A Malodorous Condition Created & Perpetuated By Amtrak
What Jim McClellan Recognized; What Richard Anderson Is Obliged To Learn
By M.E. Singer
Stop the Mendacity and Just Study What Jim McClellan Learned–And it was Not About a Focus on End Points
If Amtrak’s CEO Anderson was ever receptive to a succinct explanation of the rationale supporting how Amtrak’s revenue growth opportunity is dependent upon embracing and integrating the state corridors as part of a real national system, he would move to stop the rifting of the state and long distance routes for the exclusive benefit of the Northeast Corridor (NEC).
To support that logic, I would refer Anderson to become familiar with the thinking of a knowledgeable, respected, and committed railroader, Jim McClellan, who was at the FRA and the development of Railpax (1969-1970); present at the beginning of Amtrak (1971-1973) where he managed selecting routes, schedules, equipment, and how to market the services.
With such an unrivaled background, and the willingness to learn from mistakes to keep going forward, McClellan clarified in his recent book, MY LIFE WITH TRAINS, a concise rationale for the state corridors, as well as the long distance routes:
“…We also saw a lot of unmet potential in smaller markets. One of the great advantages of the rail mode is its ability to serve those markets.”
When it comes to the current Potomac rage of excuses endemic to Amtrak’s cover-up of its obvious lack of knowledge of the marketplace by deceitfully encouraging politicians and media to believe that somehow Amtrak is an anachronism for continuing to provide the end-point to end-point schedules of long distance routes, Jim McClellan had an answer for that too!
“Then there was the fast train between Chicago and the Twin Cities, with only one stop in Milwaukee. We were fascinated by the prospect of competing with the airlines…Unfortunately, we had ignored the fact that trains were often most competitive in smaller markets.”
Following the logic explained here by Jim McClellan, to successfully focus on a revitalized Midwest state corridor development will require the knowledge of what worked in the past (1946-1969); to design routes in respect to demographics and changing mobility requirements today; and to encourage the potential new paradigm presented by Fortress Investment Group, owner of the Brightline. Such state corridors will be successful if they offer the convenience of dedicated, frequently scheduled services to interconnect intra-state and interstate corridors on a regional basis, with the long distance trains serving to overlap the state corridors by connecting multi-regions.
Only A State-Owned Enterprise Like Amtrak Would Willfully Ignore the Changes In Demographics and Mobility Needs
Suburbia, and Exurbia Beyond:
Given Amtrak’s persistent, imperceptive approach failing to build revenues by identifying new and changing situations, the pointless arrow should have long ago been exchanged for the face of Alfred E. Neuman and his motto, “What Me Worry?”
As identified in Metro (5/2/18), “Super Commuters’ Who Travel 90-Plus Minutes To Get To Work, On The Rise,” there is most certainly a growing group of riders abandoned by Amtrak. “Experts attribute the rise in long commutes to ‘skyrocketing housing costs and a reluctance to move, born of memories of the 2008 financial crisis.” Curbed on 5/1/18 identified in “Millennials and New Magnetism of Mid-Cities” how cities under a million population “that aren’t regional powerhouses like Austin or Seattle, are increasingly seen as not just places to find a lower cost of living, easier commute, and closer connections with family, but also a more approachable, neighborhood-oriented version of the urban lifestyle.”
Also, a book review in Curbed on 5/9/18, “Our Towns’: How Small Cities Aren’t Just Surviving, But Thriving,” the authors reported their research “how small cities and towns from nearly every corner of the country have proven to be more resilient, flexible, and dynamic than many realize. Smaller cities are investing in revitalizing.” Important in the context of what my point is in this piece, the authors stated that “by combining federal support, in the form of community development block grants and transportation funding, with state-level investments and support from cities, local businesses, and NGOs, these urban revivals offered a great counterpoint to the argument that all politics is paralyzed, twisted, and corrupted;” reporting “I now think public-private partnerships is the way the country actually works.”
