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2

Realizing trains’ natural advantage in serving passengers with disabilities

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Note: This is an update of a report I authored for the February 2013 issue of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ NARP News, while I was employed by the Association. Americans with physical disabilities face challenges in getting from A to B from a combination of factors that people without a disability tend to overlook. This is true no matter which mode of travel one chooses. But trains, at least in theory, should be easier to access for those with physical disabilities beca...
6

Giving thanks for passenger trains, and the communities they bring together

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
As I write this, I am in a Business Class seat aboard Amtrak train 79, the southbound Carolinian. I am headed back to North Carolina from Washington, DC, to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving. It’s the day before the holiday, and we are heading southward over the former RF&P on-time as a winter storm hovers over the Northeast. The rain had begun to change to snow as I was leaving DC, but it became rain again as I approached Fredericksburg, VA, and mostly tapered off by the time ...
11

Burgeoning PA short line serves up delightful excursions. Could it become a bigger passenger carrier?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
On any given day, one could have awoken in the small city of Pottsville, nestled in the Appalachian hills of east-central Pennsylvania, walked down to Union Station, and climbed aboard a train for a three-hour ride along the wooded shores of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal. The train would have been a service of the Reading Company, later Conrail and later the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). From the 1950s till its demise in 1981, one woul...
13

Amtrak's Autumn Express: Rare mileage in hot demand

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
On Sunday, I was aboard only the fourth special rare-mileage trip that Amtrak has operated and offered to the public on its own (as opposed to operating charter trips for which tickets are sold by another entity, usually a railroad historical society), each of which sold out quickly — three sold out within a few hours of tickets becoming available. This was Amtrak’s second annual Autumn Express Train. The trip took nine and a half hours round-trip to cover 240 mostly rare miles, with...
12

Transportation at the ballot box

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Was transportation one of the foremost issues on your mind when you went to the polls yesterday (or within the past three weeks, if you voted early or by mail)? I’m sure some of you considered candidates’ positions on rail funding and policies when you filled out your ballot. But I’m guessing that the answer for most of you is no, unless there was a transportation-specific measure or referendum on your ballot, or a transportation issue was a particular topic of contention in on...
10

Merger Talk – An Unnecessary Distraction

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
The recent discussion of Class I railroad mergers, prompted by the news that Canadian Pacific had approached CSX about a possible merger, has been a waste of precious time and intellectual resources among leaders and knowledgeable consultants in the industry. A common refrain heard for the past few weeks is that “this is not a good time to be discussing mergers,” referring to the key challenges the industry faces in the autumn of 2014. The next question, “If now is not a good t...
5

Andrew G. Harmantas – A Remembrance

Posted 2 years ago by Geoffrey H. Doughty
Along with names we associate with railroad art, Fogg, Rose, Danneman, is another – Harmantas. Like all artists, he had his own style and his own devoted following of those who warmed to it. And, in common with the others, his pictures told a story, but to each viewer the story held a personal connection. Art, of course, is subjective in nature…either it speaks to you or it doesn’t. That’s the secret gift of a great artist. Andrew Harmantas had that gift. Artists are o...
34

Amtrak food service doesn’t make money on its own. But that’s not its purpose.

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
On-board food & beverage (F&B) service is expensive to provide, particularly in terms of labor, and dining cars on the long-distance trains (source of over 90% of Amtrak’s F&B losses) will probably never completely cover their costs through direct revenue. But diners are an essential component of the longer-distance train travel experience that, if eliminated, would result in ticket revenue declines greater than the current gap between F&B costs and direct revenues, and F&a...
2

From lines on a map to more punctual trains

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Before returning to Washington, DC after meeting with regional transportation leaders around the southwestern US, FRA Administrator Joe Szabo stopped in Salt Lake City to address the annual fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP, for which I serve on the national advisory body in an elected, volunteer position). His meetings in the region surrounded the unveiling of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA first regional vision map based on the three levels...
2

How scenic excursions help sustain a positive image of train travel

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
What makes passenger trains special is that they are about taking in the journey as much as getting to a destination. In the case of tourist and excursion trains, the journey is the destination, so these operations thrive either on spectacular scenery or on providing a connection with history. Some of the best known tourist railways, such as Colorado’s Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, combine both. And in my neck of the woods, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and the Stra...
23

Is there a solution to the graffiti problem?

