TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Amtrak Passengers Stranded in Woods in Georgia

Re: Amtrak Passengers Stranded in Woods in Georgia

Jim Stewart (
Fri, 30 Dec 2005 21:50:31 -0800 responded to TELECOM Digest Editor:

>> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: This must certainly be one of the
>> grander moments in the glorious history of the Toonerville Trolley.
>> If it has not occurred to Amtrack authorities by now to (a) either
>> split the wrecked train in two parts and clear the way or (b)
>> considering they were already delayed 12 hours in Jacksonville, simply
>> evacuate the trains passengers, bus them to the nearest airport and
>> have airplanes take everyone to their home town immediatly, then I do
>> not suppose another eight or ten hours stranded there will change
>> anything.

> Note -- The proper spelling is "Amtrak".

> I doubt very much splitting the train in two would work since a key
> intersection is blocked. A second locomotive would be needed to take
> the second part of the train and with the blockade it couldn't reach
> the spot.

> I suspect passengers can't be evacuated to buses because the train is
> in an inaccessible area where buses couldn't reach. Normally that is
> done. Further, it seems to be taking CSX too long to clear the
> intersection.

> You seem to be blaming Amtrak for this incident when it is clearly the
> host railroad's fault, and that is CSX. In the last decade, after many
> mega-mergers in the railroad industry, Amtrak has had a very tough time
> because the host railroads refuse to properly transport Amtrak trains,
> indeed, they can't even run their own trains. When CSX and NS (Norfolk
> Southern) carved up Conrail a few years ago it was supposed to improve
> service but instead service is much worse.

> Recently fired Amtrak president David Gunn had a win-win plan to
> improve service. He wanted to partner Federal and freight railroad
> money to improve key bottleneck intersections per above so that there
> is additional capacity to handle more trains and run them faster. The
> freight lines would do better and Amtrak trains would do better. The
> Bush Adm fired Mr. Gunn, claiming he had no future plans. Gunn had
> plans to significantly increase Amtrak train speeds and reliabiltiy at
> modest cost by focusing on the best "bang for the buck" needs. Firing
> Mr. Gunn was a very stupid decision. The Bush Adm plans for Amtrak
> will only destroy it. IMHO, Gunn was fired because he was doing too
> good a job and had too many good ideas.

>> I mean is anyone besides me old enough to remember when we
>> had real, honest-to-God reliable rail service in America? PAT]

> The answer to that clear, but a bit complex. We had good trains before
> this country chose to invest many billions of our taxpayer dollars into
> aviation and highways.

Though I agree with much of what you've said, I take issue with this
statement. The US had *good trains* before WWII. We wore them out
during the war and never fixed them.

> While most of their expenses are covered by user fees, a
> considerable amount are not. Our local property taxes, for example,
> pay for police/fire/rescue of motorists. Highways and airplanes use
> land that is tax free, railroads (such as CSX) must pay properly
> taxes on their tracks. Indeed, in the 1950s many towns added
> surcharge taxes to railroad properties to get money to build a
> municipal airport. Other towns had to make up for taxes lost when a
> highway used once taxable land. All this killed off psgr trains.
> Amtrak's subsidy is a single number easy to see, but highways and
> airways get their subsidies from multiple sources.

> Today, Amtrak must pay the expensive pensions of retired railroaders
> who never worked for Amtrak. Amtrak must pay dearly to clean up PCBs
> and asbestos in old facilities it never even used. This is all part of
> the terms of creating Amtrak--it inherited all the legacy debt. In
> contrast, today airlines have their debts removed by bankruptcy and
> won't even pay pensions for their own employees. The airlines have
> dumped about $15 billion of their pension funds onto the pension
> guaranty fund -- that's enough money to run Amtrak for ten years.

