Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This Week In Amtrak

An Amtrak train on the NEC in NJ, as seen from...Image via Wikipedia

This Week at Amtrak; September 14, 2009

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America’s foremost passenger rail policy institute

1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 • Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail •

Volume 6, Number 38

Founded over three decades ago in 1976, URPA is a nationally known policy institute which focuses on solutions and plans for passenger rail systems in North America. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, URPA has professional associates in Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Texas, New York, and other cities. For more detailed information, along with a variety of position papers and other documents, visit the URPA web site at

URPA is not a membership organization, and does not accept funding from any outside sources.

1) The late Austin Coates, the founder of United Rail Passenger Alliance, was known to one and all as a courtly, Southern gentleman. Always quick with a friendly handshake, and at a times a poignant pause which was sincere in every way, he did have his grumpy moments in his later years. When Amtrak had been particularly naughty, he was known to say, “They ought to just pull ‘em over and park ‘em,” referring to Amtrak’s trains serving the various united states.

It’s hard to say at this moment what Mr. Coates would say about Amtrak’s naughtiness, but, in honesty, it may not be entirely fit for a family publication, such would be his many frustrations with Amtrak today.

Actually, his “pull ‘em over and park ‘em” may be just what needs to happen.

After that happened, then the parked trains should have a new paint job slapped on them (a la Amtrak Day, May 1, 1971), and a new operator should take over Amtrak’s route system; an operator which would actually be interested in running passenger trains.

Veolia? Herzog? Virgin? Where are you? We need you.

We have all been waiting months for Amtrak, with its fourth president (And, the current one only an interim president.) in less than 10 years, to come up with some – any – vision for the future. It hasn’t happened.

Reports have come (See the last issue of This Week at Amtrak.) Amtrak really isn’t interested in “slow trains,” but wants to jump into the high speed rail game, and place all of its focus there.


Since Amtrak can’t properly operate a conventional speed passenger rail system effectively, what proof is there Amtrak can operate a high speed rail system properly?

And, this one rather significant fact comes into play: High speed systems need conventional speed rail feeder system to make them work efficiently. Since Amtrak hasn’t accomplished that first, well, why would anyone with a rational mind entrust them with a whole new set of trains?

So, here’s the rational thought. If Amtrak management wants to go chasing after the future of high speed rail and compete with the likes of the successful European operators, we should let them. Shovel a few million bucks their way every year to keep the team together, and let them plot and plan to their collective hearts’ desire. It would be cheap by anyone’s measure to pay these folks to do something different.

While current Amtrak senior managers can work themselves silly in their new offices, real railroad managers, who not only know how to run a railroad, but WANT to run a passenger railroad, can take over Amtrak, and run and grow and expand the company the way it deserves to be run.

Veolia? Herzog? Virgin? Are you there?

All of these people like to run trains. Why not let them?

Here is what one TWA reader had to say after publication of the last TWA.

[Begin quote]

Here's a thought: why not simply invite TALGO to carefully replace train by train, line by line Amtrak's existing network, with TALGO assuming all maintenance on all Talgo equipment? The argument that TALGO can't use the NE Corridor's high level platforms is ridiculous; back in the mid-50's the New Haven Railroad's Talgo (John Quincy Adams) loaded and unloaded at the high level platforms in Grand Central Terminal on a daily basis.

A Talgo SILVER METEOR or a Talgo LAKE SHORE LIMITED are not difficult to imagine (including sleeping and dining facilities) and the Talgo tilt-feature would allow cuts in running time on EVERY route on EVERY train (imagine what a TALGO could do on the curvy route of the CARDINAL). TALGO is existing, proven technology THAT WORKS.

Washington state's Talgo CASCADES have a stellar record of reliability and passengers love them. Best of all, they're relatively INEXPENSIVE. What's not to like? As for FRA regulations, I have faith that serious Talgo engineering should be able to come up with acceptable solutions to all concerns about crashworthiness and safety.

[End quote]

Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

2) Who would be winners, and who would be losers in this process? What would it take to make this happen.

First, it would literally take an act of Congress. Congress created Amtrak, Congress keeps Amtrak alive, and Congress can transfer Amtrak to another management team.

Second, this is a no-brainer for Amtrak’s unions. Beyond Amtrak headquarters in Washington and the Northeast Corridor, there is literally an entire country full of Amtrak union workers who would love to have an expanded system to work on and help grow. A more aggressive passenger rail management would certainly require more workers, creating more union jobs.

Third, Amtrak’s current suppliers probably wouldn’t care who they sell to, as along as they are selling. No love lost there.

Fourth, Amtrak’s current state partners often question Amtrak’s rather high-handed approach to “partnerships,” and most likely would enjoy working with a more professional organization like Veolia, which already has contracts with over 500 cities and states around the world to run transit system.

Fifth, just to use on example, Veolia, under the leadership of Executive Vice President Ron Hartman, is filled on its front lines with some of the best ex-Amtrakers in the country (Mr. Hartman himself is a former Amtraker.).

Sixth, turning over the keys to the kingdom would be much easier today than it was on May 1, 1971; after all, a company completely in place is much easier to transition than putting together a new network made up of parts from over a dozen older networks.

We have all had enough of Amtrak’s foot dragging, whining, and inability to operate passenger trains in a professional manner. Amtrak has espoused no vision for the future, and somehow expects all of us to simply fall in line to what it says, without relevant questioning.

It’s time for that to stop.

It’s time for someone to be proactive.

It’s time for Amtrak as we know it today to come to an end, and a new operator for America’s tattered and tottering passenger rail system to come to the front and take over.

Every taxpayer in America will be better for it, and every Amtrak employee will have new, better employer with the ability to pay prevailing wages and offer better security.

All it takes is – literally – an act of Congress.

Call your congressman and senators today. You will be glad you did.

If you are reading someone else’s copy of This Week at Amtrak, you can receive your own free copy each edition by sending your e-mail address to

You MUST include your name, preferred e-mail address, and city and state where you live. If you have filters or firewalls placed on your Internet connection, set your e-mail to receive incoming mail from; we are unable to go through any approvals processes for individuals. This mailing list is kept strictly confidential and is not shared or used for any purposes other than distribution of This Week at Amtrak or related URPA materials.

All other correspondence, including requests to unsubscribe should be addressed to

Copies of This Week at Amtrak are archived on URPA’s web site, and also on where other rail-related writings of Bruce Richardson may also be found.

URPA leadership members are available for speaking engagements.

J. Bruce Richardson


United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203

Jacksonville, Florida 32217-2006 USA

Telephone 904-636-7739

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments: