and Mr. Obama . . . the train is running on your track now. Please don't derail it at the switch.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Too Bad

It's too bad that in the current political climate our passenger railroads are not still run by private corporations. Do you see where we're going with this.

If Amtrak were a private corporation, all it would have to do - other than pay its executives scads of money to run it into the ground - would be to whine about how it is too big and important to the United States economy to fail. Bingo. The government would be buying up equity with taxpayer dollars and there would no longer be a question of getting appropriations in Congress.

With Congress ready to pour money into 1. banks; 2. insurance companies; and 3. anything else that moves and has assets to control, the freight railroads are already lining up at the door to the treasury. (We once had an uncle who used to do what Congress does to number 3, but we called it something different.)

It may bode well for rail infrastructure, but again we fall back on the questions: How far can government money go? How is all this going to happen without huge tax increases? If we are all out of a job, how are we going to pay taxes?

Neither candidate for president seems to have these answers.

We spend a lot of time worrying these days.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two Questions Redux

With the events of the past two weeks smoldering in our collective brains - or whats left of our brains after the political ads slam them against the wall with every television or radio break - we now know that we should not have asked, "Will there be any money left for Passenger Rail?" What we should have asked was, "Will there be any money left? Period."

Fact One: The current economic crisis and the resulting bailouts are spending taxpayer dollars that have to come from somewhere and that would otherwise have gone elsewhere.

Fact Two: The economic situation will tend to elect Democrats in four weeks.

Fact Three: Democrats have run on the promise of extensive spending programs to right the supposed wrongs of previous administrations.

Fact Four: Democrats have also established the balanced budget idea that says basically that no new spending will occur without taking money away from old projects.

Fact Five: Amtrak and Passenger Rail are not as politically sexy as road, bridges and airport facilities.

There will be huge temptation to take money away from Passenger Rail sooner than from other infrastructure projects. We hope it doesn't put a revived intercity rail system on the back burner just when it was starting to cook.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Waking Up

It's a good thing that some in this country are waking up. This opinion piece from the Baltimore Sun does a pretty good job of repeating some of the things that we have been saying for years. It is good to see ordinary journalists waking up to the transportation crisis.

First, there is new technology, and many new ideas for new technology, for Passenger Rail and for freight rail. For our political establishment to suddenly mandate any one of the technologies that is still in the testing stage, and do that as a knee-jerk reaction to current events, is idiocy. But that is what Congress specializes in.

We don't think mandating PTC for all Passenger Rail for all lines with a target date somewhere in the future and no specifications for a particular system attached to the mandate is particularly idiotic. PTC in one form or another is certainly a probability. There are no particular hurdles to the engineering of PTC, other than making sure it works as needed and making sure that various systems are compatable. The latter is like getting a DVD player to read all the various types of disks that have been developed. Not a sure thing unless you buy the right player, but certainly not impossible.

What scares the hell out of us is that Congress would mandate a particular system built by a particular bidder and then squeeze the cash out of the deal so that the final system on line would be nothing like what could be developed if Congress would just leave the specs to the open market.

Second, with respect to suddenly upping the ante on train protection when a particularly deadly accident occurs, let's get real. All modes of transportation carry some risk, and the way to minimize that risk is "safety first," not after the accident occurs. There are technologies other than PTC that are either on line or being tested, such as electronic braking, that will make Passenger Rail safer. It will be by a combination of available tech, not by one system of signalling, that Passenger Rail and rail in general will be made safer. Congress probably will never wake up.

That's why Mister Trains urges all voters: Do not vote for the incumbent. Pick the independent, the green, the Naders or the Ron Pauls, but don't pick the incumbents.

But we always welcome it when somebody wakes up and smells the coffee with regards to our failing transportation policy and the value of Passenger Rail in particular.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two Questions

Question One: Will there be any money left for Passenger Rail?

There is a need for a comprehensive United States transportation plan. We think this statement is unarguable. We also think that the only way such a plan can be implemented is through focused government subsidy for expanded Passenger Rail. This should move into the realm of public-private partnerships and finally, if successful, one day into the realm of pure private enterprise.

Right now, we are not moving in the direction of private enterprise. It wouldn't surprise us if there were a need - in a very short time - to nationalize the transportation system to keep it from melting down in the same way that AIG and the credit markets almost have, or almost did.

If we do that, the question comes as to how much money will be put into Passenger Rail. Or will the government just support new highways and airways and revamp air transport? In our opinion, we cannot do the latter without leaving our transportation systems vulnerable to attack. Only a balanced Passenger Rail component secures the system against such attack.

Question Two: Is Joe Biden pro rail just because he commutes on a train?

We think not. Biden has been critical of Amtrak, just as have many legislators, without offering a solution that demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge of the problem. We know lots of folks who bitch about the service but have no idea what it really takes to run a passenger train, let alone a railroad.

We do not see a presidential or vice-presidential candidate that can truly be called pro rail. Transportation won't become glamorous enough to catch the eye of the media, and hence of the voter, unless it is interrupted in the same way that failure of Fannie and Freddy would have interrupted the financial markets. (And please do not think we are advocating this. We are just saying.) It is a pity, but keep it in mind when you vote.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, September 14, 2008


It is too soon after the disasterous wreck of this past Friday to lay blame.

This is why we disagree with Metralink blaming the engineer. Again, it is too soon, and all sorts of things might have gone wrong. If experience is any teacher, it usually takes more than one thing to go wrong to cause such a disaster or contribute to it.

However, please pray for the injured and for the newly departed. These include the poor engineer of the Metralink train.

We would just like to ask our readers if, after prayer please, you would think about the future of Passenger Rail in this country. On its present course, most, if not all, passenger trains will be sharing the rails with the already overburdened freight transportation industry. And all will be running across barges and trucks during their journeys. Will both sides - passenger and freight - be safe? What do we - as a nation - need to do to keep this from being the precursor of even more such disasters as almost every one in the past has been?

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Now that we have vented about what - historically - has been done wrong. Let's take a breather and think about what might be done right.

Let's think about doubling. What part of Passenger Rail and Amtrak in particular should we fund to double the current status and how efficient would that be?

