Author Topic: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?  (Read 6278 times)

Metro Jacksonville

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Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« on: June 25, 2008, 05:00:00 AM »
Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?



Is Amtrak the answer we've been looking for to bring commuter rail to Jacksonville and other Florida cities?

Full Article
http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/819

Ocklawaha

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2008, 01:51:54 PM »
Equipment - Amtrak already has it
Crews - Amtrak already has them
Operating Agreements - Amtrak already has them

Mention "AMTRAK" in a JTA meeting, and your told to shut-up.

With Amtrak we not only get Green Cove Springs, Yulee and St. Augustine, but we get a new front door to the whole of North America. The Florida City that sits down with Amtrak and works out the yard, coach storage, switching facilities, crew base and Terminal, is the City that will be the true "NEW GATEWAY CITY".


ACL RPO CAR (Railway Post Office) about 35 years after the famous race.

There is a famous story of the two big Florida railroads in competition for the US-Cuba mail about 1910. The Seaboard Air Line, was arrow straight from Savannah southward over the coastal marshes to Kingsland, Yulee and Jacksonville. The Atlantic Coast Line went from Savannah to Waycross, where they had (CSX still does) a major switching yard and junction. From Waycross the track skirted the Okefenokee and entered Jacksonville on the Northwest side of town (current Amtrak station and line). The railroads held an official race, each train consisted of a fast steam locomotive, tender, postal car, and business car. They left Savannah headed South and the Seaboard, as always, made good time. Over on the Coast Line, near panic conditions reigned as they knew how much longer their route was. They turned their heads to the rule book and told the engineer (hand picked with his favorite fireman) to WIN THIS DAMN CONTRACT! It is a matter of record that in many places they shattered international speed records. Fuzzy math and lack of speed recorders places their speed at around 127 mph, INCLUDING stops for other railroad crossings and for water. As the story goes, when the Seaboard train pulled into Jacksonville Terminal, the boys came in laughing, asking "Has that Coast Line train crossed the St. Marys River yet?" The chief agent for Jacksonville Terminal is said to have replied, "Oh they crossed it alright, in fact that mail is 1/2 way to Cuba right about now..."

I tell this story of a famous Jacksonville train race for one purpose. Are we SO SURE that we have won the railroad hub of Florida, by default... You know, we already have the best routes, the big terminal (which you should recall is a convention center now) and switching facilities. Or will MICKEYS MONEY build the super terminal? Will Tampas rebuilt Union Station regain the tracks? Will Orlando and the Florida East Coast be linked as they propose?

This goes WAY BEYOND commuter rail. Our life as the railroad center of the Southeast is at stake, and we are told to HUSH, and stay on subject in the local meetings. JTA at it's finest. You see those trains are 1/2 way to Orlando by now.


Ocklawaha
« Last Edit: June 25, 2008, 02:00:20 PM by Ocklawaha »

ProjectMaximus

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2008, 08:27:03 PM »
Thanks for the race story. Really interesting.

Hope someone in the city council or JTA does their homework and gets things moving.

copperfiend

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2008, 10:11:43 PM »
Did you see the train with the Target sponsorship? Would the city allow that??

thelakelander

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2008, 10:26:54 PM »
JTA allows it on city buses.  It could be a decent way to help pay for the annual O&M costs.
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tufsu1

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2008, 10:38:27 PM »
excellent article!

copperfiend

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2008, 10:41:09 PM »
JTA allows it on city buses.  It could be a decent way to help pay for the annual O&M costs.

I was kidding. I remember them telling Sirius they would not allow them to wrap the Skyway during the Super Bowl. But they allow the Hooters bus.

Charles Hunter

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2008, 05:59:56 AM »
JTA allows it on city buses.  It could be a decent way to help pay for the annual O&M costs.

I was kidding. I remember them telling Sirius they would not allow them to wrap the Skyway during the Super Bowl. But they allow the Hooters bus.


I guess the proposed Skyway ads weren't serious enough.  (sorry, couldn't resist)

On Amtrak for Commuter Rail - doesn't Amtrak have serious (sorry) on-time problems?  Or would that be overcome by the short runs involved with Commuter Rail routes?

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2008, 10:06:49 AM »
Was the feature photo of a Tri-Rail Train in Miami-Dade/Fort Lauderdale?  That's what it looks like.

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thelakelander

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2008, 10:18:37 AM »
The feature photo is of Caltrain.  Caltrain runs between San Francisco and San Jose, CA.
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thelakelander

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2008, 10:29:51 AM »
JTA allows it on city buses.  It could be a decent way to help pay for the annual O&M costs.

I was kidding. I remember them telling Sirius they would not allow them to wrap the Skyway during the Super Bowl. But they allow the Hooters bus.


