Romance of the Rails

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Romance of the Rails
Posted by ttrraaffiicc on Thursday, October 15, 2020 9:19 PM

I will keep this to a minimum because the links provided will do this topic better justice than I can. I recently read the book Romance of the Rails by Randal O'Toole. It describes how passenger rail doesn't make sense in the modern world with automobiles and air travel. It presents a harsh but true reality, and at first I was a bit reluctant to accept the findings, but this book makes an excellent and well researched case and I recommend you give it a read. The first link will provide a brief summary and the second link is the Amazon page to pruchase it.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/romance-of-the-rails-review-hear-that-lonesomewhistle-11548287880

 

https://www.amazon.ca/Romance-Rails-Passenger-Trains-Transportation/dp/1944424946

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, October 15, 2020 10:41 PM
Fred Frailey commented on this book in his November 21, 2018 blog entitled Meet the Grinch.  It generated 188 robust responses. 
 
You have punched a hornet’s nest.  I am keen to read the responses that you get to this thread. 
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Posted by samfp1943 on Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:05 PM

From the first link provided by the O.P.  Is the opening paragraph by the author of the book mentioned as the Thread's title:    FTL: "...In 2006, the city of Nashville, Tenn., built a new commuter-rail system—christened the Music City Star—for $41 million.    At the time, the Regional Transportation Authority of Nashville called it “the most cost-effective commuter rail start-up in the nation.” When it comes to rails, though, no term is more fungible than “cost-effective,” as Randal O’Toole

 AS I recall the routing of the Music City Star was on the ROW of the Nashville and Eastern (nee: the former Tennessee Central(?))  Specifically, it went more or less Eastward to link (Downtown/Riverfront) Nashville with Lebanon,Tn. approximately 50 or so miles; linking population centers in Nashville,Donalson, Mt. Juliet and finally Lebanon.  Primarily, the issue was the heavy flow of traffic on I-40, I-265 in Nashville.  (Which has since been widened).

The argument seems to be reief for heavy commuter traffic flows between communities of work sites and urban living areas(?)  The Nashville Example used by the author cost to start approx. $41 M ; as opposed to the cost to rebuild some 50 or so miles of Interstate Hwy through  urban and rural real estate that was the route of I-40.

Commuter Rail seems to be very popular, only in areas where the highways are constantly conjested by heavy traffic flows, and daily commuting cycles. Some have pre-existing links owned by freight railroads that mioght lend themselves to a Commuter Rail solution(?)  

  It would seem to boil down to picking 'city-pairs' that see a lot of highway traffic; that would either be too expensive to rebuild as a hig-volumn highway. Or a relatively short distance between the city-pair, that might have an existing or possibly, former rail corridor?  It seems that commuter rail is a transportation type that solves area specific types of travel agendas, politically responsive solutions to agraating local issues, and enough traffic to be close to financially viable.

 

 

 


 

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, October 16, 2020 8:14 AM

The arguments in this book have been analyzed and to some extent refuted in many previous posts.  Tourism, opening the country to people who cannot fly, essential communication. etc., and then these points have also been challenged by posters.  One can make similar arguments about public librariies in the age of Amazon, Kindle Books, of live theater. much else that is part of civilization.

You can pull up the old postings and get both sides on this issue.

And my idea on how to cut or eliminate food deficits while restoring 1st class food and service.

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Friday, October 16, 2020 8:25 AM
 

How we operate passenger service in America doesn't make sense in the modern world. Some major cities lack a connection to the passenger network; Nashville-TN, Columbus-OH, Las Vegas-NV, Phoenix-AZ, etc.. Maybe private ownership of RoW is a hinderance to having a robust passenger network.. 110-125 MPH with a minimum of 6 RT/Day would get the job done in a hefty portion of America's densely populated areas. Without the need for a costly HSR system..

 
 
 
 
 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by JPS1 on Friday, October 16, 2020 9:54 AM

SD60MAC9500
 . 110-125 MPH with a minimum of 6 RT/Day would get the job done in a hefty portion of America's densely populated areas.. Without the need for a costly HSR system.. 

The I-35 corridor between DFW and San Antonio is one of the most densely populated corridors in the U.S.  This is especially true from Georgetown to San Antonio.  It is a good candidate for better passenger rail service.  It has several intermediate cities, i.e. Waco, Temple, Austin, and San Marcos that are too close together to make flying practicable.  Better passenger service could appeal to those traveling from one end of the corridor to one of the intermediate cities or within the corridor. 
 