Posted 2 years ago by Payson Wild
Graffiti on railroad equipment is epidemic, of course, in the early 21st Century. If there is a graffiti-free freight car anywhere in the US, Canada and Mexico, it has been just released from the manufacturing plant or repair facility. It will not be long before it is “tagged.” Unfortunately, graffiti on freight cars has replaced the old slogans the public use to see including such monikers as “Route of the 400s, Way of the Zephyrs, Santa Fe all the way” etc. Those fre...
4

Putting the power of the purse in citizens' hands

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
If you had your choice of ways to spend public money on transportation improvements, and of ways to increase revenues in order to pay for these improvements, which would you prioritize? If average citizens were able to use a simple model of large, complex budgets to demonstrate their priorities — both how they would prefer to pay (through taxes, fees, tolls, bonds, etc.) and where they’d prefer to see more or less money spent — I’m willing to bet that runaway spending on ...
1

Big railroads equal big data

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
One of the latest business buzzwords to hit the street is the term “big data.”  You’ll hear this term used in reference to nearly all types of business activity, including online shopping, health care, manufacturing, and even railroading.  “Big data” essentially refers to the tremendous amount of data that can be collected through computers as companies conduct their daily business, and how they use that data to improve performance.  Now that the evol...
9

When and where did the “diesel that did it” actually do it?

Posted 2 years ago by Bill Metzger
When former Senior Editor Matt Van Hattem and I talked about this map last year, we figured it would be relatively easy to do.  After all, it would celebrate the 75th anniversary of the FT diesel’s epic tour and be based on the map that ran in the February, 1960 issue of Trains.            My idea was to build on the existing map and add an itinerary consisting of the dates and mileage on each railroad.  Piece a cake, right?       &nb...
11

Lessons from Indiana’s experiment with intercity passenger train competition

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Corrected on October 7, 2014 Thanks to the power granted to the states to oversee the provision of short-distance (750 total route miles or fewer) intercity passenger train service by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, several states are investigating the possibility of contracting with companies other than Amtrak to operate these services. And a host of companies is competing with Amtrak for this business. Most of them are established operators of commuter rail and tran...
11

The Supreme Court could change the face of American intercity passenger rail. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The US Supreme Court’s decision early next year in the dispute over on-time performance metrics and standards for Amtrak trains using freight railroads’ tracks could have implications beyond the fate of those standards, depending on how the case (US Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, 13-1080) is decided. If the court issues a general interpretation of Amtrak’s status — that it should be treated as a government agency for most intents and pu...
1

Greetings from Cumberland! There’s coal smoke, blue skies, and a hint of fall color!

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Abundant sunshine, steam locomotives, Amtrak’s Exhibit Train, and a variety of model train display and vendors are just a few of the amenities offered at the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s Steel Wheels Festival in Cumberland. Steam railroading is potent in the Queen City this weekend… I awoke early this morning to the sound of 2-8-0 No. 734’s unmistakable whistle as it disembarked from the railroad’s Ridgley shops across the river in West Virginia with its Fros...
7

Are Americans’ travel choices truly safe or efficient?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Safety and efficiency. These two concepts constitute the primary goals of the planning and operation of transportation systems. While transportation serves as the backbone of the economy and has a host of impacts, positive and negative, on people’s lives and livelihoods, the only factors that most people consider on a daily basis when deciding how to travel are “Is it safe?” and “Does it get me (or the goods I’m shipping) to my destination quickly?” At least t...
4

