Monday, May 30, 2005

Remembering one friend today

He was a teammate on my High School Track Team. Although he was a year younger than I, his maturity and insight as a Junior impressed me, even though I was the all-wise Senior. He was talented, friendly, intelligent, and a good sprinter. He went to Vietnam and never returned. His name was Garland Jackson.

When I found his name on The Wall in DC, I was amazed at the depth of my emotion, at the level of my remorse. I later recalled how my Dad was moved to tears while visiting the gravesite at the Arlington National Cemetery of a High School buddy who died in World War II. My daughter listened to my story of Garland's name on the wall, and brought back a rubbing of the those engraved letters that spelled his name when she visited The Wall. I still have that rubbing.

I can't say Garland and I were best friends. But somehow, his life influenced mine. And somehow, his death did, also. There are others who died in the line of duty who graduated with me, or who I knew in one way or another, but it is Garland I remember today.

I hope to see him again in Heaven, and thank him. I hope my life has been worthy of his sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of so many others. Yesterday on Sixty Minutes, Andy Rooney remarked that our typical comment for those we remember on Memorial Day, is that "they gave their lives", but in reality, "their lives were taken from them". Garland, you did not deserve to have your life taken from you. God bless you, my friend.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Interesting Interview

Maybe there are others like me, others who like to read interviews with powerful, influential people who are now far removed from their positions that changed lives and corporations. Usually, these people are looser with their observations and more profound with their insights. I recently discovered such an interview during a websearch for something entirely different.

The interview was with Mr. John Ingram, who was President and CEO of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad, just before the property's last days, and was also in a very high position in the Federal Railroad Administration. I had heard that Mr. Ingram was a little bitter immediately after he failed to raise "The Rock" from the depths of ruin. He had every reason to be bitter. I have always felt that had the events that led to the liquidation of "The Rock" occurred in the Reagan Administration rather than the Carter Administration, the property would have had a greater chance of survival. The fact that a lot of the trackage of the old "Rock Island Railroad" remains to this day supports my view.

At any rate, if you enjoy looking back from the viewpoint of someone who once held great power, check out this interview. I think you will find it fascinating.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mineta is at it again!

In a speech delivered before an audience at the Amtrak Station in Mobile, Alabama, Mr. Norman Mineta once more gives evidence that the closest he gets to understanding the Railroad Industry is when his car gets stopped at a grade crossing and he has to learn the names of Railroad Companies as the freight cars roll by!

The executive summary is that Amtrak should take on the same spirit as the Alaska Railroad (ARR) does as it markets itself to local customers! Of course, he forgets that the ARR has received LOTS of Federal Subsidies over the years, and was actually owned and operated at one time by the Federal Railroad Administration. Luckily the ARR survived that episode! Anyone also familiar with the operations of the ARR knows that it is more like the American Orient Express, or some other tourist railroad than operating over the checkerboard of properties, agreements, and government jurisdictions such as Amtrak. Once again, go here for some good opinions about Mr. Mineta.

Indications are coming in that if President Bush is listening too much to Mr. Mineta, others are not and are about to act quite differently. Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn had this to say recently. It is as frank and honest of a discussion of Amtrak's financial condition, as the man himself.

Also, The House, including several Republicans who are starting to defect from the GOP party line as well, is proposing a viable option according to this article in The Baltimore Sun.

Finally, read this editorial from The Detroit Free Press.

Yes, the Dems are Off-the-Wall and deceitful when it comes to the Senate debate over the Up-and-Down Vote of Federal Judges, but the Administration is equally Off-the-Wall when it comes to the issue of Amtrak. Support for their funding proposal is eroding, precisely as it should be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

AREMA Technical Conference Program Announced

The Annual Technical Conference of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) to be held at the Palmer House in Chicago from September 25 thru September 28 has been announced, and, as usual, topics will be covered that look to be valuable to those in attendance. Frequently, topics at these Technical Conferences are very beneficial, and are at the cutting edge of Railway Engineering, Construction, and Maintenance. Also frequently, many of the consulting engineers who seem to be writing many project specifications are never there to take advantage of such practical and timely experience.

But that is a topic for a future discussion. I want to point out three scheduled events that should be quite interesting. One is the annual Chairman's Luncheon, where Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn has been invited to speak. The second is a presentation to be done by Mr. Michael McGinley of SCRRA (Metrolink) together with Mr. Gordon Bachinsky of Advanced Rail Management Corporation, who will combine to speak on "SCRRA's Turnkey Rail Maintenance Service Contract". And finally, Mr. Kevin Jeffers of the Washington State DOT - Rail will discuss "Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor - Building Blocks into the Future".

The recent debate between Congress and the Bush Administration should give Mr. Gunn a good opportunity to bloviate. To get an idea of what Mr. Gunn thinks about the current situation, read a recent letter sent to Amtrak employees. To get another insight into the man himself, read this interview done some years ago. Mr. Gunn is outspoken, unconventional, and usually correct in his observations. Speaking before a sympathetic audience of Railroad Professionals should open the door for salient observations. AREMA does say, however, that Mr. Gunn is invited but not yet confirmed. Here's hoping he decides to attend.

Mr. McGinley is one of AREMA's most respected and knowledgeable members. If you read the last few sentences of this portion of Advanced Rail Management's website, you will see why such a presentation could be valuable to certain agencies, but those very agencies will have to admit their need, whatever it might be.