It is reported that Amtrak ridership is growing in spite of stagnent numbers of routes (with the exception of new, state funded routes) and stagnent amounts of passenger cars available to the fleet.

Doubling Route Miles

This would probably result in a better than doubling of passenger miles, but would require doubling or better the amount of equipment and the service facilities that go with more equipment. It would probably require more than doubling the payroll. Would it result in double the revenue? We doubt it.

Doubling Train Frequency

This would probably result in more passenger miles. It would not require twice the equipment and probably could be done without doubling employment in on-board crews. However, it would result in higher maintenance costs.

Doubling Track Speed
A necessity if train frequency is to be doubled. Better signalling would help with this, so this would probably require double the expenditures of host railroads on track and signals.

Doubling The Amount of Equipment
This would be a first step in doubling the availability of all passenger rail and must be done no matter what the cost.

Doubling The Size of Management
A real danger if we start pouring money into the system.

We start to see how interconnected is the network that we dismantled by nationalizing the Passenger Rail system. If Congress can come up with not double the money but enough money to double the system, it's really hard to say where it should go. It should not go into administration and/or management.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, August 17, 2008

No. 4 - Manufacturing and Industrial Design

What is it about North American freight railroading that makes it unique? It has a look and esthetic that is unlike railroading anywhere else in the world.

Passenger Rail in North America used to be the same way.

Actually, with most of Amtrak, it still is. But with commuter rail not so much any more. And we have probably long given up the possibility that the coming revival of intercity Passenger Rail will look anything more that Global, or worse, European.

The extraordinary hiatus in development of purely American intercity passenger trains has given the rest of the world a leg up. Worse, we will never know what the evolution of the passenger train would have been had we just continued to run them in a quantity and at a speed that kept them in the public eye and mind. For instance, the trend toward bi-levels started with the Santa Fe equipment might have been more incentive for eastern routes with increased clearances. Fifteen years ago, Amtrak still had to devise Superliner-like interiors to fit into single-level cars still having to squeeze through tunnels that couldn't clear Superliners.

With the increase in sizes, would we now have a third or fourth generation of Super-Superliners that make Passenger Rail even more fuel efficient than it already is with broken-down antiques? With a continuity in design and volume of use, would green locomotive builders be targeting passenger use instead of just freight? We will never know.

Had we been building North American passenger cars right along, the cost of including integrated, state-of-the-art amenities (the full range of electronic media, the best of human creature comforts) might not be as great as it is now for single, disgustingly small (by car count) orders that come only once every two decades.

We The People have done ourselves a great disservice in settling for Amtrak.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, August 03, 2008

No. 3 - Marginalization and Demonization

Third on Mister Trains' list of what the United States should have done to ensure that Passenger Rail was viable in the twenty-first century is a two-parter. Because they are two sides of the same coin, we have put them together; but they just as easily could have been No. 3 and No. 4.

Marginalization: The act of diminishing the importance of something by shoving it off to the margins of public consciousness. In our society today, the homeless, the harmless insane, the elderly poor, and Passenger Rail are all marginalized. When public policy evolved (or devolved) to support air and highway transport at the expense of rail, the policy makers found themselves with a nightmare of complaints from those who still viewed rail as the way to get from here to there. Train-offs were always made after loud public outcry from those who did not want to lose the passenger train.

So we dealt with it by convincing ourselves that those loudmouths were not riders but complainers and that they probably would not use the trains if they were left on the timetable. We then marginalized the communities that suffered and sometimes died because of the train-offs. We told ourselves that they were little hayseed towns that didn't have an economic future anyway.

During the process of marginalization, the media always presented the railroads as an archaic form of transportation. Likewise, successful European or Asian passenger trains were characterized as quaint and touristy. Not until our trains were long gone and the rest of the world's weren't did the media start showing us the "modern and space age" trains of France, Japan, and etc. Now the only experienced passenger car builders come from places other than the United States.

Demonization is an extreme form. Not only were railroads characterized as archaic and outdated, but they were placed in a blame situation for almost every possible annoyance that a transportation form could have. They were too hot, too cold, unsafe, they contributed to noise, pollution, they dispoiled the land, they were founded by robber barrons who never repaid their debt to society.

Trains retreated, they retrenched, and they kept a low profile. Today they do their jobs without the high advertising budgets of airlines and auto manufacturers. Throughout the world, however, railroads haul more passengers more miles and more comfortably than do today's airlines. But they don't do it here.

Mister Trains still gets comments from people who don't get it. From those who say rail is archaic. We bet that fewer people in the rest of the world feel that way. Where Passenger Rail was never marginalized or demonized, it flourishes.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 27, 2008

No. 2 - Regulation

We shall reach back a little further in time for the second item on our list of things we, the United States, should have done to foster a vital Passenger Rail system over time.

Regulation of the rail transportation system, in general, should have ended after the Robber Baron era. We are sure that the public of the late nineteenth century saw abuses by the railroads. The system of regulation that continued without mercy into the third quarter of the twentieth century abused the so-called private-sector railroads far more.

In today's economy, we are having a healthy discussion about the relative merits of free markets v. regulation. Movements are afoot to re-regulate rail and big oil and big drug and big any other business that is seen as making a buck off the Little Guy. But every dollar made in this country originates with the Little Guy.

By regulating the health out of the railroads, Government deprived the Little Guy of a vital form of transportation. The Little Guy no longer had the choice of taking a passenger train from Point A to Point B. Indirectly, Little Guy and Girl were deprived of truck-free highways good for a Sunday afternoon spin. We were deprived of the clean environment that trains foster and trucks do not. We were deprived of all of the potential advancements in rail service that many other parts of the world have or will have. Because even while regulating rail, and with the exception of national emergency (read World War), Government refused to run the trains. Via ridiculous yearly Congressional debates over funding Amtrak, Government still refuses to run the very corporate entity it set up to be the trains.

Would we have done better without regulation? You bet. First, the railroads that ran the passenger trains would have had a fairer chance to remain solvent. Though solvency in railroad terms is an interesting accounting theory probably served more by a whole book than by this blog, suffice it to say that a fully solvent corporation, one making money for its investors, is less likely to have to cut off marginal parts of the business.

