• Can we get the freight railroads to operate passenger trains again?

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

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  by bostontrainguy
 
I am wondering if Amtrak and the freight railroads could come together and operate as a joint entity similar to Amtrak's "Material Handling" experiment. Amtrak would run the passenger equipment and infrastructure and the freight railroads would handle the freight equipment and infrastructure.

The freight railroads would run the trains and Amtrak would manage the passenger equipment which would be basically going along for the ride. They would share in the profits and have incentives to succeed in both express freight and passenger operations.

Is there money to be made in priority express shipments? Would a rebirth of Roadrailers work in this idea? Maybe an experimental route somewhere?
  by WhartonAndNorthern
 
There is money to be made in priority shipments. At least BNSF seems to think so provided that the customer can provide the shipment in an intermodal trailer or container for inclusion on a 70-mph "Z" train. Running "UPS out of a boxcar" a la Railway Express Agency and building/reopening freight houses isn't going to happen. I don't think BNSF would even want to play with a mixed passenger/freight combination. It would be at the mercy of Amtrak's equipment failures (how often to Amtrak trains fail to depart the origin terminal on time) and station stops. Once recrewed and fueled, Z trains stop for nothing. They usually carry extra locomotives to maintain horsepower per ton ratios even if one locomotive fails en route. The second locomotive in the consist is usually forward facing in case the first one needs to be dropped in a nearby siding (locked traction motor, PTC failure, other cab equipment failure).

Even if the passenger and freight could easily combined you have the issue of speeds and switching delays. While in large parts of the country, Amtrak is limited to 79 mph (90 mph on a large segment of the Chief route), most freight equipment including locomotives is only certified to 70 mph. I believe to the FRA, there is no such thing as a "mixed" passenger/freight train. Once it hauls pax, it's a passenger train. Passenger trains have different inspection standards for brake testing. I believe a freight conductor can conduct the Class 1 air brake test when cars are added en route, but any passenger Class 1 air test requires a qualified member of the mechanical department to be on hand.
  by Tadman
 
It would require a completely different mindset on behalf of many stakeholders in the rail world here. Federal and many state governments would have to be on board, as would a majority of the Class 1's. There would also have to be a compelling case to sell the idea to the public.

I think the compelling case can be made, but congress is far too busy between the civil cold war, bailouts from the pandemic, and genuine pressing issues to worry about a new concept for Amtrak. It wouldn't hardly get any coverage in the media, and how does an idea gather momentum like that? No media coverage means no public acclaim, and no public acclaim means it's not an issue voters think of.

Not only would congress have to come up with legislation that transforms Amtrak into something like Network Rail in the UK, they would also have to rubber stamp legislation written by freight railroad and freight shipper lobbyists that clearly protect them from liabilities such as injury as well as more conceptual liability like re-regulation and STB oversight.

All in all, it's a really good idea that has zero chance of going very far in the next few years.
  by R36 Combine Coach
 
WhartonAndNorthern wrote: Mon Jun 22, 2020 11:31 am While in large parts of the country, Amtrak is limited to 79 mph (90 mph on a large segment of the Chief route), most freight equipment including locomotives is only certified to 70 mph. I believe to the FRA, there is no such thing as a "mixed" passenger/freight train. Once it hauls pax, it's a
passenger train. Passenger trains have different inspection standards for brake testing.
Hence the MHCs, boxcars for high speed NEC schedules.
  by mtuandrew
 
I think there’s a better chance of freight railroads selling their infrastructure to the Federal government and becoming solely operating companies (expanding off Tad’s analogy of Network Rail), than there is of a Class I using its own trackage to run passenger rail.

That is, both pretty distant over here.
  by BandA
 
Give the freight railroads a carrot and a stick; If you want grants or loans to fix up your rails, you need to accommodate passenger service in some way. Another way is through technical innovation (robots) to handle some of the freight, a class of light-weight non-hazardous freight cars that are allowed to go passenger speeds, and reasonable liability limits in case of disaster. Maine Eastern (Morristown & Eire subsidiary) successfully ran a tourist train, subsidized or supported by the freight operations.

I think insurance liability is the big blocking issue at this point.
  by David Benton
 
Tadman wrote: Mon Jun 22, 2020 12:03 pm I think the compelling case can be made, but congress is far too busy between the civil cold war, bailouts from the pandemic, and genuine pressing issues to worry about a new concept for Amtrak. It wouldn't hardly get any coverage in the media, and how does an idea gather momentum like that? No media coverage means no public acclaim, and no public acclaim means it's not an issue voters think of.

Not only would congress have to come up with legislation that transforms Amtrak into something like Network Rail in the UK, they would also have to rubber stamp legislation written by freight railroad and freight shipper lobbyists that clearly protect them from liabilities such as injury as well as more conceptual liability like re-regulation and STB oversight.

All in all, it's a really good idea that has zero chance of going very far in the next few years.
"civil cold war"," Bailouts from the pandemic", are not " genuine pressing issues"???
Besides, congress has had 40 odd years before this to worry about a new concept for Amtrak , and has not done so .
Network Rail only owns and operates the tracks ( it has no say in the Franchise selection etc), so Amtrak could only be like Network Rail in regards to the NEC. Then to be fair , it would have to cease operating on the NEC. That the likes of Brightline etc have never suggested operating on the NEC says a lot . As the commuter lines operate on NEC , i presume there is no need to legislate to allow private operation on the NEC. Just to stop Amtrak competing unfairly .
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Guarantee you, I'd be joining Col. Perkowski in leading a shareholder revolt if such came to pass on "our" property.

disclaimer: long UNP (pays a nice dividend, BTW); but no "coloring book" Annual Report - just a 10-K.
  by mtuandrew
 
I mean, if the Class 1 industry had a change of heart, they’d be running passenger service through a joint venture with a design-build-operate-maintain firm like Siemens or JR East. Different work rules (maybe they’d even try a non-union shop, not that I want it), full liability insurance through a reputable third-party insurer with the host as an additional insured, outside investment, outside ownership of stations where practical, and a hefty subsidy from the Feds.

Your investments would be safe, Mr. Norman and Col. Perkowski, if UP decided it wanted to partner with another firm to run DAL-SAN or SFO-LAX service.
  by Tadman
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Tue Jun 23, 2020 8:18 am Guarantee you, I'd be joining Col. Perkowski in leading a shareholder revolt if such came to pass on "our" property.
This aspect doesn't bother me much. I addressed it above where I say congress would have to rubber stamp a piece of legislation authored by Class 1 and shippers lobbyists that clearly absolves the carriers of liabilities such as injuries and re-regulation. Once the carriers have a clear profit motive and a roadmap around the liabilities they seek to avoid, it's not a bad deal.
  by charlesriverbranch
 
WashingtonPark wrote: Mon Jun 22, 2020 2:54 pm Can we get the freight railroads to operate passenger trains again?
In a word----No.
If there's money in it, of course, the answer would be yes. In the 1960s the U.S. Post Office effectively subsidized quite a few passenger trains. A combination of subsidies, tax incentives, and publicly funded infrastructure projects would probably be necessary to get any railroad interested in getting into the passenger business.

Unless I misremember, Union Pacific and BNSF are running passenger trains right now on behalf of Metra, the Chicago-area commuter rail agency.
  by STrRedWolf
 
charlesriverbranch wrote: Tue Jun 23, 2020 3:48 pm Unless I misremember, Union Pacific and BNSF are running passenger trains right now on behalf of Metra, the Chicago-area commuter rail agency.
I thought more, but it turns out only 1 is BNSF and 3 are UP. The rest is basically Metra.
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