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 -