Did we say marginal? Yes, because although Passenger Rail does not make money on a fully allocated cost basis, there was a time when it did make money on an avoidable cost basis. Basically that means that, if freight is solvent and paying all fixed and avoidable costs (trains, track and infrastructure), then Passenger Rail has only to pay avoidable costs to make money. What once was an accounting ploy by the railroads to show regulators how badly they needed to raise the rates became common practice and had everybody convinced that passengers were dragging freight down. (They were - but only because freight rates were regulated too heavily to make a profit from the combination of both freight and passenger service.)

Without regulation, passenger rates would also have risen with the economy. The railroad that wanted to lure pasengers from airlines and automobiles would have been free to hold the bargain-basement sale (at the expense of freight, which would have been paying its way in any case). Without regulation, freight would have been able to maintain its competitive edge with truck and barge, and been able to "do a deal" on rates where needed to snag the business. (As opposed to going to the government hat in hand to ask mother-may-I when a rate change seemed appropriate.)

In its own way, and with the help of the NIMBYs and environmentalists, Government still regulates the rails. Freight has been free to flow at market rates for decades, but building more infrastructure is a daunting task. So you won't see new rail routes blazed out of virgin territory any sooner than you will see new oil refineries in cities that never had them, or new oil rigs off the coast of California.

We are a nation of contortionists, my friends. Because we have been screwing ourselves for years.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What We Should Have Done - No. 1

The decline of the passenger train in the United States did not come as a shock to anyone.

Just as it should be obvious to anyone today that the passenger airliner is on the ropes, so it was clear in the early 1950s that Passenger Rail would not survive the private passenger auto. The precipitous drop in rail travel numbers after World War II should have engendered a national transportation policy that included saving the trains.

The National Defense Highway system, subsequently the Interstate Highway system, was first and foremost supposed to be a device to enhance national security. Yes, troops and equipment could move fast by rail, and had moved faster by rail during the war than they had ever before. But our Government foresaw that war materiel could move faster on a system of limited-access highways.

Instead, what our Government should have done was establish a national defense transportation policy - a policy whereby private citizens, commerce and industry, and Government and the military could be assured that, no matter what the disaster, all would have access to the transportation necessary to their needs.

While establishing a route system for the highways, the Government should have been identifying essential passenger routes for all modes of transport and weighing the cost benefits against what would happen if one or more of those modes became undesirable or unuseable for reason of some national emergency.

Instead our money went into a distinctly inferior system of highways that ultimately saddled us with spiraling maintenance costs and accelerating depreciation precisely BECAUSE we did not establish balanced and well-considered policy towards other modes of transport. And it did this while using public money to effectively cut many communities off from both motor commerce and passenger rail. (Count the number of communities that any Interstate bypasses by looping around them, and see how many of these still have Amtrak service.)

The unheeded and nonetheless inevitable decline in the railroads' passenger service during the next 15 years certainly was not headed off. And Amtrak, instead of being well-considered policy, was instead a political stopgap. What happened with the creation of Amtrak - saving a few routes for political and popular expediency - was nothing like what should have been done a decade or two before. It was an emergency measure that did ALL modes of passenger transport a disservice. To say nothing of what it did to We The People.

Next time, No. 2.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bleak Future

Don Phillips is an internationally recognized authority on transportation. He writes a monthly piece in Trains Magazine, and he has a doozy in the current (August 2008) issue.

Whether or not he is right in blaming President Bush for the transportation policies of the past 8 years - and Congress is at least as responsible - you have to listen to the truths he tells.

Truth No. 1 - U.S. transportation policy is a mess. We would go one step further and say we have none, but we guess that maintaining the status quo with a minimum of funding and no new taxes is policy. Unfortunately, the status quo just won't cut it. Highways are just about at the breaking point, the air traffic system is as archaic as the California Zephyr was when the first jet passenger aircraft were in diapers, and we need all the intercity rail routes we have just to move freight. In fact, there are some parts of the country where starting up Commuter Rail to take cars off the roads will just put trucks on the roads in their places. It is just that bad.

Truth No. 2 - The public is in the dark as to transportation policy and transportation options. We are not talking about deciding whether to fly or drive - we are talking about whether we will have the option of getting there at all. The public sees rail transportation as an anachronism. We can see that in some of the responses we get to our blog. The public is not disturbed by the lack of options until the public is stuck in truck traffic on the way to an important meeting. The public sensitivity is so dulled by the continual squandering of tax money that it doesn't give a fig any more.

Truth No. 3 - Our leaders, the President, Congress, and state governments, would just as soon keep it that way. That's because if the public knew of the options and opportunities for a first-class transportation system that have been passed by - by elected officials more concerned about their re-elections than about the Re-public - then we, the people, would probably throw the whole lot of 'em out and start over.

Truth No. 4 - Nothing will get better if we ignore it. The way Mister Trains sees it: Fuel prices will level out or continue to rise, but they won't fall significantly and will never again drop to as low a percentage of costs for goods and services as they once were. We are beyond the break point, and some transportation companies, particularly those with no hedge on energy costs and with customers who cannot withstand any significant increase in fuel surcharges, will have to merge or quit business. That is true across the board, and we have already seen the bankruptcies in the air transport business. Any failure in one mode will put more pressure on another, and hence more costs through excess loading, wear-and-tear, and penalties on missed deliveries.

The cascade of chaos is awesome to contemplate. Eventually, we can see a few truck lines carrying on over highways to which we cannot devote any money because use taxes have dropped. We can see trains parked in sidings for days or weeks waiting for capacity. If that happens, you will see empty shelves in all retail establishments, even Walmart. We can see air traffic cut to a half or a third of what it is today. We can see Amtrak unable to get a train from one city to another because of the congestion. And we can see idle commuter trains in idle terminals, because half the work force that needed them won't have jobs. This one could make the Great Depression look like a cakewalk.

Our Enemies - and they are Legion - are licking their chops.

Bleak? Yes! Possible to turn around? Maybe. Don Phillips doesn't think so, and he has a lot more credentials than Mister Trains.

