Monday, October 12, 2009

Final Thoughts, for now at least . . . . .

The reports of my demise, retirement, disability, or death are all in error. However, this will more than likely be Rip's last post at this blog. Why? Two reasons.

First, Riptrack the blog never really lived up to my expectations. At the outset I was excited, but maybe I overestimated the need to provide an avenue for the exchange of opinions regarding the frustrations of track construction, primarily with Transit and Commuter Rail Agencies. True, there was some early interest, but a combination of the tapering off of repeat visits to the site by initial readers, very few word-of-mouth referrals by readers to non-readers, and even perhaps Rip's inability to galvanize the typical Maintenance of Way persona to contribute may be to blame. The biggest responses I received did not have much to do with Track Construction and Maintenance as they did with Fuel Surcharges or the Metrolink tragedy near Chatsworth. It was never my intent to cover such items in the first place, but I have to admit that limiting written items to "tracks" only leads to the dreaded "slow news month". All of this has led me to believe that Riptrack was an answer to a question that was never asked.

Are things better for those of us who deal with these Agencies? Not by a long shot. Those agencies who had entrenched interal bureaucracies and entangling external relationships with consultants still remain bound and inflexible. Many agencies who were once labeled as serving the public in an efficient and tax-saving way have taken the same diverging route to problems and frustration as many of the entrenched and entangled ones. As I speak with my colleagues, we agree that there are maybe a couple of agencies that can do with $1 what the bad guys take $3 to do. There is no point in naming names now, but a review of the past Ripper Awards will give clues to who a couple of the good guys are.

Second, Rip believes that technology, the same technology that spawned blogs in general and Riptrack in particular, has moved on. Twitter, Facebook, and to some extent even text messaging have fulfilled the need to express oneself in a way that starts to make blogging obsolete. Don't believe it? All you have to do is to check out the blogs now provided by the professionals, like Progressive Railroading. Even with the extensive website promotion, the professional graphics, and the printed word, these professionally published blogs have become the haven of certain opinionated types who live to stir up the few readers who dare to respond. Meaningful dialog is, how do they say, flamed.

Make no mistake. I am better off for my efforts here. I have learned. I have appreciated the kind as well as the not-so-kind words. I am not bitter or angry. But, I am moving on, even after this ten month interval. For those who need the blog fix, I do recommend the Progressive Railroading site. As for me, maybe I will finally try to tweet, or to update my profile, or whatever becomes the next effort in communication that leads us all to more efficient Railroad Construction and Maintenance.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Short Lines, not as long but just as wide: Happy 2009!

Most are glad to see the New Year. But it is beginning to look like the railroad supply business won't be a whole lot better than '08. Everyone is trying to remain optimistic nonetheless.

Light Rail Blogger noted in the last post that Light Rail has opened in Phoenix, Arizona! As does New Mexico Rail Runner, it looks really good. Here are a couple of photos from Metro's own webpage:


There is a great quote, maybe from Dr. Beverly Scott of MARTA in Atlanta, in the latest issue of Mass Transit. On page twelve it says, Transit is kind of like Chinese food; no matter how much you get, eventually you'll get hungry for more. That seems to be the case with almost all light rail systems in the USA.

According to Railway Age, Union Pacific has set new tonnage records for coal in the Powder River Basin.

The Chatsworth Metrolink Disaster is having a far-ranging ripple effect, even before the government mandates their changes. Some Class One Railroads have now forbidden the possession and use of cell phones. Several rail shippers have commented that this change has made it more difficult to communicate with local train crews who service their sidings. Cell phones had made it helpful in getting an idea of when and how many cars would be spotted. No more.

Can we mention the BCS? At least for a couple of points:

-We all agree that there has to be a better way, right? Rip would like to know how it is that the NCAA once said "no tournament because we cannot play more games than we already do" and yet turn around and allow a twelfth regular season game to be added to everyone's schedule?

-Rip never thought that he would miss the ESPN announcers, but the Fox play-by-play types have managed to make me do just that. Fox People, watch your own monitors, or better yet look at the game! Then, you would actually know what is going on.

-Tonight's Oklahoma-Florida game will answer questions. Can the Big Twelve actually play defense? Will an SEC team do it again? Understand that Rip has no dog in this hunt, but he may have to watch the game with the sound off, to avoid hearing that "Boomer Sooner" thing ad nauseam.

The new "Track Guy" Newsletter is out. If you don't get it, go here to see it.

Here's hoping that you have a safe, productive, and fulfilling 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Congrats to New Mexico Rail Runner!

Good planning and execution have led to the opening of an extension of the New Mexico Rail Runner operation from Bernalillo to Santa Fe! This project was a favorite of Governor Bill Richardson. Looking at this photo brings one question to mind: Can a rail commuter operation prosper in such a sparse landscape?

If you have ever driven from Santa Fe to Albuquerque on Interstate 25, you will agree that the amount of vehicular traffic is truly amazing. Much of the new trackage runs in the media of that Interstate. A fast train will, as usual, be its own best advertising while it speeds by auto traffic. No doubt his will be an interesting operation to watch.

A review of ridership on transits across the nation indicate that patronage is up, even in the face of much, much lower gasoline prices. APTA has said so here and here. Want more specific examples? How about Texas? Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Trinity Rail Express seem to be increasing by the minute. Both were doing well for the summer, and have continued in October and November. Tri-Met in Portland continues to impress.

How about auto happy California? VTA in San Jose checks in impressivesly. Not to be outdone, Los Angeles MTA is going strong, too. And, don't forget Amtrak! That Agency is up in California, too. It looks like last summer's outrageous gasoline prices have resulted in decisions by many that have modified how travel is done.

