Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

US Railcar to Resume Production of Former Colorado Railcar DMU

The most noteworthy part of this is the FRA crashworthiness compliance and the commitment to move up to 125 mph. performance. This would be crucial for developing “high performance rail” envisioned by current Obama administration efforts.

CL40922

COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 1 /PRNewswire/ — Private investors affiliated with Value Recovery Group, Inc. (VRG) of Columbus, OH, have acquired the Colorado Railcar DMU and will resume manufacturing this modern domestically produced passenger train in a new manufacturing facility to be established later this year pending state/local incentives and final round investments. Assets acquired by US Railcar include the former Colorado Railcar DMU proprietary rights and information, manufacturing documentation, inventory, and other equipment necessary for production.

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20090701/CL40922)

According to VRG Chairman & CEO Barry H. Fromm, “US Railcar intends to reestablish passenger train production in the United States.” Currently, passenger trains purchased in the U.S. today are produced by European and Asian suppliers typically importing 40 of content from overseas. “We want to keep American jobs and U.S. public investment at home,” said Fromm. “There is a major commitment by the Obama Administration and the Congress to make investments in intercity and high-speed rail to promote economic growth and mobility, create jobs, conserve energy and address climate change. This opens a new era for passenger trains and railcar manufacturing in the United States.”

US Railcar, LLC will be led by Michael P. Pracht, its President & CEO, a rail industry veteran with extensive past experience at two of the world’s leading rail transportation companies, Siemens and Ansaldo. US Railcar will manufacture both single- and bi-level Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) which are self-propelled railcars eliminating the need for more costly locomotive-hauled push/pull trains in lower density corridors. Both platforms are fully compliant with existing Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety standards for crashworthiness as established by Department of Transportation and approved for immediate use on the national rail system.

Unlike European & Asian DMUs, the US Railcar DMU can operate in all mixed-mode freight corridors throughout the country without waivers and/or temporal separation agreements currently required for non-compliant foreign platforms. “There are extraordinary growth opportunities for passenger rail development,” said US Railcar CEO Mike Pracht. “The US Railcar DMU will enable new cost-effective passenger rail service across a range of corridors and routes, all with a proven, existing equipment platform already in service.”

The US Railcar DMU was prototyped through a demonstration project in 2002 and is currently the only FRA-compliant DMU operating in revenue service in North America. Available in both regional and intercity configurations, the US Railcar DMU is uniquely suited for incremental corridor development at speeds from 79-to-90 mph. Platform enhancements currently anticipated include a diesel-electric upgrade, increasing speeds to 125 mph, making this American-made DMU the ideal solution for both mature and emerging passenger rail agencies around the country.

VRG is an asset recovery and management firm that specializes in asset management, advisory and asset recovery services for state and local governments, commercial banks, private investors and several federal agencies, including the FDIC. VRG also manages a brownfield remediation and redevelopment partnership and serves as consultant to advanced energy programs for state and federal agencies. More information about Value Recovery Group can be found at http://www.valuerecovery.com. US Railcar’s website http://www.usrailcar.com is currently under development.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

Beaumont, Texas Amtrak “station” location raises questions for city and rail lines

The most interesting bit of information in this detail laden report is in the last line. Amtrak total ridership last year in Beaumont: 1,662. Based on 6 arrivals and departures every week, that averages to around 5 passengers every time the Sunset stops.

(The paper ran a poll on the subject and the comments are priceless.)

TFA reported on the stimulus money set aside to fix this appalling situation a few weeks ago and there is indeed $1.25 million in federal money. That is almost unprecedented but the situation is so extreme and the city should be a prime stop.

The Beaumont Enterprise has a fine report and an unbelievable photograph of the “station.” There is no building, no bathrooms, and no sign. It looks like the site of the old SP station and all that remains is a concrete slab. There is no possible way to know where the Sunset stops except sheer luck. (I have requested permission to use the photograph.)

The city is understandably displeased with the present location and wants to move closer to downtown. The Kansas City Southern has taken a negative position on this, but it’s hard to tell from here what would be involved in relocating the stop to KCS trackage. Local leaders seem a bit perplexed by the sudden turn of events, and that is somewhat understandable.

Here it is, Beaumont. Tick, tick, tick.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

CNN addresses high speed rail

CNN is running a significant and generally even-handed treatment of the Obama administration approach to high speed rail. You will need to sit down and take a deep breath because it does not get started on the best foot. Naturally, our always reliable libertarian friends (scroll down to item below) have grave reservations about whether high speed rail will ever cover its costs.

There is another serious error. According to Amtrak spokesman Clifford Cole, “the Acela unit is profitable. ” Yet a few paragraphs earlier the CNN report flatly states,

The Northeast corridor, linking Washington, D.C. to Boston, is the nation’s most highly developed high-speed rail service, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Most of it is controlled by Amtrak, a federally-funded railroad company that relies on government help, receiving more than $5 billion in federal appropriations and stimulus funds over the past three years, according to Amtrak spokesman Clifford Cole.

So, if the northeast corridor gets $5 billion in subsidies in the past three years, in what way is Acela profitable?

A Mr. Sam Staley of something called the Reason Foundation has added his most reasonable opinion, which coincidentally exactly coincides with the special interests which control the transportation debate.

Sam Staley said it’s possible for a well-designed high-speed rail to cover its operating costs, but even the best-run rail system won’t be able to cover the capital costs stemming from its development.