The scariest part of all is this: Not one average Joe or Jill who reads this has a clue what opportunities have been missed - what could or should have prevented this Bleak Future.

Down the road, we will attempt to tell you, if the First Amendment holds out that long.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Or Maybe Nader

Please. Just navigate to this link:

This pretty much says most of it. And we agree that the candidates for all offices should be debating this with just as much concern as they are debating any other issue.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Minneapolis to Duluth An HSR Experiment Worth Watching

When contrasted with other High Speed Rail corridors in the Upper Midwest, this is a short one. About 150 miles as opposed to over 200 for the next shortest (Chicago - Detroit). It's also one that has to traverse many fewer miles of urban rail wasteland.

Chicago to Detroit has about 100 miles of such wasteland, Chicago to St. Louis considerably less, although the corridor is almost 300 miles. St. Louis to Kansas City is comparable in wasteland but over 270 miles.

Now that municipalities, both suburban and rural, along the Minneapolis to Duluth routing are being heard, it is possible that this corridor will become the first to accomodate both HSR and Commuter Rail on the same right-of-way. Perhaps - with good signalling - on the same tracks.

The high price of motor fuel demands this kind of experiment, as does the general greening of public policy whether one believes in man-made global warming or not. (We don't.)

If any of you have ever watched the scoots on their three-track speedway west of Chicago on what was once the Burlington Route (CB&Q, then Burlington Northern and now BNSF Railway) with commuter trains run by Chicago's Metra, even with CTC from the 1930s, then you can believe that this can be done with the right number of tracks and the right investment in signals.

And certainly we have come a long, long way from the CTC of seven decades ago as well as with the extra control that can be had on diesel-electric locomotives with microprocessors and computers - and the newest potential: electro-pneumatic braking instead of all pneumatics. (A boon for longer freight traffic, but also allowing longer controllable commuter trains.)

And a 150-mile route is just the right percentage of long-distance for economical HSR versus slow-speed routing for conflicting trains. If a viable system could be developed for this routing, it could be expanded to apply to just about any one where either the HSR or the low-speed rail wasteland percentages are higher.

We would hope the government, developers, researchers, and manufacturers recognize this as a golden opportunity to carpe the diem.

We can always hope.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amtrak Budget: Is the Glass Half Full, or Just Half Cracked?

If it is the objective of Congress to thumb it's collective snotty nose at the taxpayer in general and at Amtrak in particular, then the pathetic Amtrak appropriation just passed by the House is a measure of success.

$14.9 billion for Amtrak for FIVE fiscal years 2009 thru 2013.

At the very same time, The Associated Press is reporting just about $14 billion in earmarks (called Pork) going to Members' districts in just ONE year. And, if the AP is just half right, that means that about $700 million is going into the pockets of lobbyists for the district and/or organization - read political contributors - that pushed for the earmark. (The AP is guessing about 10%, so conservatively, 5% isn't any stretch at all.)

And supporters of the Amtrak appropriation had to beat back amendments that would have gutted and hamstrung any Amtrak management efforts at improvements.

Let us pray, for remember, with Congress, it's never too late to screw things up.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, June 08, 2008

We Can Say It Now

The primaries are over and it is going to be, by God's grace forbidding any disaster, Barack Obama vs. John McCain.

If we were to vote today and base our vote solely on the political history of the two candidates, we are afraid - very afraid - we would have to vote Democrat!

Mister Trains has always had a habit of voting for the best man, so we are not convinced that Mr. Obama is the best man overall, just the best for Passenger Rail.

If you check out this blog:
You will understand that Mr. Obama has at least a rudimentary understanding of HSR and of why trains are more fuel efficient - greener if you will - than other modes of passenger transport.

Mr. McCain has a history of criticizing Amtrak, and has said at least once that a priority for him would be shutting it down. Does anyone doubt on this date, with oil jumping up $10 in one day and gas prices well over $4 in may parts of the country, that shutting down Amtrak would be a catastrophe from which our domestic transport system would not recover?

Yes, Mr. McCain was in a legislative position in which he had to see the worst of Amtrak's failures, but no, Mr. McCain, that is not the solution to this problem. Only if we follow the current trend and gradually move Passenger Rail back into the private sector will anything like this work. McCain's motto: Millions for highways but not a penny for Amtrak.

We are going to listen hard to both candidates for the next five months. We of course won't be able to avoid it and we will be praying for ear plugs by that time. But somewhere in those words is going to be the only hope of Passenger Rail, and by God if it is Obama then so be it.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Passenger Rail and The Directionally Challenged

A large part of the job of any CSR working for a passenger transportation company - be it airline, rail or bus - is getting people to and from the terminal. People will get on the 800 number and use it like a free GPS to get directions.

It gave us the idea that Amtrak, in addition to publishing system timetables and train-specific timetables, should publish timetables that include every U.S. municipality. Not that Amtrak will probably ever serve every city, even with bus service. But in today's computer-driven age, there is no reason not to be able to publish your time from say Skokie, IL, to Union Station, Chicago, by car. And then at the other end by whatever means to whatever municipality. Sure this would take a huge book if published on paper. But on the Web, it would be child's play to design pages that would give the consumer this timetable.

This way a customer not only gets some idea of how long the total trip will take, but the customer also gets a sort of guide. Coupled with system maps, this should be an attractive draw for customers. We know there are many potential Amtrak riders that shy away from riding the train for the very reason that they do not know how to plan the non-Amtrak ends.

More specifically, in the Skokie example, the timetable could give the time at Skokie, representing the time the Skokie-ite had to leave home. Then perhaps the time at Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, and the Edens Expressway, maybe the time to park the car in some long-term facility. At the other end, a time would be shown for the transfer say from Oakland Jack London to a San Jose bound train, and then add the California train schedule with maybe time for cousin Joe to drive you from San Jose to his home.

Yes, some travel agents do this now, but only with the parts where you buy travel. If you are driving yourself, you are on your own to figure times.

Maybe this is already being done somewhere, and if it is, we would like to see Amtrak pick up on it and figure out how to do it with their own schedules.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, May 18, 2008

When Will It Hit Them?