Although California’s JPAs continue to perfect this opportunity, a developing example of this far exurban residential life relying on non-commuter rail service to the major city is evidenced in Illinois, with two state-supported trains planned and paid for by IDOT to provide marginal day-tripper service between Chicago and Princeton (104 miles), Mendota (83 miles), and Plano (52). Sadly, people living well beyond the rail head of the Chicago commuter lines were once served by a vast network of state and long distance trains until the late 1960s; ironically, well before the rendering of farm lands into far exurban residential developments.
What Cliff Notes™ Failed to Explain The Relevance For How Amtrak Should Market State Corridors
Scheduling, Frequencies, and Routes Serving Exurban/Suburban Markets:
As identified above, given how the changing demographics clearly identifying how the population continues to grow in far exurban locations should have been at the forefront of a dynamic change in Amtrak’s thinking from merely in terms of end-points, when the mobility demands have not only increased for downtown service, but importantly, for connecting exurban and suburban markets to en route destinations. This market has only grown for the many college students now attending their own state universities, or within neighboring states within the Midwest; the growing demand for convenient schedules for day-trippers for business and personal travel. Jim McClellan had a clear vision of this opportunity when he spoke of the Milwaukee-St. Louis run thru service via Chicago: “the goal was not the end points (Milwaukee and St. Louis), but rather the lesser markets, such as the north Chicago suburbs to Springfield.”
Interestingly, I discussed this issue with Kevin McKinney, who continues to embrace that knowledge of the market from when he worked for McClellan in the early days of Amtrak. As McKinney explained what he believed was so obvious; yet neglected for so long: “And suburb extensions, such as ending St. Louis trains in Kirkwood or somewhere like that west of St. Louis; ending Milwaukee trains in Waukesha, or somewhere west of the city, where most of the suburban population is. Chicago-Detroit already extends to Oakland County north of Detroit. Also, the need for “Route 128” type suburban stops, so people don’t have to venture in to city-center to catch a train, or go in the wrong direction (e.g., south into Indianapolis, to catch a train north to Chicago.)”
Eliminate Connections with Run Thru Operations via Chicago:
A parallel component to revitalizing the Midwest corridors is to build upon how McClellan successfully created the NEC we know today by having all of those trains “operate into and out of Penn Station. The through service was a success and remains so today.” Appreciating what he was achieving with the NEC, he felt it was logical by “expanding the concept to the Midwest, several trains between Chicago and St. Louis were extended to Milwaukee.” In his own evaluation of run thru Chicago operations, McClellan acknowledged “I still think the concept is a winner, but Chicago is a barrier to through service now as it was then.” Indeed, nothing has changed, as Chicago Union Station only offers two north-south run thru tracks, with only the eastern track having a full platform (as currently utilized by the “Empire Builder”).
However, as previously discussed here, beyond the need for building a platform on the western run thru track, how many trains could be pushed through the two run thru tracks at Chicago Union Station each hour; how would the different T&E districts be handled; what about the different signaling systems (or, would the new Siemens cabs be able to identify, along with PTC?). Building upon what McClellan/McKinney achieved-and learned-with the Milwaukee-St. Louis run thru schedules in the early 1970s, operating most Midwest state corridors thru Chicago would be a solution to losing potential traffic due to the elongated time and inconvenience of changing trains; to enhance the obvious marketability of serving exurban/suburban stops to en route or other end points; to increase frequencies and convenience of those schedules; to facilitate asset utilization of equipment. This could be started with St. Louis-Chicago-Milwaukee and Detroit-Chicago-Milwaukee or St. Louis. The options are too numerous to simply list.
Oh, to be Sherman and Join Mr. Peabody in his “Wayback Machine:” What We Once Had and Lost–How the Private Railroads Understood Geography and Demographics to Interconnect State Corridors and Regions
Without an Official Railway Guide and a collection of timetables, it is difficult to comprehend how the Midwest was such a powerhouse for so many railroads providing competitive state corridors, with long distance services filling in and connecting those multi- regional corridors. Even then, railroading was not focused exclusively upon the end point mythology, with the exception of between Chicago-New York via NYC’s non-stop “Twentieth Century Limited” and PRR’s “Broadway Limited”; initially NYNH&H’s “Merchants Limited” and ” Yankee Clipper” between Boston-New York. Even the very deluxe, extra-fare “Super Chief” made en route stops between Chicago-Los Angeles; the “Denver Zephyr” carried a vista-dome observation-parlor just to accommodate travelers between Chicago-Lincoln, NE.
