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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » BooK Review - "Romance of the Rails"

   
Author Topic: BooK Review - "Romance of the Rails"
Ocala Mike
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A not very optimistic, but I suppose a realistic, take:


https://www.wsj.com/articles/romance-of-the-rails-review-hear-that-lonesomewhistle-11548287880?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1

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Ocala Mike

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Gilbert B Norman
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Here is a Fair Use quotation from the material Mike immediately linked:

  • In 2006, the city of Nashville, Tenn., built a new commuter-rail system—christened the Music City Star—for $41 million. At the time, the Regional Transportation Authority of Nashville called it “the most cost-effective commuter rail start-up in the nation.” When it comes to rails, though, no term is more fungible than “cost-effective,” as Randal O’Toole notes in his eye-opening “Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need.”

    The Nashville train, which operated only on weekdays, took 50 to 55 minutes to complete a trip that a car could make in 35 minutes. Cost overruns ran to 25% beyond projections. Planners predicted 1,900 riders a day; a decade after the system opened, ridership hovered around 1,000. Operating costs were estimated at $3 million a year; by 2016, the author calculates, that number was $8 million. “It would have cost less,” Mr. O’Toole writes, “to buy every daily roundtrip rider a new Toyota Prius . . . every other year for the expected life of the train.” The train is still running and continues to struggle financially............“I write this book,” Mr. O’Toole says, “as a love letter to a dying friend.” But perhaps he is being too hasty. The so-called Green New Deal proposal, conjured in a rapture of utopian bliss and soon to be launched by the Democratic House, will cost, by one estimate, $700 billion to $1 trillion annually and includes funding for high-speed, zero-carbon rail. Senate Democrats, too, are floating a proposal that calls for $25 billion in mass-transit spending to build, or expand, subway and light-rail transit systems nationwide. Mr. O’Toole’s dying friend appears far from the end of the line
It appears that neither author nor reviewer is exceptionally happy that the passenger train is here to stay, but they both appear to be Kubler-Ross Phase 5 that such is the case.
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Vincent206
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The Music City Star was built on the cheap using old rebuilt Amtrak F40 locomotives and refurbished Chicago Metra passenger cars. The right of way still has single track sections that limit operations. How surprised should we be that this system isn't exceeding expectations?

Like the Hoosier State, the Music City Star is showing that modern passenger rail service needs to be built for the 21st century. Reviving the failed systems of the 20th century aren't going to work.

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palmland
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Nothing wrong with building on the cheap, Vincent. We should do more of it. After all, this is a commuter railroad, not HSR. The old TC never looked so good as when I rode it a number of years ago. And, I suspect the writer never rode it during rush hour when he quoted the drive time as 35 min. Kudos to Nashville for getting this off the ground quickly and relatively inexensively. We have foo many grand plans that require endless studies and, if built at all, cost a fortune.

Nashville is becoming an Atlanta rival as a fast growing major metro area. As the city grows, so too willI the number of passengers carried. This will be just the beginning. There is already talk about expanding west of the city using another line of the TC towards Clarksville, fast becoming a bedroom community for Nashville.

It would be astounding to see a passenger train on that line where I remember two rusty rails with a smoke belching TC RS-3 struggling to make 10mph across the many wooden trestles. Later the IC invested a lot of money to upgrade it, but failed to make it viable. Now a portion remains and is operated for freight as the Nashville and Western, a sister operation to the Nashville and Eastern where the Star operates.

Recently that company was bought by RJ Corman that operates many short lines but is perhaps more noted for their engineering capability as a contractor for Class 1 railroads for major construction projects as well as derailment clean up work. RJC says they will support the Star operation as well as the restoration effort for an NC&StL steam engine recently liberated from a city park and being restored at the Tennessee Central Museum. Plans are to operate it on the route of the Star and beyond. They appear to be well funded and their advisory board includes some heavy hitters including Wick Moorman and the former mayor of Nashville.

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George Harris
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The Music City Star and Albuquerque's Rail Runner were built at about the same time and I followed both closely. There was a complete contrast in almost all aspects of the two.

Yes, the Music City Star was built "on the cheap" but that did not mean el cheapo results. Everything was studied so as to get the biggest bang for the buck. The used engines and cars were thoroughly refurbished. There was a rail relay that removed all less than 100 lb/yd rail. There was a good tie and surface job. All bridges were repaired as needed or replaced. There was one line relocation of about 2 miles. Signals were added to the line, which had never before had signals. A nice little station was built in Nashville at approximately the location of the old Tennessee Central station. A low cost automated fare collection / ticket system was developed and installed. My one thought is that it should have been continued beyond downtown Lebanon to the vicinity of the I-40 crossing, but looking at the map, that may not have been practical.
The Star is 32 miles long, and according to Wiki cost $1.3 million per mile. The latest year quoted said 287,800 passengers for the year.

Contrast this this with the Rail Runner: New everything! Purchase the AT&SF line used by the Southwest Chief, and did major upgrades.
Several miles of new line, including several in the median of I-25.
The RailRunner is 97 miles long, and according to Wiki cost $4.0 million per mile. The latest year quoted said 893,800 passengers for the year. With three times the length how that works out to passenger miles per train mile I don't know.

