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 -