Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak Turboliners for sale (Check the “comments” for spirited discussion)

It is hard to believe that this once innovative rail passenger equipment is 30 years old. My how time flies when your basic infrastructure is going to hell in a handcart.

Albany’s Times-Union business writer Cathy Woodruff has a splendid account of the Turboliner history, operational aspects, and prospects. This is a total head shaking disaster.

A decade ago, they were the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to bring high-speed rail service to upstate New York.

Now, in the fading wake of a contentious custody battle between Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation, they are for sale.

Amtrak officials have set no asking price and a spokesman said “any and all options will be considered” for selling the trains individually or in groups.

Note, Woodruff has a detailed and comprehensive time line and professional appraisals of the equipment’s capabilities today.

I am sure the forums will soon be ablaze.

Read the time line carefully. Observe one Joseph Boardman (now Amtrak interim president) complaining that Amtrak is dragging its feet. This kind of thing really makes you wonder.

The comparisons to our present situation are so obvious as beg commentary. It just seems that proponents of good transportation policy are the hostages of bureaucrats and special interest groups. It can be summed up, I think, in three words: no political will. It’s early Sunday morning. Maybe I’m wrong.

FURTHER REFLECTION: One of Amtrak’s major difficulties is frequent changes in top management. The Turboliner soap opera seems to be  part of this thing where what is a great idea today is completely discarded at the end of the week.

Yes, it may have been a good idea to discard the idea, but it looks like Amtrak and New York state were $60 million deep in this one. You can’t just walk away from this kind of agreement like it is monopoly money.

A reader observed already that Amtrak has an acute equipment shortage. These units should be running somehwere.

Amtrak urgently needs stable management, stable funding, and a board commited to general corporate oversight. Again, I point to Alex Kummant’s departure as the key event. Keep watching.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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July 2009