Frankly, the epitome of short haul intra-state, interstate regional, and the linkage between all regions provided by the long distance trains was in the Midwest, based out of their Chicago hub. Although my Official Railway Guides and railroad timetables are still packed-up, I can recite from rote memory mostly what we had from the 1950s thru the late 1960s, as well as the competition between the private railroads for travelers. (Today, non-stop bus competition has become a disrupter in the Midwest against Amtrak, which Amtrak has simply disregarded and waved off). The Midwest routes (indicating principal number of trains operated) picking 1962 are listed below of the private rail lines directly linking many towns en route with each other, and to their end points:
Chicago-Milwaukee: almost hourly CNW; CMSt.P&P; hourly CNS&M (until 1963, an electric interurban between Chicago Loop-Milwaukee offering the “Electroliner” with a tavern/diner.)
Chicago-Green Bay: multiple CNW 400s offering diner, lounge, and parlor (6); CMSt.P&P (1-2).
Chicago-Minneapolis: CB&Q (5); CMSt.P&P (3); CNW (1-discontinued 1963; also “Mankato 400” Chicago- Rochester, MN).
Chicago-Omaha: CB&Q (4); CMSt.P&P (2); CRI&P (2).
Chicago-Kansas City: AT&SF (6); CB&Q (2); CRI&P (1).
Chicago-Des Moines: CRI&P (2).
Chicago-Peoria: CRI&P (3)
Chicago-St. Louis: GM&O (3); WAB (3); IC (1).
Chicago-Indianapolis: NYC (2); PRR (2); MON (1).
Chicago-Cincinnati: NYC (2); PRR (2).
Chicago-Louisville: PRR (2).
Chicago-Detroit: NYC (5); GTW (2).
Chicago-Grand Rapids: C&O (3)
Chicago-Toronto: GTW (3).
Chicago-Pittsburgh: PRR ( 5); B&O (3).
Chicago-Cleveland: NYC (4); NKP (2).
Chicago-Akron/Youngstown: B&O (3); EL (2).
Chicago-South Bend: GTW (3); NYC (5); CSS&SB (electric interurban providing service between Chicago Loop-South Bend).
Chicago-Galena-Rockford- Dubuque: IC (2).
Chicago-Sioux City: IC (1).
Chicago-Champaign/Carbondale/ Memphis: IC (6)
Chicago-Danville/Evansville/ Nashville: C&EI/L&N (1).
Also relevant is how the individual private railroads competed against each other on their long distance runs, which inter-connected their intra-state and interstate corridors on a regional basis; connecting these multi regions together, including:
AT&SF: Chicago-Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago-Oklahoma/Texas.
CB&Q: Chicago-Seattle; Chicago-Denver; Portland; San Francisco; Yellowstone Park; Glacier Park.
C&NW: Chicago-Ashland, WI; Ishpeming, MI.
CRI&P: Chicago-Denver/Colorado Springs; Los Angeles (via SP).
GM&O: Chicago-Texas (via MP “Texas Eagle”).
IC: Chicago-New Orleans/Miami.
L&N (CE&I): Chicago-New Orleans/Atlanta.
CMSt.P&P/UP: Chicago-Denver; Portland; Los Angles; San Francisco; Yellowstone Park.
NYC: Chicago-New York/Boston.
PRR: Chicago-New York/Florida.
Re-Designing the Midwest State Corridors to be Relevant Today–and Tomorrow
Understanding there are numerous opportunities to extend corridors to expand their intra-state and interstate reach; to provide run thru Chicago schedules between Ohio, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota; to identify frequencies, which could certainly be exclusively elaborated upon in another writing, a proposed Midwest Corridor route system would be built to include:
Chicago-Milwaukee: (re-connect UP/ex-CNW North Line between Kenosha-Milwaukee to recognize how the geography between Milwaukee through the Chicago suburbs-Chicago has become a megalopolis; heavy potential traffic from north shore suburbs seeking to avoid conga line of trucks on I-94; Chicago commuter Metra currently runs Chicago-Kenosha). No run thru, as Chicago end point not Union Station; but certainly could extend regional service to Green Bay; Madison.