Unfortunately, the I-35 corridor does not fit the Japanese plan to export their rail technology to North America.  So, instead, assuming it gets the required financing, Texas Central will spend $12 to $15 billion, before the cost of financing, to construct a high-speed line between Dallas and Houston.  It will have one intermediate stop.  The proponents seem to believe the airlines will roll over and play dead as soon as the high speeds trains begin to run.  And folks will abandon their cars in droves to ride the high speed choo-choo.  Maybe!
 
A better investment would be to up grade service along the I-35 corridor.  Significant portions of the existing rail route or a parallel alternative could be upgraded to 110-125 mph, which would make a train competitive with driving or buses. 
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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 16, 2020 11:58 AM

JPS1
...Texas Central will spend $12 to $15 billion, before the cost of financing, to construct a high-speed line between Dallas and Houston.

But to put this in perspective, TXDOT is proposing over half that just to tinker with !-35 in metro Austin, almost worthless in improving intercity trip time much.  Presumably extension to Austin (and San Antonio) is a phase of the high-speed plan, optimized to both Dallas area for the I-35 'corridor' and 'across' to Houston once the initial associated development has succeeded.  
It will have one intermediate stop.
But it is important to consider what that stop is, since very likely a considerable amount of the prospective traffic that would 'benefit' from quick travel to either of the two initial cities will involve it.

I would agree with you, though, that buildout of the existing I-35 'corridor' rail service to 125mph would likely make sense; the concern being whether the track system to be used has to be 'freight-compatible' either initially or in the 'long run' if the service take rate is good.  It would likely have to be Class 9 top-down slab track (which has in fact been tested effective for 'joint' use at that speed) and improvements (including those from 'China') in building or upgrading slab installation as conveniently as using conventional TLMs might be interesting to develop as 'part' of the effort.

Whether or not the high-speed rail is built out in the I-35 corridor, the 125mph PRIIA equipment will always have value in 'regional' connections to the high-speed network, or have valid resale value to other areas interested in upgrading to 125mph peak speed...

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, October 16, 2020 1:31 PM

National Parks don't make a profit either. But as a society we have mostly agreed that preserving parts of the land, all around the country, so people can experience it, is a worthy endeavor.

I see long-distance passenger trains in a similar light. They enable Americans to experience parts of the nation's beauty in a way no other transportation mode does. Plus it's an integral part of our history and culture. As a taxpayer, I am willing to pay what is a pittance in relation to the national budget for the preservation and operation of passenger trains. Many, many dollars more go for highways and airports and air traffic control.

Diferent people have different priorities. For example, I personally believe we could spend much less on defense. Compare Amtrak's budget to the Pentagon's.

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Friday, October 16, 2020 4:39 PM
 

Lithonia Operator

National Parks don't make a profit either. But as a society we have mostly agreed that preserving parts of the land, all around the country, so people can experience it, is a worthy endeavor.

I see long-distance passenger trains in a similar light. They enable Americans to experience parts of the nation's beauty in a way no other transportation mode does. Plus it's an integral part of our history and culture. As a taxpayer, I am willing to pay what is a pittance in relation to the national budget for the preservation and operation of passenger trains. Many, many dollars more go for highways and airports and air traffic control.

Diferent people have different priorities. For example, I personally believe we could spend much less on defense. Compare Amtrak's budget to the Pentagon's.

 

I concur with you LO. We need to stop looking at everything as for profit. Let's look at it as utility when it comes to infrastructure. Using Europe as an example. I know how some people feel about Europe's "socialist" spending, but I admire their infrastructure policy including all modes of transport. Where as ours is segregated at best..

 
 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by JPS1 on Saturday, October 17, 2020 11:03 AM

SD60MAC9500
 I concur with you LO. We need to stop looking at everything as for profit. Let's look at it as utility when it comes to infrastructure. Using Europe as an example. I know how some people feel about Europe's "socialist" spending, but I admire their infrastructure policy including all modes of transport. Where as ours is segregated at best. 

I understand the freight railroads have pushed back vigorously at the notion of public ownership of their infrastructure.  Public ownership means politics.  And politics does not always produce the most effective commercial outcomes.  U.S. highway bills are larded with port barrel projects. 
 