So, in today's travel environment where light rail and commuter trains are being favored, New Mexico Rail Runner should do well. New Mexicans are surprisingly open to innovation and change, and should embrace the idea of taking the train between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Let's hope so! Success here will breed success elsewhere, for sure.

Just for good luck, here is one more photo:

So, good luck on ya, New Mexico. And, Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Metrorail Shows Good Thinking

Just got my November '08 copy of Railway Track and Structures, and was pleased to read a story about how Metrorail dealt with a Track Inspector who failed to identify poor track (scroll down to October 17) that ultimately led to the derailment on June 9th of Train 905 near their Court House Station. I read this article wondering if that Inspector was "let go" as a result. I was gratified that such was not the case!

I was even more gratified to read that Metrorail has put into place a great deal of effort to insure that a similar superficial inspection was less likely to happen again. The inspector was not fired, but retrained. Further, Metrorail has installed a new Track Inspector Certification Program involving both written and other practical exams, and has made the Program mandatory for not only new but also current Track Inspectors. I was amazed to read that Metrorail employs a total of thirty-seven track inspectors, and that they all had completed the new training program by mid-October.

To be sure, as you read the article you will learn that the inspector failed to comply with many existing directives. To be sure, readers of Rip Track have, in the past, been critical of some of Metrorail's policies and operational practices. But this has to be seen as a step in the right direction when compared with what was traditionally done.

When I was climbing up the engineering organizational chart, the normal procedure was to send a new recruit out to inspect track without much more training than that recruit had learned as a laborer/machine operator/foreman. Such training could be good or bad, depending on who the recruit had worked for. In other words, a good boss equaled good training, and vice versa. If the new recruit was lucky, and learned the nuances of his trade, survival! If, on the other hand, the recruit shared the experience of our Metrorail Inspector, it was "back to your tools."

Metrorail's approach is better, more proactive. Good on 'em!

And, Happy Thanksgiving, too!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SCRRA Crash Today . . .

Metrolink (SCRRA) is still having bad luck. A Metrolink Train sideswiped a freight train in Rialto, California. The story is here, at least as much as there is now.

There have been recent developments in the Chatsworth disaster, too. Rip is putting together some links and some thoughts that will hopefully be up soon.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Short Lines, not as long but just as wide: Election Results!

Not the results you already know about, but other important results. It was a big day for many Rail Commuter and Transit Agencies last Tuesday. For the most part, voters strongly supported tax and bond issues to fund construction and expansion of Commuter Rail and Light Rail projects. The NRC reviews many outcomes. A blog at Progressive Railroading comments as well.

APTA makes a sweeping comment about the vast number of projects awaiting funding, projects already approved and ready to go.

The old voting patterns remain: Areas that have rail transit know the benefits and support these projects; areas that do not (ie. Kansas City) reject them. Many have wondered if recent lower gasoline prices gave some voters a short memory concerning our undesireable dependence on foreign oil.

An example of a city that has embraced Light Rail Transit is Portland, Oregon. Congrats are in order for the area, as the new Westside Rail Commuter Line is about to be opened. There is no doubt in my mind that cities like Portland will thrive in the future while cities like Kansas City will not, simply due to the investment made in rail transit infrastructure.

Another issue: When will the economy pick up? I have no better idea than anyone else, but I do know an excellent indicator. When centerbeam flatcars such as these are no longer seen stored along lonely desert sidings, the recovery will be underway!

Monday, October 06, 2008

AREMA 2008 Annual Conference

As many predicted, the whole affair in Salt Lake City came off very well. Having noted that, most believed that the Exhibits came off better than the Sessions. The Salt Lake City Convention Center was a wonderful setting no matter what objections or praise could be heard. The exhibit space entrance was sharp, and led attendees into a variety of displays; a choice could be made between visiting old supplier friends and making new ones. I did hear that the total square footage seemed less than one of the major shows from maybe five years ago, but I believe that the Salt Lake City event seemed definitely larger than last year's show in Chicago, and probably larger than the show two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky.

No outdoor exhibits were to be seen, but there were static displays of various heavy equipment in the Hall to offset that fact. While seeing innovations in trackwork machinery actually happening in front of your eyes on track is a great thing, there is no doubt that pulling off these outdoor displays is tough. First, there must be a little used yard facility that can be dedicated for the time required to set up, show, and take down. Little used yard facilities are not easy to find, and this fact alone limits potential sites for AREMA Rail Expos. Second, the logistics of transportation, insurance, basic creature comforts, and the potential for bad weather have to be accomodated. Did we see our last outdoor displays in Louisville? Time will tell.

One thing that worked was the close proximity of the exhibits to the sessions. A quick escalator ride brought attendees to whichever. A quick look over the railing from the walkway going by the session rooms could even be used to locate colleagues.

Enough about the exhibits, how about the sessions? I heard more than one comment that the sessions seemed a bit "lightweight" in comparison to years past. It seems redundant to say that teamwork shortened our project time and saved us money. But I heard it over and over again. Others said that most of the information presented was already available elsewhere, or had been previously presented elsewhere. When I asked one presenter if I should attend his, or another that was in conflict, he remarked that he would like to go with me to the other! One presentation that I had planned to take in was cancelled entirely!

Having done presentations such as these myself, I can attest to the difficulty of doing something that becomes worthwhile to those in attendance. It is easy to simply decide that "something is good enough", but there is a danger here for AREMA. In the end, there absolutely HAS to be value in these sessions and presentations, or our bosses will make it even more difficult for us to justify going. That does neither AREMA nor individuals any good. Simply filling timeslots in an ambitious session schedule will not do at all.

Was the AREMA 2008 Annual Conference worthwhile? Yes, of course! I did, and others I know of, made the event a place where problems could be solved and efforts could be smoothed.

See you in Chicago in September 2009!