19.10.12

PASSENGER RAIL PROGRESS.

In March, we noted a plan for privately-operated passenger trains in Florida.  My assessment at the time noted, "the freight railroads would like to have the kind of control over scheduling and reliability that comes from common mechanical standards, dispatching, and scheduling."  That's evident from the All Aboard Florida filing with the Surface Transportation Board, as reported in Trains.
The passenger train operator will rebuild a second track along the Florida East Coast Railway between Miami and Cocoa, Fla., and build entirely new track on right-of-way leased from the Florida Department of Transportation and Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. This would place about 40 miles of new rail line alongside or in the median of state Route 528, which runs between Cocoa and the Orlando airport and is operated by the OOCEA.

All Aboard Florida will not seek public operating subsidies for the project, but is exploring the possibility of obtaining construction financing through the Federal Railroad Administration's Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program. Through the program the railroad can apply for direct loans and loan guarantees through the FRA.

The filing stipulates the new passenger service will not be a part of the interstate passenger rail network and should be exempt from federal oversight. All Aboard Florida will not participate in any through ticketing program with Amtrak. It also says no freight service will be operated by All Aboard Florida, or over the new right-of-way to Orlando. It does say that, for flexibility in operations, FEC dispatchers will have the option of using either track on the shared right-of-way for freight and passenger traffic.
It's intriguing that the operator wants to be freed of Congressional meddling with Amtrak, which is the cynic's interpretation of "exempt from federal oversight."  The stipulation that the new trackage will be Passenger Service Only likely calms fears at the CSX Railroad of freight competition.  The absence of joint ticketing, or any mention of connectivity, troubles me.  The value of a Passenger Rail network is in being able to make connections.  Admittedly, Amtrak's Florida service is a pale shadow of what Seaboard Coast Line operated almost up to 30 April 1971, and the Miami to Orlando service has more promise as a boat train connecting cruise ship passengers to the theme parks and Grapefruit League stadia.

In Illinois, passenger trains are again rolling at 110 mph.
The demonstration included a 15-mile segment of 110 mph running between Dwight and Pontiac, Ill., for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo, Amtrak Chairman Tom Carper, and a host of local politicians and reporters.

Heritage-painted GE P42 No. 66 led the special train out of Chicago to Normal, Ill., along with Amtrak No. 63. Both units are equipped with the Incremental Train Control System already used on Amtrak’s 110 mph Michigan Line trackage between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich., as well as UP’s cab signals. This is the first installation that joins ITCS’s ability to verify that quad-gate highway crossings are clear and operational with the UP cab signal system. Although higher speeds up to 150 mph are routinely attained on the grade-separated Northeast Corridor, the cab signal-ITCS combination launched in Illinois fulfills the requirements of positive train control in highway grade crossing territory.
The test run offered the public officials a chance to do what comes naturally.
At Normal, while the politicians were giving speeches, the diesels ran around the train on a passing track and coupled up to [Amtrak official car] Beech Grove for the trip back to Chicago.
Too bad the train doesn't cut as attractive a figure at 110 mph as the Nebraska Zephyr would.


The Associated Press reporting on the Illinois test run does nothing to counter the suspicion that mainstream journalists are Democratic operatives masquerading as journalists.
In a modest milestone for President Barack Obama's high-speed rail vision, test runs will start zooming along a small section of the Amtrak line between Chicago and St. Louis at 110 mph Friday.

The 30-mph increase from the route's current top speed is a morale booster for advocates of high-speed rail in America who have watched conservatives in Congress put the brakes on spending for fast train projects they view as expensive boondoggles. But some rail experts question whether the route will become profitable, pose serious competition to air and automobile travel, or ever reach speeds comparable to the bullet trains blasting across Europe and Asia at 150 mph and faster.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Gov. Pat Quinn are scheduled to be on board when an Amtrak train hits 110 mph for the first time in Illinois. But it will only maintain that speed for a short time, somewhere along the 15 miles between Dwight and Pontiac, before braking back to more normal speeds.
Governor Quinn has publicly hailed the 110 mph speed (a Global Positioning System speed estimate hit 111; that's likely an approximation error) as a first "outside the Northeast." In the Amtrak era, that's true, although the Pioneer Zephyr's dawn-to-dusk run included some Illinois mileage at 112; the 1935 Hiawatha test train maintained 112.5 for several miles across the Wisconsin sand country, and speeds in that range were routine for the 75 Minute Trains between Milwaukee and Chicago until 1950.  Let the younger generations enjoy the higher speeds, as they've had no previous experience of them.

There's also enough repaired and renovated rolling stock on hand to provide Thanksgiving relief trains on the Michigan corridor.
One round trip, Nos. 356 and 359, will make a same-day turn at Ann Arbor on Wednesday, Nov. 21, and the following Friday through Sunday. No. 356 will leave Chicago at 9:20 a.m., 2 hours after the departure of morning train No. 350 to Detroit and Pontiac, and return from Ann Arbor at 4:05 p.m., more than 3 hours prior to afternoon train No. 355’s westbound stop.

A shorter round trip, Nos. 358 and 357, leaves Chicago at 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, remains overnight on Amtrak-owned trackage in front of the station at Kalamazoo, Mich., and returns to Chicago at 6:15 a.m. the following morning, Thursday through Monday. Amtrak tested this schedule over Labor Day weekend in 2010. The four additional trains can be operated with only one additional set of equipment, though the consist will be exchanged with other Midwest operations to allow for maintenance in Chicago.

The holiday service expansion in Michigan can serve as a prototype for expanded frequencies on this corridor, a national network route where only agreements with Norfolk Southern and Canadian National, not states, are needed. Those host railroads approved the temporary service expansion because normally heavy freight traffic would be reduced on a holiday weekend. It is also in a region that has sufficient operating and onboard crews available to staff the additional trains, which will all offer business class and café car amenities.
That freight train interference is salient on the former New York Central main line between Porter and Englewood; less so on the trackage east of Kalamazoo that Norfolk Southern will be conveying to Michigan for Passenger Rail purposes.

The pathing of the relief train indicates a weakness of the network east of Ann Arbor.  I'm referring to the early summer timetable, in which trains require about 4 hours 30 minutes for the 243 miles Chicago to Ann Arbor, and two hours for the 61 miles Ann Arbor to Pontiac.  Thus, the eastbound relief train meets the westbound midday train 353 somewhere in western Michigan, turns on a wheel at Ann Arbor, and meets the eastbound evening train 354 either on the fast rail or on Norfolk Southern's two main tracks.  The regular westbound evening train doesn't get away from Pontiac until after 4 pm.

It's progress, though, compared to what Amtrak inherited from Penn Central.

No comments: