Friday, August 15, 2008

We Need More Trains!

No argument here. In fact, no argument almost anywhere. I gave up posting links to stories about whose ridership is up. Throw a dart into a USA wallmap. No matter where the dart hits, there is a train nearby with a healthy ridership increase. And, that includes Amtrak.

Agreed, then. We all want alot more of this.

And, let's be clear. We are talking all rail passenger transportation. Light Rail, Heavy Rail, Subways, High-Speed Rail. We are not limiting ourselves to Amtrak in general or Amtrak California in particular, at least as shown above.

Can we do it? Can we build it, knowing that if we build it, they WILL come. Can we build it is the real " . . . is the train on time . . ." question. In order to build the infrastructure needed for these trains that we all dream about, it will take rail, ties, turnouts, ballast, not to mention the right-of-way to build on.

Let's not even address the issue of rolling stock just yet. The thing to remember is, if we did have the track to operate more trains, we might not be able to get the train itself to run on our track! But that's another issue. We're just talking track, here.

OK. To build the track, we need material, the aforementioned rail, ties, turnouts, etc. Could we get the material? In general, the answer is, probably not as fast as we would like. In fact, it will probably be much longer than we would like. Especially if the politicos all of a sudden turn on a financial faucet. Everybody would be ordering the same stuff for their new track.

If you have ordered track material lately, you know what the supply situation is. Planning is key. Delay is expensive, and that is not just because of higher and higher steel prices.

It is a cliche to note that corporations cannot see beyond the current quarter, and that long range planning involves something for the next fiscal year. Government funding has become the same. Financial incentives for rail passenger transportation are non-existent at the worst and a low priority at best.

When gasoline is priced at $4.25 a gallon, every elected rep jumps on the "we need more trains" express. But, isn't amazing that as the price per barrel drops, and the price at the pump begins its lazy price retreat along side, the whole political system easily forgets how rail could help the situation. High gas prices and the resulting grand discussions of building some track takes a backseat to the latest international crisis.

What to do? Somehow, we need to solve the capital problem. We need to make those with the capital understand that it is good to think beyond the current oil price gouge. Sure, there is Light Rail money available, but we need more. And, we need more for Amtrak. More than that, material suppliers need to know that there will be justification to come up with an ability to produce that can meet the demand that will surely come in the future. In other words, we will be walking down the expensive oil road again, and we need to do a better job of preparation.

Track material suppliers will, repeat will, increase their ability to produce material if the market is there. And, right now it isn't. Supply meets demand, and today they are meeting right in the middle. Or on the edge, if you prefer.

Need an example? How about Salt Lake City!

UTA started with a small Light Rail Line. They did not stop. Now, their Light Rail is being built all over town. And, it will soon connect with commuter rail from Ogden to Provo! Those people will have some options the next time gas hits $4.00 per gallon! Think of Portland, Oregon. Sacramento and San Diego California. People in these towns are learning what people in New York, Boston, DC, Philly, and Chicago already know.

Rail Passenger Transportation works. Let's get together to make it work more.


At 3:07 PM, August 26, 2008, Blogger arcady said...

Somewhat off-topic, but what do you think about the California High Speed Rail project? I'm interested to hear the opinion of someone actually working in the rail industry.


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