Chicago-Milwaukee-Green Bay, WI: track condition between Milwaukee-Green Bay?
Chicago-Milwaukee Madison: track condition Milwaukee-Madison? In 2008, recently elected Wisconsin governor (Walker) rejected federal stimulus funds to re-build line MKE-MAD and acquire Talgo equipment.
Chicago-Madison: track condition Fox Lake, IL-Madison, WI? Madison is state capitol/UW campus.
Chicago-Madison-St. Paul: track between Madison Portage or Columbus to link with CP main to St. Paul?
Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul: increase inter-regional frequency.
Milwaukee/St. Louis-Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City-Omaha: inter-connect regions. Track condition KC-Omaha?
Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City-Des Moines: inadequate track condition Quad Cities-Des-Moines?
Chicago-Galena-Dubuque- Rockford: Galena popular tourist attraction year round; but very poor track condition; CN owned.
Chicago-Grand Rapids-Lansing-Detroit: important intra-state route along ex-Pere Marquette route. Track condition Grand Rapids- Detroit? Also link with discussion in Michigan to return service north to Traverse City.
Chicago-Carbondale-Memphis: poor track; CN owned.
Chicago-Indianapolis- Cincinnati/Louisville: Sections split at Indianapolis for OH and KY. Poor track conditions.
Chicago-Danville-Terre Haute-Indianapolis: No passenger routes west-east serving middle section of IL and IN.
Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy: currently state paid twice frequency. Potential to run north to connect to St. Paul. Track condition?
Chicago-Port Huron-Toronto: availability of connecting CN tunnel?
Chicago-Cleveland-Akron- Youngstown-Pittsburgh: re- surging populations and economics; lack connectivity in the Heartland.
Chicago/Detroit-Toledo- Cleveland-Akron-Youngstown- Pittsburgh: re-surging populations and economics; lack connectivity in the Heartland.
Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland: the heart of Ohio. Track condition? In 2008, recently elected Ohio governor (Kasich) rejected federal stimulus funds to re-build line between CIN-CLE.
St. Paul-Kansas City: the spine of the Midwest. Track condition?
ANOTHER OPTION TO FRANCHISING
According to Bloomberg on 5/11/18, “Fortress Investment Group, which owns the Brightline, hopes it can be a model for other cities on routes too far to drive but too short to fly. This is “the same trip that I’ll take hopefully with the mayors from Dallas and Houston and Atlanta and Charlotte and St. Louis and all the other places we want to be,” said Wes Edens, Fortress’s co-founder and co-chief executive officer.”
HOW TO FINANCE OUR ABILITY TO RE-CONNECT STATES AND REGIONS TO ENHANCE MOBILITY
Our guiding light should be to remember what former U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-IL) once said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Just as I have taken the position in Part II to allow franchising and open access to state corridors as exit ramp from Amtrak; that PRIIA must have its flow reversed back to the states; we must recognize how we are confronted with a hegemonic mentality of Amtrak’s Board and management team with what John Tierney identified as a “government within the government,” which as he described, “produce one economy-hindering rule after another without much oversight.”
We must learn to be aware and pushback on other economic concepts that intend to suck out all the oxygen in the room, leaving nothing to build the requisite infrastructure to operate our sorely needed regional intra-state and interstate rail corridors. This includes:
In the May, 2018 issue of Governing, “Stadium Fatigue” pointed out how “spending money on a stadium-entertainment venue-is essentially consumption, and it is entirely different from investing to improve education, transit, or public safety, all of which will yield an economic return .This is especially true for spending on infrastructure.” Critical to this point is how “the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston research on public-spending on infrastructure stated its impact “on private-sector output and productivity has been positive and statistically significant.”