"It" being the train, that is. And by "Them" I refer to the entire United States Government, all branches and all agencies, and all state governments. Them Politicians.

It has already hit the general public and, to some extent, private enterprise. Consistently, the railroad press and the general media carry more stories about Passenger Rail than they did just five years ago. And they are all positive – for Passenger Rail.

The media attention is in a few distinct categories, but it all shows that the general public is either becoming more aware of Passenger Rail alternatives or being pressed to do so by keen observers. The categories:

News stories of startups of new passenger service, both Amtrak and privately run.

News stories about groups that advocate Passenger Rail improvements including the institution of new lines.

Editorials advocating improvements or new lines.

Opinion pieces stating what a bunch of transportation dunderheads we have in our governments. Them Politicians.

Meanwhile, back on The Hill, Congress continues its obstructive tactics to marginalize Amtrak and snatch as much money as possible for highways and air transport.

A local buffet restaurant once placed television advertising that suggested potential customers’ ignorance of the goodness of their product by smacking them in the face with a heavy frying pan and then having the question “When will it hit you?” running over the still-ringing gong of the frying pan. Well, when the hell will it hit the government? Them Politicians.

The way we see it, government must do several things, among which are:

Fund Amtrak in an enlightened and non-politicized way. That means realistic spending on new and improved equipment and services.

Continue and increase subsidies for increased service by private carriers. Include short lines in the bidding process and don’t prohibit startups from participating.

Stop the process of hamstringing railroads with re-regulation. Possibly the only reason private rail is healthy today is the de-regulation that occurred almost three decades ago. If the so-called re-regulation takes place, limiting rate-making and abolishing the anti-trust exemption for railroads, it will take another quarter century to kill them off. So look at another fifty years before we get back to what we have today - if the politicians have anything to say about it. Unfortunately, they do.

Wise up when it comes to implementing un-realistic risk management. No mode of transport is perfectly safe.

Educate the public that Passenger Rail does not make money up front. It is a necessary public service that helps everybody else make money, increases commerce, and improves government bottom line with a rising economy.

Stop listening to the tree-huggers and NIMBYs and let Passenger Rail be the green source of transport it has always been. It is ironic that the same person who doesn’t want a train running past the house won’t complain when the same number of folks drive by in heavy-polluting SUVs.

When will it hit them?

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Transportation and Oil

Both are in crisis. Both are controversial. And in both cases, the United States Government is to stupid to see it.

These two crises are one - in more ways than one.

Both have been precipitated by long years of public and governmental complacency and by the inability of private sector businesses to see beyond the current quarter and the bottom line. Both are fed by the lack of public imagination of our politicians and by the ability of special interest groups to influence public policy.

Case one: Much of our government and most of the public doesn't think there is a transporation crisis or an oil crisis. They think of it more in terms of high prices and/or lack of service. They believe that the businesses that provide product or service can remedy any problems by not overcharging the public.

Case two: Controversy over the place for Passenger Rail in our society hasn't stopped for one second since private Passenger Rail fell in the late 60s. About the same time, controversy over whether we should be getting oil from our own shores began.

Case three: The public does not see and crisis unless it is presented as such by the media. Ditto for the government. Government and legislation chases problems that are in the news, not those that never make the front page or Nightline.

Case four: Investing in both transportation and oil production or refining right now is a risky business. The bottom line is months (many quarters) if not years away. The pension funds and the trust funds that control the equity won't stand for it.

Case five: If you can't think of an easy fix for the problem, oil or transportation, then no fix is better than a partial one. We can ride it out until a good fix comes along. This is foolhardy and won't work.

Case six: Fixes are going to cost money, and they won't come about if railroads (read Amtrak), airlines and oil companies just lower their prices. They are already all disincentivized by government, and loss of profit motive removes even more incentives for innovation.

Case seven: Environmental activists have done wonders for us since the 1970s. Think DDT and detergents in the waterways. But many if not most are now over the edge and looking for a cause that hasn't been tackled. Most of the causes are minor ones, at best, and don't require the heavy-handed approach that the major ones did. They need to pull back from both oil and transportation projects so we can actually get something done in this country. Dubai wouldn't be as spectacular if they had environmentalists to tell them they couldn't transform the pristine desert environs.

Just a few thoughts. We will shut up now.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Passenger Rail and The Traveler

Strange bedfellows? Yes, in this day and in this century and on this continent.

In North America, in the twenty-first century, and by most people, Passenger Rail is considered an anachronism. It's something your parents or grandparents - or great-grandparents - used. It has no utility beyond the museum exhibit and the tourist railroad.

Even in major cities with light rail and heavy rail commuter networks, it is not the transportation of choice for most people. If you look at the numbers, there are far more people who look at Passenger Rail as one of the following:
1. A good way to keep traffic off the streets during rush hour.
2. A deep hole into which your sales-tax or gas-tax money is thrown.
3. Not really Passenger Rail but some sort of people mover that just happens to involve tracks and trains.
Far more, that is, than actually ride the trains.

In the northeast, and little by little, people are starting to see Passenger Rail as the first choice for travel. The melt-down of the airlines and the degeneration of service from all air carriers - one that mimics the plight of Passenger Rail in the late 1960s, will probably bring more people to think of Passenger Rail as the first choice. More, that is, if there is actually Passenger Rail to choose.

We are at a turning point in the history of Passenger Rail in the United States. Other modes including the personal automobile will fail to deliver the quality we expect in the years ahead. For road transport, this will be so because of the price of fuel, but more so because of the scarcity of good roads that aren't occupied by freight - that is: Trucks. For air transport it will be because of the selective mismanagement of the airlines that again mimics the selective mismanagement of the struggling rail systems of the 1960s. (What a way to attract passengers! Start taking away amenities and charge more!)

Passenger Rail won't suffer so much because it still relies on good old free enterprise to some extent. The rails and ways that guide it will continue to be maintained and invested in by private enterprise for the foreseeable future. If we can just make sure that everyone who wants to choose the train has that option, we will be more than halfway there.

