How the Dedicated Protectors of the NEC Stumbled Out West
By Rail Provocateur (M.E. Singer)
My regrets for not providing feedback on our guest from the Rail Passenger Association a/k/a NARP; however, I was frankly so taken aback by the extremely confident oratory and slick slide presentation, I felt better to digest what I observed to competently comment but one week later. Also, I was quite focused on leaving early Sunday morning (30 Sep) on the “Coast Starlight” all the way to LA; with a transfer to Oceanside on the “Pacific Surfliner.” (Separately, I will indulge you in a surprising trip report and assessment of long distance and inter-regional passenger rail; hint: very much alive and well in California.)
Despite my Chicago heritage and the street approach to be very direct, I elected not to verbalize my shock at how appalling I interpreted this presentation before the RailPAC Annual Conference on 29 Sep by Mr. Bruce Becker, VP Operations, RPA. This was simply because my mum had required us to treat all our guests with a certain deference, even if they did track mud on our carpeting into our home. However, now that the Pepto Bismal bottle is empty, I feel relieved to rationally surmise this production by RPA.
Frankly, if I had closed my eyes, the verbal presentation could have been provided by any senior Amtrak officer; the slick slideshow only reinforced that perspective. Yet, when we pull back the curtain on RPA’s presentation of the Wizard of Oz, we find the same components that defined the wizard, and that are indicative of a narrative based upon prevarication, including:
For Mr. Becker to overtly exclaim how “Richard” (a/k/a Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson) was the best thing that ever happened to passenger rail since creamed cheese was simply astounding. Frankly, it reminded me of how we correctly interpreted LBJ’s claim of the war in Vietnam when we really knew that fighting for freedom in Vietnam was like fornicating for chastity. If NARP was really on the outside as a rail advocacy group, and not in Amtrak’s tent to willingly seduced and conspire to strip away our suspicions, how can RPA, now with a vastly expanded staff, have their radar AND their sonar so totally blinded to the facts?
When challenged by a RailPAC member to specify if the order for long distance network locomotives was actually placed, despite Mr. Becker’s obvious hesitancy to commit, the issue was eventually resolved by a persistent position of RailPAC to finally have Mr. Becker admit “well, we believe the order is imminent.” Do we really need a seminar explaining the difference between “believe” and “imminent” vs. “order date placed.”
Forget that this speech failed to elaborate, let alone, embrace the National Network of inter-regional connectivity, as well as its growth prospects, but I was further astounded when Mr. Becker calmly explained the insight of “Richard” to convert the National Network, currently supported by Superliners, to a single level equipment program. (As if any version of the Boeing 737 will do).
Certainly, if the founder of NARP, Tony Haswell, was privy to this plan, he would have strenuously objected, instead of meekly proposing our future through the rose-tinted glasses of the new RPA. Just from an initial reaction, Bruce, are you kidding me? With the extraordinary growth in staff at NARP’s Washington HQ, what has prevented anybody from taking out their slide ruler to measure such an impact that would only increase Amtrak’s costs, including:
1) Acknowledging a Superliner sleeper (other than the specially ordered ones for the Northeast’s “Auto Train”) carry 44 passengers the equivalent of two 10-6 sleepers.
2) Unless Amtrak intends to re-negotiate labor agreements, the single level proposal would trigger additional sleeper attendants.
3) Such an elongated consist would certainly trigger an additional locomotive ( despite current shortage); creating higher costs for asset depreciation of locomotive; fuel; sand.
4) When I took out my abacus to calculate the obvious increase in costs for Amtrak to convert to a single level operation, I could only reach one conclusion: NARP’s relationship with “Richard” means only one things–the plan is to eventually eliminate the National Network of long distance trains; with that accomplished, the single level equipment would be moved to the East. End of story. But Bruce did not speak on that point.
Given the overall shock to this presentation, what really awed me was, in my opinion, the complete lack of acknowledging in this calculated presentation, the important role of the individual state rail advocacy groups, along with RailPAC, to not merely fight to prevent the disembowelment of the National Network; but to encourage the growth and expansion of the inter-regional connecting National Network.
For example, in this presentation, why the hesitation, if not just the ignoring of the obvious fact that the state rail advocate groups, along with RailPAC, immediately jumped into action to mobilize city, regional, state, and federal politicos to push back on Amtrak’s absurd idea to destroy the “Southwest Chief” contiguous route by substituting buses between Dodge City-Albuquerque. The local advocates understood how this would kill the route, let alone, during the extended period of inclement weather, delay the buses and kill patronage. For this, I have condemned RPA to serve as the “caboose” in respect to such critical issues, as we have simply experienced RPA’s PR machine ignoring how this group is last to jump on the issue; instead, bringing up the rear, as with the “Southwest Chief; “yet, with no hesitancy to take credit for all that was achieved in RPA’s initial absence.
I did find most ironic, and commented during my own presentation later on 29 Sep, how RPA believes they require a specific research focus group to determine how they can secure meaningful labor support. As I pointed out during my talk, rail labor was already here in the audience. Apparently, for some reason, rail labor have found RailPAC to offer the credibility that takes into consideration their concerns for a safe, hospitable, economic environment. Indeed, as I discussed with several rail labor members later, it certainly does not take a brain surgeon to reach out, embrace, accept, and include rail labor in a viable organization as RailPAC has proven to be.
On that note, I have to question what RPA members in California , Nevada, and the Northwest think they are getting for their dues; perhaps would they not be better served by a very focused regional advocacy group such as RailPAC that actually gets the job done?