Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Comparing Amtrak's Appropriation against the MTA Budget

It's starvation in comparison!

Check out today's news listing from Progressive Railroading Magazine. According to the first story, the US House has appropriated $900 Million for Amtrak in '07. This compares with a $1.3 BILLION appropriation in '06!

Then, read the second story. Los Angeles MTA has budgeted $720 Million for Rail Operations, and an additional $57 Million for Metrolink!

Amtrak gets $900M for nationwide passenger service. LAMTA has $777M for Los Angeles and environs alone!

Does anyone else agree as to how absolutely CRAZY the funding for Amtrak truly is?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day 2006

Memorial Day is usually a tough one for me. I think it is related to "survivor syndrom". At least that is something that seems possible as I reflect on hearing and reading two first-person accounts of escaping death in civilian life.

My first concept of remembering those who sacrificed it all for our Nation versus those who survive came in my early teenage years, as my Family was visiting Arlington National Cemetery. My Father decided to seek out the grave of a very good friend from his High School years. At first, he wondered if it would be possible to find the exact headstone in the vast sea of markers at the cemetery. With the help of the Visitor Center, it turned out to be incredibly easy. We were there within minutes. And my Dad was hiding his tears as he read the name on the tombstone. Seeing my Father cry made quite an impact on me, because it was an extreme rarity. His only words were to the fact that had that been him and not his friend buried at Arlington, he would not be a Father of two boys. The concept of the fragile nature of life, and the arbitrary nature of death was born in my mind, only to be fleshed out later.

The event with the most impact for my own personal survival, naturally for those of my generation, was Vietnam. Friends left for the war. Some did not come back. Some did, but were changed profoundly. I wanted to avoid rolling the dice on my own mortality, and did whatever I could short of moving out of the country or marching with Joan Baez, to stay at home in the good ole' U. S. A. I succeeded.

Since then, I have become a Father. I am not sure my daughters understand that their conception might not have happened if my "fortunes of war" were different, just like my conception was due to events of a generation earlier. One of my daughters, however, did travel to "The Wall" in DC, and found the name of my own High School buddy, and made a rubbing of his name. Maybe she somehow knows.

This is all related to the tough issue. Memorial Day was designated, by Abraham Lincoln if memory serves, to simply remember and thank those who gave it all for our Nation. It was not intended as a vehicle to make some political statement as to the virtues of war. And it certainly was not intended as a Holiday to begin the summer season. But maybe all of that is somehow OK anyway.

The gift we all enjoy, the freedom to camp at our favorite site, boat on our favorite lake, hike in our favorite forest, barbeque our favorite recipe, or verbally blather on about our favorite point-of-view on our Nation, is due in large measure to those veterans who fought the valient fight to keep those freedoms alive. So, just for a moment, regardless of what we think or what we do, it is "altogether fitting and proper", to borrow Abe's own words, for us to pause and mentally give thanks to those gave "the last full measure of devotion.

So to all who died for us and our Nation, thank you, each of you, one and all. Somehow, I believe that each of you know how thankful so many of us are. May our Nation continue to flourish, and continue to provide freedoms for many.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Light Rail Central is Active Again

Many, including Rip, had used this site to get updates on the Light Rail situation across the United States. For personal reasons, the site has been inactive, but not down.

Thanksfully, it has recently become active. Keep up by reading all the newspaper articles from across the country concerning Light Rail. Welcome back, Light Rail Central!

I'm also posting the link over on the right for future reference.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Oil Prices, Railroad Profits, and Fuel Surcharges

All of these are related. Over the past few months, it has been possible to pull together some news items, and make some observations. Bottom line: If the Class One Railroads are not careful, their run of prosperity could be threatened. Here’s why.

Let's begin with some facts: 2004 and 2005 were the best two-years-in-a-row for the Railroads in quite some time. The First Quarter of 2006 makes a third year in a row almost a certainty. In fact, ’06 looks more and more like a record breaker.

A record breaker? The Union Pacific says so!
So does CSX.
CN says their quarter was the best ever!
The BNSF is up, too.
Don't forget Norfolk Southern.
KCS completes this story, and even the Short Lines are showing improvement.

Isn’t that OK? Yes, but combine this with what is going on with the price of oil and the resulting fuel surcharges and it may not be so OK.

Of course, the rising price of fuel has put many, many truck trailers on trains. Containers and TOFC (Trailers on Flat Cars) traffic is way up. And, of course, other traffic is up as well. But the Railroad’s record profit is not a result of this increase in traffic alone. Those Profits are due in part to their infamous Fuel Surcharges.

Some customers are now saying that these Fuel Surcharges are excessive. Customers have raised other issues as well. The rapid increase of Fuel Surcharges has already been dealt with at Rip Track. But is what CSX did indicate a railroad management attitude? CSX raised their surcharge right in the face of these customer protests.

Traffic Increases and Fuel Surcharges are all related to the price per barrel of oil. As the price goes up, the efficiency of rail transportation becomes more appealing. The Fuel Surcharge goes up as well. We have all heard the expression that a higher price for a barrel of oil is just like a tax increase. It is not a stretch to see that the resulting increase in the Fuel Surcharge looks like a windfall profit. Rail Customers are already saying such things.

If enough customers start to feel that they are being taken advantage of, and convince others in various legislative branches, some government attention is going to be paid to the record earnings and profits currently enjoyed by the Railroads. Then, sooner or later, the term “windfall profit” will be heard from the politicians. Those of us with a memory strong enough to recall events that have occurred over the past thirty or forty years regarding similar issues know immediately that this is not a good thing when politicians use these words.

Railroad Management MUST review their policy of the Fuel Surcharge. It must be made to appear to be fair. When it hovers in the twenty percent range, as it is at CSX, then Jacksonville we’ve got a problem!

To their credit, railroads are increasing spending levels for all Capital Improvements, both rolling stock and track. Specifically, spending for Ties has increased. This is good, and it reflects what we are seeing on the supply side as all of this business is pounding some tracks into the ground.

Let’s be realistic here. No one wants Railroads to return to the dark ages of the 1960’s. And profits are not a bad thing, especially when some of the money is plowed back into the property. But giving the impression that an excessive profit is happening because of an advantage is a bad thing. Railroad Management can’t let that impression prevail. Changing the paradigm of the Fuel Surcharge may be one way to dispel any of these nasty impressions. Let’s hope it happens.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It Has Been a Long Time!

Been SUPER busy the past few weeks. The Railroad Material business is absolutely booming. Business is so good for the Class One's that their track is being beaten into the ground. So maintenance is up, purchase of track material is up.

But storm clouds may be in the forecast. There are ominous rumblings with shippers. Questions that began with issues about Fuel Surcharges now include questions about excessive profits born of excessive tariffs.

I'll have more soon. But the "Gravy Train" may get a "red block" if Class One Management does not heed the "advance approach" that can be seen.