To repost an unanswered question from the last time the GRS/PAR Business Train topic came up...what is the heritage of the two current business cars, ST 100 and ST 101? Someone indicated they thought they were of D&H heritage but no one really seemed to know. Do they even have names?
I have to say after some reflection on this topic, I believe that half the reason we even write as much as we do about these two cars is because of the past difficulties GRS/PAR has had with Amtrak passenger service, railfans, MEC/B&M history, railroad organized labor, the workplace environment and emplyee relations, customer service to consignees, and fedeal, state and municipal governments.
The business cars are in some way a sign to the rest of us that beneath the tough negotiating exterior there are still people who believe they are running a 'real railroad', with all the 'normal' or perhaps 'expected' trappings of a Class I or major Class II railroad. I think that in the perception of those of us who watch and write about GRS/PAR had almost become a skeleton operation if we were to really take to heart the actions and words of those who run it.
The fact of the matter is that even though today's GRS/PAR is something of a shadow of the network that it took over from B&M/MEC in 1983 it is still nonetheless a major railroad serving Boston, and the rest of New England either on its own trackage, through trackage rights, or through interchange with local Class III lines. Perhaps it has lost much of the glamour of the B&M/MEC years but then again so has almost every other major Class I railroad. I am totally unaware of other Class I's that currently operate scheduled intercity passenger service, have not abandoned major main line routes in favor of consolidation, had customer service issues (think SP in its worst years), fought with unions over five or four man crews, treated employees poorly and often worse than GRS/PAR, poorly maintained their own main lines, and fought running battles with the federal government including USDOT and FRA, as well as the applicable state and local authorities.
Go read about the tyranny of the UP on some of the Cascades related topics in the Amtrak forum and you will see that as far as Amtrak goes GRS/PAR has been far more reasonable about passenger service than the large Class I's have. UP and BNSF in many cases simply say 'no' to further Amtrak service without hundreds of millions of dollars in further upgrades to their own tracks that would support the increase in passenger service traffic.
Perhaps in some way the transition from the B&M/MEC era was not only a historical transition but also a real change from Class I to Class II status and all of the inherent operating changes that this represents. In some ways the Class III's like the Vermont Railway System, or the Providence & Worcester have local advantages built in because they work hard to create a local base of support through PR efforts including liberal policies on passenger extras etc. In the very end the Belfast and Moosehead Lake turned into a passenger operation that ran freight but still couldn't make it.
I guess when we see GRS/PAR 'putting on a shine' as our beloved B&M/MEC once could do so easily it reminds us of the potential that this operation really has to be great when they choose to do so. From everything I've heard on the Amtrak side GRS/PAR goes out of their way to keep the Downeaster running on time. Obviously the incentive payments and track improvements went a long way towards making that happen but I doubt that many of us would have predicted that once the service finally got running that PAR/GRS would have ever been as accomodating as they are today with the Downeaster. Maybe they have their own reasons for doing it or maybe the only carrier for passengers on their own lines that they are comfortable with is Amtrak for insurance and indemnity reasons.
Perhaps the hardest part of watching GRS/PAR operations is that those of us who live here in New England feel that the railroad is not concerned with how they represent us. In a way you could say it really doesn't matter, it's their railroad and they'll run it how they want. And you would be 100% correct. GRS/PAR is a private corporation running on private property as a private business. I think one of the historical perceptions that perhaps has been magnified over time is that the old B&M/MEC used to be extremely proud of being the regional common carrier of choice representing New England.
Although B&M/MEC were named and created in an era when common carriers almost always used geographically based names as marketing tools for their services over time their names came to represent their calling card, if you wanted to ship something to Maine you naturally would think Maine Central. Obviously there were plenty of locations in Northern Maine that were served by other railroads but south of Bangor they pretty much ran the show.
So that leaves us with GRS/PAR with its multiple names, incarnations, and paint schemes, legacy MEC equipment, leased power, functional but single track main lines (at least in Maine), but gloriously efficient Downeaster service corridor. This railroad is to say the least colorful. If this company were to do one thing to make the public happy I would say it would be to adopt a single company image, and use it consistently everywhere roundhouses, offices, signal boxes, put the G on anything that is company property, pay occasional homage to the history of the line by repainting a few old box cars in 'legacy B&M/MEC paint schemes', like the MMA did with its retro "State of Maine products" scheme, and maybe, just maybe, consider either a small but rare occasional passenger excursion service with some type of very small passenger fleet or maybe do something really radical like restore, in their own shops, the MEC 470. There are probably organizations that would be willing to contribute cash, or labor to assist on small trim projects relating to the restoration. Maybe a project like that would simply be remembered for the morale boost it would provide to the public in such confused and difficult times. In the face of economic uncertainty and a high cost of living at least some of us would take heart to see the 470 steaming down from Waterville, at least we would know the railroad is okay, and if the railroad is running well then perhaps things are going to be okay after all, eventually. Some people really appreciate companies who make children happy and they don't forget it for a long time, especially when they know the company doesn't expect to see or realize any immediate monetary gain from the effort.
In some respects I have to wonder if the GRS/PAR attitude has less to do with finances and is in some odd way a holdover from the Maine Central era. That company if my memory of the history serves me correctly was one of the most cynical promoters of the deregulation of passenger service once it became unprofitable and campaigned hard for the right to drop passenger service. Perhaps the institutional memory is what is really driving their attitude towards all sorts of passenger service related issues.
I think there are a lot of people who would love to see the railroad show an interest in being part of the community over and above occasions when their input is needed such as at local planning boards who are dealing with rail related issues. Maybe there are just too many communities for them to really get that involved at all. For the record I do believe they deserve a great deal of credit for consistently promoting Operation Lifesaver and making sure to bring that program to local school children.
Maybe the company feels that they don't operate on goodwill but on cash, and sometimes it seems for almost everyday they've been in operation they've been in survival mode and not 'spend money freely' expansion mode but still, some people who care about trains ultimately also have control over the public money that can be used to restore company owned tracks and equipment for the benefit of the public and the company. Maybe if their car volumes and freight traffic in New England had not declined as much as it has in the past 25 years then GRS/PAR would be a very different line. I think one of the great lessons that GRS/PAR management may have come away with from the Downeaster was that 'go it alone' is not always the best operating strategy.
Further discussion is welcome on this magnificently OT tangent.
[Mods if you wish I'll be happy to divert to a new thread.]