I am aware of the fact that the freight railroads have accepted some federal monies, usually in the form of low cost federal loans, to upgrade some of their track, but the amounts are relatively small compared to the investment in the infrastructure.  
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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Saturday, October 17, 2020 1:45 PM
 

JPS1

I understand the freight railroads have pushed back vigorously at the notion of public ownership of their infrastructure.  Public ownership means politics.  And politics does not always produce the most effective commercial outcomes.  U.S. highway bills are larded with port barrel projects. 

 
I am aware of the fact that the freight railroads have accepted some federal monies, usually in the form of low cost federal loans, to upgrade some of their track, but the amounts are relatively small compared to the investment in the infrastructure.  
 

A problem with America is hyperpartisanship. No one can balance the needs of our nation without a public circus. This leads to political stalemates producing unsatisfactory outcomes. If the C1's don't want to sell their RoW. Fair enough. The government needs to recognize that a more robust funding mechanism would be a good approach for the necessary upgrades of the rail network. Especially if they want a so called green future.. Amtrak should morph into this investment tool, instead of operating passenger service. Then I'll ask. Who wouldn't mind partial nationlization of the rail network?

 
 
 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, October 17, 2020 2:54 PM

I still wonder if my approach from before Staggers and the '70s USRA would be a path out of this quandary.  Among the fascinating things Patrick McGinnis did was sell many of the New Haven stations for cash, then lease back the right to use them for passengers from the buyers.  It occurred to me that railroads might entertain leasing just the track, not the subgrade rights or other property, to the Government for a fixed term, with a guarantee that the Government assume maintenance and improvement and cover any local tax 'shortfall' until municipalities could secure other options.  This would then be run objectively as fair open access beginning with scheduled access of the original carrier's traffic.  Where restoration of multiple track or directional-main running might be desirable the resources and credit of the Government would simplify implementation, and a limited number of expensive assets like TLMs or Chinese-style self-launching erectors might easily serve for rolling improvement of a large number of route segments.  If there is a path toward coherent dual-mode-lite and electrification it would have to be at this scale; no PSR-addled railroad can justify the risks to short-term profits to their analysts.

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, October 17, 2020 3:16 PM

Passenger trains are a tool that fix a problem.  Just as in the rest of the worlds humanity and their problems - one size does not fix all problems.

Romancers tend to think one business model fits all situations - it doesn't.  Design the tool for the specific problem and you likely end up with a tool that works.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 19, 2020 8:35 AM

Agree.  Thus the station restaurant idea.  If a train is "a place gioing someplace,'" which other transportation modes are not, then trains are as much a part of the hospitality industry as the trsanspotation industry, bincluding corrodor trans and excluding, possibly, commuter and transit.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Monday, October 19, 2020 9:11 AM

Overmod

I still wonder if my approach from before Staggers and the '70s USRA would be a path out of this quandary.  Among the fascinating things Patrick McGinnis did was sell many of the New Haven stations for cash, then lease back the right to use them for passengers from the buyers.  It occurred to me that railroads might entertain leasing just the track, not the subgrade rights or other property, to the Government for a fixed term, with a guarantee that the Government assume maintenance and improvement and cover any local tax 'shortfall' until municipalities could secure other options.  This would then be run objectively as fair open access beginning with scheduled access of the original carrier's traffic.  Where restoration of multiple track or directional-main running might be desirable the resources and credit of the Government would simplify implementation, and a limited number of expensive assets like TLMs or Chinese-style self-launching erectors might easily serve for rolling improvement of a large number of route segments.  If there is a path toward coherent dual-mode-lite and electrification it would have to be at this scale; no PSR-addled railroad can justify the risks to short-term profits to their analysts.

 

I like your idea.  It's related to what I proposed,  differing in in terms of lease vs outright sale.  Either way it permits overdue modernization and better maintenance of ROWs, real passenger rail networks,  along with competition for freight business, hopefully using integrated transportation systems (rail/truck).

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Monday, October 19, 2020 12:38 PM

The lease or purchase of ROW and / or tracks is certainly one solution.  Look at the Va DOT purchase fo half the RF&P track and ROW.  Va will be able to ease all the curves to the east from ALX to Richmond.  They will not have to get permission from CSX to buy ROW and build new track.

Now to ease curves to the west Getting CSX cooperation might difficult.  Maybe Va can trade some of the vacated to the east curve ROW for easing curves to the west ?  Unfortunately CSX probably only needs curves with at least 60 - 70 MPH max speeds as VA will probably want 110 -125  ?

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