The United States has transportation so hamstrung by the mish-mash of government invervention and non-intervention that fares or user costs will probably never ever reflect the actual cost of transportation as delivered to the end-user. It would be nice if it could, because then we would have the modes competing on a level playing field and Passenger Rail (and freight rail for commodities) would win hands down. Unfortunately, our liberalized and socialized government will not be able to resist putting massive infusions of cash into failing air carriers (a subsidy) in the same way that it always resists putting subsidies into Passenger Rail.

We would like to see the unsubsidized approach, but it will never happen. So as a consumer of transportation services and as a citizen we resist the all-government approach and thank God for happy mediums.

We need to reach one soon on the transportation front. Otherwise we will all have to stay home and tend our solar panels, and travel - as a leisure activity and as a tool of trade - will be dead.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Amtrak's Little Secrets

As it is with all public entities, we are sure there are dirty little secrets at Amtrak. To the extent that these secrets are financial and hurt the cause of Passenger Rail, we decry those secrets.

Rather than go on a full-blown rampage and ask for disclosure, we would rather see Amtrak and most public agencies just get on with their business.

Congressional investigations cost time and money and do not fix problems. In most cases, the problem that precipitated the investigation has already been fixed, but Congress must know who knew what and when before it is satisfied that it has spent as much public money as possible on the subject. Congress will then move on.

Congressional investigation of Amtrak hurts its reputation and gives non-riding or yet-to-ride public the impression that Amtrak is a boondoggle and not worth taxpayer money and consideration.

So please: Would those of you who are keeping Amtrak's dirty little secrets just forget about them and get on with business? Stop stealing or cheating and get on with business! And would those of you who are trying to uncover Amtrak's dirty little secrets just put the energy into something positive?

For the latter group, why don't you get involved in something that will result in new Passenger Rail service rather than in exposing what has been? Unless you are just jealous that you didn't get in on the cheat. In that case, get out of Passenger Rail altogether!

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nothing Wrong With A Name

Thesis: Names that mean something are worth more than those that don't.

This thesis may have been false in the past. At a time earlier in the post-industrial revolution world when modern meant both new and unique, brand names that tangentially invoked their product's purpose or appearance were probably pretty popular. Otherwise so many of them would not have survived into the twenty-first century.

We are thinking Passenger Rail and comparing names like Amtrak and Metra to names like Rail Runner Express or North Star Express or even Metro North. The latter of which at least uses two words that were a part of the English language before the invention of the particular rail service described.

Every successful passenger system in the world names the really good trains. Those systems that are exceptional make use of system names that carry both bearing and pride, and that say, "This is a successful railroad."

We dislike the following railroad names: Metra, CSX, BNSF Railway, etc. We like Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern (even though the parent company tends to initialize as KCS Industries), Canadian Pacific, etc. We think a descriptive name is worth a thousand recognitions of the manufactured one.

Amtrak is a shortening of America and Track. Why it wasn't spelled Amtrack probably has more to do with the mindset of advertising agencies than with saving paint on one "c", but we don't know for sure. It's a misnomer, because we were saving passenger trains, not track. Amtrain would actually have been more descriptive, and we can go on to the realms of the ridiculous.

Were Amtrak to redo its image as something else, changing the name to something recognizable would be both valuable and important. Off the head-top, we could think of a dozen names that would at once be more descriptive, romantic, user-friendly and melodius. We aren't going to share all of them, but even something like North America Intercity Railway sounds better than Aaaaam-traaackkkk. Railway of the United States.

We could be truthful: United States' Taxpayer's Railway

We could be romantic: Great Eastern and Western Overland Route

We could be playful: Trains To Everywhere

Or truthful again if Amtrak doesn't shape up: Trains To Nowhere

How about catchy without going the acronym route? Fun Trains Rail

Or green: The Energy Saver Route.

Or satisfy the accountants: The Billion-Dollar Down The Hole and Western

We are just kidding . . . but you see what we are getting at. After all this time Amtrak is no longer a valuable name and needs to be dumped.

Nothing wrong with a name, if it means something.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nuclear Locomotives & Public Perception

A retired nuclear engineer from Sandia National Laboratories, no less, recently got a letter published in the Albuquerque Journal "Outlook" business section. We can't link you to the article here, but we will summarize. We won't name the engineer because it is not our intention to embarass him, just to point out some salient facts.

Mr. Retired Engineer wants to know why we don't just shift every bloomin' truckload off the highways and onto the rails. He has realized that the saving in crew costs and the savings in fuels would be tremendous.

Next, Mr. R.E. suggests that we pull the freight train with nuclear powered locomotives. (Then he goes a little off the deep end and suggests that the whole Navy should go nuclear and we should use nuclear powered desalination plants to provide fresh water.)

We are going to give Mr. R. E. the benefit of the doubt and assume he is a scientist and well educated. We are also going to assume that he is in the habit of applying logical thinking to problem solving.

With those assumptions, we can only conclude that Mr. R. E. looks at the railroad tracks in his neighborhood and assumes that, because trains are not flowing like trucks on the highway, the tracks are underutilized. This may be the case, but since he is in New Mexico and abreast of the BNSF Transcon, we can only assume that he is ignorant of what it takes in cost, manpower, maintenance and environmental impact to increase the capacity of our freight rail system. (The Transcon is always running at capacity.)

This is not a blog about Freight Rail, but this is true of Passenger Rail, too. The general public has no idea of the cost of increased capacity, or of the lead time necessary to create such capacity. This appears to be a problem with public perception in general and it applies to more than just railroads. (Think oil and gas and refineries.)

Then there are the nuclear locomotives. Mr. R. E., those of us in our 60s now all thought this would happen long ago. But there are a few problems, one of which is weight. Diesel power happens to be extraordinarily suited to the tractive force vs. engine weight equation. Yes, most diesels as they came from the factory will provide more tractive force with more weight and get better fuel economy. But weight increases track forces, track wear, and hence track maintenance.

Another problem with all of this is public inertia. The general public thinks "China Syndrome" and "Three Mile Island" when it thinks nuclear. The general public, thanks to the media, also thinks toxic hazardous material spill, death, and litigation when it thinks of railroads. That's why there is a movement afoot for cities to get railroads to build bypasses.

