Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tyler Goes to AREMA

For another take on the recently completed AREMA Conference, go here. Interesting to see that Tyler was as impressed with the Abo Canyon effort as I was.


No FRA Report, no David Gunn at AREMA
An Unexpected Tribute at the AREMA Conference
Trains Magazine at AREMA
And Back from AREMA
Off to the AREMA Conference and Expo
AREMA Technical Conference Program Announced

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Frustrations with the Railroad-Transit Industry

Let me state at the start: I am very proud to be associated with the Railroad and Rail Transit Industry. I can think of no finer group of people to work with. I chose to be a part of this group, and have not regretted it.

But there are frustrations. The biggest one for me is that no one seems to care how much money is needlessly spent, or how other, more minor issues, force important things behind the curtain. Speak with anyone in this profession, and once you have gained their confidence, you will hear the same thing. And no matter what the specific issue is, it almost always ends with something like, "But I guess money doesn't matter to them".

There needs to be a way to bring these issues to the light of day. They need to be exposed. That is one thing that the web has brought to today's political scene. The speed and efficiency of the web has exposed many issues that would have not been made public any other way. I will not list specific examples. You already know several. Obviously, rapid change is underway due to this process. And our world is becoming better for it.

But we need a forum for the Railroad-Transit Industry. Frankly, at first blush, such a forum seems to be needed more on the transit side. But that's just right now. The railroads have had their skeletons, too. Undoubtedly the railroads will have some more in the future. But now there seems to be more dark corners within the public side than the private side. Rip Track could become a part of that forum. That was my hope when I started this site.

I have noticed that others have tried as well. These starts were all very worthy. Then, the lack of participation by others led to apathy, atrophy, and finally, death. Look at Dan Zukowski's fine writing. Now, check out the responses. Not many. the sad thing is that he has written some very good pieces on the state of this industry. I am surprised and disturbed by the lack of response. I think Dan must be frustrated, but hopefully, he will not abandon his efforts.

There are some real "dollars-and-cents" issues on these sites. These issues need to be discussed. They're not.

In contrast, look at the Railfan sites, the so called "foamers" who like to watch trains go by. I like to see UPRR's 844 and 3985 as much or more than the next guy, but I wish that there was the same degree passion stirred up when dollars are waisted as those that are stirred up with a steam locomotive.

We need to have passion for both the fun and the money. Hopefully, you agree. If so, get involved. Leave your opinion, at Dan's, here, and any other place you run across on the web. We will all be better off.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Monday Morning III

Once, ABC Sports was the trendsetter and leader when it came to the look and presentation of their product. No more. Especially considering ABC College Football.

Are ABC and ESPN linked somehow? Maybe just financially? Well then, some of the ABC Execs need to get into the production room of ESPN and see how to better keep the interest of their audience.

How? Let's say you're watching a college football game on ABC. Maybe you are interested in other games besides the one you are watching. So you look for updates. Forget it on ABC. ESPN, yes. CBS, yes, both the SEC coverage on Saturday, and the NFL coverage on Sunday! And, horror of horrors, even NBC has at least crawlers with updated scores while you watch Notre Dame home games.

What happens? I bet alot of people, myself included, surf to other networks to keep better informed with key Saturday games. ABC loses viewers. Sponsors lose viewers.

Someday, one of the ratings devices will spit out some numbers that will grab the attention of the decision makers, either at ABC or their big sponsors. More than likely, nothing happens to improve ABC's product until then.



Monday Morning II
Monday Morning

Friday, October 14, 2005

Spam at Rip Track

Recently, I have noticed, as have several other Bloggers, that spam comments have multiplied. This will not continue here at Rip Track.

I read all comments, and if it is spam, I permanently delete it. If it continues, I will put into place the Blogger word recognition tool that eliminates much of these superfluous messages.

This is a much better alternative than that of discontinuing comments altogether.

Believe me, pertinent comments are appreciated and highly desireable. I hope you as a reader will understand and support me. The result should be that you will not have to wade thru extensive advertising and other sludge.

Agency - Contractor Collusion? Say It Isn't True!

But there is a good chance that there might be. Careful reading of a recent Invitation for Bids from a specific Public Transit Agency included these words:

"If the Authority determines that the apparent successful Contractor has failed to meet the foregoing requirements, before awarding the Contract the Authority will provide the Contractor and opportunity for administrative reconsideration. As part of this reconsideration, the Contractor will have the opportunity to provide written documentation or arguement concerning the issue of whether it met the goal or made adequate good faith efforts to do so.