And some good insight should be gained from Mr. Jeffers presentation. Several agencies and much coordination has been required to pull off Rail Commuter Service to an urban area that desperately needs it. The Corridor itself is extensive, and the Plan is multifaceted.

Not that the "Nuts and Bolts" type presentations should be missed, but sometimes a few very interesting insights are to be gained from presentations such as these noted above. If the Technical Conference finds you in attendance, you will have a leg up on all who do not attend. Hopefully, you can use this advantage for the benefit of us all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Great Point made by LAMTA's Roger Snoble

I wonder if this quote will be reported to the extent that Mr. Roger Snoble of the Los Angeles MTA will land in hot water. It was honest, and, I believe, absolutely correct! But, man, what a statement!

In the April 2005 issue of Mass Transit Magazine, a trade journal generally distributed among Transit Professionals, Mr. Snoble basically says that a group known as "The Bus Riders Union" keeps pushing for more and more money to be wasted on added bus service, with the result being that no money is available for rail transit, either light rail or commuter rail. Why? The Bus Riders Union say that money spent on rail instead of buses takes money away from minorities! Snoble's point is that all transit systems in Los Angeles serve the minorities as well as the majority, because in Los Angeles the minority is the majority!

A month later, a follow-up letter appeared in the May issue of Mass Transit Magazine that reinforces the point. It was written by the Transportation Chair of the Sierra Club's North Star (Minnesota) Chapter, and supported Mr. Snoble entirely. The writer clearly states that the Bus Riders Union, along with what he calls "Right-Wing Think Tanks", have done is "nothing less than a conspiracy to defraud citizens of good transit." He goes on to be amazed by a Court of Law that enabled such an obvious "boondoggle" as the Consent Decree which bans funds for future rail transit projects.

I have no idea why reference is made to unnamed right wing think tanks; maybe it's just to convince readers that the author truly is a member of the Sierra Club. I agree, though, that knee-jerk opinions that local government has no business in public transit gets to be kind of a think-tank cliche.

Others have already devoted one site and another site to expose the BRU.

The whole issue of what effects various groups may have on minorities is a bit off-topic for this blog, but it does sadly show that public agencies do have to deal with agendas from a great number of sources. Oh, I am amazed that a Sierra Club spokesman, a spokesman from a club that often seems to be the very embodiment of political correctness in the eyes of some, takes on the Bus Riders Union. But what is going on here that is of interest to this blog is this effort to expose a subversive effort against a good transit system being done in the name of Minority Rights! Amazingly, as Mr. Snoble and the letter writer both observe, the minorities are the very people who suffer as a result!

Bringing this kind of tyranny to a conscious level has to be good. There have been horrible ramifications of the BRU. Snoble notes that there are some bus routes of up to forty miles in length. There are better options. If rail is better suited in a particular situation, and the only objection comes from some group like the Bus Riders Union, then hopefully their impact will be considered in correct proportion with other considerations. Exposing and defeating misguided outfits such as the BRU is something that Agencies must do. I hope that citizens in Los Angeles, minority and non-minority both, unite for the true benefit of everyone.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bush versus Amtrak

I have to admit at the outset, I wholeheartedly supported Bush in '04. And I am still glad I did. Kerry and the Dems would have been a disaster. But between W, Norman Mineta, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) are either clueless, or are clearly united to dismantle Amtrak. (For another opinion on Mr. Mineta, go here.)

Before we go on, how is it that a Congressman from Alaska heads this committee? Could the GOP have found anyone as far removed geographically, and perhaps philosophically, from the whole Amtrak and rail passenger situation as Mr. Young? I cannot comment on the man or his politics, but whatever rules leading to the selection of Committee Chairmen have clearly failed here. The Bush-Mineta plan does away with one bureaucracy and substitutes FOUR in its place! The idea is that Amtrak operates, but others own the facilities. Please! What leverage would any operating department have in such a situation.

And quadrupling the bureaucracies sounds more like what we would have heard from a Kerry Administration!

In the May Trains Magazine, columnist Don Phillips makes a point so simple, and so hard hitting, that it is mind numbing in its implications for the lack of thought that went behind the Administration's Proposal! That point is this: If control is turned over to individual States, and one State on a particular train's route does not pay up, does the train run thru that State without picking up passengers? And what about those passengers from the pay-up States who filled the coffers only to be denied the right to detrain at their chosen destination that falls within the non-pay State? Phillips uses Colorado as his example, but consider potential operations around Chicago. This area could be one of the prime success stories for a well thought-out Amtrak, but lining up Wisconsin, Illinois,Indiana, Michigan, and maybe even Missouri and Iowa to all run passenger trains will be much more difficult than what Amtrak could do on its own, right this minute!

The US needs trains where they will work. They will not work everywhere. But they can work, should be made to work, and must be given the chance to work in those workable places such as Chicagoland and the Northeast Corridor. Bush's Plan will not work. If Bush's real plan is to dismantle Amtrak, that isn't going to happen, either.

Both the US Congress and the Administration should listen to the professionals at Amtrak, like David Gunn, and let the pros tell the politicos how it should be done. Once again, office holders, like some of the bureaucrats who operate in Public Transit Agencies, do not understand that any past or potential problems in Transit or Rail Passenger operations is not due to a lack of management skills, but due instead to financial considerations. When it comes to helping Amtrak, the Administration and Congress cannot see the track ahead for the crossties!