That is a cost difference of slightly over three times in dollars per mile.

The "mostly single track" is not really that much of an issue. This does apply to both systems. Sidings or short lengths of double track can be added as needed.

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Gilbert B Norman
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From Marriott Biscayne Bay Miami--

Nashville had a grand mass transit plan mostly involving "light rail", but the referendum to impose a "Sales Tax" to finance it went down in defeat. The biggest promoter was a former Mayor who had to resign (female; metoo issues - they work both ways).

It seems to me that Nashville is rather car-centric; so is Atlanta. While it does have a rail system, MARTA, that system avoids the fastest growing part of the region - namely Cobb County along the 75 to the Northwest.

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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
Nashville had a grand mass transit plan mostly involving "light rail", but the referendum to impose a "Sales Tax" to finance it went down in defeat. The biggest promoter was a former Mayor who had to resign (female; metoo issues - they work both ways).

I have spent the majority of my working life on rail transit systems, most of which have outperformed expectations, but the way the Nashville proposal was presented I would not have voted for it. Yes, something in the way of transit is needed, as with the prime industry being state government, it is heavily office worker downtown centric city, which makes it a most logical rail transit city
First, it was too much of a bite. The equivalent of a Phase 1 covering the most heavily used routes would have been more likely to have passed than the everything everywhere scheme that was presented.
Second, one of the sets of before and after had the "after" view looking worse than the "before" view.
Third, anything with an additional tax attached has two strikes against it already.
There was more that made it a turn-off, but I think that is sufficient.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Harris, would you care to address Atlanta's failings?

When there, I use MARTA rail to get from here to there. Atlanta's affluence is to the North and West. While they have a line to affluent Dunwoody and on NB to North Point that I use, they have no line through fast-growing affluent Cobb County where the Braves now play. Funny how GDOT is happy to build "Lexus Lanes" along the 75 and 575, but hey, I know one Lexus in this world that will never see them (mine).

Of course there are lines to the Airport that run through less affluent South, and the "lesserly affluent" Northeast. Unfortunately MARTA has become an acronym that I will only share by PM with those I either actually or feel like I know.

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palmland
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GBN, I know you tend to be rather pessimistic about Atlanta's transit projects, and rightly so given the past history. But perhaps the commuting pain has reached such a level that these recent initiatives could result in improvements.

In 2016 an Atlanta sales tax increase was passed to fund transit projects. Last year the Governor signed a law that creates a regional transit authority, with the not so inspiring name of ATL.

Recently MARTA unveiled their initial plans to use that money for the city: Atlanta's MARTA expansion

While it's not as much as lovers of heavy rail would like, it is a start.

Meanwhile the counties are showing increasing signs that they understand better transit connections to Atlanta are a priority. In a few months Gwinnett County will vote whether to proceed with a transit tax -and joining MARTA/ATL or their own alternative.

Gwinnett Transit Referendum.

Meanwhile, your Lexus Lanes just opened in Gwinnett County on I-85. I think the number of lanes headed into the I-285 Beltway has now maxed out. With time not being an issue we generally don't use those lanes either. But during mid afternoon drive around Washington to Richmond, we were so glad they were there with traffic backed up for miles. It cost us $20 from I-95 on the north side of the Beltway to Fredricksburg but it was well worth it. Wish we had been on the Palmetto.

And you are correct that Cobb county doesn't want anything to do with transit connections to Atlanta. I suspect the feeling had been mutual. Certainly the many Braves' ballplayers that live there won't abandon their tricked out SUV's and trucks. However there now seems to be some realization that that mindset won't work anymore:

Cobb County Transit

Sooner or later rail transit will happen in Metro Atlanta.

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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
Originally posted by palmland:
Meanwhile, your Lexus Lanes just opened in Gwinnett County on I-85. I think the number of lanes headed into the I-285 Beltway has now maxed out. With time not being an issue we generally don't use those lanes either. But during mid afternoon drive around Washington to Richmond, we were so glad they were there with traffic backed up for miles. It cost us $20 from I-95 on the north side of the Beltway to Fredricksburg but it was well worth it. Wish we had been on the Palmetto.

Drove the 95 Richmond Airport to Fredericksburg last October without incident. Also, drove last February 95-495 without incident but only as far as 50 on my way to Middleburg (Chrysalis Winery), and beyond on 15 to Frederick.

I did drive the 85 during April and noted Lexus Lanes a building. I don't know if MARTA could be justified beyond Chamblee.

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George Harris
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MARTA's & Atlanta's transit failings: In quite a few cities there is a tendency for the more affluent areas to oppose anything that might require them to associate with the "great unwashed masses" in any form or fashion. I would suspect this has much to do with the unwillingness of people in these areas of Atlanta and quite a few other urban areas to permit any form of mass transit service.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Harris, there was a like sentiment in Washington DC. Anyone wonder why there is no Metro stop in Georgetown?
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George Harris
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And how many times have I heard, It costs too much, it takes to long to build, and no one is ever going to ride it. That last at least, has been proven false quite a few times.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Here is a panel discussion sponsored by Cato starring Mr. O'Toole
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