> In 1970 some farsighted people realized that the passenger train still
> had a role to play and Amtrak was created. It is documented in a book
> about the Nixon Adm, "The Palace Guard", that the highway interests
> were furious at DOT Sec Volpe for creating Amtrak and pushed for his
> firing. Today Amtrak critics focus literally on how many napkins food
> service uses, yet conveniently ignore far bigger waste in the highway
> and airline world -- waste that we taxpayers have to pay for. Clearly
> Amtrak critics are not interested in saving money, but rather pursuing
> an ideological battle. We just don't have the land anymore to build
> massive highways and airports. A passenger train can snake underground
> and the land above used for other purposes as is done in some cities.

> Obviously today the highway and airway will be the primary transport
> medium, but there is still a need for passenger trains. The demand is
> certainly there -- new Amtrak service is well patronized--but Amtrak is
> denied the resources to add more services. Mr. Gunn also had a
> corridor improvement plan, sadly that is forgotten too.

> [public replies, please]

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Excuses, excuses! My main point was
> _what business does the government have in being in the Rail Road
> business anyway? The trains ran perfectly well by themselves, and when
> the government took over they just got worse and worse. PAT]

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Amtrak knew, or should have known what
would be imposed on them when they took over the system. If the
demands made upon them were unrealistic they should have never agreed
to be part of the scheme. The same thing happened in Chicago when the
CTA was about to take over in 1947. As word got around to the various
private transportation companies that City of Chicago was about to
'municipalize' them ('municipalize' is the politically correct term
for legally stealing someone else's property) the various companies
deliberatly quit maintaining their equipment. Busses had bald tires on
them, the CTA inherited a rolling pile of junk if there ever was one.
Elevated train stations were left to go pot (of course over the next
fifty years of CTA operation, they let things go the same way), and
any number of vehicles were entirely unusable. Tracks went unrepaired,
overhead wiring became dilapidated, etc. They said "we are not fools,
city will pay us what they want, no more, no less, so get out of it
what we can.".

By the by, a bit of trivia for you: Most people do not know this, but
CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) at one point had a _single freight
customer_, and they hauled coal for that freight customer. How it
happened was this. Up until sometime in the early 1960's, the old
"North Shore Line" operated on tracks shared in common with CTA as
far north as city limits. CTA owned the elevated (on stilts above the
ground) tracks north to Lawrence Avenue (actually, from just a wee
bit north of Wilson Avenue (Uptown Station, Charlie Insull's crown
jewel in its time) where the stilts end and then the track runs on
_elevated ground level_ the rest of the way. You Chicago riders please
take note of this: You pull into Lawrence Avenue station, the stilts
have ended and the earth has been graded up onto a hill the rest of
the way. With that in mind, North Shore Line _was_ a freight hauler
in addition to its passenger business. North Shore had a freight
customer in Chicago, the "Lill Coal Company" (from back in the years
when people burned coal in their furnaces instead of oil or gas). Lill
was on the corner (I think) of Broadway and Montrose Avenue, and had
a switch (or side track) from the main line used to deliver the coal
to them which they in turn sold to their customers. The only way Lill
could get their coal deliveries was from a freight train (full of
coal cars) which came in on that siding track.

A rule in those days was if a railroad was going to go out of business
they had to insure that all their customers were cared for anyway, and
the Illinois Commerce Commission required CTA (as the surviving owner
in joint custody of those railroad tracks) to continue serving Lill as
long as the company stayed in business. By the middle or late 1960's
Lill went out of business (very little coal being purchased any longer)
and CTA gratefully got rid of that customer. In the three or four
year interim of no North Shore Line but Lill still around, CTA had a
freight engine and several coal cars and at various times would pull
a train full of coal off onto the side track at Uptown Station (Wilson
Avenue), down the hill off the stilts and into Lill's coal yard. I
remember seeing that only a few times, when I was in high school. That
same side track went on south from Lill Coal to Graceland Cemetery
and in the 1920-30's the CTA predecessor company "Chicago Rapid Transit"
used to run chartered 'funeral coaches' taking the dearly departed
and their families to the cemetery as needed. At the corner of Grace
Avenue and Halstead Street (?) the funeral coach would disgorge its
load, turn around and go back north. PAT]

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