Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Conservative's View of Public Transit

Are you a conservative who has a tough time reconciling your belief that Transit Funding is a good thing? Read this comment written by Representative Rick Geist in Mass Transit Magazine. He nails it. You don't have to feel torn any longer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

FTA's "New Starts" Strikes Again

This time it's in Nashville. As reported in the June '05 issue of Mass Transit Magazine (that specific issue is not as of yet up on the web), construction of the Regional Transportation Authority's "Music City Star" commuter service was delayed to some extent by the Federal Transit Administration.

See my previous post concerning New Starts in Los Angeles. The Lesson: Delays mean more cost.

Apparenty, the issue revolves around the FTA's interpretation of the exceptions for commuter rail as listed in the CFR's documentation of level boarding. Typically, commuter railroads use mini-lifts or mini-high platforms as needed to operate effectively without encroaching on the clearances required for Freight Operations. The FTA decided to place the burden of proof on each Agency, Nashville RTA here, to prove that the intended exception is met when Fast Starts money is used. Oddly, it was the regional office of the FTA, combined with local reps, that got the issue resolved. As a result, Mini-high platforms are now being constructed.

No one doubts the need for these Mini-high Platforms. What is also needed, and what needs to be addressed as noted in the article, is the writing of clear and concise direction that provides any commuter rail using "New Starts" with specific criteria that must be met during design. The result: There will be a simple yes-or-no answer instead of a lengthy burden-of-proof process. Hopefully, the FTA will take up this responsibility and create this criteria. Projects will speed up, and money will be saved.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Relative amount of Amtrak's Annual Budget

I just found out that the Federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has taken over responsibility for $6 Billion in benefits to current and former employees of United Airlines. This dollar amount is enough to cover Amtrak's current annual budget for FIVE YEARS!

Let's hear again from some of these high-and-mighty politicians about how much money they are saving us taxpayers as they dismantle Amtrak!

Wide ranging, yet interesting!

Rambling blogs can be boring. You have read them as I have. After a few moments of reviewing someone's shotgun approach to life, you decide that you have to pull the trigger.

Not the Country Pundit. Do not be confused by cheap imitations, this it The Country Pundit at Blogspot. Featured are a plethora of topics, ranging from the Virginia Primary, to the Pundit's contribution to Blogs for Bush concerning Flag Burning, to the recent deaths of people you will know and recognize, but not necessarily by name. You can even find links to Science Fiction based quizzes.

The Country Pundit writes about things that are interesting to him, and he makes them interesting to me. Maybe I need to write about more things than just railroad stuff. Do yourself a favor and make his blog a habit. The link is on the right.

The Track Guy

Not me. It's Mr. John Zuspan. He is the "King Snipe" of Track Guy Consultants. And if anyone deserves to be called "The Track Guy", it is John.

He has taught several seminars, jointly with others as well as by himself. He has provided valuable services to a number of track owners and other clients. He publishes a most informative Newsletter. And he has opened The Track Guy website. I bet that if you go there and send him a message, John would be more than happy to include you on his mailing list.

But by far the most encouraging thing to me is the philosophy that motivates John, at least as far as our role in training the new people who are going to have their hands on the throttle of this business in a very short time. Once you are on his webpage, go to the Inspection Bullet on the right side of the Homepage and read the paragraph at the bottom. John is singing my song. More power to him.

UPDATE: John is back from a track inspection trip to Siberia! If you have tried to contact him without success, try again now.

Friday, June 24, 2005

LA MTA versus FTA

Actions do speak louder than words. Especially when actions deal with money! Case in point: The Los Angeles County MTA's proposed Exposition Avenue Light Rail Project is actually saving taxpayer's money by not applying for Federal Transit money! Here is another related story that verifies this amazing fact.

No less than Mr. Rick Thorpe, LA MTA's chief Capital Management Officer, has said in a written statement, as reported here by Progressive Railroading, that the Federal Transit Administration's current evaluation process has become very time consuming. Bypassing FTA's new "New Starts Program", LA MTA figures that the completion date for the Exposition Avenue Project moves up a full two years!