The NIMBYs control what happens next. Some of this goes back to the weight equation. So much radiation shielding would be required that weight would be prohibitive.

Only one way could be devised to nuke all locomotives. Build a land-based power plant and feed the power through standard catenary ala Northeast Corridor to electric locomotives. Voila! But see my comments re: costs below.

It's a real hoot to think of trying to drive a nuclear powered locomotive through any inhabited area, let alone also pulling a train full of potentially toxic materials through a heavily populated one. It's nice that Mr. R. E. still has the naive sense of the invincibility of science that probably brought him to become a research scientist.

Unfortunately, in the land of railroading, be it Freight or Passenger Rail, we have to get real. And reality is, we would have to quadruple the capacity of freight railroads, or pentuple it if we increase Amtrak routes, in order to even come close to carrying half the freight that highway trucks now carry. If we started now and spent TRILLIONS of dollars, it would take us at the very least a DECADE, and probably TWO DECADES to accomplish this. (Maybe three decades if we have to build new electric facilities, catenary and the locomotives to use it.) This writer and Mr. R. E. may not live to see it.

We are truly behind the eight ball. So you younger scientists out there, please come up with ideas that will work. But keep it real. And ABQ Journal editors, if you are reading this, please use your column inches for ideas that make sense.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Mister Trains is gratified by all the recent responses (both comment and email) for the past week. Regrets that we have not had enough time to prep a subject to post. Seems we get less and less of that time which doesn't require working to make ends meet.

But thanks all for recent responses and keep hitting this page just to connect to other sites, please.

Happy train riding.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Follow the Cash

Please read .

Who has most of the loose cash to spend? And who needs to find ways to keep getting people through the doors despite the faultering economy?

No, it's not a government subsidized polling place. It's Indian Gaming!

Amtrak and anyone else trying to get Passenger Rail and/or HSR going in this country needs to look at Indian Gaming as a potential partner. Routing new trains through or very near casinos, perhaps with connecting light rail or monorail lines (a la Vegas' successful/unsuccessful monorail), needs to be given heavy thought and probable priority.

We in New Mexico already have stops near Indian casinos. But Gov. Richardson missed the boat when he didn't ask them to pony up some of the costs. Maybe he still can.

In other places, like Minnesota, it's still possible to get them involved and get our train-loving hands on some of their cash.

We are being a bit course, of course, but this is a real win-win situation for both the tribes and the trains. We hope Amtrak and every state agency now thinking of sponsoring and funding passenger rail reads this. Readers please help by forwarding this post to any projects in your state.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, March 02, 2008


As the United States' prosperity grew and the fortune's of the freight railroads grew with it during the past two decades, we failed in making public policy that took advantage of our prosperity. It is now ironic that some in government would re-establish regulation of the railroads in the face of a faltering economy.

It is more ironic that, as the economy erodes, as the environment looms ever larger in concern, and as energy becomes harder to make and harder to buy, we will need the railroads, and Passenger Rail, more than ever.

We fear we have missed our chance, that a downturn in the economy will now make it both economically and politically impossible to start the projects we as a country need to keep our transportation systems viable.

It is also ironic that the passenger transportation mode that is most energy efficient - bar none - is the mode that gets shafted when it comes to both public funding and public planning. And let's face it, we can't convince our politicians to pay for something that is unplanned and spontaneous. We need a public policy that says the government will back plans that are good and viable, and in fact welcome those plans. No more of the "don't bother me with that" attitude from Congress and the administration - any administration - when it comes to Passenger Rail.

If you can't see the need for Passenger Rail, take a few airline flights. You soon will. If you can't see the need for Passenger Rail, ride an intercity bus. You soon will. If you can't see the need for Passenger Rail, drive an Interstate on a Sunday evening when the rested truckers are making their last haul to the Monday delivery point and clogging all lanes. You soon will. If you can't see the need for Passenger Rail, ride Amtrak and imagine what it would be like if the schedule you are on is multiplied to two to four trains a day, and on time. You soon will.

Please forward this post to every politician for which you are eligible to vote in your district. Maybe they soon will, too.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Intermodal Includes Passengers

At least in some places on the planet. Why can't KCS invest this kind of cash in the US?

First there would be the NIMBYs, although they are getting weaker as we talk. More and more people are realizing that good Passenger Rail service is a necessity, not a tourist attraction or a luxury.

Then there is the problem that our freight railroads are overloaded and none of them want to add the burden of Passenger Rail. In Panama, granted, it is for tourism, but they can squeeze it in even on the overburdened rail system. Why? Because the dollars are there.

Bottom line is that the railroad wants to make money for its stockholders. In fact, it must. We tend to forget that a corporation has a contractual and common law duty, called a fiduciary duty, to use any means possible to make money and not to squander the investments already in there.

But we get just a little worried when we hear of all the advancement in Passenger Rail systems worldwide, even in what we would consider Third World. Doesn't it make anyone just a little bit uncomfortable that, while the United States fritters away dollars and political capital on fruitless economic stimulus, much of the rest of the world has seen the light?

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 17, 2008


We have been reading much in recent days about successful Passenger Rail projects. The most recent newsletter from NARP (see link at right) has a list of completed projects and future projects.

We are proud of and thank God for the completions. We are happy with the number of projects in the works for completion in the next five to seven years. But we are frustrated by two things.

The first is that many of the projects in the works will be stalled, cancelled or downgraded because of the current lack of federal funding and the downturn in the economy. The politicians think they can do a whole lot about the latter, but they can't. They could fix the former, but won't in any election year.

The second thing that frustrates us is the low percentage of future projects that are for intercity rail. Yes, Passenger Rail is just as important to the urban network. But intercity Passenger Rail is and has to be the wave of the future if we are to wean ourselves from expensive oil and from overcrowded overreliance on the highway and air transport system.

Only two frustrations? you ask. More actually. Some of which involve the way our overblown, self-important bureaucracy tends to feed on its young. Such as the FRA taking the tightest, most literal construction for ADA compliance of all Passenger Rail station platforms. (Very well reported in the March 2008 Trains.)

There is no reason for some of it, and some of it comes from the abject fear of being sued, which is fostered by our system of torts. Most judges never met a lawsuit they didn't like.

