2006 Passenger Trains On Freight Railroads Conference

Report by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President — This was my first opportunity to attend this event although it’s in its thirteenth year. The Conference was organized by “Railway Age” Magazine and held October 16 – 17 in Washington, DC. Almost all of the major freight railroads attend as well as Amtrak, and in addition there are delegates from APTA, commuter agencies, suppliers, overseas railroads, (East Japan Railway Company, for example), engineering companies, consultants, and a few public advocates such as myself. My overall impression was that this was a group of professionals with a lot of experience in the industry.There were 13 sessions, an opening keynote address, and two lunchtime speakers. I intend to summarize the highlights that are of greatest interest, and end with a list of the panels. If anyone would like more information about any particular presentation I’d be glad to share whatever I have.

The meeting was opened by Bill Crosbie, Amtrak’s Senior Vice President of Operations. He gave a no holds barred summary of Amtrak’s dismal on time performance and laid the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of the freight railroads. He said that as an officer of the corporation he was duty bound to seek redress from those responsible. Even though Amtrak had resisted taking the path of legislation, litigation, or a news media campaign, all of those options remain available. Amtrak has gone as far as they could with schedule adjustments (extended running time), as these are counter productive commercially and add to operating expenses. The key areas being addresses in the “get well plan” are slow orders and dispatching. I’ll be interested in seeing what direction Crosbie’s new boss takes in dealing with this critical issue. One also wonders why Amtrak has not been more aggressive over the past 5 or more years. This situation did not develop overnight.

Railroad Capacity Studies: What’s involved? (NS, BNSF, CSX).

The short message from this session is that the freight railroads aim to keep tight control over this process. Their select consultants will use their chosen software and the results are proprietary to the railroad. Don’t bother showing up with your own analysis! The freights’ other key issues are indemnity and user fees. No free rides here. There has to be sufficient infrastructure to coexist. BNSF was most informative. They are undertaking a passenger/freight segregation project in the Seattle area, effectively creating parallel main lines. To me most interesting is their use of number 24 turnouts to increase train speeds through terminal areas. The CSX/State of Florida corridor project was described by CSX. This involves the creation of a passenger plus on line freight corridor and an all freight corridor using the old SAL and ACL routes through the state. (See the Florida DOT web site). Legislative Report: Railway Supply Institute.

Everyone is awaiting the election results. A lot of unfinished business.

APTA Safety Standards Task Force: APTA

Tom Peacock held up Southwest Airlines as an example of using standardized equipment to improve training, safety and of course to cut costs. Raul Bravo gave a detailed presentation on the crash energy management design for the new SCRRA cars to be built by Rotem. The system improves survivability of an accident from 12mph to 18 mph, and up to 30 mph if all cars are fitted. The couplers on existing cars can be retrofitted to provide some of the benefits of the system.

Shared Use LRT and Freight: Bombardier, Conrail and Booz Allen Hamilton.

This was an excellent presentation about the NJT River line, which has similarities with the San Diego Trolley but has much more on line freight. The passenger operators want earlier first trains and later last trains, while the freight operator, Conrail, needs as much track time as possible. This has lead to some creative solutions, including starting the first passenger train from a station at the mid point of the line, leaving the southern end open to freight an a critical additional half hour.

The Capitol Corridor Story: CCJPA and UP.

This was Gene Skoropowski firing on all cylinders, and telling about the recent service expansion with justifiable pride. However, he did not hold back from criticizing UP for operational snafus, indicating that there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially with dispatching. He concluded with an impassioned plea for more investment in intercity rail. “If not now, when?”

Supporting Passenger Rail with a Political Action Committee: Levin/Gillespie.

Bennett Levin is best known for running restored passenger equipment. He and Tom Gillespie feel that a “PAC” is needed to channel political contributions in a way that organizations such as NARP are unable to because of tax status. More information is available on www.passengerrailtoday.com.

