Friday, August 21, 2009

Wisconsin Talgo Equipment Order - Thoughts

The Talgo equipment used in Amtrak Cascade service between Vancouver BC and Eugene OR appears to be a commercial success with strong public acceptance, and acquisition of such by the sponsoring agency appears to have been a smart move. Indicative of such is that the "four a day' (+the Seattle-LA Coast Starlight) cover the route in 3'30' while the "three a day" prevalent during 1969 needed 4'00'.

Where I do have a problem, however, is that local agencies seem be be hearing the "siren' of Talgo's "hell on wheels' business model. That model is simply if you buy 'em from us, we'll build 'em wherever you want. Wisconsin recently ordered two Talgo train sets for Chicago-Milwaukee service, with an option for a third for use on a proposed Chicago-Milw-Madison route. Talgo has agreed that the assembly work will be done at a Wisconsin facility and that 80 some jobs will be created resulting from the project. To ensure that the jobs are held by Wisconsin residents, the facility will likely be located in Central Wisconsin as distinct from "border towns" such as, say, Beloit or Kenosha.

My problem is that absent a permanent assembly facility, Talgo will simply set up shop anywhere someone will buy their equipment resulting in increased costs (as well as possibly 'relaxed" quality control) from reduced operational efficiency. While not the case in the Northwest, I would dare say that Wisconsin will end up with equipment unsuitable for the essentially tangent Chi-Milw run. Bi-Levels modeled after the California cars are the most suitable equipment for any Midwest Corridor initiative, but watch Talgo try and peddle their product and business model, say, here in neighboring Illinois.

Those 80 Wisconsin jobs are going to be the most expensive jobs a locality ever "bought".

Monday, August 17, 2009

$8B For HSR

$8B for HSR? Well that is shorthand for the $8 Billion appropriation included within the ARRA '09, or Stimulus legislation, for the development of High Speed passenger rail service throughout the land. The enacted legislation provides that the funds will be allocated to the States in a "revenue sharing" model so that no region, especially the Northeast, will have a disproportionate share of the funding.

Many a state has submitted applications and to such extent that the funding will likely yield little benefit beyond throwing some "consultant feed" into the troughs at which they "chow down". That is the unfortunate thing.

While it is my firm conviction that there is a need for rail passenger service in the 21st century, that need is where there are people traveling "en masse', i.e. mass transportation, and in which addition to other facilities such as another four lanes to the NJ Turnpike or Garden State and a "twin span' for the George Washington Bridge, would be far more costly to both pocketbooks and society. Development of these Corridors need not be limited to the Northeast and Southern California, but being pragmatic, that is where the people are and where there is greater likelihood of passenger rail transport development obviating, or at least slowing down, the need for other more costly highway and airway infrastructure.

Projects such as Kansas has applied for to provide track improvements for a proposed Kansas City-Oklahoma City route (a continuation of the existing OKC-Ft Worth Heartland Flyer) have to be questioned. But then, volks, this is how the game is played - spread the largess about the land!!!

While that $8B could make meaningful improvements to the Northeast Corridor, and even to Southern California services, it appears that the $8B is going to end up a 'Bridge to Nowhere"; sorry such will likely be the case.