Mr. Thorpe is a hero. The public gets much needed transportation at a lower cost. Rail suppliers, and anyone else for that matter who has watched the price of steel go up substantially in the past year or two, will verify that on a Project of $640 million like this, two years of approval time may cost an additional amount that goes well into the seven figure range!

It's a WIN-WIN-LOSE situation. LA MTA wins. Light Rail riders in Los Angeles win. The FTA loses!

This is money that cannot be added to other costs imposed by the FTA. But it should be. Kudos to the Los Angeles MTA for, in effect, telling the gatekeepers at the FTA to stuff it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

But the news is not all good for Amtrak

There would be some conditions that would affect many routes, according to this article.

UPDATE: Another observation concerning this legislation from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Future with $4 Gasoline

Have you wondered what life at $4 a gallon might look like? Read Michael Ventura's column from the Austin Chronicle. It's a little scary, but not at all far fetched.

The "Rippers" are coming! The "Rippers" are coming!

First the Oscars, and now the Rippers! The Rippers will be the first of what I hope will be an annual award. Riptrack will award five "Rippers" to the best public transit agencies, arbitrarily based on the quality of Relationships with Contractors and Vendors, and on the quality of their resulting Trackage Projects.

Awards will be limited to Agencies who operate primarily in the United States. Awards will be highly subjective and opinionated, but will be based on the combined experiences and testimony of suppliers and contractors who have been involved with the best and the worst of Transit and Commuter Rail Agencies.

Shortly after the award for the "Best", the breathlessly anticipated "Rippers" will be awarded to the "Five Worst" and most infamous Agencies. These are the Agencies who do not seem to know the difference between "Track" and "Rail", and as a consequence probably pay more and receive less for their money than the Best agencies do.

Do you have any thoughts on who deserves a Ripper? Please leave it in the comments section below. It certainly will be considered, together with other significant factors, all weighted accordingly.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Movement on the Transit Funding Front

As reported by APTA, at least something is happening in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Another case against the Horse's Ass Story

In addition to my post below dated June 8th, Truth or Fiction lays out another convincing argument against this prevailing e-mail myth. Mention is made of Mr. Stephenson, but not Mr. Jessup. Both men were significant players in the track gauge drama. The horse was not.

It's just not sexy

Important, but not sexy. Mr. Mineta cannot hold attention like Mr. Jackson. Amtrak fades in comparison with Gitmo. And how can a quote from Mr. Gunn stir the emotions quite like a quote from Mr. Dean? The answer, it can't. But that does not diminish the importance of the issues of Transit Funding, Commuter Rail, and Amtrak.

Unfortunately, I discovered a blogger who has given up trying to raise some of these issues. Too bad. We need more people who point out that it takes more government agencies to build a light rail project than it took to send a man to the moon. This blogger did that, and more. As he said in his last post, maybe he tried to cover too much.

Another blogger who is doing a great job in a limited arena is Thirdrail. He concentrates on The Washington DC Metro. That's OK. The issues apply to almost all other agencies, too. Only the jargon changes to protect the innocent.

Give Thirdrail a read. I will. Often. That is why Thirdrail is now linked.

Monday, June 13, 2005

TEA 21 Compromise Underway

Latest news: The Congressional Conference Committee is meeting to reconcile differences between the House and Senate Bills concerning funding the Surface Transportation Reauthorization. There are differences between the two Bills regarding both the Total Dollars Appropriated and the Specific Appropriation for Transit work.

The Committee's work must be done before June 30th. Go to the American Public Transportation Association website and click on the Reauthorization Command Center for updates, although APTA is running about a week behind any current news.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Horse Story that won't go away

Urban myths are tough to beat down. They won't go away. Witness the "United States Railroad Track Gauge and its influence on the Space Program is all based on the width of a Horse's Ass" story. Maybe I am being as overly sensitive, but this story is just flat out WRONG. Even though it is cute and funny, I feel an obligation to set the record straight.