The Authority's decision on reconsideration will be made by a DBE Administrative Hearing Officer. The Contractor will be given the opportunity to meet in person with the Authority's reconsideration official to discuss the issue of whether it met the goal or made adequate good faith efforts to do so. The Authority will send the Contractor a written decision on reconsideration, explaining the basis for finding that the Contractor did or did not meet the goal or make adequate good faith efforts to do so. The result of this reconsideration process is not administratively appealable to DOT."

If that isn't negotiations that define collusion, I don't know what is. This provision for apparent renegotiation of a Bid with the "apparent successful Contractor" has been interpreted by several with whom I have spoken as clear collusion. This is because that there is ample opportunity for something new to be included in such a "meeting" after a Bid Opening. New agreements, new efforts, new weasel words could all be brought forward by the "apparent successful Contractor".

You may have noticed that this provision deals with DBE requirements. Generally, these goals or requirements are pretty cut and dried. Either a bid meets the goals or it doesn't. If it doesn't, the bid should be rejected. No "reconsideration" should be given to the unsuccessful bidder. Move on to the next bidder, easy as that.

Does the Federal Transit Administration know about this? I don't know. But I do think that something like this is at least as important as the depth of boilerplate that becomes part of any Contract funded by the FTA. The FTA Staff is supposedly there to take care of this sort of thing. I hope that the FTA will do so without an expensive test case filed on behalf of a legitiment Contractor who doesn't get the chance for "reconsideration" by this or any other Agency.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Work on the Powder River Basin

Check out the Altamont Press Railroad Newsline for detailed information about what trackwork is going on. Scroll down, there are several interesting articles.

If you want to read more about what the UPRR has to say, go here.


USA Today on the Powder River Basin

No FRA Report, no David Gunn at AREMA

In spite of all the good things at AREMA's '05 Conference, there was one big disappointment. Mr. David Gunn, President and CEO of Amtrak, did not speak before the Annual Luncheon. Too bad. I cannot imagine a more friendly group for this particular speaker.

As is tradition at AREMA, whoever is President of the organization will ask the CEO of his employing company or agency to speak at the Annual Luncheon. So this year, Mr. Walt Heide, President of AREMA and a Director at Amtrak, would ask his CEO, Mr. Gunn. As has been the case in previous years, it is almost always a worthwhile speech, and most members make a point of attending to hear what someone of such stature has to say.

Mr. Gunn might have revealed some of his thoughts about his differences with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta. He would have had alot of sympathy at AREMA, I'm sure.

I can understand how his time was better spent elsewhere. So I understand, but I'm still disappointed.

And hearing a report from the FRA would have been interesting, too, although there probably would have been much more bureaucratic spin with this talk.

Maybe next year.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Monday Morning II

I have never been able to figure out why ESPN stops running the crawler with up-to-date scores when any advertising appears on the screen. Am I the only person who changes to another channel, even another ESPN outlet, in order to watch the crawler and hopefully see the score that I'm desperate to see?

The answer is simple: Just keep the crawler going THRU the ads! I'll keep watching.

I even checked this out for myself by watching, surprise, ESPN News. That's right! One of ESPN's own outlets continues to show scores on the crawler while sponsors pitch their products. Guess what? I continued to watch and, unlike ESPN or ESPNII, was aware of the advertiser's content.

I know, some of the big execs will say that they don't want any attention paid to their ads to be diluted with the crawler, but isn't some attention better than NO attention?


Monday Morning

An Unexpected Tribute at the AREMA Conference

During the first morning of the AREMA Conference, President Heide began the award of AREMA Honorary Member with a surprise tribute to one of the giants of the Railroad Engineering and Construction Industry, namely Roger K Steele, who passed away unexpectedly in August of 2004. Roger was one of those rare types who was not only an acknowledged expert in his field, but also a friendly and approachable fellow as well. Facets of Roger's life were noted, and remembered as the award of Honorary Member was made posthumously for the first time in AREMA's history.

The ironic thing is that Roger Steele's area of expertise was steel, more specifically, rail! His knowledge concentrated on the metalurgy of steel, the details of what works and what doesn't for rails. He knew it better than anyone.

Roger's family was there, and perhaps they learned of the appreciation that all members of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association had for their Husband, for their Father.

The predictable award of Honorary Member became a wonderful and meaningful tribute to a great man. It was memorable for all who were there.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Amtrak Ridership: Update

According to Progressive Railroading, Amtrak continues to post ridership gains in California, the State supposedly wedded to automobile transportation.


