Bet most of you thought I had given up on this blog.
Not so: I had unfortunately little time the past two months to put any thoughts together. Much as I would like, I do not earn a living from writing, so employment responsibilities took priority.
The I got sick Christmas Eve, and the damn infection nearly did me in.
So here I am recuperating and finally getting to write.
I see that Mr. Boardman has finally got off his duff and decided to order cars and locomotives for Amtrak. The reports that I have seen so far do not carry a lot of specifics, such as: Are there any plans for these cars and locos, or are we just replacing worn out stuff for now? But anything new for Amtrak is good news. As the economy starts chugging - still waiting - Amtrak ridership should pick up. Amtrak should plan to take advantage where and when it can. It will still be a long time before the states will be able to pick up any more tabs.
The situations with the states are getting worse. Those that weren't bankrupt last year are close to it now. There is a lot of reliance on "stimulus" money, a lot of which has not been spent. There's also a study out that says that stumulus money spent on roads does not generate jobs. I would bet this is not true of Passenger Rail.
North America has to make a decision on HSR. Is it going to grow incrementally from existing routes, or are we going to spend the money on entirely new tracks (right of way) that will complement freight rail but not supplement it or interfere with it. Incremental growth seems like the easiest way, and costs less in the short term. Because politicians don't see beyond the next election cycle, I think we will wind up with incremental. Too bad, bacause new right of way is the better choice for the middle to distant future.
Meanwhile, back at the outhouse, things are piling up. Amtrak's dismal performance in what was not the worst winter weather out on the plains (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-il-delayedtrain,0,4322065.story ) demonstrates how close the trainsets and the operating personnel are to being just plain worn out. Any plans should include equipment that can scoff at winter weather and become a lifeline when road and air are snowed in.
Finally, federal regulation won't go away. (Edicts from above for passenger car strength and for positive train control in just the past two days.) History tells us that the freight railroads (read private enterprise) vigorously resists regs and spend money to do it, it also says that Amtrak tends to work within the regs. Lets hope that some thought is put into making the new orders for cars and locomotives compliant for not just the near future but for the life of the equipment, and equipment that, for the near term, continues to make the freight railroads happy and willing to forward Amtrak trains over the road in a timely manner.
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