17.4.05

NOT INVENTED HERE. American Scene views the bad-ordered Acela Express as a metaphor for Amtrak gone wrong.
Rather than purchase a proven Swedish high-speed train, the X2000 tilt-train, designed to accommodate older, not-quite-straight tracks like those found in the northeastern corridor (and unlike the very straight railtrack used by the TGV and other high-speed lines overseas), Amtrak decided to build an entirely new model at vastly greater expense that - get this - experienced serious mechanical failures from the very start. For the sake of building a much slower fitfully tilting version of the TGV, a non-tilting train, they built a train that, remarkably and at the most inconvenient moments, failed to tilt. Had they gone with the X2000, they would've had an excellent high-speed train in 1998.
The way we like to look at the Acela fiasco in the midwest, for the money Amtrak spent it could have purchased enough Electroliners to offer train service on a 15 minute headway. At the moment, I'm speculating about the brake problem: if memory serves, the Acelas turned out to be a bit wider than the design originally called for, which contributed to the tilting problems, and the trains came in somewhat heavier than the design. (They are very solid riding trains.) Did the factory install brake disks designed for the lighter trains? If so, are the disks dissipating more heat and spalling?

SECOND SECTION: Chris at Signifying Nothing, keeping more ridiculous hours than I, tracks back with a link to instructive New York Times coverage. The reporter managed to find a cross section of Metropolitan Corridor symbolic analyst types, who whine in that particularly upscale East Coast way.

A married couple, Dennis and Jan Stevenson, both botanists at the New York Botanical Garden, were also delayed and would barely make it for the start of a seminar called "Future of Flora" that they were to participate in at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"We have to spend an extra two more hours on the train," said Mr. Stevenson. "I am sort of annoyed. Why is there no infrastructure for this kind of thing?"

Because Patrick McGinnis sought to restore the common dividend, and James Symes and Stuart Saunders to keep the Pennsylvania's continuous payments of common dividends intact, rather than upgrade the Northeast Corridor properly after World War II? The other individuals interviewed also remind me of the voices of influence who hounded McGinnis over the New Haven's commuter service. But let's keep Mr Stevenson's annoyance in perspective. Is the use of federal tax money to provide additional upgrades to the Northeast Corridor so as to get symbolic analysts to conferences more quickly defensible under either a benefit principle argument or an ability-to-pay argument?

In Boston, some of the affected travelers are taking advantage of a different transportation subsidy, opting to use the budget air carriers or the bus! But let us not make the mistake of arguing that Amtrak's problems are reason to privatize the carrier. Recall that the railroads sought relief from the passenger train problem, particularly in the Northeast, where the Penn Central kept up that dividend record right up to bankruptcy day, with Amtrak and Conrail being the form of the relief. Rather, let us think about what works.
Amtrak's most recent performance report shows that the Acela Express has an on-time arrival rate of 77.6 percent -- far less than Amtrak's 94 percent goal.
The most reliable performer -- as regular readers know -- is the Hiawatha service, using P32Uglies, Horizon coaches, cabbage cars (serving as driving van trailers, for my transatlantic readers), with accommodation no posher than a trolley service of beverages and bag snacks on selected trains. I will watch the proposals from the Bush administration closely: whatever reform is on offer will not satisfy me if it does not provide for continued improvement of the emerging corridors out of Chicago. These pose a somewhat more difficult problem than either California, where the network (apart from any Las Vegas service) is intrastate, or the Official Region, where the symbolic analysts will use their voices to keep the subsidy money coming for their Decela Expresses. (Nice turn of phrase, Chris.)

No comments: