Friday, September 30, 2005

And Back from AREMA!

Yes, I am! You can expect some updates during the next week, mostly along the lines of my personal observations and perceptions. Almost to a person, everyone I spoke with noted that this year's Annual Conference exceeded expectations.

With a few exceptions, the presentations were splendid. The Exhibits were good, too. Upcoming construction projects, descriptions of excellent services provided to customers, and updates of new technology were all featured.

All of this continues to amaze my friends and relatives who don't comprehend how so many people can talk so much about railroad track for three days straight.

So, I will leave you today with one quote I heard from a friend, which might become the watchword of certain upcoming posts: "You can't write down common sense!" And how true that is!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Off to the AREMA Conference and Expo

It's happening in Chicago at the Palmer House from Sunday until Wednesday, September 25th to the 28th. I will post on what I hear, what I see, and what I learn. AREMA Conferences are always valuable. More line-type people should attend than do.

Incidently, Mr. David Gunn of Amtrak will not be speaking at the Annual Luncheon. His name has disappeared from the AREMA Website Conference Program Guide. The substitute is Mr. Michael J. Rienzi. I'm sure Mr. Rienzi will be fine, but I would have liked to hear what Mr. Gunn had to say about recent Budget Issues.


AREMA Technical Conference Program Announced

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"We've always done it that way!"

Or words to that effect. Other words, like "I'm not sticking my neck out on this one", or "There's no way the Board is going for this", or "Who else has tried this?" are other ways of saying the same thing. Promoting the status quo can be OK, but if that "how we have always done it" thinking had been in force since Stevenson's Rocket, we'd be using Stub Switches!

The real problem is the message that gets thru to any new people who have decided to cast their career lot with the Railroad Industry or the Public Agency side. I had occasion to speak with one individual, who shall of course remain nameless, who lamented the fact that some of the old heads at one particular Agency were simply unwilling to change. Even simple changes to administration issues, let alone issues involving new track engineering practices, would not be considered. This individual, new to the Agency and the Transit Industry, began to wonder if pushing the sled uphill was worth it. The logical next thought is to wonder if the future would be better in another industry.

Of course, not all ideas from new people are good. I remember asking some of the old heads at the Class One Railroad where I began my career about using a Joint Straightener to correct the problem of low rail joints that always seemed to show up after our Track Surfacing efforts. He patiently explained to me why that was not a good idea. After a few minutes, I agreed with him that my idea was not good. However, I went away knowing more about my chosen profession, knowing that my thoughts were worth consideration, and knowing that it was OK to raise some ideas. I am thankful that I worked with people like this. I believe that not only did I benefit, but also that railroad did as well.

But it is just as bad to dismiss all new ideas simply because they are new. When new ideas are considered, two things can happen. If a new idea is good, it's a win-win. If an new idea is bad, it is a win-win. That's because the newer people learn things that are important.

If an idea is not even considered, it is a lose-lose-win, with only the old, "we've always done it that way" head winning. Without the consideration of ideas, both the Agency and its employees suffer. And then, of course, we as taxpayers suffer, too. We do not get the biggest bang for our buck.

I hope there are ways for Agencies to police themselves and allow the consideration of new ideas. Some good ones do. Others don't get it. But bringing thoughts to a level or awareness is the first step. Hopefully, somehow, we can do that.

Monday, September 19, 2005

SAFETEA-LU Opens the Door

It appears that several Transit Agencies were just waiting for some Federal Money to be appropriated, which is exactly what SAFETEA-LU did. By my count, there are four or five new Requests for Quotations for new light rail and commuter rail projects. Responding to these has occupied most of my time lately, and I apologize for the lack of posts here at Rip Track.

At least two of these Agencies have appeared on last summer's Rippers List, both Best and Worst. So lining up at the funding trough earlier than others does not mean a spot on either list is assured.

but one thing is clear. The Agencies who represent constituents who understand the value of Light Rail and Commuter Rail are only too happy to get the money that goes unclaimed by those Agencies who must still convince voters of these benefits. That unfortunate debate still goes on to the detriment of many.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Monday Morning

It's Monday, and on Monday, railroaders often talk about football this time of year. I am no different. OK, football may be discussed other days, too. So here is one thought.

Does Brett Musberger have photos he uses to blackmail his boss? How does this guy end up doing the play-by-play for one of the biggest collegiate games of the year? His confusion near the end of Saturday's Texas-Ohio State game concerning which team kicks the ball after a safety was just the latest example of his many gaffs. Time and time again, Mr. Musberger demonstrates that he does not deserve the high profile he gets at ABC Sports.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Another Good Transit Blog

Here is another blog that is specific to one particular transit system, in this case, the Chicago Transit Authority. It's called the CTA Tattler, it contains both irreverant prose and thoughtful comments, and it is almost always a good read.

More of these types of blogs are needed to shine the light of reason on Transit Agencies. I will link to more of them as I find them. I am onto one, but as of this afternoon that blog is only two posts old. If more posts appear, the link will appear, too.

If you want to learn even more about the author of CTA Tattler, you can read this.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Add Detroit to the List

That is, the list of cities who have elected officials that trot out the old cliches about whether Rapid Transit should be considered. You know, the list of cities that includes Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri. According to an article in the Detroit News, a study grant has been given to the Southeastern Michigan area to study mass transit.

Predictably, the Michigan political pundits who always seemed to be asked for a quote have come up with the usual comments, like the whole thing is a "colossal abuse" of taxpayers' money, or that the area has "less and less critical mass" needed to support transit, or that Detroiters will not embrace mass transit.

Only a former Tennessee resident is used as the counterpoint to such predictability. He notes that Atlanta has a viable transit system and that Detroit is now behind the times.

He might also have noted Minneapolis, Denver, and Houston as cities with visionaries who beat down such predictable nonsense. In each of those cities, as well as those with older systems in place like Portland, Oregon, or San Diego, or Dallas, the "It's a waste of money" argument has been replaced by the "When can we get our Light Rail?" discussion.

My bet is that all of the visionary cities are hoping that the backwords-looking-points-of-view in Detroit-Kansas City-Austin will continue to prevail, so that they can gain a greater share of the Transit Funding Pie. Those visionary cities know that they will be leaving the others to fall further and further behind the times.