The Killdeer and the Caboose

Posted 2 years ago by Kathy Keane
My pickup truck is creeping along the Interstate 5 Freeway toward downtown Los Angeles on an early morning in late June, when the sky’s yellow glare promises a climb from comfortable temperatures to the humid upper 80’s by noon.  I take the Soto Street exit and drive past abandoned warehouses and cement plants before turning right onto Washington Boulevard and right again into a construction yard.  I wave to the security guard, who gives me a nod and a smile, and I wind my ...
8

How to illustrate delights of train travel

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
When advocates of increased investment in passenger train equipment and infrastructure make our case to elected officials, we generally emphasize the boost that this investment offers to the economy, the importance of providing mobility choices to otherwise isolated populations without easy access to cars and air travel, and the energy efficiency and reduced pollution that would come from shifting more car and air trips to the rails. These arguments are solid and backed by evidence, but they ten...
11

Dinner in the diner: it's tough to make it finer

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
I returned to Washington, DC from a conference in Minneapolis last weekend via Amtrak. At least I intended to go the whole way by train. In the past, I would have simply booked a through reservation from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Washington, with connection at Chicago. However, for the last few months, due to the Empire Builder’s chronically poor timekeeping, the guaranteed connections from the eastbound Builder to all trains at Chicago except the City of New Orleans and Lake Shore Limited h...
7

Will the NRHS Survive? Part Three: What Comes Next?

Posted 2 years ago by John Hankey
Many thanks to all of you who offered such useful (and civil) suggestions and criticism. This is the kind of discussion that is difficult to initiate, and even harder to sustain. It can be extraordinarily useful when engaged by people with a willingness to be reasonable and look forward. The next few months are going to be difficult for the national NRHS as it decides what kind of organization it wants to be, and as it fights for its life against a nasty lawsuit. It will be hard for the chapter...
14

There's Nothing Like a Dome Car

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
I had ridden Amtrak’s California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Cardinal and Adirondack routes before, and thoroughly enjoyed taking in their scenic wonders from either the Superliner Sightseer Lounge car or my coach seat. But being able to experience these four routes in a dome car took the already unmatched experience of the landscape that train travel gives you to a whole new level. The Sightseer Lounge comes close, allowing one a fairly complete view to both sides as well as upward. But addin...
9

Will the NRHS Survive? Part Two: Whose NRHS is it, Anyway?

Posted 2 years ago by John Hankey
Over the past couple of weeks the conversation about the future of the National Railway Historical Society has opened up considerably, and that is a good thing. I have always had great respect for the NRHS and its accomplishments. It was 1968 or thereabouts when I signed on to the Baltimore Chapter, and I've been a member of the NRHS off and on, here and there, ever since. Whether the NRHS survives and prospers is not an abstract question to me, or to anyone interested in railroading. We should...
6

World’s first railroad didn’t expect to carry passengers, but made money doing so

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
I find myself back in class this semester after having been out of school for six years. I received my bachelor’s degree in 2008 and, though I have weathered the Great Recession better than many in my cohort, I’ve decided to pursue a master’s degree as a way to improve my career prospects and eventually put myself in a position to play a satisfying role in the nascent resurgence of passenger rail and other alternatives to the drive-fly duopoly that permeates Americans’ ch...
18

Where is Amtrak's desire to grow and advance?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
In the cover story of this month’s issue of railroad industry trade journal Progressive Railroading, several top Amtrak officials tout the company’s shift towards operating in a more businesslike manner, which the article describes as “taking a hard line on expenses, continually seeking to grow revenue, becoming more financially transparent and accountable, and providing the best possible customer service.” While this all sounds well and good, and many aspects of the chan...
18

Will the NRHS Survive? Part One: How did we get to this point?

Posted 2 years ago by John Hankey
Not to put too fine a point on things, but the national organization of the NRHS is in a pretty tight spot. Whether the National Railway Historical Society survives through the end of the year is in serious doubt. Their own newsletter mentions serious financial and organizational challenges, while otherwise cheerily describing business as usual. The NRHS membership has legitimate grounds to wonder just what is going on and what version of the several "truths" flying around they should heed. And...

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