Just for fun, I did a search on Technorati and found this horse story on at least twelve blogs, including redleg07, superelvis, ballistik-brain, antimedia, letslets, forward-humor, macstansbury, and erynfaith. The greatest number of comments showed up on base2wave.

To a blog, they had quoted this story, which first appeared in my e-mail over two years ago. It has been reworded, often with something like "we've always done it this way", or "you can't make this stuff up". Yes you can, because here is the real story. And, please, I am not trying to rain on anyone's humor parade, but as a Railroad Track Construction and Maintenance type-of-guy I am just trying to tell the real story.

Dr. Arnold Kerr has given numerous classes entitled "Railroad Track: Design, Analysis, and Maintenance. He has since retired, but each one of Dr. Kerr's sessions included the real track gauge story, abbreviated here. Standard gauge as defined by the oft-quoted notion that is it based on whatever Roman Legend you choose to believe is actually Five Feet! It is not 4' 8-1/2' as is the case today on U. S. Railroads. How did we get from one to the other? Here is where the British do come into play.

The first "Rail Roads" were constructed with flanges on the rails instead of the wheels. Any farmer or merchant could take his cart onto the "Rail Road" or "Rail Way" and ride in relative bliss. Sometime about 1810, a Mr. Jessup got the wild idea that he could take the flanges off of the rails and onto his wheels. By doing so, he would control all vehicles that used his Right of Way, and could charge a fee for it's use! He constructed his first Railroad in such a way, and maintained a gauge of Five Feet from outside edge of one rail to outside edge of the other.

He placed the wheel flanges on the outside edge. But when he tried to go around a curve, the result was that his carriages would not move. To solve that problem, he moved the flanges to the inside of the wheel and everything worked fine! Trouble was, he had already laid a significant portion of track. What to do?

He simply determined that Gauge should now be measured from inside edge to inside edge! And in order to create a standard for whatever rail would be used, he simply doubled the width of his rail, 1-3/4 inches, and subtracted the total from 5 feet. That came out to exactly 4 feet 8-1/2 inches, the same gauge in use today!

For another account of the inaccuracy of the "Ass" story, go here.

Yes, the real story is still arbitrary. Yes, it is amazing that this particular dimension went around the world as Standard Railway Gauge. But the idea that a horse's ass has anything to do with the Space Shuttle is baseless. We can all blame Mr. Jessup intead.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

"M" is for the many ways he's quoted

Just when you wonder how bad Secretary Mineta is, you discover some more sand for his broken down machinery. I discovered that he has been quoted as saying, "I have an airport named after me, do you?" Doesn't that sound like one of your worst High School teachers trying to maintain credibility after being out-argued by a student?

I also get a kick out of the fact that several of his old Democratic colleagues are now critical of Secretary Mineta. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who proves that any rhetorically filled politician can be elected to the Senate, calls for his resignation as noted in this editorial during Mineta's recent tour of Caltrain's fine operation from San Jose to San Franciso.

Senator Murray (D-WA) is also critical, and correctly notes that "After starving the patient for the last four years, Secretary Mineta is now complaining that the patient is malnurished." Please recognize that Murray dips into politics in this item by taking the opportunity to zap the Bush Administration, as if it is only one who has been guilty of this crime. Politics aside, every single Administration, and every single Congress, regardless of Party affiliation or majority, has done PRECISELY that same thing.

Never mind. There is real bipartisanship showing up here. Both Conservative Michelle Malkin and Liberal Barbara Boxer are calling for Mineta's resignation. Amtrak would be well served if Mineta did "elect" that option. By doing so, he might help give Congress the "High Green" to authorize the Budget Amount that Mr. Gunn and Amtrak want. Then we could see if the President has the courage to excercise an unwise veto.