City Lab has nicely elaborated on its caveat re Amazon’s HQ2. In “The Hypocrisy of Amazon’s HQ2 Process” (5/10/18), it pointed out how “the mayors and civic leaders of America’s most liberal and economically dynamic cities have played right into the company’s hands, rushing to subsidize one of the world’s largest corporations and its richest man rather than building up their own local economic capacities and investing in pressing social needs…these liberal cities, with Amazon holding the reins, are engaging in their own race to the bottom.” In another issue of City Lab, “HQ2 Cities: There’s a Better Way to Do Economic Development” (2/28/18), the story analyzed how “In the nearly 40 years since Main Street America began, modest investments by cities and states in support of locally driven economic development have driven impressive returns. Put another way, for every public dollar invested, the private sector matched that and added another three dollars.” To confront Amazon’s promises, “there is little evidence that such subsidies bring sustainable economic benefit to cities. Research suggests that firms receiving incentives are statistically no more likely to generate new jobs than similar firms that don’t.”
Overt federal subsidies to retain the power of monopolies does not help our economy, e.g., pharmaceuticals, oil, sugar. In fact, as reported in the “A Bitter Pill for Americans,” National Review ,5/11/18, “the downstream effects of this program are disastrous. Roughly $3 billion in costs are shifted to manufacturers in the form of a hidden sugar tax annually, forcing consumers to pay more for food. The processors’ guaranteed profit makes the dredging up of pristine lands irresistible, harming conservation efforts. Taxpayer-funded bailouts have occurred as recently as the last farm-bill debate, in 2013, and government projections predict that they will continue.”
Without injecting the fervor of politics here, I do not believe we can simply overlook how the federal government has splurged with our funds, as reported by Reason in “Afghanistan Reconstruction: Huge Cost, Meager Benefits” (5/10/18), “U.S. spending in Afghanistan is plagued by “far too many instances of poor planning, sloppy execution, theft, corruption, and lack of accountability,” the federal official charged with keeping track of reconstruction efforts in that country testified yesterday. “Congress has appropriated $126 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since Fiscal Year 2002,” Sopko writes. By 2014, “total appropriations for Afghanistan reconstruction, after adjustment for inflation, had already exceeded the total of U.S. aid committed to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding much of Europe after World War II.” in Afghanistan “the United States threw itself into reconstruction with haste and hubris, with untested assumptions and unrealistic expectations, and with piles of cash and tight deadlines for spending it—too much, too fast, with too little oversight.”
A lesson from the $15 billion “Big Dig” project in Boston is still relevant today: how it helps to have real political muscle supporting you. Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill pushed the project for Congress to pay 80% of its costs.
Where Do We Go From Here..?
It is sadly obvious the government has wasted far more funds on bankrolling monopolies, tax-free business investments for the elite, and fiascos overseas, depriving the regeneration of state rail corridors and the embracement of a national system. Parts I-III in this series described the factors inhibiting state corridors, as well as the options to stop ‘sailing against every prevailing wind.’ Although CEO Anderson is punching above his game in respect to the national system, when it comes to the state corridors, the non-NEC states have been forced into playing a new, no win version of the “Hunger Games.” Instead of waiting for Anderson to inevitably have his ‘time in the barrel,’ we cannot be just watching the state corridors fade from the rear view mirror. States must be educated to appreciate the unleveled playing field deliberately devised by Amtrak’s Board and dutifully carried out by its senior management.
In essence, the states will have to fight for their PRIIA funds to be returned to be used locally; to learn how California’s JPAs succeeded; so the states can make a coherent decision how to work with each other in geographic proximity re: passenger operations and relationships with the Class 1s. Indeed, the national system inclusive of the state corridors and long distance routes must have the benefit of a Marshall Plan from of investment by the federal, state, and local governments, along with real public-private partnership (P3) involvement.
However, my caveat is without taking a 180 degree turn now, state corridors will inevitably succumb to the deja vu of another chapter in the ICC Hosmer Report of 1958 that accurately projected the decline and demise of passenger trains. How long can those states paying through the throat for marginal, at best, corridor services that do not meet intra-state nor interstate regional connectivity swallow the cost each year of non-negotiable increases based upon Amtrak’s own full cost methodology that dis-incentivizes any meaningful level of frequency?