Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Automated Railroading

The terrible wreck on the DC Metro last week got me thinking about automated railroading in general.

Let me first say that I have ridden the Metro and I have always been very impressed by it. I have never felt any fear at all that the automated systems were unreliable or would result in such a wreck.

Nonetheless, as we move toward further reliance on automatic train stop and other systems for Passenger Rail, I wonder what will happen when the money runs out. Granted, there is more focus on the lack of reinforced car ends and anticlimber engineering for the cars than there is on the automated system that would have had to fail in order for the DC wreck to happen. These cars didn't have the engineering due to lack of cash. And it remains to be seen whether the system failure was also because of deferred spending.

What happens to our automated systems when the money runs out? It will run out, you know. Someday, the pendulum will swing back in the other direction and nobody will want government to subsidize rail again. The question becomes: Do we spend enough now to design fail-safe systems that will be able to age gracefully? And do we spend enough time to retain the necessary skills among our railroaders so that, when and if the systems fail, we can still run trains the old way?

It's interesting to think of what Passenger Rail in the United States will be like in 20 or 30 years. Hope I'm around to see it, whatever it is like.

©2009 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Chicago to Iowa City - I'd Ride It

If I still lived in the Chicago area.

Getting out to Iowa City used to be one of my favorites. It's a beautiful city with a thriving university campus and sites of historical interest. I used to do it for an overnight or two. Out - overnight - and back.

That's probably how Amtrak service would go. But with a five-hour schedule (one way) it would be possible to spend a 15-hour day and five of those could be for business or shopping in one city or the other.

I'm speaking from the big-city perspective, however. The train would be of even more benefit for Iowans, as they would pick up the brunt of the subsidy, but could look forward to visiting downtown Chicago more often with less headache than driving. If the train is scheduled correctly.

I fear that with a lot of these new proposed startup Amtrak routes, the freight railroads will prevail and the schedules will be adjusted (or crimped by bad or felonious dispatching) into what the host rail wants or needs to get its freight over the road. There will be less incentive as freight traffic (unsubsidized as of today, but bailouts happen) takes it in the shorts from the lousy economy. But if both the economy and the new Amtrak routes come on line at the same time, you know absolutely which will bite the bullet. And it won't be the new route.

But making an overnight isn't so bad in Iowa City or in Chicago - though more expensive in the latter. I'd ride it anyway.

©2009 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com