MARC Amtrak Solution

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Gerald Neily

Aug 16, 2010, 8:09:07 AM8/16/10
Michael Dresser's column today is yet another of the gajillion "How to Save Amtrak" stories, writing about a guy who has written one of a quintillion "How to Save Amtrak" books. Dresser is coy, and saves the solution for the last paragraph punch line... more money. Gosh, who could have guessed?

But he also does serve the local angle - "heavy involvement at the State level".

I'd give you a weblink but the Sun website seems to treat Dresser as an unwanted stepchild. I can't find his articles anywhere, including on his own blog.

Anyway, this gets back to my solution on the celebrated posting that got me kicked off of EnvBalt. I promise I won't mention that the MTA has a "culture of incompetence".

The solution is for the Northeast corridor rail operations to be turned over from Amtrak to an authority consisting of representatives of the state/local transit operators - New Jersey Transit, Philly SEPTA, Boston MBTA, New York MTA, Virginia VRE, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, and our very own MARC. Eliminate the artificial distinctions between Amtrak and commuter rail. Run MARC trains to Philly and SEPTA trains to Baltimore and DC. Real distinctions can remain - Acela trains have nicer seats and skip Aberdeen.

Share the expertise, which seems to be in short supply around here, despite all the self-appointed experts like the guy in Dresser's article (and of course, me).

Aug 16, 2010, 8:59:41 AM8/16/10

Here's a link to Dresser's page, which is posted on the Blogs page of Baltimorphosis:


Maybe the Sun delays their link to current articles to keep people buying the paper?

Fritz Ohrenschall

Aug 16, 2010, 9:07:49 AM8/16/10
Gerry, that might yield better service if it could be adequately funded but you have a number of problems with that. 1) Amtrak owns (most of) the right of way and it's not exactly easy to compel them to give it up. 2) State based agencies get financial support for capital (and operating) costs from their respective states.  Amtrak gets it from the federal government.  Would this new collaborative be financially independent?  Would it be expected to get funding from Congress? Why would Congress fund a regional authority.  It funds Amtrak because it is the Nation's rail carrier which works in all but two (continental) states.  3) What incentive do states have to participate.  It sounds like more work for little gain--unless it solves Dresser's point of 'money money money'.  4) Without capital improvements it's already complicated enough at the bottle necks on the system (B&P, NY tubes, Portal Bridge, etc.) . Having more mid-haul journeys won't improve that.

I'd like to see some details on Amtrak's incompetence.  I'm not sure they are particularly incompetent.  They're digging out of a ditch left from the 1970s mergers without a stable source of funding (unlike State DOTs have for highways).  I can see benefit in having steady rail funding and giving it to the most competent rail operators and capital if you can come up with an agreement to have Amtrak loosen control on its ROW (or act more like the RFF does now in France as merely the owner of the ROW and charge usage fees--of course, people have questioned the wisdom of this).  So, money may not be the only answer, but I think it's a big part of it.  Amtrak or any other operator on the entire corridor cannot be world class on its current inadequate

Gerald Neily

Aug 16, 2010, 9:26:18 AM8/16/10
Thanks, Fritz. 1- Amtrak owns the tracks on behalf of the feds, so they would give up the tracks if the feds demanded it. 2 - Federal money goes to everyone now. This new northeast rail authority would be no different, standing in line at the federal funding trough. 3 - Don't the states have a vested interest in making the NE corridor work? It is vital to all the states' economies. 4 - The states already spend big money on NE corridor infrastructure. NJT is building a new multi-billion tunnel under the Hudson.

Mid-haul trips are important - probably the most important trips. Why should so many trips end at Trenton of all places? Mid-haul trips would allow capacity and service to be fine-tuned to demand. In contrast, our MTA is on record as wanting to put in short-haul trips which would threaten to mess everything up for everyone - the Mini-MARC Purple Line from Odenton to Perryville. They have no vested interest in helping with the larger picture from Virginia to Boston.

I'm not saying Amtrak is incompetent. They're a whipping boy for everyone to blame, especially MDOT and the other regional operators. Let's get some accountability.

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