Grade Crossing Closure Assessment Modeling: FRA

The FRA presenter, Karen McClure, has developed a software model (Grade Dec.net) that helps evaluate options for crossing closures. This was an excellent technical presentation. More information is available on the FRA website.

Operations Planning: Rodney Dangerfield or Aretha Franklin? R.L. Banks and Associates.

Charles Banks made some very good points about the lack of sound operations planning causing major problems for the start up of services. There is a bias towards solving problems with capital expenditure rather than good operating discipline (one of my pet themes), which can result in duplication of facilities and stranded investment.

Restructuring Passenger Rail, Any Good Ideas Out There? APTA, NS, CCJPA, Railway Age, Consultants.

This was a lively session with a lot of input from the floor. There was a consensus that NEC infrastructure funding needs to be restructured and taken out of Amtrak’s accounts. Amtrak should pay a user fee to run its NEC trains. I made my usual point that California has a state taxpayer funded rail program and our federal taxes pay for the NEC.

Other Points: Tort liability is so high that it stifles growth of existing service and new projects. There is a need for limits or else the present momentum will be lost. Various types of tax credit bonds were discussed as well as the Trent Lott proposal for tax credits for rail infrastructure. If passed, this legislation should be extended to include passenger rail investments.

Shafer, NS: Explore privatizing the “first class” services on the long distance trains.

Skoropowski: USDOT should pay the access charges to freight railroads, and should establish a capital fund for joint freight and passenger infrastructure projects. Payments to freight railroads should be performance adjusted.

Vantuono (Railway Age Editor): believes that the freight railroads would do a better job of operating the passenger services on their own lines. Also the industry and its supporters should do more to educate the public of the role and accomplishments of both freight and passenger rail.

Caltrain Project 2025.

Bob Doty was unable to attend so Bill Vantuono ran through his presentation slides. This presentation will be made to the RailPAC Meeting October 28 in San Carlos. A report will be included with the meeting report on this month’s website.

Building Toronto Airport Link: Railway Assoc. of Canada, Hatch, Mott McDonald.

This project is of particular interest as there are always debates about how best to serve airport workers and passengers. Toronto is proposing a branch line off one of the GO Transit commuter lines (the Georgetown Corridor) and a private group will operate the trains using 50-year-old refurbished Budd railcars. However, with airport trains planned to operate every 15 minutes together with extension of the commuter trains to all day operation there is considerable neighborhood opposition which has resulted in a government mandated environmental revue. An interesting statistic about Lester Pearson Airport: 80,000 daily users, only 13,000 are to/from Toronto, the rest are in transit.

Business Model for a Successful PPP: Great Western Partners.

Paul Lundberg cited the Chicago Metra suburban rail operation as a successful public-private partnership between the freight railroads (operators of the trains) and the public agency that contracts with them. Costs per passenger trip (BNSF $4.05, UP $6.37,) compare well with NJT at $8.47 and LIRR at $14.43.

Equipment Choices, Pros and Cons: PB Transit, LTK, and STV.

Much of this discussion centered on locomotive and equipment types for the NE commuter services. There was some discussion about dual mode multiple units which can give a single seat ride on non-electrified lines which connect with electrified services, e.g. the Raritan Valley line of NJT. The panelists warned that these options are expensive, especially if produced in small quantities. I asked about the possibility of a 737 equivalent for the western states. The Bombardier bi-level is the only vehicle that has been produced in any quantity in recent years. Could it be the basis for an inter-city vehicle?

The Colorado Railcar DMU was discussed. This is an FRA compliant vehicle. The biggest problem for the development of this technology is the FRA regulations, which preclude the importation of successful designs unless they can be used in a segregated environment. In the USA the most cost effective configuration is diesel push-pull.

Summation:

It was heartening to see a concentration of energy and brainpower directed towards the expansion of passenger rail. I’d like to see other members of our group be able to attend next year.

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