“I would really like to see high-speed rail work because I really like trains,” he said. “I just have trouble getting over the fundamentals. These things shouldn’t even move forward unless they can cover their operating costs.”

Indeed, that is a most “reasonable” concludion. So, let us consider another “reasonable” proposition: should highways cover their operating costs?

What are those operating costs? I suppose we must figure in the 40,000 fatalities each year of the billions in personal injuries and lost wages. Yes, it is an unfair argument but the human price of our transportation policy should not be entirely overlooked.

In Arkansas, a southern state which just appropriated the FIRST funding ever for any sort of rail project and in which the trucking association holds an absolute death grip on the general assembly, yet the state has enormous unmet road deficiencies.

  • 25% of Arkansas’ bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
  • 32% of Arkansas’ major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
  • 39% of Arkansas’ major urban highways are congested.
  • Vehicle travel on Arkansas’ highways increased by 58% from 1990 to 2007.
  • Arkansas has a $160 million backlog in highway maintenance needs.

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers report Sept. 2008.

There is more, so pay attention.

Last month, during the committee’s first meeting, state Highway Director Dan Flowers said the fuel tax has been a flat source of revenue and that the state is seeing a decline in that stream. Flowers also said Arkansas highways would need $200 million more annually just to maintain current conditions.

Source: Arkansas News Bureau report June 25, 2009.

In a poor southern state which is completely car dependent, gasoline tax receipts are flat and headed south. Automobiles will be more fuel efficient, and some will be electric. This demands a new source of funding and funding from sources other than those that have been labeled as “user fees.”

Truckers are explicit that fuel taxes must go only to highways. It is a self-serving argument and, not wishing to cause offense, Jane Fonda tried a similar line of reasoning about 40 years ago.  Transportation is undergoing an fundamental change and it is apparent when we look at the funding sources that have generally been available.

Put another way, why don’t highways cover their costs?

(I am not an accountant, so I cannot say with authority whether maintenance is included in “capital” costs. I doubt it and Amtrak has much the same situation in the northeast corridor. Ridership is high, but it take a lot of dough to keep tracks up to 125 mph. standards.)

This discussion has, so far, completely excluded the needs for additional road capacity, which even in Arkansas is substantial. When Mr. Flowers addresses this topic, it is in the billions.

To borrow a phrase from CNN, it’s the elephant on the highway.

In Arkansas, we hardly know the meaning of traffic congestion, but it is at crisis stages in some areas and the only solution is to expand to 10 lanes or more, or start stacking highways on top of each other. Is this the noxious eyesore we really want for the future?

One of the things discussed at some length at the recent National Intermodal Steering Committee and Texas High Speed Rail Commission meeting in Little Rock is the anticipated population growth. I recommend you all get up to speed on this issue. Many regions which might not support true HSR by population volume today will in 20 years.  That is why we must start now and, even to my own surprise, there is some urgency.

It is the Buckeye, Heritage and Reason that are falling on the emotional arguments, and largely based on the irrational and unfounded fear of a loss of personal freedom. That kind of assertion is simply beyond comprehension, but it might be worth saying that giving people choices is a fundamental bedrock of American government and free enterprise.

Better transportation, including HSR and “high performance” trains, enhance the highway and airport systems. “Quality of life,” referenced in the CNN report is hardly a squishy “liberal” attribute for white wine swilling elitists.

Many parts of Arkansas attempt to compete for new industries. Quality of life is important and our non-congested system (a huge generalization, even in rural Arkansas) is a plus. Little Rock’s lack of good airline connections is a negative as is our anemic transit system. Businesses consider quality of life right along with taxation and education.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

Libertarians spread questionable information (self-serving opinions) on Amtrak and high speed rail

This item appears on the Yahoo discussion group, “All Aboard.” This kind of material is just too good not to spread abound.

The point to be made is that my previous contention that so-called libertarian and conservative “think tanks” are for sale to the highest paying special interest. All of this has a direct bearing on the continuing dominance of all transportation discussions by highway and airport commercial interests.

While not the smoking gun of all times, it raises some questions and should raise some eyebrows.

The Buckeye Policy Institute, a libertarian, Cato-like institute, in  Ohio has come out against the Ohio Hub with the usual biased information. However, one of the Institute’s co-founders and former  president, Dr. Sam Staley, was involved in the economic impact analysis  that was commissioned by the Ohio Rail Development Commission. Staley  was involved through the consulting firm Gem Public Sector Services (the  study was completed almost two years ago). Gem concluded that the  project was economically sound and recommended the state pursue it.

Here is all the pertinent info

(http://www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/Rail/Programs/passenger/Ohio%20Hub%20%20Press%20Releases/20051216OhioHubEconomicImpactTeamsMeet.pdf).

“The Ohio Rail Development Commission has engaged two teams of six noted
economists to verify that answer and see exactly how Ohio may benefit  from new business and development generated by building the Ohio & Lake Erie Regional Rail/Ohio Hub Plan…The second  team is headed up by Douglas Harnish of GEM Public Sector Services, with  over 23 years in real estate development and evaluation. Joining him are  economist *Dr. Sam Staley of Wright State University and former  President of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions…”

“*Gem concludes that construction of high-speed passenger rail is  economically feasible and justifiable assuming an 80% federal construction match. By feasible, we believe the economic benefits  justify the investment and the project will not be a burden on the State  biennial budget*…”

Here’s Staley’s bio from the BPI site:

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

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