I guess the proposed Skyway ads weren't serious enough.  (sorry, couldn't resist)

On Amtrak for Commuter Rail - doesn't Amtrak have serious (sorry) on-time problems?  Or would that be overcome by the short runs involved with Commuter Rail routes?


Mainly the railroads are congested and Amtrak does not have first priority on the tracks they don't own.  The $15 billion that will help fund Amtrak will also be used to increase track capacity to help make the system more reliable. 

Quote
Why Amtrak Can't Run Trains On Time
In Most Of Country, Passenger Railroad Must Share Congested Tracks With Freight Trains

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2007

(AP) The Capitol Limited, an Amtrak train from Chicago, is scheduled to arrive in Washington every day at 1:30 p.m. But frequent rider Edda Ramos knows better than to make plans for the afternoon or evening.

She knows a late arrival — sometimes by an hour or two, sometimes by seven or eight — “is the one thing you can count on.”

The 764-mile route is among Amtrak's most dismal performers, with just 11 percent of trains arriving within 30 minutes of their scheduled time last year. But the problem exists to one degree or another on the majority of Amtrak routes.

The main reason: In most of the country, the national passenger railroad operates on tracks owned by freight railroads, and the tracks are badly congested.

With freight traffic soaring in recent years, Amtrak's never-stellar on-time performance declined to an average of 68 percent last year, its worst showing since the 1970s. When the routes where Amtrak owns the tracks are excluded, the on-time performance last year fell to 61 percent.

Even the lawmakers who vote on Amtrak's subsidies of more than $1 billion annually have gotten caught in the holdups. Earlier this month, House Democrats traveling to a retreat in Williamsburg, Va., arrived two hours late after getting stuck behind a CSX freight train with engine trouble.

Alex Kummant, who took over as Amtrak's president in September, has made improving on-time performance a priority. A former executive at Union Pacific Corp. — a freight railroad long considered hostile to Amtrak — he says the relationship between Amtrak and the freight railroads is inherently complicated.

“It is an intersection of a subsidized structure with a truly private-sector structure, so how do you coexist?” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Kummant doesn't blame the freight railroads for most delays, saying they need government help to make the capital investments necessary to cope with soaring volumes.

But passenger advocates and others accuse the freight railroads of failing to live up to their end of a bargain struck in 1970, when Congress agreed to let the railroads unload the passenger service they said was dragging them down. In exchange, the railroads were required to give priority on their tracks to trains run by a new national passenger railroad. Amtrak pays modest fees for use of the tracks.

Amtrak performs far better on the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Last year, 85 percent of its high-speed Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington arrived within 10 minutes of their scheduled time.

But where Amtrak depends on the freight railroads, the picture is far gloomier, and the Capitol Limited is not even the worst case. The Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, had an on-time performance of 4 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. For the California Zephyr, connecting Chicago and San Francisco, the figure was 7 percent. In the current fiscal year, the California Zephyr has not once arrived on time.

“The resulting damage to Amtrak's brand, reputation and repeat business is potentially devastating,” Amtrak's former acting president, David Hughes, wrote in a letter last summer to the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The freight railroads say they do the best they can and are investing heavily in capacity improvements. In its own letter to the board, CSX Corp. said Amtrak should add more time to its schedules to reflect reality.

There is little incentive for the railroads to help Amtrak arrive on time, because the fees that Amtrak pays to use the tracks are paltry in relation to the billions of dollars the freight lines take in. Nor are there any real consequences for failing to accommodate Amtrak. A bill in the Senate calls for establishing penalties.

In the last fiscal year, Amtrak paid all of its host railroads $90 million — including about $15.5 million in rewards for on-time performance. If Amtrak had performed better, the railroads could have earned an additional $74.5 million in incentives.

Kummant said he believes the freight railroads are making a good-faith effort. But he said track capacity has become maxed out as freight traffic has soared in recent years, thanks to increased demand for coal and a growing reliance on rail.

That, in turn, has worn out the tracks, forcing Amtrak trains that normally travel 79 mph to slow to as little as 20 mph. Much of the rail network is single-tracked, meaning trains going in one direction have to pull over onto sidings to let trains coming the other way pass.

But Kummant said the situation has shown some improvement in recent months. And in what he called a sign of better relations, he has been given a sneak peak at the railroads' capital plans, and “they're nothing short of stunning.”

To further speed up improvements, the freight industry is lobbying for federal tax credits for investments in track and other infrastructure to expand capacity.