Wondering How Gas Prices Are Affecting Ridership?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Trains Magazine at AREMA

Lots of us in the Railroad Engineering, Supply, and Contracting business have heard of "Trains Magazine". "Trains" has been, for about seventy years now, the Bible of the American Railfan, those people who have more than a passing interest in railroads.

But "Trains" is changing. During the past few years, railfan oriented articles like exactly where UP's #3985 or #844 is running next are supplemented with more newsworthy stories. This month, there is great coverage of the recently passed SAFETEA-LU Funding, as well as a revealing bio and interview with David Gunn of Amtrak. I learned more in these articles than whatever has been published recently in the Railroad Industry trade journals, the very journals who at one time prided themselves in the sort of coverage that "Trains" now does much more regularly.

Maybe that's why "Trains" was at the AREMA Exhibition. Maybe they have seen a void in rail related coverage, and are going to do something about it. I overheard conversations where it was noted, to one degree or another, that "Trains" is doing a great job, maybe even better, now, than the trade journals. One even noted that "Trains" avoids the blue-sky, everything-is-fine reporting style of the trade journals instead using more of a tell-it-like-it-is style. That is a good thing. Bottom line: Trains was well received at this year's AREMA Conference.

Advertisers have spoken as well. It is now not uncommon for ads from Railroad Industry Suppliers to appear in the pages of "Trains".

Railroads has been blessed for a long time with people who love the industry, both as a pastime, and as a profession. "Trains" appears to be capitalizing on that fact, that it is possible to appeal to both personalities within the same person. All of this is most welcomed, and makes the magazine all the better.

At the very least, Rip Track can offer the link to the magazine. Please see it on the right. In order to maximize your experience, you will have to register at the site. But to really do it right, buy the magazine in the supermarket, or better yet, subscribe to the printed edition. You will not be sorry.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Summary of AREMA Presentations at the 2005 Annual Conference

AREMA Presentations basically fall into three catagories.

One catagory is a review of recently completed and significant projects of Railroad Construction. The second catagory is a projection of upcoming work. The third catagory involves some sort of overview of recent advances in technology.

The 2005 Conference had a good selection from all three catagories. In fact, most with whom I spoke echoed the same idea that almost all presentations were beneficial, and that the Conference exceeded all expectations.

Current and completed projects included a fine presentation by TransSystems about the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program. The Union Pacific Railroad outlined some of their new thinking about Advances in Material Distribution Methods, although theirs was more an update and refinement of previously tried methods. That's OK, I think the Ancient Greeks defined creativity as refinement and improvement of the existing rather than coming up with something entirely new.

TransSystems got another "attaboy" with the award of the Dr. W. W. Hay Award for Excellence, for their participation in the Kansas City Bypass Project.

Mike McGinley and Gordon Bachinsky did not disappoint in their joint presentation concerning SCRRA's Turnkey Rail Maintenance Service Contract. The message that I took away is that a smallish system like Southern California's Metrolink can actually end up with a better program for rail and track geometry maintenance than some of the mungungous Class Ones with their dedicated staff. Very interesting, and very applicable to many other small systems, both public and private.

Future work discussed included a revealing description of what work must be done to double track BNSF's route thru Abo Canyon, east of Belen, New Mexico. This was the sort of presentation that makes you proud to be associated with railroad engineering. Anyone who had been in the Abo Canyon area knew of the challenge of simply adding a track. But Mr. Zucker and Mr. Magistro of HDR Engineering detailed how considerations were given to archeological sites of the Anasazi, as well as to species of animals recently introduced by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department. The design for the much needed second track in this area has evolved from the very serious consideration of many, many inputs.

Typical of presentations concerning updated technology was Dr. Bonaventura of Zeta-Tech Associates, who gave a convincing presentation about how simple modifications to turnout geometry created a measureably smoother ride with less loading on all turnout components. Only problem was addressed by a question from the audience: "Have you or will you publish the specifics of the changes?" Dr. Bonaventura said, simply, no. I recall a presentation done many years ago by Dr. Raymond of Canada, where he noted changes to the AREA (American Railway Engineering Association) Standards used at that time for ballast. His case was convincing. But nothing further has happened because apparently, nothing was published. I hope that the improvements noted by Dr. Bonaventura do not slip into oblivion.

Many other presentations shed light on updates in procedures and thinking. Some of those will be noted in a day or two. It was almost all very worthwhile.