We hope that next February, NARP's list of future projects is longer and has more intercity rail on it.

©2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Time for Passenger Rail

We are linking you to this article by Arthur Frommer on the Lakeland, FL, Ledger's Web site:

The reason? We agree with everything Mr. Frommer has to say about the future of Passenger Rail in these United States. We also agree that one of the best things we who want Passenger Rail in this nation's future can do is urge all who will listen not to vote for incumbents who do not support subsidizing Passenger Rail. That sounds like too many negatives. What we are saying is, "Throw the bums out."

The Task is the creation of a modern Passenger Rail system that serves all of the population centers of this great nation.

We are still unwilling to agree with those who think the entity called Amtrak must survive and carry on The Task. Whatever form it takes, Pasenger Rail must be more market sensitive and less strapped for cash than Amtrak has been in all of its history. Whether Amtrak can evolve enough to accomplish this remains to be seen. Whether our Congress can evolve enough to accomplish The Task is doubtful, given the full court press we have seen from some of our senators and representatives to altogether dump the "anachronism" that they see as Passenger Rail.

So we are also unwilling to agree that any incumbent can survive and change enough to carry on The Task. With the presidential contestants almost in the bag -- it will be Hillarobama v. John "I was a prisoner of war - support the War" McCain -- the best thing we can do for now is build up a groundswell against all who vote regularly against subsidizing a national passenger rail system. (Alternately: "for" all those who support the subsidy. But throwing out the bastards will be oh so much more satisfying, won't it? And incumbents already carry more baggage than an Amtrak Superliner.)

Remember, the President is an administrator, while the Congress legislates. If we can get a majority "for" Passenger Rail in both the Senate and House, we don't need no stinking President.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Global Warming?

Forgive our cynicism when two of Amtrak's premier (if there is such a thing) trains have been plagued by weather in recent days. On top of which, on the surface anyway, it would appear that the weather is not what one would expect from global warming.

Let Mister Trains warn any readers of this blog who are tempted to comment extensively on the Church of Global Warming, this writer is a scientist by education. We understand that this could be extremely wet weather fueled by climate change. We also understand the data does not support the theory - yes theory - that climate change is caused by the activities of man.

But isn't it ironic that one of the few modes of motor-driven transport that would meet all the criteria for those concerned with GW is not able to match wits with it? If, and we say if, GW is a reality and if, and we say if, we can reverse it by changing our ways, it is too bad that our Passenger Rail system is so pared to the bone that it can't cope with route blockages. (Granted, in the case of the trains stalled on the Donner Pass route, it wasn't really the weather but a man-caused mistake that cut the route.)

Those of us who support an expanded Passenger Rail system, and who are not members of the Church of GW, need to curb our skepticism and see this as a grand opportunity to use public opinion, however misguided, to get what we have always said is our goal: Better Passenger Rail in the United States.

Some of the many dollars in gross product that will be spent on curbing GW can be spent on Passenger Rail.

Amen to that.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Politician For Passenger Rail

We are going to go out on a limb and post an email we received from Illinois U. S. Senate Candidate Andy Martin. Please note that this is copyright material, and we are taking his forwarding of this to us as permission to reprint it without change or further comment.

(CHICAGO)(January 22, 2008) The newly-released “Report of the National Surface Transportation policy and Revenue Study Commission” strongly supports U. S. Senate candidate Andy Martin’s high-speed dedicated rail “One Illinois” passenger train proposal.,1,1446677.column “Last month I proposed the ‘One Illinois’ Plan to link Illinois’s cities and the Midwest region with high-speed dedicated rail service,” Martin stated. “I am very pleased that the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has essentially endorsed the same goals. “The year 2009 is critical for every Illinoisan. That is when federal transportation legislation will be reviewed and revamped. If Illinois does not have a strong voice in Washington, we will be losers again. “We need to create an integrated transportation system for Illinois and the Midwest. High-speed trains would run from Milwaukee to St. Louis and Carbondale, from the Quad Cities and Peoria to Indianapolis, all connecting through the Chicago area. We would tie our state together and the region’s economy closer together. High-speed rail to Rockford would allow both Rockford and O’Hare to grow and save billions of dollars in wasted spending for An unnecessary third airport. People from Southern Illinois could get to major cities. Real estate values would be revived. “It is no secret that our economy and the world economy are under strain. These strains are not going to disappear overnight. A public works program based on productive investment in transportation infrastructure would help revitalize Illinois’ economy as well as the region’s economic base. “Dick Durbin has been an embarrassing failure on transportation issues and rail issues. His promises of new Toonerville Trolleys for Illinois, slow “Durbin Mule Trains,” are a disgrace and a manifestation of his incompetence. The rest of the world is moving forward with high-speed rail. We are falling behind. Our leaders in Washington have failed us. It is time for a change. It is time for Dick Durbin to ride one of his mule trains back home, although given Durbin’s ‘Potomac Fever’ he will probably stay in Washington after he is defeated.”------------------------------------------© Copyright by Andy Martin 2008. Chicago-based Martin holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (312) 440-4124. Web site: Also:;

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More Front Runners

And we are not referring to the commuter rail service in Utah.

As of this writing, Sens. Clinton and McCain appear to be in a primary winning mode. How do they fare on Passenger Rail?

Sen. McCain has been not voting for most critical Amtrak legislation. He is not vocally for any form of Passenger Rail. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to find one of his speeches that even mentions rail tranportation. We do not think that a President McCain would be a friend of Amtrak or of Passenger Rail.

On the other hand, Sen. Clinton is quite vocal about Passenger Rail and has strongly advocated spending that would improve - not just New York - but national long-distance Passenger Rail. Her voting record on Amtrak does leave something to be desired, but she has supported major initiatives that would fund a modern rail passenger transportation system. She doesn't flinch at the prospect of spending billions.

Of the front-running candidates we have looked at so far, Hillary Clinton seems to be one of our best hopes for the expansion and improvement of Passenger Rail in this country.

In future blogs, we will look at the Passenger Rail records of other presidential candidates that may still have a chance at their party's nomination.

© 2008 - C. A. Turek -