One late arrival of the Capitol Limited last week showed how complicated the issue is. The train lost several hours because of “freight interference” on Norfolk Southern Corp.'s tracks between Chicago and Toledo, Ohio. But its problems actually started when it left Chicago an hour and a half late because of mechanical problems, thus missing its time slot. It arrived at Washington's Union Station 3½ hours late.

The late arrival was frustrating for Ramos, 44, who started riding the Capitol Limited last year to visit relatives in Chicago. The Washington resident takes the train to avoid airport security hassles, but said she wouldn't risk it for business travel.

“I would be fired!” she said.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/27/business/main2522531.shtml
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Ocklawaha

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2008, 01:04:20 PM »
This goes far beyond what they are saying here. Some railroads, Union Pacific in particular, are reverting to the old ways of the 1960's. "If we can make this Amtrak thing so bad no one will ever come back, then it will just go away...." Add in huge support by John McCain or Bush for killing Amtrak, and one can see through the haze. Trains magazine recently had a feature story "The Night Auto Train Ran On Time", funny, all the way from Sanford to Lorton Virginia, every freight was "in the hole" (off the main track) to allow Auto Train to speed past. No one was "oops, we're not done switching in Fayetteville yet". No engines were causing trouble. All the way North the signals read "High Green". Hum? Why? CSX had issued permits for the media to ride the locomotive that night. The whole railroad was under orders, "THIS TRAIN RUNS ON TIME OR HEADS ROLL". There once was a time when that was a railroad attitude toward their flagship passenger trains. Nobody would have ever thought to have delayed the Seaboards Silver Meteor, The Atlantic Coast Lines Palmetto, The Southerns Crescent. It would have cost them their jobs, simple as that.

Today no one is really accountable. Amtrak incentives are gumball machine income to the industry. Amtrak penalty's are a joke and frankly by the time they clear legal challenges, end up costing more then their worth.
There is an old saying about "Those who lack the discipline to police themselves, will be policed by the state a commuter form, we would do somewhat better, delays of 20-30 minutes are not uncommon on Tri-Rail (CSX freight line). But our City Hall could put some teeth in local delay of train rules. Perhaps follow the lead of the "Move accident vehicles from the lanes" and push a Statewide rule that trains not be delayed. Limit or modify vehicle or pedestrian/animal accident investigations to get the train moving ASAP. Police it like we would a downtown parking meter.

When this all shakes out, consider the industry has been warned. You better believe Mr. Railroad boss, it's coming, and you have a huge target painted on your collective behinds. It's not revenge they seek, it's a reckoning...


OCKLAWAHA



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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2008, 03:15:13 PM »
Sounds like having to rely on the freight carriers rail lines for passenger traffic is a losing proposition.  I dont doubt that the congestion on existing freight lines makes sharing the rails nearly impossible.  I dont believe other countries with high speed rail share lines with freight carriers.
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JaxNative68

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #13 on: June 27, 2008, 02:00:47 PM »
The one fact the writer seems to be missing is that the Amtrak commuter lines that are used as examples are connecting densely populated areas with large metropolitan cities that have excellent public transportation systems.  Jacksonville is not a large metropolitan city and has a horrible public transportations system.

thelakelander

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Re: Commuter Rail: Could Amtrak be the answer?
« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2008, 02:12:29 PM »
How about Detroit?  Although not mentioned in this article, Amtrak is currently working with SEMCOG in Detroit to establish a demonstration commuter rail line between Detroit and Ann Arbor, MI.  If successful, an existing Amtrak line between the two cities would get as many as eight trains per day, each way between the two cities.  Officials hope that this demostration commuter rail system will prove that the area can generate enough ridership to gain the blessing of the FTA to help fund additional rail projects in metropolitan Detroit.

Detroit/Amtrak project: http://www.semcog.org/uploadedFiles/Programs_and_Projects/Planning/Corridor_Studies/SteeringCommitteeUpdate_200802.pdf


The article did mention that Amtrak would most likely not be interested in operating a Jacksonville-based commuter rail system.  However, they are interested in establishing a new line between Jacksonville and Miami, as well as adding more daily trains in Florida.  Where Jacksonville could benefit from is lobbying for Amtrak stops in places like St. Augustine and Orange Park, as well as relocating the Jax station back to downtown. 

If Amtrak is successful in adding more trains along its Florida lines (all of which would have to come through Jacksonville), this region may have the opportunity to use a segment of a Florida based intercity Amtrak system for commuter purposes between Downtown and a few of the largest cities in Clay and St. Johns Counties.  As the article suggests, this could allow a starter rail line here in Jacksonville to cover a route or area, not served by an upgraded Amtrak system, thus reducing the amount of money and time needed to get alternative transit options up and running locally.

« Last Edit: June 27, 2008, 02:25:05 PM by thelakelander »
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